I am writing this while on the plane from Frankfurt to Seattle, 2,300 miles from Seattle. We just passed over Greenland and are a little over 5 hours from landing back stateside. We were up at 3 a.m. Bologna time on Monday (6 p.m. Sunday California time) and will reach Sacramento at 5:20 p.m. (PST).
We spent our last 3 days in Bologna saying “ci vediamo a presto” (see you soon) to our favorite locations and visiting a few of the Christmas markets that have sprung up in Bologna and all over Italy for that matter. Admittedly we had to do a bit of apartment cleaning, packing, prosecco and sangiovese drinking. We did manage to get it all done!
For those wanting to improve their Italian by studying in a city where you will learn, have the opportunity to speak with locals, enjoy great food, be in a high speed rail hub and a short regional train ride away from wonderful places like Florence, Modena, Parma, Ravenna and Ferrara….Bologna is the city for you.
As for the language school, you will not beat Academya Lingue, Andrea and his staff. Two hours of interactive instruction, an hour break at the coffee bar to chat in Italian with your classmates and the instructors, followed by another hour with a different instructor.
My time at Academya Lingue has truly been one of the most fulfilling things I have done. A dream come true and well worthy of a repeat, or three-peat, etc. The only thing I would do different is to do my touring at the beginning or the end of the classes rather than in the middle. Live and learn!
We went back to visit Piazza Maggiore where on any given day it is full of people but especially so on Saturdays and Sundays where there is a mix of locals, tourists and Italians who come for the day.
Of course we went to the “Due Torre” one of which leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa and is even older.
A quick stop at the Siete Chiese in Piazza Santo Stefano. This piazza is interesting for its cobblestone and triangular shape. I walked through this piazza every day on the way to classes as the school is on Via Santo Stefano.
We visited 3 different Christmas markets, two of which are major fundraisers for the associated churches (one is held in booths set in the church porticos and the other set up in tents in the street adjacent to the Cathedral of San Pietro. The third was an open air French Market where all the vendors were from France and they sold their French goods and food in cute little chalet huts. There must have been 20 or so vendors. All of the markets were so much fun to shop through I had to repack my suitcases!
Things I will miss in Bologna:
The beautiful view of the entire historic city from the terrace of our apartment
The beauty of the art in the churches
The sunsets and sunrises from the 2 different sides of our apartment terrace
Giardini Margherita with people of all ages enjoying life, running, walking, strolling, kids on the amusement rides and the turtles in the pond with the great fountains
Shopping at the grocery store in front of the apartment where the clerks would help me with my Italian
The food, the redness of the buildings and rooftops, the young vibe from the 100,000 university students from all over the world
The dogs, especially all the short legged, long bodied ones
The father I would see nearly every morning pulling his young daughter to school each morning on her 3 wheeled scooter while she dressed as a princess, or a fairy, or all in sparkles…something I looked forward to each day on the way to school
The ease of taking the train to somewhere new (Siena, Arezzo, Ravenna…) or back to somewhere familiar (Venice and Florence).
And, of course, the porticos. There is nothing quite like Bologna’s porticos.
And finally, all the teachers and students I met at Academy Lingue…especially a wonderful young woman from Kazakhstan, Katia.
It was raining in the morning when I left Siracusa. As I was leaving the parking lot I noticed several local city police vehicles on the street. Something was going on. I proceeded to leave the lot and everything seemed fine. About 10 minutes later after exiting a roundabout I noticed I had taken the wrong exit and was driving down a wide street between warehouses. I was getting ready to turn around and I noticed a policeman in his car and he suddenly turned on his lights and signalled me to pull over next to him.
The officer indicated to me that I had ignored a stop sign. I apologized and said that I had not seen it (I really hadn’t). He could speak very little English and asked me if I could speak Italiano. I indicated that I was sorry I could not.
He told me I needed to be more careful and that I needed to turn around and leave. I thanked him and said that I would be more careful. As I was driving back to the roundabout there were no stop signs nor any “Do Not Enter Signs” or symbols. Sometimes stop signs are painted on the pavement and given the rain, may be I had missed it. I don’t know. I felt very lucky I did not get an expensive ticket.
This jangled my nerves and then I realized my GPS street navigation was confused about my location. I had to pull over (off the street!) to get things synced up on the smartphone app. I took a few moments to relax. The last thing I wanted to do is make a mistake given the amount of police presence. The rain was getting worse. I remember taking several deep sighs and just listening to the rain hit the windshield. Special moments…
Within 15 minutes I was back on the freeway heading to Taormina. Traffic started to get congested around Catania. I did notice the access to the airport looked pretty straight forward. There was also an IKEA that looked just like the one back home. It pretty much rained all the way to Taormina.
That evening I went on a wine and food sampling tour. I experienced some great wines, samples of seafood, and deserts:
You can’t go wrong with a wine marked DOC or DOCG. A bottle will cost about 7 to 10 euro ($9 to $12 US). The quality and flavor of these wines would be $15 to $20 (US) back home.
Walking back from the food wine tour at night I saw the following:
The next day I explored the ancient Greek/Roman amphitheater built in the third century BC. The arena is still used today for concerts and plays. It is believed the Romans rebuilt the amphitheater to accommodate gladiator games. The Greeks did not use bricks so what we have today is a design that is basically Greek built using ancient Roman technology.
Night changes everything. Day trip and cruise ship tourists are gone. People sitting at outdoor tables are being served food at at least a hundred restaurants. As you walk the streets and ancient back alleys, all the wonderful smells are their own entertainment.
I enjoyed the opera singer in the below video as well. We were all in the moment… (click on the image below)
The next day I hiked up to the village of Castelmola on an ancient Roman trail.
