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We managed to fit in a trip to Sicily at the end of our European adventure. Sicily or Sicilia in Italian conjures up images of good fellows, heavy Italian food, sun and sea. Well it lived up to the sun and sea part. The food was good and surprisingly light and Mediterranean influenced. I am not sure how much of the mob we actually saw but it seemed like there were plenty of guys who wanted to look like they are connected. Driving down the road in our little rented Fiat Panda I would often see a couple of big new Mercedes approaching at about twice the speed limit flashing their headlights. I quickly pulled into the next lane out of their way. No need to tempt fate.

Sicily - Fiat Panda!

The island is amazing. It is Italian but its own version. As soon as you fly into Palermo airport you can see mountains that drop into the crashing sea. I think this isolation allows the island to be a nation and culture of its own.

We drove first to Taormina. It is known as a playground for the jet set. It lives up to expectations with jaw dropping scenery and many tourist amenities. Our hotel overlooked the Mediterranean and was surrounded by cliffs. The old town is actually up on the cliffs above the motorway. It is easiest the access by bus. I tried to drive up but was turned around after being forced through a maze of one way cobbled streets and such steep grades that I thought we might topple over. Not a parking spot in sight. The food is impressive. We found a restaurant that specialized in slow food. Everything was local and in season. The climate of Sicily lends itself to a variety of food we normally do not get fresh. It is exciting to taste the taste citrus the way it is meant to be fresh from the tree. The blood orange salad was surprising in its simplicity and elegance.
Sicily - Veranda of Hotel
Sicily - Taormina - Greek Theater

Climbing up the hill there is amazing vistas of the ocean a 1000 feet below and the smoking Mt. Etna close by. You can see both from a Greek theater overlooking the city. The little town of Castelmolla seems to be a fairytale capping off the top of a mountain. Certainly the location is secure but it seems impossible for the original owners to have built this in ancient times.

Sicily - Taormina

Sicily - Taormina

I had thought there was rock climbing nearby but found out that it actually was located on the other side of the island. We cut our stay in Taormina short and head south. In an hour we found our selves at the base of a ski area on Mt. Etna. The 10,000 foot mountain seems like it would fit right in the Oregon Cascades. I of course wanted to climb it. It took a few hours but we were able to knock off most of the mountain. I am sure that on a clear day one could see the mainland of Italy. As it was we could see the ocean through the mist. When the staff was not looking we jumped on the gondola for a ride down to the car.
Sicily

From Mt Etna we headed down to Siracusa known as Syracuse in English. I grew up in the city of Syracuse in Upstate NY. I have always intrigued by this city that shared the same name. Siracusa turned out to have an amazing history. It was settled by the Greeks and was a thriving city in 300BC. The old city on the island of Ortigia contains numerous Greek temples and medieval churches. The city felt full of the weight of history. A run through the city allowed us to see the real city curtained behind walled courtyards. In walking distance were the ruins of a Greek Theater and a Roman Amphitheater as well as the quarry where they cut the stone. All of this in the heart of a busy city.

Sicily
Sicily
Sicily
Sicily

A couple days of Siracusa has us longing for some wide open space so we headed west to a town I head read about called San Vito lo Capo. The destination seemed to be predestined since Suzy had a found an Italian guide booking devoted to beaches in the area. The attraction to me was the reports of rock climbing by the ocean- my favorite combination.

On the trip across the island back through Palermo I found it a challenge to keep an eye on the road with the mountainous countryside unrolling along the highway. It is indeed a highway. The autostradas seem to be either elevated on concrete pillars contained in tunnels driven through the mountainsides. I am not sure if it was all necessary but does add of good dose of fahrvergnügen. The little Panda kept pounding around the curves and down the road.

