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Fiumefreddo, Taormina, Catania – Sicily – Italy

The time is approaching for another iron bird to flap its wings to go up to the fabulous blue sky. It’s time to fly to Italy. The flight is relatively early, early for my daily routine. So I could say that it has already started the night before. The evening ends with the dances of Bachata and Kizomba, and I am at home very late. My eyelids are closed around three in the night, but I have to get up at five.

The day before, I had packed everything in advance, thinking long about what to take – the drone or the camera, because there won’t be space for both. As I’m going through my thoughts, I choose the drone, then the camera, but in the end my mind decides in favour of the drone.

The hot weather forecast for Catania allows me to leave the bare minimum in my backpack, no thick clothes, so to say “no trousers”. Only two hours sleep, but it feels good because I not only packed my backpack the day before, but slept for as long as possible, which could be over 10 hours in total. Departure is on Sunday morning and the weather outside the window is magical. The airport is crowded, but without checked-in luggage, nothing slows us down for a moment.

Dance friends are on the flight. Our paths connected right on the dance floor, even on the floor of the same dance school. One of us is Italian (Nicolas) and he will be our destination guide and, last but not least, we will be staying in his family’s summer house. The house on the side of the mountain and in the distance, the steaming volcano Etna.

We can all take a flight to hot Italy. Last instructions from the air traffic controller and the iron bird has begun to roar. The flight will be just over three hours, during which time we may take a nap, but time will tell.

As you might have guessed, the nap came without notice. One hour on the clock was turned because of the time zone, and the other hour in the realm of dreams. Approaching Catania, a plane with a huge circle in the sky is ready to land. Our feet touch the hot Sicilian earth and we are ready to admire it. Clearly, one car will not get us to our home for the next week, which is about 50 kilometres away. I have already mentioned that we are nine travelers. One of them (Sanita) will join us later in the evening, but the other eight of us are walking around the airport rental car office. Three of the travelers are taken to the train station, where the tickets are bought very quickly, as they are bought by our landlord. The train is said to have arrived unusually on time, they made it and are on their way. The driver then joins the others at the airport, where we drink local espresso and beer. The beer is so-so, but the coffee is excellent. The time fly and the car is here. We are all on our way to the next city (Fiumefreddo), to the summer house at the foot of the hill.

Someone by train, someone by car, and the last traveling buddy on a plane from another country. When we arrive in the city, we see so much rubbish on the roadsides, and in some places it even looks like it has been set on fire. A bit of drama, because in general there is not litter everywhere, and uncontrolled burning was rare.

We are all hungry after the flight, and we want to have lunch. The landlord (with praise, for welcoming us, showing us around and cooking Italian style!) recommends a local café with various foods. We eat ice-cream (Granita) with bread (Brioches col tuppo). A local food, a meat stew wrapped in rice and fried in oil (Arancini – a typical “street” dish). And a normal student pizza, i.e. a pizza topped with French fries, sausages and something else. Last sips of coffee, and we’ve eaten enough to get back to the house where we’ll be staying. I am not sure whether the price of the meal was very low or whether it was a local’s advantage, but we paid an average of six euros per person for everything we ate and drank.

– Arancini or local food
– The first Espresso

Arriving at the accommodation (our home for the next seven days) is great. The house at the foot of a hill. We divide up the rooms where we will sleep and enjoy the views. Words cannot describe the magnificent view of the surroundings. On one side the Mediterranean Sea, and on the other side the volcano Etna – the volcano slightly hidden in the clouds. On the day we fly in, it is raining slightly, which is very refreshing. During the day it is around 30 degrees. The first day is a resting day, so we don’t plan to go anywhere.

– Our home during the week
– Coastal view from the house
– A view of Etna, covered by clouds on the first day and the volcano is not visible

Evening comes quickly. Dinner is pasta, Italian style. The drink, of course, is local wine. Eight of us sit at the dinner table, as the last traveling buddy (Sanita) is just arriving in Catania. As we put the pasta on our plates, we realise that Sanita will have nothing left and we make a ninth portion. All satisfied and fed, it’s time to enjoy the sights of the city. Meanwhile, our driver for the next few days (John) goes for Sanita to the airport. One moment and they have arrived. Our first day ends with chatter about place, time and feelings.

– Catching the sights
– The first pasta in Sicily
– In the background is the coastal city that delighted us every evening

The second day, Monday, starts slowly. In fact, all the following days will be like that: “Oh, morning, we’ll think”. Some of the travelers catch the sunrise, but most of us miss it because they wanted sleep.