The above church was built in 40 AD. Yes. 40 AD! Think about how dangerous it must have been to go to this church under Roman rule. The church was restored in the 1990’s. They were able to preserve a fresco from the 18th century.
I made it back to Taormina and was raging hungry. The food above cost only 12 Euro from working class cafe. The wine was DOC. Very, very good and I slept well.
The next day I took the cable lift down to the sea. It costs six euro round trip or one can use stairs and trails to get to the sea.
Recall the First Servile War that started in Enna. The slave rebellion spread to other parts of Sicilia including Taormina. When Rome crushed the rebellion in Taormina, all of the prisoners were scourged and thrown off these cliffs into the sea.
I wondered how many people frolicking in the sea and sand were aware of this. What happened over 2,000 years ago should not be forgotten and we should at least learn from it. The same is true for the thousands of rebel slaves following Spartacus that were crucified and posted along Appian Way near Rome. I even have sympathy for the Roman soldiers that carried out these atrocities. Groups of soldiers that were suspected of being cowards or questioning authority were subject to decimation. A healthy and decent human mind can be warped and bent to do awful things.
I returned via tram back to the city center to do some more exploring.
Taormina has a very nice Giardini della Villa Cumunale (public garden). It was a good 10 degrees cooler in the gardens than the rest of the city. It also receives a steady cool breeze off the Ionian Sea.
Taormina is a clean beautiful city that is mostly a tourist destination. The views, food, shopping (some very high end shops), people watching and historical parks are amazing. Most tourists seem to be Italian, German and American. During the daytime cruise ships disgorge passengers and can make the main business district crowded. The evenings are best when the cruise ship people are gone and the temperatures cool off. The beaches can be crowded if you don’t have a rental car to drive north to the less populated areas.
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It was about an hour and a half drive to Siracusa (Italian spelling). I was relieved to reach the four lane freeway so that all the people that wanted to go 80+ MPH would not have to pass me on blind turns since I was only going 65 or 70 MPH. This could turn into a rant about Italian driving. The bottom line is that I saw a lot of crosses with flowers on the side of the road and I witnessed a close call head on collision when some idiots (three vehicles at once) were trying to pass an 18 wheeler. This Italian culture of speed and impatience on the highway was not attractive.
Siracusa is a very interesting city. There are Greek and Roman ruins, medieval churches and buildings and museums to explore. The fresh sea food and wine was fantastic. Here is a Google map link: https://maps.app.goo.gl/dYZ7tkE2B2nxEWWz7
The Greeks were the first to really settle and turn the area into a thriving metropolis (with the help of slaves). Archimedes was born and killed by the Romans there. The City was equal in size and influence to Athens in the 5th century BC. It served as the capital of the Eastern Catholic Byzantine Empire in 663-669 AD. Here is a link to more information on the city’s history: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syracuse,_Sicily
There are three sections to this city. The medieval old town on the Island of Ortigia, the Roman and Greek ruins on the hills, and then the more modern areas of the city.
You cross a small channel to reach the Island of Oritgia. Here are some photos in Ortigia:
The Duomo di Siracusa, below, is the most important church in Siracusa. It was originally a very large Greek temple dedicated to Athena. While it is sad that the original temple was lost, at least some of it has survived. When the earliest Christian church was built the the temple could have been completely destroyed and quarried for materials.
The above image is from inside the Duomo. Note the gown the young lady was asked to wear before entering the Duomo.
Saint Lucia (Lucy) is the most venerated saint in Siracusa. She was martyred in 304 AD. It is said that in the 17th century the city of Siracusa was having a famine and after praying to Saint Lucia, a ship with no crew appeared with cargo of wheat and saved the city. Every year in December there is a massive celebration of this event.
I went back to Island of Ortigia in the evening. At all times I felt safe. There was a great night scene with lots of people, outdoor dining, and wine bars. Following are more photos:
The above establishment was my go to place to get a meal. For five euro I could get a big plate of rigatoni in a rich tomato sauce with small chunks of pork that had an incredible sharp bacon flavor. They had great pizza and hot sandwiches too. It was a working class cafe with about 4 simple picnic tables and bench seating. The bulk of their business was take out. It was run by two ladies who couldn’t speak English, but they could cook. Their address is Corso Umberto I, 65, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy.
The next day I walked the 30 minutes up to the historic Greek and Roman ruins. Ancient ruins always stir my imagination and curiosity. I’m trying to find a common thread that binds everything in human history together. I want things to make sense and have some kind of order to them. Like Einstein and Hawking trying to find the master model of the universe or poor Archimedes trying to accurately calculate the value of pi. In the end, for me at least, it is about a good bottle of Sicilian wine and some well aged cheese with cured meats.
Below are photos of the Ear of Dionysius. It is located in an ancient limestone quarry used by the Greeks and Romans. There is debate about whether the cave is man made or a natural formation or both. I think the answer is both. Regardless, it has a long history. More information is here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ear_of_Dionysius
The Norman era church below caught my eye. It was built over an ancient Roman pool.
As an engineer and mathematics aficionado I took a special interest in learning that Siracusa was Archimedes hometown.
Archimedes studied the equations of circles and parabolas and discovered on his own the foundations of modern day integral calculus. I shake my head thinking what he could have accomplished with the tools we have today. I just recently saw an article about how the sun (instead of fossil fuel) could be used to produce cement from limestone. Archimedes would have been tickled to read this: https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/19/business/heliogen-solar-energy-bill-gates/index.html
Even though I spent four nights in Siracusa, there was so much that I did not see. I could not spend too much time away from the hotel due to my problem with eating the DEVIL FRUIT in Modica. My intestines were back to normal by the 3rd day, but it was a scary experience. Thankfully, I had only eaten one prickly pear or I would have needed to go to an ER for help.