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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Food Glorious Food

One of the reasons that we wanted to stay at an agriturismo place is because they feature local foods and often offer wonderful dinners at a quite affordable price. We decided to join the fun tonight and indulge in the 4 course Sicilian dinner they were offering. No menu. You simply sit down and eat what they put in front of you.
We were not disappointed. The first thing we did was simply order the house red wine.  When in Italy, the house wine is often very tasty and in this case, did not disappoint. From there we just waited as the server continued to bring dish after dish of delightful surprises.

The first appetizer was a form of bruchetta, crusty bread topped with something, in this case, a tomato and olive mixture with a lovely little basil leaf atop. I was famished so was just so happy to have something to nibble on! Before we finished that, Panelle di Ciciri arrived, little fried pillows of chickpeas. They resembled little fried raviolis but tasted lighter and were delicious. Who knew that a fried chickpea could taste so good?! Then it was time for primi, or the pasta course, We were served gnochetti alla norma. Gnochetti is miniature gnocchi, a potato based pasta. All a norma is a Sicilian specialty sauce that mixes tomato, ricotta and eggplant.  It was yummy, even though I don't care for eggplant all that much. Secondi, the meat course arrived.  This was farsumagru, a type of Italian meatloaf arrived. Ground beef wrapped around salami, proscuitto ham and cheese. Ultimate comfort food and quite delicious, served with a side of potatoes.  Finally, it was time for dolci, or dessert. Sweet raviolis appeared looking all yummy. These delicate ricotta and chocolate filled pastries were a wonderful finishing point for a delicious meal.  Our first night in the countryside was proving to be perfect. The air was cool and dry. We sat outside on a beautiful terrace and enjoyed these wonderful dishes. I am ready for a long sleep on a full stomach!

Trading Places

The days spent at La Playa Blanca near San Stefano di Camastra were completely wonderful and just what we had hoped for. The poolside being nestled up against the seashore was perfect for sunning and relaxing.   The village itself was authentic Italy, not touristy in any sense of the word and quite charming in its own right.  We ended up eating at the same restaurant every day because we liked the menu and there were not too many choices to begin with.  The last night we were there I was overheated and overfed.  It was super hot and humid, even by my standards, and I just felt worn out.  We had decided that three days on the coast was probably enough and decided to try something completely different for the rest of our week.  We looked for a place up in the hills, near the vineyards that advertised agriturismo, a type of tourism that combines elements of the local customs.  In our case, we landed at Al Poggetto, a renovated farmhouse that has horses, dogs, and chickens.  The drive away from the coast and into the center of the island was lovely.  We were pleased to find this place as the directions were rather ambiguous.  Follow road S38 until you find us.  Upon arrival, we were not disappointed.  The climate had changed quite a bit.  While still pushing 90°F (30C), the humidity was gone and a much more arid climate was surrounding us.  We saw a lot of cactus on our way up so this wasn't that surprising.  The dry air felt great after the humidity of the coast.  Lucrezia, the manager, spoke beautiful English (and turns out French and Italian as well) and was delighted to show us around.  The old house has much charm and we are delighted with our junior suite complete with a nice sitting area, outside terrace, huge bathroom and nice sized bedroom.  The house itself is filled with lovely nooks and crannies along with a quirky collection of items that add to its charm and character.  (A power failure occurred just as I was writing this so perhaps this place has a bit more character than we thought!).
The heat of the afternoon and the cozy loungers sitting out drew us to the poolside. We were delighted to learn that this pool was fresh water as opposed to the salt water one on the coast. It was refreshing and cleansing in the heat of the day.
It's quiet here as it was on the coast, but we've traded the natural sounds of the waves crashing against the shore for the barks of dogs and the neighing of horses. It is fun to be in a new place which will fill up our senses in completely different ways. The nightmare of Trappeto feels far, far away...thank God! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Slow Start, Good Ending!

