Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ringing the New Year Sicilian Style

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been” Rainer Maria Rilke

Hello and Happy New Year!  I'm back from a few days in #Sicily, making new memories to savor for years to come.  I found so much beauty in so many different levels it will be hard to tell you everything at once, but I will try.

Before we set foot on the island I knew more or less what everybody knows about Sicily: island on the south of Italy with great food and great weather.  Obviously Sicily did not disappoint in those areas.  The capital #Palermo, on the northern coast of the island, is a big and buzzing city where old mixes with new and shabby with chic.  We walked the night-scene of Palermo where I found refreshing how fruit vendors, gourmet restaurants and toothless friends enjoying drinks in a garage coexist as necessary pieces of the puzzle.  The low end places offered cocktails and shots for only a couple euros while a meal at a nice place will go for around 50 euros per person.  I was able to have a date night while in Palermo and I highly recommend restaurant GAGINI (Via Cassari,35 -90133 Palermo).  The food was amazing, the chef was able to redefine some old traditional recipes in sophisticated ways that respect the essence of the original.  Very very good!  If you didn't already know, most restaurants in Italy open for dinner at around 8 pm, so have a snack mid afternoon to be able to enjoy not only the food but also the ambiance.  

From Palermo we traveled by car and set base in #Catania, a charming city on the eastern coast of the island located at the foot of the Etna volcano, which lends its architecture the uniqueness of the lava stone.  There, the main squares (Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Universita) were all decorated for the holidays.  Most Italian cities host concerts for new years and people gather for the countdown at midnight.  Another Italian tradition is to get together with friends for a big meal, in Italian "cenone" that consists mainly of fish and seafood dishes.  If you ever take part on one, be ready to eat and eat and eat some more.  Our new year's eve dinner started at 8:30 and it ended a few minutes before midnight, with just enough time to run outside to see the fireworks and watch the concert at the square.  The one attraction I would have liked to see was the museum of the World War II Landing of Allied Troups in Sicily.

#Siracusa, another important city of Sicily of a completely different feel offers picturesque narrow streets, and wide open spaces near it's cathedral.  It is also the birth place of Archimedes of Syracus, a leading scientist and mathematician of classical antiquity.  An interactive museum dedicated to explore his work is great for children of all ages.

When looking for a restaurant in most of Italy, I try to stay away from the ones in the main squares as they gear towards tourists and may not be the most authentic.  If you feel adventurous, try to walk a couple of blocks from the main streets or squares.  We've found some of the best mom and pop restaurants that way.  I also try to find recommendations on line, but it doesn't hurt to ask the locals (store clerks for example) where do they eat.  In Syracuse we ate at Trattoria Kalliope (Corte degli Avolio 4, Ortigia, Siracusa) and had a great and affordable meal.

#Taormina, a charming city on top of a mountain is one of those places where you have to park a bit far for the center of town.  Then a free shuttle bus is offered to the doorways of the old city.  Oh what a great place to people watch!  As Taormina is located at a higher point, the views of the ocean are spectacular, but I came out with the impression that locals were out only to parade up and down the main street, to see and be seen.  The three photos below were taken in Taormina.

If you are a fan of Italian pottery plan an excursion to Caltagirone.  A Sicilian town know for its production of pottery, terracotta and maiolica.  Most city streets are lined with ceramics stores, my favorite one was owned by Angelo Varsallona who has a facebook page with countless photos of his products (listed as Angelo Vasallona Ceramiche Artistiche).  He also takes orders and ships internationally.

Lastly, another attractive small town, this time on the western part of Sicily, is #Trapani, know for being the city of salt, for its salt pans and old wind mills.  There I found this great restaurant called Ristorante Antichi Sapori, where you can savor all the typical Sicilian dishes and as most #Italian restaurants, they will put together a simple pasta dish for the children even if it's not on the menu (ask for pasta pomodoro which is pasta with a simple tomato sauce or spaghetti aglio olio, which is just pasta with olive oil and garlic, kids always love them).  For the adults however, I recommend you try their couscous with fish broth and fried seafood, it was out of this world!  During our lunch several locals stopped by to get their couscous and fish broth to-go.  You know you found a good restaurant when it's patronized by the locals.

And that is what I was doing for a few days between the old and the new year, recharging my batteries and getting ready for more exciting adventures as Gaby Around the World. 

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to visit Sicily in my next trip to Italy! Great tips, thank you!