Sicilian Celebration

Mike and I stopped giving each other “stuff” years ago.  We already have more than enough future yard sale items.  No more birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s, Christmas or Groundhog’s Day presents for us. Instead, we mark life’s milestones by making memories, mostly through traveling.  Refusing to succumb to the tyranny of the calendar, we are free to celebrate whatever we want, whenever we want.  If we happen to be traveling during an anniversary or birthday month, well then, that’s just a bonus.  THIS year is one of those bonus years.

We will be in Sicily during May, our anniversary month,  hoisting our glasses to toast 41 years of wedded bliss.  Okay, full disclosure.  Those years haven’t ALL been blissful (my sisters would add ” especially for poor Mike” ) but on the whole, it’s been pretty darn great!

We will be embarking on an OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) trip with our good friends, Shirley and Owen.  Two years ago we spent  two weeks wandering through Tuscany and the Amalfi coast with OAT’s sister company, Grand Circle.  They had never been on an organized tour before, but had such a wonderful time, it was not difficult to persuade them to come along again. What’s especially exciting is that Shirley’s grandfather hails from a small village two hours from Palermo.  She and Owen plan to make their way to the village on one of our “free” days.  

This is what our OAT itinerary looks like.  As you can see, we are covering quite a lot of ground.

We will be staying for three nights in four of the cities: Palermo, Mazara, Ragusa and Catania, with a single night in Piazza Armerina.  At the end of the OAT tour, the four of us will head to Malta.  From Catania, we will fly to Valetta and will use that as our base during our five days in Malta.  

As usual, I’ve been learning the history of the places we’ll be visiting, and I have to tell you, theose poor inhabitants of Sicily did not have an easy time of it.  Here’s the Cliff’s Note version:  There was a lot of fighting and conquering going on–with Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards taking turns raping, pillaging, plundering and selling inhabitants into slavery.   Sicily isn’t at the bottom of “the boot” for nothing.  It sure got kicked around a lot!

Augustus, Hannibal, Constantine, Archimedes, and several Williams, Charles and Fredericks all had starring roles in Sicily’s narrative.  (Don’t you just hate it when the rulers all have the same name and you need to remember their numbers?  At least for the Williams there was William the Bad and William the Good.)  Throw in a couple of popes, an emperor or two, some knights plus a couple of earthquakes and an active volcano and you are guaranteed some interesting stories with even better ruins.

What fascinates me  more than the political history is the mythology.  Unlike the kings, whose moms sorely lacked imagination when it came time to name their offspring, the mythological figures have double names:  Zeus and Jupiter, Ulysses and Odysseus, Venus and Aphrodite.  So confusing to an already confused American, but that’s what happens when Greek and Roman cultures share the same territory.  

For now, that’s all you need to know about Sicily’s history.  More will be forthcoming, and there’s always the possibility of a pop quiz or two.

Preview of coming attractions:

  • Lots of cathedrals, temples, palaces, amphitheaters plus a dancing satyr
  • Eye popping mosaics, fit for an emperor, like maybe Marcus Aurelius?
  • an educational encounter with a member of the Mafia
  • a cooking class (hope we do better than the last time we tried this!)
  • “Come with me to the kasbah, where we will make ” whatever they make there.  (If you got that reference, you are probably as old as I am!) 
  • wine tasting at a Marsala vineyard
  • a day in the life of a Sicilian dairy farm family
  • a visit to Mt Etna to watch the volcano do its thing

Please join us for some armchair traveling.  I’ll be posting whenever wi-fi and my energy levels allow.  But I have to warn you, I plan to be toasting those 41 years a whole LOT!  Expect typos.  

Oh yeah, about that photo at the top of this post.  It’s actually Sorrento, from our 2015 trip.  I just wanted a little visual to start us all off.  

 

Welcome to “Flex-ico”

On our first day at UTEQ, Julio, our coordinator greeted us with “Welcome to Flexico”.  We were way ahead of him.  We had already demonstrated our ability to ‘go with the flow’ on the day before.  You see, although the National Holiday (February 5) fell on a Sunday, Mexico, like the USA, celebrated it on Monday.   We were all ready, willing and eager to work on Monday morning, but we had to cool our jets and practice patience, because school was closed.    

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Some were under the impression that we were commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 2-15-1917 signing of Mexico’s constitution, but WE knew the holiday was REALLY to rejoice in the Patriot’s unprecedented overtime win on Super Bowl Sunday. 

Either way, we ALL were celebrating an historic event!

Pam arranged for a Super Bowl party in La Llave, the hotel’s restaurant.  We gathered there to watch TV, stuff ourselves with Mexican AND American snacks and hoist more than a few beers and margaritas.   

My sisters and cousins would have definitely approved of Susan’s attire! 

