Archive for the “Vacation” Category

lies a wonderful abode we called our temporary home in Modica Sicily. Anime a Sud looks like any other place on the street, but once you walk in it is a place that the word WOW seems to be an understatement.  Because today is a travel day everyone can have a glimpse into where we stayed while we were in Modica. Anime a Sud belongs to Luca, who will have an additional place for people to stay in Modica that is scheduled to open sometime in 2012. That said, I’m sure that his new place will have a lot to live up to given the wonderful accommodations at Anime a Sud. You’ve all seen the narrow street and alley way shots that I’ve taken. I’ve learned that all is not as it seems on the outside. What lies behind those unassuming doors are wonderful abodes that are as nice as any place you can dream to stay in.

Anime a Sud is a wonderful blend of old and new. The old  of the building including what I believe may be the original door before the remodel and Luca’s amazing artwork adorn the walls. The views are amazing and can allow one to believe they have experienced Modica without even leaving the outdoor terrace.

And while the home was wonderful – 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen a terrace and a balcony, the wonderful hospitality of Amalia who met us when we got there, gave us great ideas of where to eat, what to see and also set up the winery tour, the cooking class, and the Don Puglisi Chocolate Laboratory tour and tasting. She was wonderful in answering any questions any time we had them. She is amazing.

A photo is worth a thousand words, so here for everyone to see is the novel of Anime a Sud – where we stayed. Enjoy!

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Today was all about food. Oh my goodness, wonderful food and full bellies!

After cappuccino this morning we went to a wonderful home and B&B Modicarte for our cooking class. It was a warm and homey location, compete with gardens for fresh herbs and vegetables that were gathered for us to cook with. We made everything with guidance from the family. I have way too many photos of all the food and fun that we had there. I’ll try using the album feature for these (hope it works!).
We both thoroughly enjoyed cooking – and made our first real pasta – it was excellent cooked and the layered with cheese and red sauce and cheese in a timbale lined with fried eggplant that was marinated in olive oil. Sooo good. And – the chocoholic that I am I now know how to make chocolate – watch out world!

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Everyone who knows me, knows how much I love dogs. The trip has been great, but I do miss the furry members of our family. Today I got my “dog-fix”. Also at Modicarte is a sweet dog named Rocko who greeted us with tail wags and that doggie smile that we know so well. Rocko eventually checked out my shoes giving them a little sniff, then another, and then wow – big sniffs and fast tail wags – yup – he figured out that we have dogs too. I’m sure that our dogs will get wiff of our meeting!

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After eating way too much food, we managed to get back to the apartment skirting around the road closure that allowed us to have a bit more of a scenic drive.  A quick check of my online class and it was nap time for me. This being the food day we were not done yet! Amalia took us to the Don Puglisi chocolate laboratory. What another wonderful treat – and we had Amalia’s children and some of their friends with as well which made this extra special – because well there is nothing like a kid in a candy store – and switch that to a chocolate laboratory and it’s one hundred times better. The chocolate at Don Puglisi Modica Chocolate is all hand made. Just like we had learned to do earlier in the day. We got to see and learn about the cocoa pod and beans and how they make the chocolate. This type of chocolate has a grainy texture because it is not taken to a high temperature, but rather done in a bain-marie (double boiler for those who aren’t into cooking).  I have always loved this type of texture and reminds me of chocolate fudge we made when I was a kid. We got to taste a few things there including candied orange peel dipped in chocolate – MMmmmm. After the laboratory we went into town to their chocolate shop and tasted even more chocolate, milk of the almond, and some liqueurs as well. Added chocolate bars and more bottles to growing inventory to bring home!

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It’s too bad that we don’t know much of the family history because this is where we may have found some of Charlie’s family. If we had known what his grandfather had done for a living there would have been a chance to track family down.

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Today’s excursion was a road trip to the Greek Temples at Agrigento. It’s harvest time in the vineyards around here and we passed quite a few trucks hauling grapes. None of the trucks were big, they were all small and quite quaint like this one – fun to look at, colorful, and ….. slow!

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The temples are at the top of one of the hills. Classic Greek style dating around 450 BC. The best preserved is the Temple of Concordia built around 430 BC. This particular temple was actually converted to a Christian basilica around 597. When it was converted two of the idols in the temple were pulled down.