– First sunrise from the window of Baiba’s room, I was still sleeping sweetly at this time because the windows are on the other side
– Morning view from the bird’s eye

The morning starts with a small breakfast (pizzas and sandwiches from a local pizzeria). Afterwards, some people go to the sea, including me, while others stay at home and plan lunch.

– Latvian girl enjoying the sea

When we return from our swim in the salty sea water, we sit down at the table to enjoy the crispbreads (Brusketas) and salad made by Nicolas. There are countless recipes on the internet about how they (the crispbreads) are made, how they should be made, but for us everything was simple and delicious. Toasted bread rolls in olive oil, fried tomatoes on top, Stracciatella cheese (similar in texture to Mozzarella cheese, but different in taste) as a finishing touch.

– The crispbread making process

After lunch, we decide to visit the Alcantara River Park. The entrance fee is symbolic (1,5 euro) if we use the stairs. There are various trails in the park, according to the reviews on the internet, it is better to walk them on your own, if available then wear wetsuit, because the river water is cool. The time of year is also important, so that the water level is appropriate and the trails are accessible. We forcibly swims through the cold water. The feelings are indescribable. Next we go slightly downstream and enjoy the evening with Latin music and dances. Time to return home, enjoy the sky with stars, the views of the city, taste the next version of pasta (the pastas varied almost daily and were all delicious) and end the day with some dancing.

– Ready to go to Alcantara
– The part of the Alcantara River where most of the people were
– A little review into a cold water adventure
– Our base area after the cold river water adventures, where several dances are made
– In the dance process
– Next pasta and wine
– The house surrounded by skies
– Around this time I was already sweetly asleep, but some were still up

We have rested on Monday and should work on Tuesday. On Tuesday we can already say that the morning is like the morning, calm, leisurely and happy. We eat a little and divide up the duties of who will do what, because today’s plan is a little cleaning. The women go into the garden to pick lemons and mangoes. There are still grapefruit and other citrus plants in the garden, but they are not ready yet. The men are instructed about the work in the garden. We collect logs and branches to bring them to the shed. Given the terrain around the house, this is no easy task. Nikolas is preparing a new version of pasta for us all, with our lovely women helping him. The whole planned process of collecting the logs is not completed because we are interrupted by the sound of the lunch call (we ate lunch every day around three or even later).

– Sanita has adapted to the lemon theme

Next version of the pasta and the fruit (very tasty and sweet). We plan to use the lemons to make a local drink called Limoncello, not as sweet as the ones sold in Latvian shops. Eaten, worked (the rest of the work is postponed for another day), time to go to the sea together.

– Very sweet mango, very!

We play like children in the sea water, the waves knock us off our feet, but we enjoy it. The water is warm, like a hot Latvian summer day, because the air temperature is at least 15 degrees lower in Latvia now, not to mention the water temperature. We spend the rest of the day at the sea (the light part of the day). The sun rises around 6:30 and sets around 19:30 in early September.

– The water is warm, the sun is warming, I don’t want anything else
– Water on the move

Back home, the plans for the day are not ended, with a Limoncello workshop, different crispbreads and Latino party with Salsa and Bachata at the end. Duties divided, sandwiches eaten, we can go dancing. The dancing, the place and the atmosphere are great. One minus to mention about the dance party. The locals smoke literally next to the dance floor, the smoke goes like a volcano, but it’s a small thing in the background of the overall feeling. We get back to the home quite late, a few moments and most of us goes straight to the beds for a trip to dreamland.

– Limoncello making process, where the lemon is peeled
– Crispbreads
– Evening dances

The previous day was both productive and long, so the logical result is the wake-up regime for this day, with everyone getting up a little later. A quick breakfast of cereal, coffee and thoughts on the day’s activities.

Today’s itinerary includes a visit to the volcano Etna. Walking some of the trails at the foot of the volcano. We don’t plan to go to the top. A winding and ascending road. Approximately one hour on the way. At the foot of Etna there are parking lots and souvenir shops, which we like to browse. Parking costs three euros for the whole day. Many of the souvenirs are made from volcanic rocks, which now adorn our hands and necks. Sanita has to hire shoes. You don’t necessarily need special shoes to walk the trails, but they should be comfortable and will get dirty easily. We all take a drink of water, and go for a walk. The temperature promises to drop by about 10 degrees, so a sweater might be useful. I was comfortable with a t-shirt for the whole walk. At the highest point of the volcano the temperature is close to 10 degrees, but you would need something warmer there, at our trail level the temperature was around 20 degrees, a bit lower in places.

