May 2017 Trip Report: Ortigia (Day 7)

Last day in Sicily was spent eating as much as possible! The pros of staying at a hotel with breakfast is it's easy to access and included in the price. The cons are of course not being able to go out and try breakfast and you might fill up by loading up on hotel breakfast. 

On our last full day in Ortigia, I tried not to eat too much to save room the rest of the day. Although Ortigia is very lovely, I think we could've cut it short by a day. But I didn't want to feel rushed which is why I planned to stay in town for 3 full days. You really need just a day or so to stroll around the city. I doubt there is an alley or street we did not walk down on at some point! If you love history and want to see everything, three days is good. But for me, I'm not that interested so I just like sampling food and wandering scenic venues. As I've said in past posts, I have limit to seeing museums and fortresses and churches!

The thing to see in Ortigia, however, is the archaeological park. I read mixed reviews on it and since Greece is still fresh in my mind, I passed on looking at more rocks. We did walk to the park (to get exercise in and walk off breakfast), it's about 20-30 minutes from Ortigia. Tried to wait for the local bus #2 instead but it didn't seem like it was coming!

Brilliant sandwiches  

Brilliant sandwiches  

Highlights of Food in Ortigia

All this was luckily discovered on our last day:

  • Caseificio Borderi: cheese maker by trade who now makes amazing fresh sandwiches for just 5 euros each! One is enough to share for up to three people (ask him to cut In thirds). The line starts at 9 am and can get long. I was the fifth person in line at 10 am and waited almost 45 minutes! The guy who makes the sandwiches is chatty and he tends to make two at a time (so if you order one w specific toppings he will make an identical one to sell later). My sandwich was on fresh bread with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, ham, mushrooms, rocket salad, and lemon juice and some other cheese. Was delicious and the cheapest meal we had! There are a variety of different toppings you can request. Great to pick up early in the morning and have it for lunch later in the day. They also sell olive oil and other items. 

 

  • Everywhere in Sicily you'll find jars of cream of pistachio and pesto pistachio for sale. Pistachio apparently grows very well in Sicily due to the climate so they have tons of pistachio products. We ended up buying cream of pistachio jars as well as cream of almonds. They are delicious! It basically tastes like Nutella but instead of chocolate flavored it's pistachio or almond. We bought large jars for 7 euros and found the price to be about the same (or higher) everywhere. Great for souvenirs too. 

 

  • Arancini Gluten Free: I love arancini! These hand size rice balls can be found throughout Sicily. In Ortigia we came across a gluten free Arancini fast food place near the center of town. Very cheap, 3 euros each and can totally share one. They have a bunch of options, including vegetarian and seafood and meat. We tried the Italian state one, which is vegetarian and mostly potatoes with a spicy kick to it (it was pretty spicy but good) and the one with beef sausage. Both were delicious and had a nice crunch. 

 

  • Sicily Fish and Chips:  We actually did not eat here but wish we did based on reviews. The internet is not that reliable with hours of operation for restaurants in Sicily so if you want to eat somewhere you should try to find it during the day first and check out if hours are posted. In this case we thought we could come for dinner but when we arrived at 6 pm it was closed. Knowing that most locals eat later we returned after 8 pm and it was still closed on a Tuesday night! Then I saw in one of the reviews that they close after they sell out so maybe that's what happened since many people seem to come here for lunch. Supposed to be fresh fried seafood. 

 

  • La Tavernnetta de Pietro:  Turned out for the best that Sicily Fish and Chips was closed as we got to try this place instead and this was the best meal we had in Sicily!!! Not only was the food so fresh but also so cheap compared to the other two places we had dinner in Ortigia! A large plate of mussels for 7 euros and three perfect pastas that were all 10 euros or less!!! The house white wine was also delicious and half a liter was only 5 euros!!!! Definitely come here for great homemade pasta and fresh seafood. There are two locations (across from one another on the same street but diagonally within a block). On the weekends I think both locations are open but on the weekday only one is. You can sit inside or outside on the pedestrian street. We did not have rsvps though you can make them online. We got lucky as showed up around 8:30 and waited just five minutes for a table. Others after us got turned away, the place was packed. 
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Sicily was great and we only had time to see the eastern side. Of all the places, Ortigia was my favorite to stay in but I did enjoy visiting and walking around Taormina for the scenic views. Ortigia has more charm but not a ton to do whereas Taormina there seemed to be more to sightsee and explore. Just depends what you like to do and how fast you want to pace yourself. If you don't care for museums, history, etc. you can definitely just spend 5 days visiting both. But if you want to relax and not rush then a week is good.  

