Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Sibleys in Sicilia

Sicily is one of those 'can't miss' sort of places. Though it is a long trip from Tuscany to Sicily, it is totally worth it. If you are already in Italy the best thing to do is get a RyanAir flight from Pisa to Trapani. This is the cheapest thing we could find. To take a train and ferry you need almost two days just to arrive. Trapani is a better travel hub than Palermo in my opinion. Palermo is much like Naples... dirty, busy, and full of people. It can get tiresome if you are trying to enjoy a relaxing vacation. Trapani is a nice port town with not so nice beaches. It is a great place to start out because you can get anywhere from there. The city center is 'carina' and it is fairly calm. The Trapanesi do their 'passeggiata' at night through the center of town, stop for an 'aperitivo', and window shop all along the way.

The best thing about Trapani is the three islands that are easy to get to and beautiful. The first is Favignana which is really touristy, so we didn't go to this one. We went to the second island called Levanzo. Beautiful and historic, this island has everything you would want in a day trip. You can see go to the 'Grotta Genovese' which is a a cave where the drawings and etchings from neolithic and paleolithic times have been preserved. These tours are good, you get the tour and the ride on the boat to the cave for 15 euro. However, they do not speak english. We were asked improvisationally to translate for the tour. Thank goodness we were there, but to see these works of history in person was priceless. Also, for obvious reasons you cannot take pictures. Above is a picture of Levanzo.

The trains in Sicily do not work the same as the rest of Italy. The stations are much smaller and some don't even have a 'biglietteria' where you can buy tickets. We learned this the hard way! We woke up and decided to go to Segesta. In Segesta is a Doric Temple that dates back to 489 B.C. and a slightly restored Greek Ampitheatre that is amazing. If you do not have a car, when you get to Segesta you have to walk to the ruins. It isn't too far, but it is hot, so I suggest bringing a straw hat and sunblock or you will definitely burn. Once you get to the ruins, you buy a ticket for entrance and for the bus up to the ampitheatre (the bus trip is air conditioned and worth it in summer). Here are some pictures from Segesta:

After Segesta we went to Cefalu. Here is where we ran into problems. We did not buy a ticket all the way to Cefalu because we thought we would get one at the Segesta train station... well there is no biglietteria. The first train took us to a small town that wasn't a town at all but a small concrete station with nothing but a tiny bar and some concrete seats to sit on. We asked for tickets to Cefalu... we don't sell tickets here was the reply. Where do you buy tickets then? Shrugs were all we got. You can buy them on the train, but it will cost more. Ok we said. We talk to the conductor of the train for a little while before the train to Palermo arrived. After Palermo we would get a train to Cefalu. We got on the train and immediately told the conductor we did not have tickets and wanted to buy them on the train. The conductor told us it would be a 50 euro fine because we didn't have tickets. We argued with him for 30 minutes over the fact that there had not been a ticket office at either train stop today and this was horribly unfair. He said he didn't make the rules and if we didn't like the way Italy worked then we shouldn't visit Italy. I told him, this is not how Italy works... I know very well how Italy works and this is robbery. Tren Siciliana! Needless to say we got off the train at the next stop and got on a bus... of which the stop was unmarked but we asked the locals for help and they were very nice. The pictures below are Jesse waiting at the train stop in Segesta and me waiting at the unmarked bus stop:

Finally we made it to Cefalu! This spot is touristy, but it is mainly Italians. We stayed in a beautiful hotel called the Villa Margherita. This hotel has a rooftop terrace that you can use to have an aperitivo and watch the sunset. There is a mountain that overlooks the town. On this mountain (which you can hike up) is a Temple of Diana that dates back to 5th century before Christ and the ruins of a fortress at the very top. This gives you incredible 180 degree views of this city.

When we returned to Trapani we took a Ferrovia to the city of Erice above Trapani. This city is a must see but you want to take a taxi or a bus (the buses only run until 8 pm) to the Ferrovia station. Once there you can eat well at any restaurant and the castles are fantastic with the gardens surrounding it. I definitely reccomend this for a romantic evening.

