Rome: families, food and fun…but first, the ferry

Three siblings from different corners of the world converged on Rome’s old town to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my elder sister’s birth; what a great choice! But we had to all get there first…

Our vehicle of choice was the ferry from Palermo to Civitavecchia…it is something we have done a couple of times before and it beats the pants off driving from Sicily up the world’s most road-worked road…but that was when the weather had been good. I will give it to you straight; I am NO sailor…I grew up in a land-locked country and the feeling of being on a boat for prolonged periods has never felt quite right to me…oh yes, I think too that I have seen the (original) Poseidon Adventure too many times in my youth. The weather had come down from the North of Italy where they were experiencing terrible floods and other biblical events….I asked the shipping office what they thought and they said “just a bit bumpy”. Ha! I was tempted to drive through the night rather than get on board, but get on board we did…batten down the hatches me hearties!

We were in the front of the ship…and I call it a ship because it was; I mean it had swimming pools and all..but that made not one jot of difference…once we got out from the protected water of the bay it was up and down more than Berlusconi’s bottom (imagery too rich perhaps?)?? I thought I was gonna be ill but managed not to be, both our girls soldiered on through the night and at first light both sat up and said “Mummy, Daddy, we have a funny taste in our mouths….”braaaaaaarrrrr”” sick all over the bunks…..at least it was the morning right? So we hosed everyone down in the washing machine that was our little shower and headed off for breakfast…we were the ONLY people there…they even had to call for crew to brave the standing up part of the job. The lady on the till (whom I believe completely given I had seen her the day before in the book shop on board) said that it was the worst crossing she had endured in 10 years…lucky us!

Still, shaken, stirred and somewhat depleted in the case of the kids, we arrived safely!

First up, Mrs DMD found the ultimate bling apartment; it was the kind of place that gives you a bon….ummm …rephrase….the kind of place that is very pleasing on the eye. It was on the 3rd floor of a building and perched above Piazza Navona, in fact our view was the central fountain on the Piazza as well as the many market stalls that had sprung up for the festive season…wow, yep, wow again. It was surprisingly well priced, was VERY modern ie the plumbing worked and as usual we found it through a combination of searching ownersdirect and homelidays.

Arriving in Rome by car with two kids, two car seats, 3 bags, 3 boxes, two scooters, two trunkies and various other bits of paraphernalia is not for the weak at heart…..we illegally deposited our car as close to the apartment given that the entire old city is pretty much out of bounds and then started the lugging process over cobbles and dodging motor scooters….try it, it is a real hoot, even better when it is cold and rainy, I dare you. We met the landlord at the flat and of course he wanted cash for 80% of the rental as is the done thing; however my bankcard had been swallowed by a machine so we were a few hundred short…thank goodness for paypal eh? the modern way all done by mobile and we were done!

My sisters converged from two of the other corners of the world and we did loads of walking; the Trevi fountain was first as my girls love it….I told them about Fellini and after that the eldest wanted to go back and back and also swim in it….we got blown up by the cops for dangling her toes in…tut tut. We stopped for coffee and to get out of the cold wind….Mrs DMD also wished to try on jackets in Trussardi…yikes. Rome and Paris, what is it about just wandering (probably have to included Barcelona too)….they are just made for us modern tourists to wander about, take in a few sights, eat, drink etc. I godarned love Rome.

For the big 50th dinner we ate at Da Armando al Pantheon; it wasn’t my first choice but with 10-11 of us, we didn’t have a host of options. They were very good to us in there; a little pushy perhaps as regards ordering, but given they don’t seem to take tables that big that often, it worked out ok. The food was delicious….one of my sisters didn’t think so but that is more about what you pay for something as opposed to what it tastes like….the Cacio e pepe pasta was the best we had tried in Rome this trip…not to say it rates as “the best in Rome” not at all, just very good. We had large plates of shared antipasti and in fact too much food as usual…all washed down with flagons of Prosecco to somehow try and paper over the familial cracks that always appear whenever the 3 of us are in the room together…

Parting is such sweet sorrow…yes, the next day we were all off in different directions and for us it was the return leg to Oceania…via a cheeky 10 hour layover in Dubai airport hotel…woo.