Travel is an adventure, right?  Sometimes more of an adventure than you desire however.  While looking around Sicily for the right location in which to spend our holiday, Doug and I thought we were ready to get off the beaten track, rent an apartment from someone advertising online through a home stay site like Airbnb or HomeAwayUK.  We landed on Trappeto, a quiet village down the road a bit from Palermo, close to other areas we might like to visit.  I found Giussepe's place on several sites, the price seemed good and Giussepe spoke English. It was a beachfront property with a balcony and a little kitchen and wifi so we thought it might suit us.  There were several restaurants in town that were getting good reviews on TripAdvisor and the beach looked great. We arrived around 10.00 pm on Saturday night and this "quiet" little town was in full tilt.  Oh, did I forget to mention that I got an email from Giussepe a few days before our departure that he was off to Peru so would not be meeting us but the woman who owns the apartment will meet us and give us the keys.
The little streets were more like alleys and it was seriously crowded.  We eventually figured out that this was the last Saturday night of the official summer season so everyone was enjoying it.  To be fair, it was a balmy 25°C, close to 80F at 10pm so I could fully understand why people were out!  And it was fascinating to see everyone sitting in their chairs outside of their flats, especially the older Italians, chewing the fat, solving the world's problems while watching the world go by.  We finally found our place and lo and behold a tiny little Italian woman appeared from the sea of people with our keys.  She spoke no English.  We went inside and I was pretty disappointed from the get go.  The place was much more run down than expected and as is often the case, the internet pictures didn't exactly tell the entire story.  The tv was smaller than our computer and located in a place where one would ever watch.  Not that it matters. Italian TV isn't all that exciting.  More disconcerting was the fact that there was no A/C, a disturbing thought for summer in Italy.  And there were two restaurants directly underneath us, one being The Privilege which had been touted as the best pizza in Trappeto, so no wonder it was packed.  Football (soccer) games were being shown in every restaurant and the noise level was quite high.  With no A/C, we had to keep the windows open so we were pretty worried about getting any sleep at all.  When we asked about the promised wifi, she gave me a blank stare.  Finally, I somehow communicated to her to go find someone in the village who spoke English and bring them back so we could discuss certain matters.  We'd only paid a deposit so I was actually formulating my get away scheme.
She came back with Vito who told me that The Privilege was happy for us to use their wifi.  Gino, the manager, gave me the password.  We agreed to settle up in the morning.  We were starving so went, where else, to The Privilege to get pizza and beer.  It was really good and we did enjoy watching every person in town on their evening stroll, wander by.  Old men sat and watched.  It was kind of a delightful old world experience.  While eating, Arturo, Giuseppe's brother stopped by to give us his phone number and said to call if we needed anything.  Feeling more assured that things would look better in the light of day, we returned to our hovel.  We sat down on the bed to get our wits about us and it broke!  The slats underneath buckled and we bounced down a few feet.  That was the last straw.  It was 12.30 a.m. by now but I picked up my phone and called Arturo.  Doug couldn't believe I was calling someone in the middle of the night but by the loud sounds still coming from the village, I was confident he was still up. He didn't pickup but called back a few minutes later.  I was in the (disgusting) shower so Doug answered and said, "We're done.  We are leaving tomorrow after we try to get some rest on a broken bed."  They agreed to meet at 8.30.  We spent the next two hours frantically looking for another place to stay, deciding that A/C was important and perhaps a swimming pool as well.  We were both afraid to move in the bed, thinking we might end up on the floor!
The noise went on until 2.30.  Then at 4.30 someone came and emptied the garbage which was all bottles!
Arturo and the owner showed up and once we showed them the bed, they took a very humble approach.  They offered to show us other properties.  We declined.  We were ready to get out of Trappeto.  Then they graciously agreed to return our deposit.  I was very happy that they did not put up a fight.  We basically said that this place was not fit for outside rentals and certainly not at the rate they were charging.
We had found a place way off the beaten track again but a great deal, A/C with a beautiful seaside pool affording you all the luxury of a great poolside lounger but ability to jump in the sea as well.  We drove about 2 hours east, enjoying the wonders of the Sicilian landscape.  It was truly beautiful.  We made a pitstop to get some coffee and again, the place was swarming with people.  I ordered two pastries and two cappuccinos, because I knew how to say cappuccino!  It was fast and furious but turned out to taste great.  We finally arrived at our destination, San Stefano di Camastra, which turns out is the ceramic making capital of Sicily.  We wandered down a winding road and found La Playa Blanca hotel.  We got out of the car and heard an ABBA song playing at the pool deck.  We somehow knew we had arrived at the right place! We couldn't check in right away but they allowed us to use the pool until our room was ready.  It was quiet and beautiful.  The sea is right there and is so warm.  It is a rocky beach filled with gorgeous stones but the pool deck is lovely so it really is the best of both worlds.  Finally we checked in and love our room.
Our hotel and pool area at sunset
It's spacious, clean and has A/C!  And it is quiet!  No restaurants or bars beneath us.
After spending the afternoon in the sun, we made our way up to the little village and enjoyed the feel of this charming, totally Italian little place.
Looked like a painting but this is just one of the building fronts in the little village
We found a restaurant and gorged on bruchetta, antipasti, and Doug had spaghetti arrabiata while I enjoyed ravioli in butter and sage sauce.  We finished it off with the obligatory gelato, Doug choosing stracciatella, me going with lemon.  YUM.  We arrived back to our nice little hotel and slept the sleep of the contented!  24 hours after thinking that this might be the worst holiday ever, we were feeling redeemed!
view from our balcony
Now I'm sitting on my balcony, listening to the waves come in and out, thinking about the cappuccino that awaits me at the provided breakfast, very happy to be far away from Gino, Vito, Arturo and Giuseppe in Trappeto.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Dual

