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After our perfect biking tour in Apulia (boot of Italy) in 2013 we decided to take another tour with Siciclando. This time we went to Sicily (a specialty of Siciclando) and our tour guide was Paolo again. We had another incredible experience with Siciclando Active Holidays (http://siciclando.com).

 

We experienced a very special two weeks in 2004 when we drove ourselves around Sicily, but we didn’t have time for all the places we wanted to visit in the far west and the Aeolian islands.

 

Dario (Siciclando owner) looked at our website from that trip and then created a bike itinerary for us including the places we missed. 

 

Our GPS tracks are on the map below. The green indicates our biking. The red indicates our travels both by car and ferry.

 

We traveled a total of 953 miles in Sicily in 18 days; of that, we biked 209.9 miles in 7 days, and ferried 170 miles.

 

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We stayed in Palermo for a few days before the bike tour started.

 

 The last time we were there was during December; it was very different in May!

 

One of our favorites in Palermo is the small church of San Cataldo. It was built during the Norman period (12C).

 

We sat awhile in the interior of San Cataldo appreciating the fact that it hadn’t been modernized through the centuries.

 

They were playing chants quietly in the background. It was very peaceful sitting there.

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The church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti is a 12C Arabo-Norman monument.

 

 It has a wonderful garden that shuts out the street noise making it a peaceful spot to wander.

 

The 13C cloisters are what is left of a monastery.

 

 

 

 

This is an apse of Palermo’s cathedral which was built in the 12C in the Sicilian-Norman style.

 

 The cathedral is very large and has been modified over the centuries, but the apses retain their interesting geometric decoration.

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When we had pizza together in Rome last year, Dario had told us that if we’d come to Sicily, his mother would prepare “real” Sicilian food for us. She did…and it was absolutely outstanding, memorable and yummy.

 

From left, two women from Canada on a self-guided tour (they offer those too), Ilaria, a guide from Siciclando, Dario and his mother, and our buddy Paolo.

 

It was a dinner with an incredible variety of very special Sicilian dishes which were served with lots of enthusiasm and fun.

 

Below is a map of Sicily where the GPS track of our biking is in red and the overnight stops are in yellow. We have wonderful memories of fun experiences. We soon got used to our 11am breaks for cappuccino!

 

For the first four biking days we biked hotel-to-hotel without transfers in the van. Going into some cities we just followed Paolo rather than trying to follow the written directions while in heavy traffic: e.g., go 200 m then turn left; go 150 m then turn right, etc. We didn’t bike in the islands.

 

We biked (this is for us!) a total of 209.9 miles in 7 days:

 

40 miles between Erice and Marsala (30 of those miles into a strong headwind!)

27.5 miles from there to Mazara del Valle (tailwind!)

28.6 miles from there to Casa di Latomie (an agriturismo near Selinunte)stopping in Selinute on the way

25.0 miles from there to Poggioreale (a town destroyed by an earthquake in 1968 which is now an attraction) –

We continued by van to another agriturismo, Rocca del Capperi where we had our cooking class.

 

After visiting the islands, we biked 30 miles along the north slope of Mt Etna

 

We were transferred by van to Syracusa, where we spent the night

From Syacusa we biked hotel-to-hotel 26.3 miles to Noto

and 33.5 miles from there to Ragusa/Ibla

 

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Erice

 

Erice is a walled hill city on the only “mountain” for miles around. There is one “main” narrow lane where all of the souvenirs, bakeries, wine tasting rooms, etc., are. It slopes uphill and is about a block long (runs completely through the town). We saw tourists only on that lane. We walked around the walls, checked out the narrow cobbled passages with traditional homes that are just one block off the main lane. We went through the old castle that is on the east end of the hill. It was fun exploring.

 

Here is one of the magnificent views from outside the walls.

 

 

The village church in Erice is the 14C Chiesa Matrice. The exterior shows it was intended as a church-fortress.

 

The interior is breath-taking as it is entirely in white, with intricate patterns on the ceiling, behind the altar and on the pillars.

 

The bell tower was originally a watch tower. We climbed the circular stairway inside and, unfortunately, stepped out onto the roof the exact second the bells started ringing the time.

 

Wow. That was loud!

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Here we’re having a refreshment break while biking to Marsala.

 

We were greeted by Paolo playing an aria from Rigoletto: La donna e mobile (The woman is fickle)! Click on watch the movie if you want to see and hear (it was very windy)

 

This is about 20 miles into the 40 mile ride south to Marsala.