– First steps towards trails
– See, there shines Etna
– Around this height, someone is already starting to consider the possibility of a sweater

The walking route we chose can be done by car, but then you won’t be able to take all the interesting curves, because they were the best. Beautiful views, fresh air and a smile that never fades. You have to be careful on some parts of the trail as there are spectacular holes in the ground right next to them, but overall it makes for an even better view.

– A charming view we’re in no hurry to leave
– Getting ready for one group picture
– Smile! Ready! Inspired by the movie “Lord of the Rings”
– A bird’s eye view of the trail
– Stone masterclasses at the top of the hill

Back at the parking lot, we realize that we will have to come back (in the future) to see what we haven’t seen yet. We go back to our accommodation. Some of us stay in the house and some of us go for a swim. It’s not hard to guess who (oh, the women, and the driver John) went to the sea.

– Women’s photo
– For men, everything is upside down

The evening promises to be a real masterclass in tasting local seafood. We plan to go to a local restaurant, which is a 10-minute walk from where we are staying. So many different dishes, I’ll get dizzy just looking at them. Everything is so delicious. We couldn’t eat it all, although we only had starters, which is about half of the big set which includes the main course. We were walking back to our accommodation, holding our full stomach with one hand. Wonderful atmosphere and food.

– Dining at Villa Mimosa
– Waiting for our food, listening to what Nicolas has to say
– First food and drinks only. There wasn’t room on the table for everything

At the end of the evening, once again, we enjoy the outdoor views with local wine and talk about the day’s adventures.

Thursday starts with a train trip to Catania. As the days go by, the mornings are more blurred and we gather together steadily closer to lunchtime. The trip to Catania will be an eight-man team, as Nikolas wants to do a bit of housework and relax, but we drive with two crews to the local train station, drop the cars off, and drive to Catania. We have free parking in Fiumefreddo and the train ticket is 4.20 euros per person. Nikolas advised us to do this because in Catania there could be problems with parking (finding a space), and it could be for a fee, and we will have experience with public transport in this option. Tickets are easy to buy. Before boarding the train, we have to validate your tickets in the machines right next to the ticket machines. On the train, in both directions, there were controls and the penalties for stowaways are high.

– The train station

On the train, as in a car, comfortable and convenient. After about 40 minutes of rolling, we are in Catania. With eight people it is difficult to agree on preferred walking routes, so we initially see the typical tourist spots together, but soon split into small groups and wander around the city. Me and my traveling buddy for the day (Andrew) have chosen the most beautiful roads and places, so we get a great impression of the city, the people and the overall atmosphere. Lots of shops are visited. Various clothes, perfumes and souvenirs are looked at, measured and bought. Time passes very quickly. Before returning to Fiumefreddo, we all meet for an afternoon meal. No surprises. Pasta and wine! We are ready to return. Back in Fiumefreddo, we go to the beach and Nikolas is picked up from home. The sun is practically over the hill.

– Elephant fountain. The symbol of Catania.
– An object outside a shoe shop to attract customers to the shoe shop
– A Roman theater built in the second century AD. This historic building is located in the city centre. Admission 6,00 euros per person.
– I didn’t see this in person, but some of us had these views
– An amphitheatre that is not so well preserved. As you can see from the scaffolding, restoration work is active. In general, the whole region is full of such buildings.
– Returning home by train. FPP2 face masks must be worn on public transport

The evening ended with a new version of pasta by Nicolas. And of course, cupcakes! Two more guests join us for dinner (Ekaterina and a friend. The friend’s name is probably Pius, but I’m not sure). The pasta melts, the crispbreads disappear like magic tricks.

Then the idea of going to a dance party comes up, but we split into two parts, with one crew going to the party and the other staying at home and continuing with the Limonchello brewing. We end up with a brew with a peculiar flavour, but we quickly drink it up so that our masterpiece is not seen by Nikolas, who is in the crew that went to the party. Good for the rest of us and for the party-goers. The stayers enjoy the peace and the view, and the dancers enjoy themselves on the dance floor, although one of the visitors (Mikus) was not impressed. Mikus dropped his phone on the ground during the day and the display cracked. As Mikus himself said: “This was the worst day of my trip”. Fatigue comes unnoticed, and the bed calls out to rest for the next day.

– Limoncello, originally bright yellow, but ours is the colour of tea (because of the brown sugar)

Fridays are always good days. Especially when they start in Sicily, where the temperature outside the window (and in front of it) is 30 degrees, while in Latvia the weather forecast shows 10 degrees and rain. A morning of cereal, yoghurt and coffee. We will go to Taormina, to see a bit of history, charming views of the coast and catching a tan on the beach.