Sibley Suggestions:

If you have time, see as many places in Sicily as possible. Try to spend one to two weeks there. There is so much to see! The trains are fine... usually late and small. Make sure you buy your ticket through your final destination at the train station where you can buy tickets (one with a 'biglietteria') even if you are going to be stopping in between. Never forget to Validate your ticket in Sicily. There is a heafty fine for this. Bring sunblock, a straw hat, and light clothing. It is very hot!! Eat the Arancini (the big ones!), Cous Cous, Oysters (Ostriche), Sword Fish (Pesce Spada), Cannoli, Pesto in Trapani (Pesto Trapanese), Sauce made with fresh sardines, fennel, and raisins on fresh pasta.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Roman Adventures and Getting to the Beach for 1 Euro

I have been to Roma about 8 times now and have just started to figure out how it all works. Roma is a big city... it is walkable but the traffic is rather dense and pretty scary. My husband, Jesse, and I take the students to Roma every summer. There are two different groups that have this excursion, so we go twice every summer. This time we wanted to extend our trip to see the beautiful beach side city of Sperlonga. On Friday, we boarded the train only to read in the newspaper that there would be a 'sciopero dei treni', train strike, from 9 pm on Saturday to 9 pm on Sunday. Knowing that the small city of Sperlonga would be impossible to travel back and forth from without a train, we had to cancel our reservation. Unfortunately that is Italy folks... it was lucky that we actually found out about the strike this time. Through the 80's they had regular unannounced strikes that really messed everyone up.

We stayed in the beautiful Hotel Fiamma, right around the block from Termini station, where the concierge gave us directions to a nice public beach just outside of Roma. Traveling in Roma is easy once you get the hang of it. Always ask the driver of the bus about the exact stop you desire. That way he knows you are exiting there and he will actually stop. The best thing to do is to buy a Biglietto BIG which is 4 Euros but is valid for all trams, buses, and metros for the entire day. It expires at midnight. We took the students to meet up with their private tour of Roma Antica with Enjoy Rome at the Piazza Navona. This is a great place to get a gelato and peruse through the art sold in the piazza. The Fountain of the Four Rivers found in the middle of Piazza Navona is a sight not to be missed.

Jesse and I have been to Roma so many times that we have really seen it all. The Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Antique Rome, etc. So, we decided to go back to the hotel and watch the Tour de France (they were in the Pyrenese this weekend). Around 6 pm we were ready to go for an Aperitivo. An aperitivo in Italy is a must-do. You have to find the right place and then you can start your dinner there. You pay for a drink and there is a buffet of food to eat. We went to our favorite part of town, Trastevere. This is where the night life is in Roma and the food is fantastic. We found the interesting Artu' Cafe'. This bar was a sight to be seen. Drinks were only 7 Euros and you could eat endlessly on the buffet of pasta and panini. I definitely recommend this place if you can find it.

Next we stopped at our favorite bar, Baccanale A Trastevere, to share a giant Mojito before going to our dinner. The seafood in this area is fantastic. When you walk down the main strip it is hard to pick the wrong restaurant! The problem is that some of the dishes are only served in twos. Meaning that if you want lobster pasta, there is a minimum of two people ordering it or you can't order it at all.

After dinner, during the summertime, there is a market along the Tevere (the Tiber) River. There is music, bars, and shops as well as fun carnival games. Make sure you get a drink in Trastevere to go and take it with you to the market. The drinks at the bars in the market are much more expensive. Getting to and from Trastevere can be very difficult. We have never figured out how to make this easier. All of the night life including the occasional street performer happens near Santa Maria in Trastevere. We have never found any public transport that gets you close. The closest is Castel San Angelo. There is a lot happening at night there too during certain times of the summer.

The next day Jesse and I decided to go to the beach. We each got a ticket for andata e ritorno (round trip) that cost 1 Euro each way. We were told to take the Metro to the Piramide stop where you get on an above ground tram that takes you along the seaside. Then we were told to get off at Lido di Ostia... this is a bad idea. We discovered that you should stay on the tram until the end stop, Cristoforo Colombo. Then, you take the #7 Mare bus up and down the seaside. We passed natural reserve and then it was public beach as far as the eye can see. Get ready for the bus ride, they drive fast, and they stop fast. I've ridden in a lot of buses in Italy, but never experienced something like this. The entire trip took about an hour and the beach is nice. It is definitely worth 1 Euro! Just remember, kite boarding is getting really big in Italy and these guys are everywhere. Be careful because you are not allowed to swim in the area marked off for them. You will see signs at the far ends of the beach.