What to do with our unexpected free day?   Pam and the University very thoughtfully arranged transportation for us to visit San Miguel de Allende, which is about an hour and a half from Queretaro.  We spent a very pleasant day in this lovely colonial town, wandering through the narrow streets, poking into little shops and galleries.  Check out the staircase in this pottery shop.

Jeanne, Sally and Kristy

Jeanne, Sally and Kristy

Kristy was fascinated by the exquisite carved doors, so Monday’s quest was to find a photo book either of the doors of San Miguel or of all of Mexico.  Despite chalking up some pretty impressive numbers on Fitbits, we ultimately had to resort to Amazon.com to get what Kristy wanted.  

Something tells me that she might be making her OWN book. She sure took a lot of door photos.

Here is proof of Kristy’s door obsession.  She took this photo of me, sitting outside, trying to unobtrusively polish off a granola bar.   Doesn’t look like I succeeded with the unobtrusive part.  
Although San Miguel was lovely, I don’t understand why anyone would prefer it over either Queretaro or Guanajuato. We had originally planned to spend the weekend in San Miguel, but after Monday, decided that one day was sufficient, so we cancelled our hotel reservations for the following weekend. Still, to do the city justice, here are a few more photos.

Sally was determined that we all experience the heavenly delight of jicama tacos, so we embarked on yet another quest to find the one restaurant that makes this exotic dish.  A very kind young Mexican man overheard us struggling to find the restaurant, stopped what he was doing, then in perfect English gave us directions.  Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the restaurant’s name, but did get a shot of the beautiful mural on the back wall.  So, if you happen to be in San Miguel, and you spot this mural, be sure to order those tacos! 


 Art is everywhere, so although the uneven sidewalks make it prudent to watch where you are going, it is important to occasionally stop and look up at the top of buildings.

I’ve decided that this violinist is none other than St Michael the Archangel.  After all, we ARE in San Miguel.  I especially liked it because it reminded me of my very own violin maker.  I’m not commenting on the angel part, but his name IS Michael.

 As with most colonial towns in Mexico, churches and religious art are everywhere.

Look at the indigent person, so very grateful that the Spanish padre arrived to take his gold and save his soul. 

I’ll end with  a little contemporary humor from our lunch spot,  a panoramic view of the city and a group shot, just in case the featured photo doesn’t post.


Viking Homelands Ocean Cruise

Okay, so initially we were planning to celebrate our 40th anniversary in April by traveling to Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet,  but as my favorite philosopher once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Mike wasn’t able to make that trip, so instead, we will be celebrating with a Viking Ocean Cruise to the Baltic states.  We start in Stockholm and before we end in Bergen, we will have popped into all of the Scandinavian countries, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdansk and Warnemunde.  The Viking brochure provided this visual. vikingIn addition to celebrating both a birthday and an anniversary, this trip will be special because our friends, Tony and Helen (from Oregon) and Jeanne (from New York), will also be on the cruise.

We have been receiving Viking’s river cruise catalogues for many years, but had never traveled with them.  Then, in 2015 they began offering ocean cruises and one had exactly the itinerary we wanted.  We had been thinking that we should save cruising for when we were older and not able to do the more strenuous activities like hiking and biking, but after that week of Tibet’s squat toilets, I was more than ready for a little luxury.

All of the cabins have balconies, so the cruise price varies by size of cabin, amenities, initial boarding time, and priority for tour, spa, and specialty restaurant reservations.  None of the above was all that important to us, so we went for a lower cost cabin.  It just so happens that we prefer a lower deck, toward the center of the ship anyway, because there is less rockin’ and rollin’ in rough seas, and that’s where the less expensive cabins are.

Viking offers one free tour in each port, plus for an additional fee, you can choose among many alternatives.  Those alternatives can be a bit pricy so we decided to either opt for the free tour or venture out on our own.

We will be arriving in Stockholm two days before we board the ship.  Because we made our own flight arrangements (yes, I am more than a little anal about flight arrangements) and chose not to purchase Viking’s pre-trip package, we will have to get ourselves from airport to hotel, and will be exploring Stockholm on our own.  I bought the Kindle edition of Rick Steves’ Northern European Cruise Portsso that we can access the maps and information from my iPhone.  Just the information on Stockholm’s unregulated taxis was probably worth the price of the book!

Cruise Critic’s website had lots of helpful information about several of the ports.  One poster gave such detailed information about the Norway ports we will be visiting that I printed out her review and will be taking it with us.  Thanks to her, we will be riding the scenic train ride from Flam to Myrdal, then instead of taking the train back down the mountain, we will be renting bikes at the Myrdal cafe and riding to town.  Her description of the road down was the deciding factor!

Checking out our ship’s Roll Call on Cruise Critic allowed us to contact others interested in sharing a private tour in St. Petersburg.  We also were able to sign up for a “Welcome Aboard” party offered by Viking crew members for Cruise Critic participants (and you become a Cruise Critic participant simply by signing on to their website).    Don’t you just love the internet?  I hope my upcoming posts will be as helpful to future travelers.