 

All day long we could look back and see where we started in the morning: Erice at the top of the hill (in the background).

 

The first 10 miles were downhill (on the other side). We were amazed to meet 4 tour buses on their way up. We’re glad we got there in the afternoon so hadn’t seen many tourists.

 

At the bottom of the hill we turned south, right into a too-strong headwind that we battled for the next 30 miles. This was the hardest biking day!

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Even though we were totally exhausted from the biking, we did a Marsala wine tasting (we had to, it was on our itinerary and we were in Marsala after all!)

 

…And then we continued biking on a few miles to our hotel.

 

Quite the day!

 

Note Paolo: doing what everyone on the globe does nowadays!

 

The city of Mazara del Vallo was started by the Phoenicians and reached its high points both under Arab and Norman domination.

 

The Cattedrale del Santissimo Salvatore dates from the 11 c. with 17th c. remodeling.

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Prominent over the main entrance door is a sensitive relief panel showing Roger I  on horseback killing a Muslim.

 

So it goes…

 

 

 

 

 

Mazara is a beautiful and interesting seaside place by itself. But there is one attraction which makes it worth a journey.

 

Fishermen with drag nets at 1600’ below the water surface obtained the left leg of a bronze statue in 1997 and, incredibly, one year later found the torso. The statue was cleaned and re-assembled in Rome before it was returned to Mazara in 2003.

 

It shows a dancing satyr in sublime ecstatic dance (the kind of ecstasy observed with whirling Dervishes).

 

Some scholars attribute the statue to Praxiteles (4th c. BCE) some to the later Hellenistic period.

 

Photographs are not allowed in the museum. On the right is an image from the internet. It doesn’t come close what the statue really looks like.

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In Mazara we had our first pasta ai ricci di mare (sea urchins).

 

It’s a delightful dish and we had it a few times more.

 

Taking sea urchins commercially is illegal. But restaurants always have friends who supply them…

 

The only magnificent Greek temple site we visited on this trip was Selinunte.

 

On the right and below is a 5th c. BCE Hera temple.  

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Selinunte was founded in the 7th c. BCE and was very prosperous for centuries. We took a break in biking there to visit the site.

It allied itself to Carthage, but wound up being destroyed in 409 BCE by the Carthaginian Hannibal Mago (not the Hannibal of the Punic wars 200 years later).

The citizens struggled to survive until the Second Punic War (250 BCE) when it was completely razed.

Some of the ruined temples were built in the 5th c.  BCE.

In 1957 this temple was re-erected. The ruins are across a wide area.

 

 

Poppies everywhere.

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The earliest surviving temple dates back to the 6th c. BCE and was probably dedicated to Apollo or Heracles.

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On the way from Selinunte to Poggioreale we encountered a downpour which we survived by (both us and our bikes) hiding in Paolo’s van for a short while.

 

We were threatened by clouds like these all day but only that once did it head our way with a vengeance!

 

The unstable weather provides nice cloud images.

 

We biked from Selinunte to Poggioreale which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968.

 

A group of local volunteers are stabilizing the buildings in order to turn it into a tourist attraction.

 

It’s been used in a number of movies because of its suggestive atmosphere.

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From Poggioreale we drove to the small Rocca del Capperi B&B near Gibellina which belongs to another Paolo.

 

Paolo offers pretty elaborate cooking classes.

 

Juergen was the only student, Yvonne and our Paolo only observed, made smart remarks, drank wine and ate the food when it was ready.

 

The featured dishes were artichoke bruschiettas and artichoke risotto, which were made with Jerusalem artichokes from his garden, and pork cutlets rolled around local sausages.

 

This Paolo had cooked for the wealthy in Italy and for others in several countries when he decided to come to a remote part of Sicily to build his B&B.

The B&B is on a hill surrounded by green farms.

We really enjoyed the evening.

 

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We then moved on to the Aeolian Islands using the ferry from Milazzo. In red are our GPS tracks of the ferry rides and our touring of Lipari and Salina.

 

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The Aeolian Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

We went between the islands by one of these hydrofoils; Paolo and our van went by car ferry.

 

We started by staying on the island of Lipari for 3 nights. We (with the van) took a day trip to the island of Salina and toured there.

 

We took the ferry (without the van as there are no roads on Stromboli) to Stromboli where we spent one night and climbed the volcano.

 

Returning to the mainland meant stopping in Panarea, Salina, Lipari and Vulcano so it was a little tour!

 

Lipari is the most populated of the Aeolian islands.