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The Temple of Hera Lacinia dates to ~460 BC. While it is not the best preserved, I found it fascinating to photograph. It is located further away from the entrance than the Concordia temple making it a bit of a hike for some people. There were less people and better vantage points to shoot from.

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The third temple we checked out was Temple of Herakles built around 500 BC. It’s another that did not have many people around it and also had wonderful vantage points as well.

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All around the area are pieces of the ancient columns that you have to walk around or over and on top of. It’s amazing that you can actually touch these and they are not cordoned off!

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Looking at everything here and the massiveness of every single thing it really makes one wonder how they actually built all of this – the stones had to be brought up the hill, they had to be carved, put together, etc. It’s impossible to imagine how it was done with just basic man power alone.

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We had breakfast at a nearby coffee shop again today. This time I had cannoli – mmm with an orange ricotta filling and a wonderfully crunchy shell.  Sitting outside of course we could watch the streets come alive with the Saturday trucks carrying produce to the street markets.

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As we headed back to get the car it seemed like the morning was meant for the local kitties. They’d dash across the street and disappear. We could see them here and there including on the outside edges of the balconies. Many would dash through small holes in the walls. One of course must have gotten the word that Cathy’s camera was there and stopped to pose for me.

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We hit the road again to check out two of the nearby towns. Ragusa was our first stop today – woah – after we parked the car it was quite a hike up to get to the town area. Lots of churches and the now familiar narrow streets.
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it’s actually a very good thing that Ragusa require us to hike up that very steep hill as we had lunch at Ristorante Duomo, a 2 star Michelin restaurant. It was the lunch that kept going and going and going. Oh my, sooo good, and filling.

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Charlie’s lunch (above)                                                 My lunch (above)                                                        My lunch again

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                                                                                             My desert (above)                                                   Charlie’s desert (above)

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We each ordered one lunch item and one desert – the rest were unexpected surprises! Yes – we were very full when we finished. Superb food and service.

From Ragusa we drove to Chiaramonte Gulfi. Thank goodness the hills here could not even be called hills when compared to Ragusa! There was a charming little church here. One of the statues outside and next to the front door actually included two dogs. Yeah – I know I needed a dog fix of some sort (especially after the morning of the cats). These guys were cute – but I do believe the sculptor was not a dog person as the mouth is not that of any canine I have ever seen.

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First – before I get on with today a couple of images from our terrace last night for everyone to enjoy.

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Today was our day to go to the Planeta winery and vineyards. Before we started the drive we stopped and had breakfast of cannoli and marzipan – a great way to start the the day.

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The drive through the countryside was very reminiscent of San Diego with rolling hills dotted with green trees and of course vineyards. There were many old picturesque buildings in the middle of the fields.

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The tasting at Planeta was very nice. This is a large, family run winery. They have six vineyards on the island of Sicily that span 364 hectares.

We had wonderful wines and of course this stop became the beginning of our Italian wine acquisition and of course I added a bottle of excellent olive oil as well. After the tasting they treated us to a marvelous lunch on their terrace.So nice and very relaxing.

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On the way back we stopped in the town of Nota, had gelato and granita and of course took more photos (yes – I took the camera away from my face to eat!). True to form as I go to take a photo of the fountain my camera called out to the local wild life to come and strike a pose. Happens every time! Kind of appropriate considering the fountain and the pose of the statue.

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We sat out on our terrace and had wine and watched the light play against the buildings and local church.

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Of course I have to compete this blog post with what else, but a window – well kind of!

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Yesterday we arrived in Sicily and spent the night at the Royal Hotel build in the early 1700’s in Catania. Breakfast in the morning was out on the roof terrace was light and delicious. Cappuccino was great, view was great in all directions. Old Europe.

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Views from the rooftop terrace of the Royal Hotel. Yes, – I’ve still got that window thing going on.

 

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And- typical of my photos, animals just seem to happen by at the right time – three birds in flight……

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There are amazing markets in Catania – fresh fish galore, gorgeous vegetables and meats. A seemingly unending line of booths up and down the streets. Crowded with sellers hawking their foods and buyers filling their bags. No wonder there are so many chefs from Italy.

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There are definitely going to be good meals around the town.

Of course what would a walk around the town be without stopping for some café Americano and marzipan! MMMmmmm. Off in the distance it was not clouds but smoke/steam from Mt. Aetna – yup a volcano. In checking the reports Mt Aetna actually had an eruption today that diverted some flights and cancelled others. Looks like we got into town just in the nick of time. Having walked the lava fields in Hawaii with active lava a mere step away, Mt Aetna was pretty to see off in the distance.