Our train home was running 55 minutes late. There was some sort of technical issue. I recommend taking an IC (InterCity) or Eurostar train. The regional trains are almost always late.

Sibley Suggestions:

Roma is beautiful. You have to see it at least once in your lifetime. Getting to the beach is so easy and only costs 2 Euro to get there and back per person. Totally worth it! Always stay aware and in groups around the train station at night, it can be sketchy. Take a Taxi home from Trastevere. It doesn't cost much and trust me, after a fun night in Trastevere, the last thing you want to do is go looking for the night bus stop!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A rainy day and Monster Park

I believe this story must be told... so here I am to tell it. Italy is a funny country in a lot of ways. It is very romanticized to say the least. Italians love to talk... I mean LOVE to talk.... and it can get tiring when it is not your first language. Because of all of this talking, a lot of stuff doesn't get done as fast as you would hope. This goes for organizational issues as well. From the smallest groups to city planning, lots of things go unnoticed. This brings me to my story of how we finally made it to Monster Park.

The image above is the Colossus in Monster Park. Let's back up. The night before Monster Park we were searching for someplace to go for a day trip. My husband and I love to travel, we definitely have the travel bug, so we made a decision after returning to Italy that we would go to at least one new place every week. We wanted to go to the seaside, but it was supposed to rain all weekend. So, we decided to surf the internet until something interesting popped up. Then we saw it.... Monster Park or Sacro Bosco in Italian. This park was created in the 1500's by Vicino Orsini near the town of Bomarzo. Now we begin to research the logistics, how to get there, how far, etc. We looked at a lot of travel blogs and people all said stop at the Attigliano-Bomarzo train station and then the park is just a 500 meter walk from there. Sounds great!

The next day we wake up and get on the early train. We arrive about 3 hours later in the little town of Attigliano. We get off the train, go out in front of the station.... no signs. We ask, "Scusa, qual'รจ direzione per il Sacro Bosco?" "Oh no" she says (the rest I will put in english since most of you reading this speak english) "that is in Bomarzo.... that is 15 Km away uphill." "Is there a bus?" we ask. "No, no bus... that is a different region." See the buses don't run in between regions. We were in Umbria and Bomarzo is across the border in Lazio. "You must take a taxi" she says. OK. Great. So we call a taxi. He says he has to come from Viterbo and it will cost us 70 euros for roundtrip.... 15 Km.... HAHAHA! Jesse and I look at eachother... well I guess we will walk. 

2 hours later we are in Monster Park. It was amazing! All of the sculptures were made out of the stone on the land. It was forgotten about for hundreds of years and is now open again as a public park. There are sculptures like the Colossus, the Turtle, the Unicorn, the Dragon, the Orca, and the Ogre. They are amazing. Here is a link to my pictures my husband has posted on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=100527&id=606692652&l=903c99fd97

So here we are in Monster Park and we are loving it all. We visit the Medieval city of Bomarzo. Its small winding streets inside the fortress walls makes this town and jewel to be found and treasured. But we have to get back to the station. That is when it starts to rain. Finally, a car starts to pass us and stops, backs up, and a woman leans out the window and says, "Would you like a ride?" YAY! The two wonderful ladies were from Amsterdam and were here on vacation, they had seen us leaving the park on foot. They took us up the hill to Attigliano were we ate pizza and drank beer to warm up.