How would I summarise this most recent adventure? would a few words do when so many would be better? I would say that it was a simply amazing family time in one of the most hospitable zones I have had the pleasure to travel around and I will step on the plane richer for the experience in every respect.

Night night Rome
DMD

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Palermo: back where we started from….

Ok so we are almost done with our trusty Renault Grand Scenic…after a weekend in Palermo, and the ferry ride to Rome it gets sold back to Renault at the agreed price! Hopefully they don’t notice the dent in the boot and the large scrape down the right rear flank…kind courtesy of some white car somewhere in Agrigento…thanks.

We arrive in Palermo in good time to meet and greet our hosts; the lovely Duke and Duchess…and no, I am not kidding. They have converted a number of the rooms in their vast Palazzo into apartments and with enormously high ceilings, 180 sqm of space we felt very grateful. The family is descended from Lampedusa of The Leopard fame and their place is staggering; my natural respect for other people’s privacy prevents me from going into too much detail (also they might be “connected”) but suffice to say that at 180 Euro per night for this place within easy walking distance of the 4 Quarters of Palermo, it was a billy bargain.

So what did we do for 3 days??? Well it should be remembered that we were consolidating prior to the final push, so we weren’t feeling terribly ambitious and it was also starting to get a bit wet and cold…however:

We went back to Mondello where we had spent a month the prior summer and what a change! Ok, the places are all open etc but wow the beach is different…all the hundreds of wooden beach cabins had been packed up and packed away somewhere leaving a very large wide open beach….

We pulled up at Renato’s bar for a coffee and the waiter immediately recognised us; given we had been there twice a day, every day except their day of closing and Mrs DMD had used a table there as an office the prior year…..not surprising. Their coffee still works very well; their gelato still looked good too. A warm homecoming.

On the way back to town we stopped at Badalamenti Cucina e Bottega, Viale Galatea, 55, 90151 Palermo. This is a place we loved a year earlier, the three brothers run a great front of house and they really couldn’t have done enough for us previously. It was SUCH a pleasure to see that it hadn’t changed and they well deserve their place amongst the higher ranked eateries in Palermo. Marco sat and caught up with us as we ate a very delicious lunch; once again nothing was too much trouble including doing all they could for our two girls as regards enjoying an adult orientated lunch. 5 stars from me.

One further place we ate at for lunch (conveniently located across from our lodgings) was L’Ottava Nota….this is a very very nice place; filled with tourists when we were there but very good modern takes on Italian food and I think without the kids we would have settled in….we also received a handsome discount being guests of the Duchess so it turned out to be very cost-effective too!

Staying in Via Butera was verrrry convenient; Carrefour market was close by as were a plethora of cafes, restaurants and shops; we could walk pretty much everywhere with our kids on their scooters. We also found a great rosticeria on the Piazza Marina; we grabbed a couple of takeaway cooked chickens, chips and cooked vegetables one night when we didn’t feel like going out and it was very good food.

Up the road from the square was a simply superb caffe/chocolate shop….given things were turning cold we stopped in for a few unbelievably good hot chocs and some of their homemade cakes, brownies etc…just so good the girls thought it was xmas and it almost was!

Off to catch the ferry to Rome and the final final final leg of our great big adventure….weather is terrible, so wish us luck!

Yours
DMD

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Agrigento: The Valley of Shirleys

On the good ship lollypop, it’s a long way to the end of the temple road……
And there we areeeeeee…..happy landing at the coffeeeee barrrr

Or something.