Having surgery afforded me big blocks of time to rest, relax, and read.  I also had time to get some tasks that had been on my to do list but just never bubbled up to the top of the priority list.  One such thing for Doug and me has been applying for Swedish citizenship.  Several years ago, Sweden changed its laws to allow US Citizens to have dual citizenship.  We always knew this was something we wanted to do because as citizens of any European Union country, we can live and work there without the need for a visa.  And being Swedish citizens opens up new and different travel opportunities to places Americans aren't really welcome.  Read: Cuba.  And, sometimes the entry visa for other countries is more easily obtained by a Swedish citizen or is cheaper to purchase. Additionally, traveling in and out of our country of resident is often much easier for Swedish nationals.  All in all, we felt it was a great move in order to open more doors for great movement around the world.  Doug and I know that traveling in general and Europe in specific will always remain a part of our lives so why not secure that possibility by becoming citizens of a European nation.
The process was fairly straight forward.  Fill out paper work online that included a record of our work history, tax paying history, and general standing while living in Sweden.  You must have had your permanent resident and work permits for at least 5 years in order to qualify.  Then we had to send in scanned copies of our passports and current visas to live and work in Sweden.  Then we also had to send in our actual US passports so that they could verify our standing.   And of course, pay a fee.
Now, it is always a little nerve-wracking to send your one and only passport somewhere else.  I had been quite hesitant to give up my passport in recent months due to my mom's failing health.  Now seemed like a good time to do this given that our travel over the summer was limited to EU nations and the likelihood of needing our passports was reduced.
I was surprised by how quickly the process went.  I guess having all of the right papers along with the proper timeline of qualification really helped us out.  Within a month we had evidence of being Swedish citizens.  The next step was to take those papers to the police station where they photographed and finger printed us.  Within a week, we received a text saying that the passports were ready and violá.  We were dual citizens.
I am humbled by the privilege that this affords me.  We agonize with people who are trying desperately to gain permission to live and work in another country than their own.  Permission to live and work somewhere is a huge privilege and I do not take it lightly.
Today, we leave for a holiday in Sicily, Italy.  We will travel for the first time as Swedish citizens.  Kind of exciting!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Magical Seaside Dinner

Thursday evening we had made plans to have dinner at a seaside restaurant in a little place called Saltsjöduvnäs.  What made the experience extra cool was that we could drive our boat right up to the dock at the restaurant.  It felt very posh to go to dinner via boat! We went head to head with this big ferry.  We were riding the high seas as we went through its wake! But the weather was the real star of the show that evening!  It was a perfect late summer night.  Warm, sunny, calm waters, just lovely.  I want to rent this house someday!  Every time we pass it, I just long to stay there!
We enjoyed a fun meal with good friends overlooking the water and watching the evening sun change the color of the sky every 30 minutes or so. 
The view from our table
The air got cooler as the evening progressed but it was just oh so lovely.
Same view a little later!
We finally had to leave however as we needed to navigate home and it is now getting dark around 9.00p.m.  We jumped in the boat and headed out.  The colors created by the setting sun were magnificent but the big, bright half moon was also a real stunner.  It is just too cool to see the setting sun and the moon all at the same time! Even though it was a bit chilly on the ride back, fleece and a scarf made it possible for me to enjoy the wind in my hair and the breeze on my face as we ventured back into the marina.  It was dark as made our final approach.  But the water was so calm and seeing the houses on the water lit by night was such a special treat.  I saw stars in the sky for the first time since being in California in May!  I always feel a little melancholy when the long summer days start to shorten, but this has really been the most awesome summer in 15 years of living here so I don't really mind the chill.  The night sky is beautiful as well...I'm just not quite ready for night to fall at 3.00p.m.  Thankfully we're still a few months from the really short days that will inevitably come in this far north land in which we live.