Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sicily II - Cefalù

We were not sure what to expect when we decided to go to Cefalù. All I knew from the internet research was a beach town with a Norman-Arab-Byzantine cathedral and some old ruins on top of the mountain. We were also highly recommended by the tourist information guide in Palermo that Cefalù is easy and quick to get to by train since there are many trains going east and then north to Rome.

The train ride was very pleasant -- train was on schedule (OMG...can't believe it) and the Sicily coast line was just so beautiful that we couldn't take our eyes off the window. We were also thinking... what a beautiful and warm day to spend in a beach town! We walked toward to the town center and stopped by the tourist office to get a map and some tips for what and where to see. The lady in the office quickly recommended us to check out the mountain ruins. Then she specifically looked at our shoes and said "hm... I think you are okay to go up." We were like "What is she talking about? Well, whatever... at least she said it's okay." So, we headed to the hills. At the beginning, there were some well placed rocky steps so we didn't understand why the lady checked our shoes. About 15 minutes later, we could see the roof top of the houses, ocean, a lot of cactus, and the outer ring of the old ruins -- rocky walls and some old structure (couldn't tell what it was). After the fist part of the ruins, there was a guide with a note pad asking people where they were from. Then, we noticed that there were no longer nice steps for us to use climbing. It was more like small rocky and dirt path (see the picture on left which was not the worse part yet). After five minutes, the path was completely gone. It was a very steep hill and all we could do was to follow previous people's footprints. I was so afraid to look down, so I kept my head up. Then I saw an Italian couple maybe in their mid 50s hiking up the hill like us. The husband was fully in outdoor hiking outfit and the wife was wearing a dress with a 2" high heel shoes. I was thinking... does Italian hiking shoes requires 2" heel or is it an Italian woman should always be stylish even when hiking? I also thought that they must have not been to the local tourist information office; I wondered what the tourist office lady would say about her shoes.

It was so hot by midday... probably 90 degrees! Remember it was 40 degrees two weeks ago in Helsinki. What a difference!!

The view from the top of ruins was magnificent. No wonder people coming down from the hill said it was worth the hike. We walked all around the top... did not want to miss any pretty angles. Also, we wanted to enjoy this gorgeous view a little longer since it was a lot of hard hiking to get up there.

Down hill was so much easier but still scary. At the bottom of the hill (not where we started- was the other side) we saw a sign saying "BE CAREFUL - You must use tracking or sport shoes."

It was great to be back to sea level. We walked around the town center and checked out the cathedral. Out side of the cathedral, we even ran into the people we met on the bus from the day before. We told them about the hike and they were glad that they did not try because they could not take the heat even at the sea level with very minimum activity. They were smart though because they brought their swimming suites and they were ready to go the ocean. We wish that we had brought ours too. We were so hot.

Food... oh my... never once have we had bad food in Italy. This time, we even found a restaurant with a "Michelin" plaque on the wall. I don't remember how many stars there were but I remember it was goooooood!!!

Surprisingly, Cefalù has very nice walking path alone the coast line (just not on the hill. Interesting.) We walked along the seashore and enjoyed the ocean breeze. It was so nice. At the same time, Josh was trying to find some broken roof tiles falling from the old house at the edge of the cliff. It's funny that I got him into my roof tile collection.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sicily I - Palermo and Monreale Abbey

When I thought about Sicily, I thought of the mafia. Especially, when we started walking towards to our B&B, we got super paranoid and scared. The street was dark (we arrived 9pm), stores were closed, doors and walls were covered with graffiti, and only questionable people wondered around, and a few junk cars and some mopeds drove by. The only thought we had was "MAFIA! MAFIA!! MAFIA!!!" and we might be "ROBBED". About half way down the street, Josh decided to turn around and get a taxi. Better be safe than sorry!! Negotiation always comes first before you jump into a taxi in Italy. 15 euro for less than 5 minute taxi ride...those taxi drivers were tough negotiators--- What I can say! It at least prevented us from being lost and robbed and the hassle of dragging our suitcases.

Around the corner of B&B, we found ourselves in the busiest street in Palermo at such a late hour. There were many bars, pizzerias, and food stands. Tables and chairs were on both side of the street. People were relaxing and chatting away with their friends. It was a great place with a wonderful atmosphere. We found a table, got a couple beers, and started people watching. Besides the regular looking people ranging from teenagers to some older adults, there were definitely some mafia looking guys covered with tattoos and huge gold accessories around their necks and wrists. We also noticed some tourists walking by... not sitting with the locals... only Josh and me. It was such a fun place that we went back the next two nights after our dinners. It reminded me so much of the Taiwanese night market less the shopping.

There is so much to see in Sicily... even just around Palermo. From my research, we only picked a couple of places that were easy to get to and also interesting to see. So... after our first night of excitement and a good rest, we headed to Monreale Abbey. It's about a 30 minute bus (#389) ride from the Palazzo Reale to Monreale. Again, waiting for a bus is always longer than riding it. It's Italy... they don't usually run on schedule.

The abbey shows a varieties of cultures. It's a cathedral with Arabic structures and walls covered by mosaics with Norman art style. Even some parts of the floor we directly walked on are covered with mosaics. Surprisingly, they weren't covered with clear plastic floor mats to protect them. The abbey is gorgeous and we were fascinated by the art, court yard and the view from the roof top. There are 228 columns (in pair except the ones in the corner) in the court yard and each one of them has a distinct design from the other. Here are some close ups.

After visiting the abbey, we walked around and stopped by some souvenir stores. We did not find any roof tiles this time but we got a ceiling lamp (you can see the picture from the picture slide show.) I can't wait to have it installed above the dinning table.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Cheese Crackers (top left); Coffee Cake (top right); Rugalach Bars (bottom left); Helping Beth making a Apple and Pear Crumbles (her husband's favorite). Click the names for recipes.

Wondering what I do when I am not sleeping, watching TV, working on the blog, cooking, or traveling? Baking. Baking. Baking. I probably bake once or twice a week. Above are just some pictures I took. There were more like various kinds of chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, raspberry oatmeal bars, scones, and chocolate cake that I didn't remember to take pictures. You know most people grow wisdom tooth, we grow sweet tooth and it doesn't seem like we can remove them at all.

I sometimes share fresh baked goodies to my upstairs neighbor (a family of 3). The husband works from home and has been telling me how good my cooking smells. So...I feel bad if I don't share some or invite them over for dinner sometime. Once, ALL of them said that they wouldn't let me leave unless I surrendered the chocolate chip cookies recipe. The wife even made an appointment with me to show her how to make it. Although we could barely communicate with each other (she doesn't speak English), it was fun. It was a good opportunity for me to practice my broken German.