It has a very charming old town which appears loved by the locals because there are flowers everywhere: on balconies and at doorways.

At the top of the hill is the castle, which started out as a Greek acropolis in the 4C BCE before being surrounded by walls in the 13C and reinforced in the 16C after the town was sacked by Barbarossa.

 

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This photo was taken while looking up a side street to the castle’s walls.

 

Paolo took us up on the mountain for dinner.

 

It was an amazing view.

 

The restaurant is famous for its rabbit dish which was excellent.

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From Lipari there is a good view of the smoldering fumaroles on the island of Vulcano. (Which is where we get the word)

 

We took the van and went to the nearby island of Salina for the day. We had lunch at a remote but beautiful hotel called Residence al Belvedere Salina.

 

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The Aeolian Islands are settings for two famous movies which we rented afterwards in memory of having been there. The first one is Il Postino (the postman) partially filmed at this remote village on Salina. The other one is Stromboli. Both movies highlight the beautiful, remote, and desolate mood one finds in the Aeolian Islands.

 

Dario told us to get capers from the Aeolian Islands (especially for his signature dish Pasta alla Pantesca, see recipe at the bottom of this report). We did so at this winery. We also got another little bottle of Pasito wine (we got another one in Marsala made from grapes that came from Panteleria). Pasito is a sweet wine to which raisins are added during fermentation.

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Granite (plural of granita) are originally from Sicily but are now available all over Italy. It is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings.

 

Siciclando’s owners and guides discuss where it is the best, and Tano’s on Salina wins.

 

Not only that, Tano’s wins because of Tano. What a guy!

 

It wasn’t quite the season when we were there and there was little to eat; the waiter called Tano and he came from his home with mozzarella and tomatoes and basil from his garden.

 

When we went to take photos, he came out, grabbed the plastic flowers and replaced them with these “real” flowers from his garden.

 

Only in Italy does a salad have so much flavor!

 

Yum!

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Here’s Tano!

 

…and here’s the granita. This one is a half-eaten strawberry granita. Juergen liked the coffee granita best.

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The main street in Salina has lots of charm and no tourists at that time. Tano’s is to the right of this photo.

 

This is a long distance shot of the island/volcano of Stromboli.

 

Stromboli has two villages, one on each side of the island, which must be boated between as there are no roads.

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This is from the other side from where we climbed on Stromboli.

 

Ever since Juergen’s niece told us years ago about her experience climbing Stromboli, it has been a bucket-list item.

Before the trip, we didn’t know we’d be able to check it off so it was a very happy occasion when we found out that Paolo had it on his bucket list too!

 

 

A view of our hotel in Stromboli. Our room is behind Yvonne – we could hear the waves at night.

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There is a restaurant on the property – we had seafood pasta that was one of the best-tasting and freshest of the entire trip.

 

Yum!

 

Another photo of part of our hotel and the volcanic black sand beach.

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We climbed (green GPS track)on a zigzag path from the village to the top of the crater.

We started climbing around 5 pm to be at the crater after dark. We climbed about 3000’ in 2.5 hours with only two brief rest stops.

People quickly traded their sweaty tee-shirts for fresh ones because it was cool up there.

(Our wicking shirts dried right away)

 

 

Below is the elevation profile of our climb.

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It’s not possible to climb without a guide as they want everyone going on the same trail. There were about 50 of us, separated into 3 groups each with a guide in front pacing his group. We were told if we started lagging behind we’d have to go on a different trail that didn’t go to the top.

We were in the second group; this photo is looking down on the group below us (tele shot).

The village of Stromboli is at bottom right behind the first walkers. At left in the distance is the trail that goes to a lower viewpoint.

We went almost straight up from the village, zigzagging.

 

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Almost the top – we “hung out” there until the first group cleared the lip of the volcano.

 

After waiting for about a half hour until it was very dark we climbed the rest of the way to the lip of the volcano.

There were about 5 hot spots that took turns showing off.

What fun!

The hour we were up there we saw almost continuous eruptions; our guide told us it was the best show in over a year; some people see only about 10 minutes of activity in an hour.

So we were very lucky. Click on watch the movie if you want to see a few minutes of the volcano in action.

 

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Getting back down was “different” and far faster.

We were told we had to “jog” down a 40%  grade for 25 minutes without stopping!

The guide said this is to avoid sand slides.

 

This was only possible because there is a place on the mountain where the ash is thick and running down it is rather like running down a sand dune.

 

 

This was a bit different, because once in a while we slid on small buried rocks and we were jogging in pitch dark. We had flashlights or head lights that only showed where we were stepping.