We drove to Agrigento from Modica through Agrigento province and went through Gela amongst others. Gela sadly we chose not to prioritise as a stop….it is seemingly littered with historical sites, however the only sites we saw from the car were those around the oil refinery. It was less easy on the eye than some other refineries I have seen….much less….it made me very grateful for what I have and where I have lived, let me just say that. We continually tell the girls how lucky they are to experience what they have and play with the toys they have been given, but it really is so important to me that they grow up appreciating the inequality in life….my family is from working class Liverpool (England that is) or thereabouts and so in me there is something that strives for betterment but not at the expense of “soul”…still onto Agrigento.

We arrived at the Villa Hotel Athena at about afternoon tea time, what? We don’t do overt luxury on our trips but for one night and the price being offered, it was a no brainer. Stand in room, see loads of old temples…..mission accomplished.

The Hotel was good, clean and the “suite” plenty big enough for the four of us….we even found space to play hide and seek…well if you call hiding standing upright in the middle of the room with a pillow on your head…..what was lacking as regards true quality was:

- a decent breakfast, it was ok, but put yourself up against 5 stars and you have to be judged….scrambled eggs even in Italy, should have been better…tut tut
- service. Let me qualify……the check in was very pleasant as was the gent serving us the smashed eggs the next morning, there however appeared to be a relative paucity of other people around to get a coffee for instance…in the lounge….under the nose of the guy who appeared to be somehow connected to the ownership of the place. We guessed this due to his sense of self-importance and the M3 parked across the entrance at all times.

We had to eat and we decided to try one of the supposedly better restaurants in town; Il Re di Girgenti. It was a quirky place on arrival with much in the way of bizarre artworks on the walls….they gave us binoculars and a telescope to spy on the illuminated Temples by night and that was superb; our girls thought it was tremendous! Many games of Pirates and Captain Hook ensued….

On the food…checking with Mrs DMD she says:

The food was very good, we had a pesto pasta which was very tasty, a tomato pasta, good but not outstanding, very good swordfish involtini and lamb shank with great flavour but which could have been cooked longer to really fall off the bone. We were the only ones dining at the early hour and after delivery of the meals service slacked off, there was no follow up to see how things were. The waiter also failed to deliver our second side dish of grilled veges (the warm cherry tomato and mozzarella salad was great) yet we were billed for it … A total bill of 66 euros including water and a glass of wine, plus a very good semifreddo, we sadly did not pick up the additional charge until the next day…never mind.

The next morning was the big journey to the Temples. Wow is my first word…totally overused yes, appropriate here, definitely.

The site is very large, well perhaps it just appears so when carrying a toddler half the way? Could be. The Temples of Juno and Concordia are startling as regards the quantum of stone still standing, particularly the latter. We understood that Corcordia owes this to a rapid volta face when the caretakers flipped from pagan to christian to save the Temple; good for you I say…whatever saves your shack, do it. Heracles Temple fared less well but is very very fine as regards large chunks of stone lying about lazily and commands a decent view from its position.

All-in-all we only got round less than half of the park, much more to see including catacombs gardens etc…well worth a visit however!

So that was Agrigento, huh? Whambam and all that! I must say however, that Agrigento as a township didn’t really appeal so staying outside it eg at an Agritourism might be the way forward…it an overly modern feel to it.

Palermo next, scraps with UPS and our ferry to Rome…

DMD

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Modica: Cava anyone? Too early?

It was our last day in Modica. Boo and hiss I hear you say and quite rightly, we have really enjoyed our time here. I wouldn’t choose to come here over for example Ostuni in Puglia, but it has been an interesting stopover.

We decided that given the slightly inclement weather, we would go to the Cava d’Ispica just outside Modica and then to the undoubtedly soulful Centro Commercial for a stock up….

The Cava system was MUCH bigger than we imagined; ok the parts that we saw are not as dramatic as some, but it is about 14 kms in length and without encumbrances sporting stumpy wee legs, it would have made a great there and back walk/hike/run. There are a very large number of small chambers to choose from and the necropoli were a surprise….we tell the girls that the small ones in the cave walls are “shelves” where people put their ancient toys…no need as yet to confront the issue of infant mortality….