San Vito lo Capo is a good as hoped. It seemed to be an old fishing town cum holiday retreat sent beneath towering cliffs. Based on the German hotel signs few American make it that far but it is reputed to be packing July through September. In April it was just waking up from its winter nap. The gem of the town is a camping area called El Bahira. A camping and RV park with a beautiful pool and million dollar view. In the last four years a few climbers from the UK and Germany have bolted hundreds of rock climbing routes. They are well bolted with stainless steel to avoid corrosion from the sea. This detail was a welcome sight after the ropes that filled in for bolts in Thailand. We were lucky enough to meet the guys who put up the routes as a party held for the climbers. They were good enough to loan us some gear and we were off to do some routes. It was some of the best climbing I can remember. The Sirocco winds from Africa sent perfect temperatures up the cliffs. The limestone was satisfyingly steep and crisp. A perfect cap to the trip.
Sicily San Vito lo Capo
Sicily

Heading back to Palearmo we stopped an amazing temple in Segesta. It is one of the most intact Doric temples around. The unbelievably old the columns seem like they could host a cult’s ceremonies today. The temple and an ancient theater are set in field filled with wildflowers.
Sicily Segesta
Sicily Segesta

It was a bit sad to leave the happy Italian island. I will be back someday for some history, mountains and sea.

Sicily

Amsterdam I love you but it is time we part. May your canals be forever lined with twinkling light and dinging bikes and your rows be forever cute and filled with the ‘normal’ dutch.

We got the chance to visit Norway last weekend. Our old friend Kim and new friends Bjørn and Karel just moved to a little town north of Trondheim called Steinkjer. I think the next train stop is the Arctic Circle. They have an amazing view of fjords that were once the home of marauding Vikings. They showed us the snow covered sights. I even scared up a juvenile moose on a run from the house. They are big and move surprisingly quickly!

Norway Top 10

1. Kim, Bjørn and Karel (ok, that’s 3, but they all tied for #1!)
Norway

2. Fjords!
Norway
3. Red barns everywhere
Norway
4. $30 bowl of soup. Not fancy soup; just soup.

5. Farm tour of Steinkjer and surroundings
Norway
6. Snø

7. Hills, real hills. Mountain hills!
8. Brown cheese
9. Learning Norwegian from a 2 year-old
Norway
10. Churches perched on hills overlooking fjords
11. Reindeer taste better than beef!
12. Moose!
Norway

I picked up some tickets to the USA vs Netherlands game last night. It was a “friendly” game in preparation for the World Cup in June. I figured I had to go support the USA and see my first European football match. After the Olympics I knew that Dutch sports fans were pretty crazy. I did not quite realize how crazy. I arrived to see a sea of Dutch orange (Oranje) entering the stadium. The orange hats, jackets, face paint, flags and even the occasional full orange lion suit was a bit intimidating. I am glad I left my stars and strips jump suit at home.
The swoosh did a great job of painting the stadium red and selling red shoelaces to support the Red campaign.
Amsterdam arena-USA vs Netherlands

The match was good but overshadowed by the intensity of the Dutch fans who did not miss a chance to wave their flags or do the wave.
Check out the video…
http://www.flickr.com/photos/geisthaus/4405140208/

Final Score
USA: 0
Neth: 2

Plenty of time to tune up before June.

I got a chance to go to Rome last weekend while Suzy was in Germany. It was a fun quick trip. I flew Airitalia. It seems like you are in Italy as soon as you step onboard. The Italians do not think the lines apply to them. The buzz on the airplane is a bit different than normal. After listening to Dutch for such a long time the sound of Italian is a welcome change.

Soon after getting my room and my bearings I headed down to the Trevi fountain for a slice of pizza. It lived up to expectations. I would be happy getting by on just the pizza. After that a quick drink at a pub.

The English have two great exports: the English language and their pubs. It seems like you can go nearly anywhere in the world and find a bit of comfort at a Brit pub. They are happy to have English speaking customers and there is a good chance to see a football or cricket match while you are at it. Rome is no exception.

I started first day full with a run to the coliseum. It is hard to believe it is real. It reminds me of something you might see in Las Vegas or Disney world. I am not sure how such a structure can be just standing there after a couple thousand years. Running is a great in a new city. You can see a lot in a short time. Even a crazy busy city like Rome can be see with a short run.
Rome

After a quick breakfast I was off the Vatican. With a bit of rain in the air it was good day to be indoors. On the way I stopped for coffee. I wanted a chocolate pastry but some how ended up with a cappuccino and hot chocolate. This turned out to be a good choice. It may have been the best cup of hot chocolate I have ever had.

