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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

There’s this oddly-shaped building right next to the Amsterdam Centraal train station. It looks like a big metal box with one end sinking into the ground. We noticed it on our very first train ride into the city. On our second ride into the city, we finally realized what it was: a climbing gym! We had done our research on climbing gyms before even leaving Portland, and we were so excited to realize that this was in fact one of the gyms we’d discovered in our search!

We vowed that once we lived in the city, we’d go and check it out. We did just that. One day, searching around the web for running routes in Amsterdam, I stumbled upon a MeetUp site devoted to Expat Netherlands Adventurers. That sounds about right. In my searching, I discovered an event on the very day we were moving to Amsterdam – climber’s night at Klimmuur Centraal.

It was an ambitious plan, but we signed up anyway. We nearly lost our motivation after getting comfortable in the awesome new apartment (post to come on that), but Evan rallied us and out the door we went.

Thirty minutes and a snowy walk later, we arrived at the sinking building. It’s right on the River IJ, and it has its very own footbridge to cross the river and reach the gym. We walked inside and instantly felt…at HOME. There’s something about climbing gyms that always feels familiar. Perhaps it’s the sounds of people comparing notes about a new route, or maybe it’s the smell of sweat and chalk, or it could be the unselfconscious grubbiness of climbers worldwide. Whatever it was, it was a very welcome feeling in a new city.

One thing that was not familiar was the restaurant and bar in the middle of all the action, serving up a mixture of Belgian and Dutch beers on tap and climber-friendly snacks. Oh, yes, you heard me right – beer in the gym. I know it seems a little strange to have a bar in a gym, but at a climbing gym it just makes sense! Climbing is so much more social than a regular gym. Serving food and beer definitely helps foster camaraderie among fellow climbers as they discuss the night’s routes, complain about sore muscles, and swap bragging rights over a piping hot bowl of pea soup and pint of La Chouffe.

Kilmmuur cenraal

Evan and I were in heaven. We were so excited to climb that we hardly even met the MeetUp crew that inspired us to come in the first place. We introduced ourselves to the host and got down to business. We climbed for 3 hours, until our forearms couldn’t take it any longer. We were surprised when we were the first ones to sit down at the tables in the center of the gym. Were we lazy since the rest of the group was still climbing? We didn’t really care. We went up to the bar and each ordered a pint of our favorite Belgian beer. Once you take a sip, you’re done climbing for the night – that’s the rule. Seems sensible, doesn’t it?

The rest of the crew quickly followed. They joined us around one of the three big wooden tables that sit in the center of the gym and we got to know our fellow Expat Netherlands Adventurers. We sat next to a few girls who had lived in the Netherlands for a few years and picked their brains for tips on the city, sights to see, places to go and adventures to pursue. We also talked about windmills and canals and beer and Dutch food. And then they brought it all home in one recommendation:

Brouwerij ‘t IJ – a Dutch brewery INSIDE a windmill that serves Dutch food overlooking a canal.

Guess what we did the next day?

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