I really thought travel planning could be my plan B in life, but after August 18, I’m just not so sure. We landed in Catania, Sicily around 10:15 AM and made our way to the car rental office to pick up our car. The office was packed and everyone had to take a number. Our number was 46. We arrived while customer number 20 was being taken care of.
One hour had passed and our number was called. I walked up ready to pick up the car that we got for a steal (94 euros) for four days and handed the man my booking confirmation. He was struggling to find my reservation until he noticed that I booked the car for July 18th not August 18th…
One hour later, we rented a new car at more than double that price and were finally on our way to our apartment in Taormina. The hour drive went fast and we pulled up to the adorable town starving and in need of showers. We ate some pizza to kill the hour before check-in and then met our apartment host, Riccardo.
After an hour of suggested activities, restaurants and bars, we all showered and got ready for dinner and exploring. If you know Taormina, you know how small the city is, so when we say we walked the entire city in one evening you know we’re not exaggerating. We visited the city gardens, Parco Duca Di Cesarò, walked through the crowded streets and saw some pretty awesome views of surrounding cities and Mt. Etna. We finished the night with the worst gelato I have ever had. Am I being dramatic? Maybe. But I love ice cream/gelato and I have consumed A LOT over the past month, so I believe I am an accurate judge of tastiness. Julie and Derek ate theirs without complaints, though.
We finally enjoyed a full night of sleep and woke up ready to see the Greek theater and have a fat lunch before we got picked up for our Mt. Etna tour. Originally, we had picked an early morning/afternoon tour, but our guide Davide, asked if we wanted to do an afternoon/evening tour instead because he thought we would be able to see the sunset and “something special” (the glowing lava spewing from the volcano).
So, at the prospect of something special and sleeping in, we agreed to switch our tour to afternoon/evening. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn about two hours before we left for the tour and the skies became grey accompanied by thunder. It rained for a majority of our tour, but only a drizzle. The clouds also were not moving the way Davide had hoped and we weren’t able to see the sunset or the lava. Regardless, it was very cool to hike different parts of the volcano and to see the different lava flow from the various eruptions and the mummified trees.
When we got back to town, we had a quick meal. Julie got eggplant parm with a side of caponata (more eggplant). She loves eggplant and ate it for almost every meal. The next morning, we woke up, packed, said our goodbyes to Riccardo, dropped our bags in the rental car and then walked to Bam Bar for some Granita. We had been told by various people to get this slushy looking “breakfast” treat before leaving. We had been hesitant, especially to have it for breakfast, but we decided we couldn’t leave without trying it.
The minute we started walking from the rental car, the rain started. The walk from the car to Bam Bar is probably max 10 minutes, but with the pouring rain, wind, soaked shoes, and missing the turn, it took us about 40 minutes. But oh my god was it worth it. I got chocolate, which was pretty much ice cream, and Derek and Julie got coffee with a little homemade whipped cream on top. Granita also comes with a warm, fresh brioche that you use to dip in the … slushy? Dessert? Beverage? I am not really sure what to call Granita so we’ll stick with slushy looking “breakfast” treat.
It was delicious and so worth the soaked clothes. Thankfully, we had Julie there to remind us as we were freezing and soaking wet that it was “all part of the adventure” and “who else can say they walked barefoot through the streets of Taormina in the pouring rain?”
We arrived in Siracusa around 2:00 PM and found some parking in a nearby parking garage. After checking into our Airbnb, we tried to find somewhere to eat, which was near impossible because all kitchens were closed by the time we were ready to eat at 4:00 PM. With a little sweet talk from Julie and a big smile, we were able to get one kitchen to make us food. After some pizza, we walked along the water to Castello Maniace where Julie and I sat, talked and people watched while Derek went back to get his camera and forget my sweater I asked him for.
Anyways… we spent the rest of the night walking around through the streets and near the water with an 11:00 PM dinner to close the evening.