There were a group of volunteers cleaning up the cave frontage of weeds etc and having a picnic…stupidly in an effort to speak my 5 mins of daily Italian, I engaged and before I knew it, at 10am I had a glass of (rather nice) homemade wine in hand and we were off to the races…

So, a morning headrush, ancient cave dwellings and a trip to the local cave caffe for some black juice and the day was looking up.

The centro commerical grandly called La Fortezza proved to actually be one of the better “malls” we have ventured into in Italy with a very good supermarket, the usual array of Geox etc shopping and some ride-ons for the kids. It is not a destination in itself for sure, but we found all we needed there as regards tourist products not readily available at the markets; think oats for porridge, organic fruit bars for the girls, a broad selection of wine for the driver etc.

Home to our very comfortable rental house with small kids playground….the benefits of choosing a country location this time….oh yes, it also had a free cat!

Agrigento tomorrow and certain Temples….

DMD

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Modica: Pozzallo for sand and some of the blue wobbly thing

The last predicted sunny day during our time in Modica, though I have been careful not to invest full faith and confidence in the weather forecasts; we awoke and decided the girls deserved some sand between their toes. We had previously seen Marina di Modica, Donnalucata and so decided to head for Pozzallo a mere flesh wound of a drive away.

Obviously we had to do a drive-by at Caffe dell’Arte in Modica for the usual especially as tomorrow is their day off; tut tut..we took in some Crespelle di Riso yesterday which were absolutely superb. The coffee was to fuel the fires for today and put behind us a very broken night. I couldn’t sleep, the girls were alternately awake most of the night etc etc heavy lids and bags the size of proverbial Gucci suitcases under the eyes today.

Pozzallo then….I know at least one (perhaps the only) reader is currently in Pozzallo, so I will choose my words carefully…perhaps worth saying that we didn’t undertake this trip to Italy for the beaches….we have lived in Australia for the last 8-9 years and there are beaches to burn there. Pozzallo, Bandiera Blu or not, was not the best “town beach” to look at. I am certain that within easy reach there are much better looking beaches and villages, but Pozzallo was a bit “modern” in terms of construction for my liking. As we have learned, we do not judge the towns by their proverbials, so headed down to the beach.

The water like all the coastline we have experienced hereabout was crystal clear and much warmer than anticipated; there were no waves… I only went in up to my knees as the kids were in and out carrying water back to the sand castle they were building and foraging for more shells to take home. The locals sauntering by thought us crazy given the girls were in swimmers and vests, but 20 degrees with sun is warm enough for beach behaviour in my world!

I took some shots of the beach view to give you a sense of the immediate outlook and you can judge for yourselves, however we had a great morning of fun, sand and a total lack of anything I would call surf….more salty lake.

PS. The only thing that spoiled the occasion for us was the VERY smelly idle water about a third of the way up the beach…I mean phewwwwwweeee; sort of skunk meets dung meets garbage meets armpit.

Back for a run and lunch. I never run so that was novel in itself….and on that, tip of the day is “don’t run with a belly full of anything, let alone homemade and very garlic ridden humus”….

Off to loosen the hamstrings and plan the rest of the days activities; writing my CV anyone?

DMD

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Modica: Sale e Pepe

I was going to write this as a gastronomic pastiche of the greatest moments of Salt-n-Pepa’s career…then I realised there were none so it would be impossible; no, no debating on this one, none, nada.

So, let’s talk about Senapo baby,
Let’s talk about it…..

It was on the menu again last night at our second visit to Sale e Pepe. I hope I have written it correctly..I understand it is some sort of wild mustard plant and can make you painfully ill if susceptible. Ok then, tuck in.

We like this place for a number of reasons:

1. The proprietor looks like a man who really likes his food; enough said
2. They open at 6-30 which means family dinners are easy
3. They don’t have a menu per se, he tells you what they are cooking that day and what is fresh.