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Off to Modica – it wasn’t too bad of a drive. Charlie had scoped things out long before and actually ignored “Mr GPS” in getting out of Catania. Our was was definitely the better way. It seems that “Mr GPS” wanted us to have a ‘more scenic’ tour!

The countryside was very different from England. Much more like San Diego actually. Photos in another post another day. Our apartment has phenomenal views of the town, picture postcard pretty.

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My blog posts seem to be getting wordier and full of more photos than I originally intended! Oh well.

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The last few days have been summer in London. Today – well, let’s just say that fall has arrived – wet, cold, and windy. So we started out the day by heading out to Greenwich. A few tube rides and a train and we wandered around the town. Even with the wind and spitty skies it was quite different from London. The feeling was a bit lighter, not as heavy. Still a lot of history here for sure.

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St Alfege Parish Church and part of the graveyard in front of the church.

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One of the lower courtyards in Greenwich.

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The Greenwich Royal Park Herb Garden was beautiful. We just happened to be there when a bunch of children riding their scooters all around the maze.

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The window thing is still jumping into the camera – there are so many great images I just can’t stop shooting them. Good thing I’m shooting with a camera and not a sling shot!
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So, what’s this about old, very very old things? Just to have a quick taste of not so old – here’s a bit of architecture just outside the Greenwich train station [Husband edit: Actually, I think this us at the Canary Wharf station catching the Docklands Light Rail train]. No – not the kind of windows that are jumping into the frame of the camera, although there is one old window trying to make an appearance!

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On to the old, old, very old. I mean REALLY old – like say 350BC! And so close I could have actually touched most of them. Really. Totally amazing because this type of access is unheard of in the states and basically reserved for museum curators. Not so in the British Museum. Now with all that said, there are plenty of signs asking that you “Please do not touch the exhibit”. Yes. I definitely wanted to run my hands over this ancient pieces – but the only thing that I let touch them was my gaze.

On a sarcophagus 1220BC

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Stone carvings and reliefs from ancient Egypt.

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~728BC

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Red figured rhyton (special cup) made in the form of a gryphons head with a youth, 350-360BC.

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….. and – Cleopatra. She died when she was 17! Amazing for all of the stories and movies that have been made.

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Sorry folks – I missed the card for this guy, but check out those eyes!

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From the British Museum we headed across the street to The Montague for afternoon tea. Afternoon tea was very nice and also very filling! Sandwiches, marvelous scones little pastries and pots of tea (Earl Grey for me and Darjeeling for Charlie).

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Today was our day to explore The Tower of London. Wow – what a place steeped in so much history. We started out with a tour guided by one of the Yeoman Warders – who actually live in the tower. There are many buildings in the complex and a total of 22 towers!

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We walked through a hall with suits of armor that actually were the ones worn/used by the kings. Henry VIII has several different suits of armor. Starting from when he was in his twenties. As he got older his suits got larger and larger. Finally ending with this one – looks like he thought rather highly of himself.

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The next hall had statues of the horses that the kings rode. These date from 1690 – so move over Roy Rogers and Trigger – the Kings of England had statues made of their horses!
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Of course everyone has to take photos of the guards – so I gave it a shot and well, took more than one, and I do believe their weapons are current day and operational!
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Ravens at the Tower are good luck. There is actually a flock of them there and they are considered Royal Pets – and are well fed and taken care of. They actually do get out and socialize on their own as well.

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The Tower of London is well known for holding prisoners and executions as well. Many that were held/detained/etc. left their mark by carving their names, and sometimes more in the walls. I guess you could call it medieval graffiti.

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Later this afternoon we took a special tour of Buckingham Palace. Wow – what a place. Again more history, but this time not near as gory. All the finery, art, architecture,antiquities, unbelievable. It of course was a no photo venue – but worth the time and they ended our tour with champagne. So we can actually say that we had champagne in Buckingham palace!

 

Finishing up, you guessed it – windows!
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Today started early with some fruit scones and a tube ride to the car rental place. After a couple of days of crowded tubes it was quite different this morning with basically empty tubes!