Rome

Then a quick stop at a bakery where I ordered two cannolis. I ordered two mainly because can not remember how to day one and due it is fun to say Doo-ay!. So tasty. Onward toward St Peter’s Basilica. On the way there are many churches and statues that would be the centerpiece of most towns. Finally I arrive at St. Peters. It lives up to the postcards with soaring ceiling art, flamboyant marching Swiss guards and a church service in the middle of it all. I waited in line for the cupola with some Brits talking about their superior queuing abilities. The trip to the top is an adventure even for one who used to rock climbing. 500 steps to the top. The last 300 are within a narrow spiral staircase. The crowds and small space would give anyone claustrophobia. On and on we climb and then finally we arrive at the top. It was worth it with all of the Vatican and ancient Rome laid out below. The rain could not dampen to moment.
da pope's crib

Up next was the Sistine Chapel. A long walk around Vatican wall leads to the entrance to the Vatican museum. It is amazing what they built so long ago. It really puts the catholic religion into perspective. The hallway is covered in tapestries from the 1400s and the ceiling is an unending series of amazing paintings from the renaissance. Finally the chapel proper with the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo around 1500. Its scale is amazing but the images are smaller than imagined. I pulled out my camera for a shot. I was just zooming in on the sections where the god and man touch when the guards points to a sign of a camera with an X and almost takes my camera. I guess you have to pay attention to the signs and gates. I got warned a couple more times by Vatican guards. I think they thought I was going to steal the Pope’s oranges. They do not have much of a sense of humor it seems. The rest of the trip went quickly. I was able to take home an great stove top espresso maker. It is a bight yellow and shinny. It really is a Ferrari of stove top coffee. I think it might replace my French press at home.

Rome

 

Living in our small town I bike to work. It is only 4km which is a quick bike commute but a bit too long for walking. Most days it is really pleasant to ride to work and back. The upright riding position of the Dutch bike and lack of gears always seems to put a smile on my face. Then the days get cold. People still ride with snow on the ground. On a couple occasions the roads have turned quite icy. I could walk to the train station and then wait and take a train or just walk but I still want to take the bike. It is easier and all the Dutch seem to bike in the snow. So I just get on the bike confident that my excellent bike handling skills will carry my through.

I rode a couple blocks before seeing a girl on the ground with her bike. A guy walking by said something in Dutch that seemed to be about ice and then the next moment I was on the ground with the bike on top of me. Ouch. My arm was bruised but I managed not to get hit by a car. Same thing happened today – same place even! I rode a couple blocks and then – wham! Down on the ground sliding. The road was coated like a froze kipfilet (chicken filet).

I got up and the woman standing there starts talking to me. “Morga morta moarta mor icy something morg a mor”. I smile and reply “Ja, ja”. She says “morga morga” and then walks off. I like conversations like this. I feel proud that I did not let on that I am a stupid American that doesn’t understand Dutch. The rest of my ride was uneventful since most bike paths had grit to make it easier. I even had a smile on my face when I arrived at work.

Looks like everything is all set to move into our place in Amsterdam. I am am super excited  to moving in. It is great location right in one of the inner canal rings, just a few minutes; walk from the train station. Sweet!

Map:  http://maps.google.com

Video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/geisthaus/4304301530/

Polder – Low lying land that has been reclaimed and is protected by dikes
Lopen – Walking or Running

Polderlopers – ones who run in the lowlands between dikes.

One of the truly Dutch activities is riding bikes. This is not the sporty bike touring that I think of in the states but as an integral part of the day. You see kids, moms with babies, grandmas and business men all riding around town. People use their bikes to get to work, go to church and see their friends. The bikes are really well suited to the task. The Dutch bikes are very upright with flat pedals and fenders. Dress-guards keep your clothes from getting hung up in the spokes and every bike has a chain cover and kick stand. Biking in the small towns of Holland is easy because they have lots of well maintained bike lanes and it is flat. I think that is what other cities miss when they try to copy the Dutch biking model. Bike commuting works because they do not have to go up hill. That means you can arrive at your destination without getting hot and sweaty. Perfect. People do have nice expensive bikes but most are old and beat up. This is a necessary because you normally store your bike outside. The nicer the bike is the better the chance of getting stolen. Often locks are just a metal loop around the back wheel. This makes the bike unrideable but is not a real deterrent. The best way to make sure that your bike does not get lifted is to be the crappies looking one in a sea of bikes. That is pretty easy when the train stations have many hundreds of bikes parked outside.

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