At the end of that time, we’d dropped about 1000’.

We then hiked across a rocky part before coming to another ashy place and we ran down another 1000’.

Yvonne’s legs were shaking by the bottom!

But we loved the experience of something new; and we got down in no time!

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Stromboli island and the desolate fishing village of San Vincenzo were practically unknown to the outside world. That changed in 1949 when Roberto Rosselini descended with a film crew and Ingrid Bergman to shoot the movie “Stromboli.” The world-wide fame of this movie and the associated scandal totally changed the isolated fishing village into what it is today: a travel destination. The villagers are still so grateful for the associated economic change that plaques and pictures are everywhere indicating various locations associated with the film (let alone the house where Bergman and Rosselini stayed).

Having been in San Vincenzo and having climbed the volcano prompted us watch the movie “Stromboli” after we returned home.

It’s a fascinating movie though deeply troubling: the hopelessness of changing one’s personality and the inability of escaping from one’s circumstances and the complex interrelation of both.

 

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Back on Sicily proper, we walked around the hill town of Taormina in the afternoon. This is the most touristy place in Sicily visited by many cruise ships.

 

There was a Greek colony here in the 8th c. BCE!

 

This theater was built by the Ancient Greeks, then changed and enlarged by the Romans who added a corridor for access by gladiators and animals.

 

The present appearance dates from the 2nd c. CE.

 

There is a wonderful view of Mt. Etna from the seats in this theater – as well as the sea.

 

This was the second volcano we saw that day.

 

We next biked along the north slope of Mt Etna which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 The landscape was very green and lush and full of spring flowers.

The combination of poppies, olive trees and Mt. Etna define that ride!

Oh… we forgot the beautiful old towns!

 

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It’s so much fun biking past towns like this one that it’s hard to stop riding to take a photo.

This is Randazzo. The church of Santa Maria was built with black lava stones. We biked on VERY narrow lanes through the wonderful old town, past the church to a square where we had lunch.

We can’t have an experience like that in San Diego!

 

 

Love those hilltop towns!

Not long after our lunch we came across this one, Castiglione de Sicilia, a sister city of Killarney.

 

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We were lucky (Dario always makes us “lucky” by selecting what we like) to be able to stay on the old island of Ortygia, which is part of Siracusa.

This is a photo of Hotel Gutkowsky where we stayed. The photo was taken from atop the sea wall.

We walked nearly everywhere in Ortygia (as we did in 2004) and had a memorable seafood lunch.

Ortygia is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

This is one of our favorite churches – in the world! It is the cathedral in Ortygia. There was a temple in this spot in the 6th c. BCE, which was replaced by a temple to Athena after the defeat of the Carthaginians in 480 BCE.

In the 7th c. CE, the temple was incorporated into a Christian church by building walls between the Greek columns of the peristyle, and a double arcade of eight arches was cut into in the cella (original Greek inner sanctum) to provide two aisles. During the Arab domination it was a mosque but  later restored to a Christian church by the Normans.

A good example of religious recycling.

On the left side of the church the columns can be seen both inside and outside!

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Parts of the Doric columns can still be seen today; this is the right aisle. Behind the cella wall parts of the Doric columns can be seen.

It’s very peaceful and pleasant to sit awhile there and think about all those centuries – about 26 of them!

 

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When we toured the 5th c. BCE Greek theater 10 years ago we were told they have a summer program of Greek plays.

 

Attending one of those plays went into our bucket list.

 

Most of the famous Greek dramas of the 5th c. BCE are tragedies (by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus).

 

However, there was one great writer of comedies: Aristophanes.

 

 

Our bike tour scheduled us for a night in Siracusa. We discovered that “The Wasps” by Aristophanes was playing that night!

It was written about the same time the theater was built (in the 5thC BCE) so that made it even more exciting.

We booked tickets for both ourselves and Paolo (he had a classical education with years of Latin and Greek). It is presented in an Italian translation so we studied the play in English before we left home so we’d understand what was going on.

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The photos at left and above were taken in front of the stage before the play started.

Paolo pulled a “surprise action” pose!

 

 

The play satirizes almost every powerful person in Athens at that time.

 

In this play, the Greek chorus (every play had one to explain the play to the audience) was dressed as wasps. The youths who accompanied them were costumed as grubs/pupae.

 

The set with the hive and their costumes was perfect.

 Music was played by a well known Italian brass quintet. They played any manner of songs while marching/dancing/playing around.