 

We were on the road early and headed off to see Stonehenge. Of course Mr GPS told us to take the second exit out of a round-a-bout and we somehow took the first! But not to worry, Mr GPS rerouted us! Yes siree rerouted we were. And I really liked the new route – road with no markings and beautiful scenery. Of course there were no places to pull over – ratz. Could have been wonderful photos. I’m not sure how they manage two way traffic on those roads as they are about a car and a half wide! We pulled waaaay over and it was still hairy.

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Stonehenge was pretty cool even with the ton of people there. A little post processing and I can probably get the people out. While there may have been a lot of people there when we were there, there were hordes when we left – so our timing was good.

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From there we wandered around the countryside and checked out Bath and several other towns. Old churches fill the towns and are sprinkled on the hills all around.

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Of course country means livestock and here the main livestock are, what else, sheep! I’ve come to the conclusion that sheep are to England what cattle are to the US (and vise a versa). The pigs here get to roam the fields and have little huts I’m guessing to sleep in.

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And of course it wouldn’t be a blog post without a window picture….

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So – after running way low on my batteries yesterday (aka jet lag) I slept until 11 today. Gasp – I’m usually up around 5:30! Not to worry though we managed to cram a lot of things into one day. We started out by shopping at Harrod’s. Wow – what a store. Clothing racks with every hanger perfectly aligned, and even a shop area with <cough> dog stuff – including dogs and a doggie spa. Yes, you can take your dog into Harrod’s (hear that Niik? you would be a hit there!).
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Their food courts are amazing. So many awesome and wonderful things there. Even saw jars of truffles! Oh yes, that store especially the food area could be dangerous, verrry dangerous.
And what is a trip to London and Harrod’s without lunch?? Tragic. So of course we had a light lunch at Harrod’s (keeping in mind it was around 2 and we had 6:30 reservations at a one star Michelin restaurant ). We lunched at Harrod’s – splitting a bruschetta and a tuti-fruiti dome. Both were delightful and of course photo ops I couldn’t resist.

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Walking around London is a treat for the eyes. All the old buildings are amazing. I seem to be keying in on  windows lately.

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… and then of course there’s the old “I go to take a photo and animals just have to make appearances even when I don’t plan it…..
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On to food and very possibly, awe heck – for sure – the best meal I have ever eaten – BAR NONE! It all started out with reservations at a Michelin restaurant. We got there only to find the place closed! Yuppers the restaurant was closed up for remodeling —  our reservations were made with them and made in June – but they seem to have totally forgotten to tell us. Yes, they took the reservation and then never let us know it would be closed! Bad form for sure.
We managed to find a “sister” restaurant and with the emailed reservation in hand we walked in and asked if they could please squeeze us in. Squeeze us in they did and more. We ordered from  the prix fixe dinner -  which is what the original plan was. However – before the first course came they presented us with a marvelous starter of pork belly, snail and something else delicious.
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Wow is all I can say. What a fantastic start to the meal – and what a nice thing for them to do.
Next was the first course – I ordered chilled carrot soup and Charlie had the soft poached egg “Burford Brow”. lettuce, peas, Scottish girolles, and sweet onion.
This was just as good or better than the starter.
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The main course I ordered the Grilled bavette of beef, bone marrow gratin, swiss chard and beetroot, Charlie ordered the Cornish silver mullet, spiced carrot puree, sweet and sour beetroot.
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All through our time there our server and the restaurant manager kept checking in asking how everything was. Of course everything was fantastic we were loving every bite. The main course was absolutely marvelous – things just kept getting better.
On to desert – and this is usually where wonderful restaurants seem to just do OK. Not so here! We both had the Wild honey ice cream and crushed honey comb. Again this course was just as good or better than the first course! And they added a delicious plate of chocolates as well!

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A complete home run. Without a doubt – this restaurant Wild Honey is the best restaurant I have ever eaten at. Gordon Ramsey – if you are reading this – you have got to check them out if you haven’t already been there! Wild Honey is at 18 George St London.
So – the meal is finished and the manager comes to our table to tell us they are very sorry about the mix up at the original restaurant and that our entire meal and wine has been comp’d. Woah – unbelievable. Thank you Wild Honey for a wonderfully memorable meal.

To top the night off we hustled over to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys. This has been done every night for over 700 years. Wow. Amazing and very cool complete with the story of how parts of the ceremony evolved. No photos allowed at the ceremony though.

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Good night all! More England tomorrow.

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