Morning Climb to Castelmola

We had arrived in Sicily the day before, traveling from the airport in Catania to our hotel in Taormina on a gloomy, rainy day. The next morning dawned clear, with temperatures already climbing toward 50ºF (which for these Minnesotans was akin to beach weather).

Mt. Etna from the Hotel Bel Soggiorno

We only planned for one night in Taormina, so we would not have time to exhaustively explore the area. But I was determined to make room in the schedule to see the mountaintop village of Castelmola. What better way to battle jet lag than by lacing up the running shoes for a morning run with my son …. winding our way through Taormina to reach the zig-zag path up the mountainside.

Climbing the stairs in Taormina

My much-speedier son bounded up the steps, and on to the path that led to Castelmola via the Madonna della Rocca. At one point, striped tape was tied across the stony steps. When I paused and questioned whether perhaps the path was washed out up ahead, my son cavalierly responded, “Looks like fake news to me.” And away he went … as I huffed and puffed behind him, trying to maintain some semblance of running form.

The Stairs to the Madonna Della Rocca church

Thankfully, there were many reasons to pause and take in the view of Taormina below, with the Ionian Sea beyond. Periodically along the path were sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross, giving the rigorous morning outing a feeling of a pilgrimage, as well.

Stations of the Cross overlooking the Ionian Sea and TaorminaMadonna della Rocca high above Taormina

Upon reaching a plateau, the street sign reminded us that the climb to Castelmola was not over yet.

Road to Castelmola

The last stretch of the path sent my heart rate through the roof, as the incline seemingly never-ended, with the tease of the village straight above us.

Piazza Sant’ Antonio ~ Castelmola, Sicily

Our climb finally opened to the Piazza Sant’ Antonio with the charming Caffe’ Bar San Giorgio perched on the edge of village square.  The combination of jet lag and a challenging run/hike uphill left us parched, with the downhill journey back to the hotel  still ahead of us.

Caffe Bar San Giorgio in Castelmola

Thankfully, I had stuffed a 10 euro note in my jacket pocket, so we could take advantage of the picturesque cafe seating and a classic cappuccino, with a bottle of water to rehydrate for our downhill trip. We also ordered a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice, which ranks up there with the tastiest and most refreshing beverage ever! What we learned as the week went on, is that everywhere in Sicily the fresh-squeezed orange juice is spectacular  — a benefit of visiting during January, when the oranges are in season.

Mountaintop dining at Caffe Bar San Giorgio, Castelmola
Our eyes scream “jetlag” …. the view says, “no worries” ….

We entered the square in Castelmola and a rustic truck drove by with its loudspeaker calling out to the residents, announcing the arrival of fruits and vegetables for sale.

My son and I took a few minutes to wander the narrow, meandering paths of the village, still quiet as the day began.

Narrow alleys of Castelmola

Mt. Etna provided the postcard-worthy backdrop to Castelmola’s public library.

Castelmola's library with a view

Knowing my husband and younger son were waiting for us to join them for breakfast back in Taormina, we headed down again, refreshed and refueled after our mountaintop stop.

Descending from Castelmola

Completing our run with a circular route, we took the path off of Via Branco to Taormina.

Returning to Taormina from Castelmola on Via Branco

The village of Castelmola quickly receded from view, as we bounded downhill and wound our way along the narrow path leading to the touristed streets of Taormina. I encouraged my son to go on without me, since he had so patiently waited for me to catch up on several occasions on the first half of the trek, but he kindly hung with me as we finished what ended up being an almost 5-mile outing.

Mountaintop Castelmola viewed from Salita Branco

Oftentimes the best vacation memories are not the iconic sights, but instead the times when you soak up your surroundings without the fancy window dressings of a tour or excursion or timetable in hand. Do more than just visit a destination … enjoy the journey.

~ Kat

Cooking With Fiori di Zucca

The seasonal fiori di zucca dishes offered when we traveled to Italy a few summers ago were some of my favorite food memories!  Each restaurant prepared them slightly differently, and my husband found a little grocery in Rome which had the delicate flowers delivered in the mornings, providing an opportunity for him to attempt making the savory stuffed appetizer himself.

Our shaded yard (not to mention the often short summers in northern Minnesota) does not provide an optimal space for growing squash, pumpkin or zucchini, but when we visited my parents in South Dakota recently, the zucchini blossoms in their garden were plentiful.  My husband carefully packed a half-dozen blossoms in our cooler for the 8-hour road trip home, and treated us to memories of Rome that evening.  Fiori di zucca fritti is a perfect mid-summer small plate to share!

Fiori di Zucca Fritti

Do you have a favorite zucchini/squash blossom recipe to share? I would love to see it!

Recipe my husband used for the Fried Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms pictured above, from Giada De Laurentiis and the Food Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/fried-cheese-stuffed-zucchini-blossoms-recipe.html.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra

The Room of the Segnatura in the Vatican Museums contains amazing 16th-century works by Raphael.  The School of Athens was one of my favorites.  I think it is because of the “extra” person in the scene.

Raphael's Room of the Segnatura, School of Athens fresco in the Vatican Museums

Raphael painted a self-portrait in the lower right-hand corner of the fresco – he is the one in the black beret.

Raphael's self-portrait in the School of Athens fresco in the Vatican Museums

The Vatican’s website so nicely captures the story behind this panel of Raphael’s, I could not restate it any better:

School of Athens

The most famous philosophers of ancient times move within an imposing Renaissance architecture which is inspired by Bramante’s project for the renewal of the early Christian basilica of St Peter. Some of these are easily recognizable. In the centre Plato points upwards with a finger and holds his book Timeus in his hand, flanked by Aristotle with Ethics; Pythagoras is shown in the foreground intent on explaining the diatesseron. Diogenes is lying on the stairs with a dish, while the pessimist philosopher, Heracleitus, a portrait of Michelangelo, is leaning against a block of marble, writing on a sheet of paper. Michelangelo was in those years executing the paintings in the nearby Sistine Chapel. On the right we see Euclid, who is teaching geometry to his pupils, Zoroaster holding the heavenly sphere and Ptolemy holding the earthly sphere. The personage on the extreme right with the black beret is a self-portrait of Raphael.

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. ”Extra, Extra” was this week’s theme. Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

You will have to use your imagination to create a street life scene while exploring the ruins of the Roman port of Ostia, which was abandoned after the fall of Rome.

Street scene at Ostia Antica

Ciao!  ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Street Life” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

Many Minnesotans would suggest the stark icy landscape of Lake Superior this winter is the epitome of abandoned — all warm temperatures have made themselves scarce this season, as we “celebrate” our 65th day of sub-zero temperatures in Duluth today.  (Weather Underground has been kind enough to do a daily sub-zero tally update for those cities in the Midwestern region of the United States who are part of the “Abandoned by Humane Temperatures” club.)  For more photos of this stark, but beautiful, frozen landscape, stop by yesterday’s  “Put On Your Big Girl Mukluks and Enjoy Winter’s Beauty” post, and last week’s photo challenge, “Threes.”

Frozen Lake Superior as March approaches

Exploring the frozen Lake Superior landscape

However, to be honest, the ruins of the Abbey of San Galgano immediately came to mind when this week’s challenge theme was announced.  In an earlier post, I shared with you many views from and the history behind this fascinating site near Siena, in the Tuscany region of Italy, but thought I would share one more in response to this week’s “Abandoned” theme.

The Ruins of the Abbey of San Galgano

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Abandoned” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.