 

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“The Wasps” is about a man, Philocleon, who is “addicted” to being on juries where he is bribed by wealthy citizens.

 

The man’s son, Bdelycleon, puts a net over the house to keep his father inside, but the man keeps finding ways to “escape.”

 

Unlike elsewhere, there were no restrictions on photography or filming during the performance.

 

 

 

The clip shows the father, in the Wasps, complaining after he was caught trying to escape by wearing a horse costume.

 

The next part shows the musicians and wasps.

 

Finally, part of the trial scene. In this scene the son puts on a trial where his father can be the judge. The household dog is accused of stealing Sicilian cheese. Here, the kitchen utensils (actors in costume) are the witnesses.

 

The well-known Italian motor scooter is the“Vespa” the Italian word for wasp. A Vespa with a side car was used on stage.

 

If you want to see a few excerpts, click on watch the movie.

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The father goes to a party after the son coaches him on how he should behave. The drunk, misbehaving father is brought back home, bringing with him the woman in the above photo.

 

The photo at left shows the “loose woman” who arrived soon after, demanding recompensation due to the father biting her.

 

Juergen understands now why this play was not part of his Greek high school curriculum: too earthy.

 

 

We biked from Siracusa to

Noto along a road that provided this view of the main street of baroque Noto.

 

The street goes left to right in this photo with the large domed cathedral about in the middle.

 

In 1693 an earthquake completely destroyed the old Noto. This area was chosen for the new town and it was ENTIRELY built in the “new” baroque taste.

 

Noto is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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We stayed in a very interesting B&B in Noto: Il Barocco.

 

From the narrow street outside, it’s impossible to tell that behind an ordinary door exists this mansion – complete with a small garden!

 

This house was built in the 1800s by a Spanish noble family. Until a few years ago it had been managed by the city and included in city tours.

 

When the man’s (in the photo) grandmother died, he took control of the property and turned it into a B&B.

 

This room is used for the breakfast room – the wall paper is hand painted.

 

The convex façade of the Chiesa di San Domenico is considered to be a highlight of the Piazza XVI Maggio.

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A climb up the Campanile di San Carlo provides the best views of the city.

 

The Cathedral is at right.

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Noto-to-Ragusa

 

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As we had requested “easy” biking, our itinerary called for driving from Noto to Ragusa (a hill town). This is part of their “moderate” tour.

 

Paolo decided we could/should do it and as he had the directions for biking it we did. We were glad we made that decision because this ride was different from the others.

 

The entire ride was on a small road used by the farmers and we rode through large olive and grape areas – and others too. We rested and ate a snack of fruit at this gate to such a farm.

 

Note we climbed for 18 miles. It wasn’t steep until we went up into Ibla.

 

The poppies and wild flowers were as wonderful here as they were in Apulia last May!

 

 

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We made many stops to just “smell the roses.”

 

Just before Ragusa/Ibla (Ibla is the old town where we stayed) the road drops down into a ravine followed by a steep climb up to the town and our B&B.

 

We hadn’t had lunch so we decided to have a very early dinner. We found a very fancy restaurant’s cook standing outside and asked if we could eat then (it was only about 4pm) and he indicated yes.

 

It was interesting because there were two different groups of about 20 each (a christening and a confirmation) and people were all “suited up.”

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This was only the (seafood) appetizer! It was followed by the pasta dish, the main course, salad and dessert. Not to mention the wine.

 

The whole meal was incredible.

 

The selection, quality and presentation of food is a very important part of the travel experience.

 

That’s one reason we have so many dining pictures.

 

Ragusa/Ibla at dusk. Ibla is the old section of Ragusa.

 

We walked to the top and looked over at Ragusa.

 

This is the dome of San Giorgio.

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The neo-classical Duomo di San Giorgio.

 

“Jürgen” is “Giorgio” in Italian and is the name Siciclando uses for him. Yvonne’s Siciclando name is Ivona.

 

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Here is the delicious recipe for Pasta alla Pantesca for which we picked up both uva passolina (small raisins) and capers. There is no problem with US customs in bringing those back.

 

We are the two guests mentioned on top of the recipe from Siciclando’s website.

Recipe

 

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We have prepared this dish many times already and we don’t get tired of it.

 

On the left (it’s more than half gone in this picture) we had the pasta with Nero d’Avola which is our favorite Sicilian wine. Also notice our Italian wine glasses and Sicilian memorabilia (the plate with the Trinakria, the symbol of the island, and the moor vase which can be found in every souvenir shop. The story behind the latter is too long to tell here).

 

 

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