The next day we planned to go on a boat ride around Ortigia. (Side note: Ortigia is an island that is part of Siracusa and connected to the mainland by three bridges) There was a storm rolling in so there were only two times available 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM. When we arrived to book our tickets, it was 11:00 AM and we hadn’t eaten yet, so we booked the 1:00 PM tour and walked about ten minutes to the Ortiga Market where Caseficio Borderi, a famous sandwich shop, is located. Julie’s parents had visited and raved about the sandwiches so we had to go. The line wasn’t too long, and according to the girl who was in charge of making sure the line didn’t bother the food vendor to the left of the store, the length of the line was rare and it’s usually around the block. We thought we were going to be lucky with a quick wait, but when we told her we had to be somewhere at 12:45 and it was currently 11:45, she said we wouldn’t have time.
Luckily, Caseficio Borderi has outdoor seating that is attended to by waiters and she got us a seat and told the waiter we had to be somewhere at 12:45. So if anyone reading this post plans to go to Ortigia and wants a fresh Italian sandwich, go to Caseficio Borderi, find a seat and skip the line. I’m not sure if this is how it always goes, but we had no say in what was in our sandwich. We had two different ones and honestly, I still don’t know everything that was in them.
We were met with thunder and dark skies as we got into our small boat. Within one minute of getting on the boat, we approached a bridge that had the smallest opening below and if I hadn’t gone through myself, I would say it is impossible for a boat to go through. Without much warning or telling us how low we should get, we were all completely bent over, heads on our knees, and I was on the boat floor. It was super cool, but a tad claustrophic.
Our captain did not speak any English, but thankfully there was a sweet Italian woman from Milan and she did all the translating. If we didn’t have her we would’ve had no idea what we were seeing. The boat ride ended around 2 PM as a storm was rolling in.
After the boat ride, Julie and I walked around, ate some gelato and visited the Duomo. Derek worked out in our apartment. We met back up to shower and pack and then headed to dinner by the water. We woke up early the next morning to drive to the airport for our flight to Rome.
By the time we arrived at our Airbnb it was 5:00 PM and as always, we were famished. A consistent eating schedule is difficult when traveling like we did. We walked around the Spanish steps and found a restaurant to give us some energy so we could finish Julie’s last night in Europe on a high note. After dinner, we visited the Trevi Fountain just in time for some more lightning, thunder and rain! The rest of the night consisted of shopping, gelato and getting soaked in the rain. No umbrella could save us and after wearing my leather sandals twice through a rainstorm, I decided to lose a pound or so in my suitcase.
Julie left early the next morning and Derek and I set out to enjoy what we could of Rome in one short day. Free tip to our readers: Don’t try to do all of Rome in one day. We spent a solid 7-8 hours trekking around Rome in 90-degree weather trying to see the highlights of the city. I visited Rome four years ago, but Derek had never been so we went back to many of the spots I had already seen.
In order to make the transportation between each spot easiest, we bought a one day ticket for a hop on hop off bus tour that took us back to near our Airbnb and to everywhere we wanted to go. Derek and I visited the Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza Venezia, and Vatican in one afternoon. It was interesting to go back to these places and see them again. To be honest, Rome was never my favorite city, but after Thursday, I sort of fell in love and will definitely return and spend more time there (away from the main tourist traps though).
25 Days later...
Traveling is difficult period. Traveling to 13 cities in five countries over the course of 25 days is tiring. It's exhausting, and it's beautiful.
We learned how to make the best of what time and resources ($$) we had. We were able to share amazing experiences with friends. Derek and I didn't kill each other. And most importantly, we were able to experience new cultures, try authentic foods, and meet people we would have otherwise never known existed.
I think I can speak for both Derek and I when I say these past 11 months have been the perfect combination of both challenging and exciting, and a time in our lives we will always look back on and wish we could go back to. We are both so blessed to have met such wonderful, caring people along the way and I am so lucky to leave Europe with lifelong friends across the globe.