May 2017 Trip Report: Ortigia/San Lorenzo Beach (Day 5)

Sunday! Usually in Italy things are shut down on Sunday so we planned to go to the beach today. I had done research a while ago and saw that you can rsvp for beach chairs at the private beach of Agua Resort. This resort is right near San Lorenzo beach and is supposed to be one of the best beaches in the area. So after breakfast off we went. It took us about two hours to drive there but it should've taken an hour. There was some traffic on the way to Noto but once we passed the congestion traffic was free.  

Agua Resort is kind of misleading. I thought it would be this nice resort with nice facilities but it was more of a collection of beach homes for rent and public facilities. The facilities were nice, clean and casual but I expected something a bit more upscale. Oh well.  It was also hard to figure out where to 'check in.'  Eventually somehow directed us to a group of Italians just standing around so I went over and showed them my rsvp which they did not have on their beach map. It was fine though, they had plenty of chairs and we rented three beach hairs under a palm tree for 20 euros. I was also told we could rent towels from them (our Ortigia hotel didn't have beach towels) but there were none to rent. Lastly I didn't see any food or drink services!!! Maybe we just too early in the season. It was kind of windy today and too cold to go in the water. Anyway we sat around for a few hours just relaxing. The chairs were nice and clean, not grimy so it worked out not to have towels over them at least. 

I do recommend this place for later in the summer but probably too cold for May. It wasn't cold but not really too warm either. The beach was pretty well kept and the colors of the water were clear blue.  

 

San Lorenzo beach

San Lorenzo beach

Afterwards we came back to Ortigia and explored parts of the city we had seen before. The main attractions seem to be on the northern and western end of the island and it was very lovely to walk around and take in the culture.  

Our best meal of the trip in Sicily so far was at Divino Mare. Everything was well cooked and fresh. The mussels were delicious and meaty and the salmon was sooo good. I had the truffle pasta with small shrimp and that was strong flavored and perfectly al dente as well. We also tried the codfish which was good but a tad saltier. All for 68 euros with wine! Cheaper and better quality than yesterday's meal.  

 

Divino Mare

Divino Mare

Then we walked by the Duomo at night which was beautiful and capped off the night with gelato nearby. Pistachio anything in Sicily is so good! 

Duomo   

Duomo

 

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Pistachio gelato is the best! 

May 2017 Trip Report: Mt. Etna (Day 3)

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Friday was spent all day on Mt. Etna, an active volcano that blew up as recently as a month ago! We did the tour with Etna People, who I thought did a fantastic job.  I think you can book up to a month in advance as the tours may be altered based on weather and what's happening on the mountain. 

We did the Etna Easy tour, which was 149 euros per adult and includes 4 stops--a cable car ride to 2700 meters up, then lunch, then walking around some old craters, then going into a lava cave, then visiting a gorge carved by lava.  

We had two tour guides, one who gave the tour in Italian and the other in English so the groups were split whenever necessary. One of the guides who spoke English well was a geologist so they give tons of facts.  

The Etna Hard tour goes to the summit but I don't think it was available due to the recent lava eruption last month. It is a bit chillier up the mountain and the tour gives you good jackets and hiking boots to borrow for free if needed.  

 

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We were supposed to see the valley at the top but it was too cloudy. Was still cool though, the terrain was all black rocks and sand and felt like we were on the moon instead. You do need to have good balance to walk around since it's so rocky but really if you're remotely fit you can walk around. It was also cool to feel the heat from the surface below. Just pockets of hot air when walking around. 

Where the eruption from April 2017 occurred.  

Where the eruption from April 2017 occurred.  

Lunch was a typical Sicilian lunch of some veggies with vinegar and two types of pasta. One was ravioli with pistachio cream and beef and the other was a macaroni pasta with mushroom and tomato sauce. Pretty decent, it's lunch at one of those restaurants that caters to tour groups.  

Crater face

Crater face

After lunch we walked around some craters. We walked around the entirety of the one above which was cool and great views of the area.  

 

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Afterwards we headed down to explore a lava cave. They give you helmets to wear and flashlights as it's total darkness and you must watch where you step. We only walked about 0.15 miles in but it felt longer due to the rocky jagged surface! 

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Lastly we went to see this gorge which was carved by lava flows hundreds of years ago. The water that flows through here is said to be therapeutic for your body and they unite you to soak your feet in the water so bring a towel/flip flops if you're interested in that.  

Overall a good tour to do if you're interested in volcanos/nature. A lot of walking is involved so it's quite active. We were picked up at our hotel at 8:45 and our day ended by 6:30 pm.