Last night we had:

- pasta with senapo, spicy sausage, pomodoro secco and a sprinkle of chili flakes;
- lolli di fave: this is a soupy, pasta thing that is very winter orientated….so Mr Big told us as he corkscrewed his forefinger into his cheek…meaning “tastes goooooood”
- the girls had plain old gnocchi sardi with tomato sauce.

We followed this up with:

- involtini di vitello, an orange salad with capers, olives, spring onions and flakes of chili
- the girls had veal steak and inhaled it.

Oh yes, we also had a sort of frittata….spinach, egg, cacciocavalo cheese and prosciutto baked in the oven as a contorno and some stuffed mushrooms.

Very very happy with all of this; so happy we ordered a takeaway portion of eggplant parmigiana….which I have just eaten for lunch it was truly delicious. Just fried eggplant slices, tomato, egg and cheese…..baked.

To top it all off we nipped around the corner to Pasticceria Cappello and had a few little dessert treats. I had one made from carob flour, the girls (times 3) shared mini bacio biscuits stuffed with chocolate and a small delight made from almond paste and strawberry!!!!

Today we rest!
DMD

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Donnalucata: Inspector Montalbano and all, gov’

Another day, another daytripette. Today we figured it was warm (very) and so we would load up the scooters and head for the sands of Donnalucata. We had been told it was molto carina and who can look past that?

In order to prepare myself, I looked up the name in Google and Wiki tells me:

Donnalucata comes from the Arabic Ayn-Al-Awqat, which means the “fountain of the hours”: the name stems from the discovery by an Arab man of a spring in Donnalucata that flowed five times a day at the same time as Muslim prayers.

Well at first I figured “that’s very nice” I mean water on demand; then I realised I would have to pray to get it…hmmm now my hypocrisy is virtually limitless, but the idea of being struck down whilst divining (double entendre anyone), was a little chilling…..

I arrived expecting flowing streams and genuflecting personnel and sadly or gladly I saw neither. I did however see a sign saying that Donna was part of the bigger than cottage industry that has sprung up around the TV programme Inspector Montalbano. I am a fan, I mean I don’t watch it often but the harsh Sicilianness of the scenery caught my attention when I first watched it some years ago. I haven’t been on the tour though I think we might have crossed paths with the good Inspector in other places eg Marzamemi perhaps???

So no water, but soap opera then…it has a nice lack of symmetry to it, yes?

We nipped into a caffe Sottosopra near the Port on via Pirandello, as the entire family needed the bathroom…given I always feel bad about using the facilities without purchase, I ordered a decaf and asked the chap and chappess about the Orzo Caffe and Ginseng Caffe machines that appear in most bars in Italy…before I could say another word, I had a cup of both in front of me to taste. The Orzo…nil points, it was bitter and toasted according to chap, I would call it burned….positively charred. The ginseng was however very nice; it reminded me of Horlicks when I was younger; soothing, slightly sweet and comforting….the drink, not me, that is.

We took a walk along the promenade in the hot sun….summer must be like a warm day in Hades, and went for a paddle in the sea…not before face planting the youngest on the concrete given errant scooter driving by moi. Oops. The sea was very clean and not a dog poo in sight…Ponza take note. At the end of it, I had bulging pockets filled with stones, shells and other marine matter as the girls love to collect special/magical mementos of trips to the beach….quarantine in Australia will love these items for sure.

Hungry we turned for home and stopped in at the Conad supermarket between Donna and Scicli to check for decent yoghurt without tons of sugar. Bingo! The fridge is now full of the stuff which is great as I am addicted (this week) to yoghurt and free trade cinnamon I found in a little shop here.

Right now I must go and warm up; Mrs DMD and I are missioning to try and exercise the majority of the days prior to leaving…building good habits etc.

Yours in lycra
DMD

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