 Sibley Suggestions: 

I definitely suggest going to Monster Park. It is worth the trip. As for transportation, bring a bicycle on the train or go by car. Walking is not the best option. Important things to know: No dogs allowed. You are not supposed to take pictures, but the guards turn their heads. They will not take your picture, it is not allowed. Bring a good lock for your bike since you will not be able to take it into the park.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Top 5 Bands

I have held myself back from blogging for a while. A lot of my friends are doing it and finding joy in the whole process. I personally didn't feel like I had anything valuable to say, or anything that anyone else but myself would care about. However, on St. Patrick's Day a group of friends asked me a very important question: What are your top 5 favorite bands of all time? Wow, good question (Thanks Courtney and Davey!). The short answer is: #1 The Beatles, then in no particular order Led Zeppelin, Tool, Nirvana, and Cake. Why you ask? Well I will tell you.

The Beatles have always been and will always be the closest to my heart. I was introduced to their music at a pretty young age by my parents (of course). Over the years, I not only grew to love their music more and more, I also learned to follow their message of love, hope, and respect for all people and cultures. My passion for travel and philanthropy reflect this message. Their music has influenced generations of musicians and people. It lives on as some of the greatest music ever created. The amazing thing to me is that every semester I meet someone else who has been truly touched by this band. Those of us who never had a chance to see them live or even to mourn the untimely passing of the great John Lennon because we were too young or not even born yet still know every word to their songs and dance to them as if we were standing in their concert. When I listen to The Beatles, happiness just fills me up inside. A warm feeling I only get from this music. Call it childhood nostalgia, I call it genius. A genius of masterpiece after masterpiece and genius of reinventing not only their image, but also their music. Music that has no limits in time and space. Music and a message that will live on forever.

So after The Beatles, I really have no particular order for the rest. They are all important to me at different points in my life. Let's start with Led Zeppelin. They are the composers of my favorite song of all time: Stairway to Heaven. Say what you will about it being old school, you cannot deny it is an incredible piece of Rock! I was introduced to this song as well as the band at a much later stage in my life, Jr. High School (thanks Chris and Matt). Growing up with Daddy, I used to listen to blues on a consistent basis. Not only did he sing and compose blues music, he had grown up in the middle of the blues movement in the South. Therefore, needless to say, Led Zeppelin really appealed to my childhood love of music with a twist of pure rock n roll.

I was introduced to Cake later in Jr. High and listen to them almost as much as I listen to The Beatles. Their music melded together old country with jazz and many other eclectic forms. Daddy used to listen to all the old country/rockabilly favorites including Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis Presley, etc. Though he was not as crazy about Jazz music, he and momma did like going to the jazz shows she says (though I was named after a jazz musician - Dory Previn - he and momma saw in NYC), he loved the standards (Foggy Day in London Town being his favorite). Again, I am always drawn to what I know and understand, but with a different perspective. I never like a copy cat. Oh and I finally get to see Cake live the day before I leave for Italy in Fayetteville (YAY). This is very exciting for me since I was not able to see any of my other top 5 in concert.

Nirvana was also a Jr. High school favorite but continues to be a favorite to this day. This music was my first step into my own personal opinions of music with hardly any ties to my childhood. The only tie I have ever been able to link is the lyrics. Daddy was a poet and fantastic lyricist. I felt this way about Kurt Cobain. It was the first time I had heard music like this with so much passion and lyrics so inventive and beautiful. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood where the only thing kids knew was music from their parents' library or what was on the radio. I never explored past that until High School and College. I never really thought about it. Needless to say, when I heard Nirvana, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Even today when I hear Nirvana, it reminds me of a time when the face of music changed for me.

Finally, Tool.... what can I say. I didn't find my taste for Tool until late in High School. Then, I listened, and in my opinion, that is all you have to do. After studying music in College, I realized how smart Tool's music actually is and I fell more in love with it. Crazy layers of meters and haunting melodies. Though Daddy would not agree with my last two choices (he couldn't see past the hard stuff), I had finally found music that spoke to a deeper part of me that I previously did not know existed.

My final thought:
We are all influenced by our childhood, anything we grew up knowing, seeing, and hearing. But, it is just as important to recognize and respect the times in our lives when you change; when you start to see yourself in a different way. All of these times in my life have been reflected in music. That is why music is my life.

*This being my first blog entry I have to say thank you to Melissa, Mary, and Rachel for being blogsters and getting me into this in the first place. It feels really good to have something to share.