– A quick breakfast

I should mention that we often used toll roads, which are relatively cheap. When leaving Fiumefreddo on the toll road, you take a voucher, and when entering Taormina, at the end of the toll road, you return the voucher for a fee of around 1,00 euro. We pay in cash. When returning the voucher, we are attended by a human during the day, but at night this process was also automated, without human intervention.

Time to mention the driving culture. Mammamia! Road signs are “advisory”, road markings are a relative concept. Stop signs are just for beauty. We (more accurate would be John, Andrew and Nikolas, as they were the drivers) deal with it perfectly well, and adapt quickly.

When we arrive in Taormina, we park close to the beach and we all go for a tan. The view is great, the water is warm, except that not all of the shoreline is equally walkable because of the large rocks. While we are on the beach, we also witness a tragic event. A man is being taken out of the sea, most probably having been diving, judging by his wetsuit. A lengthy resuscitation procedure is carried out until the ambulance crews arrive, who soon pronounce the verdict – that’s it.

– On the left you can see the beach where our base will be
– We walk around to explore the different viewpoints. Beautiful!

After visiting the beach, we take a walk to the city centre. After sunbathing we want to eat, we all find a place to eat together, it would be more correct to say that Nikolas finds a place because he got a recommendation from his brother. Delicious pizzas and lasagne. Another visit to a historical site (Teatro Antico di Taormina), and once again we can disperse for a free visit of the city, which is successfully realized.

– Cable car going up to the city
– One of the central streets, with at least three times as many people in the evening
– Lasagne and pizza with pistachios
– The ancient theater in Toarmin, where active concerts are held today. The first work on this theater was carried out in the 3rd century BC.
– View from Taormina towards Etna volcano

Darkness falls without a notice and it’s time for everyone to go back to home and go to the next dance party in Catania. Once at home, we freshen up, change and get ready to go. One of our traveling buddies, this time Alexander, stays at home.

This Latin dance party was definitely not as good as the first one, but it was good. There was Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba. There were also dance animations. The most interesting moment was when the DJ announces that there will be a 20-minute break during which classic club music is played and everyone, young and old, dances. We shook a little to the modern rhythms and decided to go home. Time for bed.

It’s the last full day in this magical place. Plans for the day are not big. There is much to enjoy. The women are taken to the beach, where they spend practically the whole day. We stay at home and decide to finish the work we have started on collecting logs, which we do successfully. An impressive pile of logs was collected. We finish with a local brew, which is delicious and fits the atmosphere. There is still plenty of time, we can tidy up our rooms, pack our things and get ready for tomorrow’s trip. In addition, a correct Limoncello is brewed, as Nikolas helps.

– Bird’s eye view of how we work
– A pile of logs we picked up around the garden
– Delicious mangoes picked right there in the garden

The work is done, the place is cleaned up, and we can go to the beach to enjoy the peace of the last evening by the sea. Everything is happening at a leisurely pace. As the sun sets, we go back to our place to prepare our last supper. One crew goes directly to the house, the other via the shop to buy everything we need. It’s cooking! I won’t even mention what we cooked, because that should be obvious. Everything is delicious and is eaten to the last bite. Last views before the eyelids close, because in a few hours we will have to leave.

– Arrival at home
– Last night we eat outside, next to the house
– Colourful table and food
– Last photos and night views

It is early morning on the last day. We go to the airport in two parts. The first group is taken to the airport at 5:00. The women and the landlord sleep late, the others take the bags they packed the night before, including me, and we are ready to go. The sun is still over the horizon, the last views of the foothill town of Fiumefreddo are taken, we are on our way. It takes about 50 minutes. We have planned for plenty of time, and the road to the airport goes quickly. The roads are still relatively empty, as the locals are still sweetly sleeping. As the first group reaches the airport, morning coffee is drunk. We settle in at the departure gate and take a nap while waiting for the rest of our traveling buddies to arrive.

Outside the windows, the sun is rising fast and the airport is full of people. We’re all at the airport, the rental car has been returned and security control has been passed. Some of the traveling buddies are going to get some refreshments, while I am dealing with the aftermath of the sunbathing from Taormina. They are clearly visible right at the airport. Sharp pain under the skin, which cannot really be called pain, but cause such intense discomfort that I cannot relax. Oh! I take a cream offered by a fellow traveler, and together we go to the toilet to apply it. It doesn’t help. The unpleasant sensations continue. With some buddies we go in search of a cream that will cool me down and give me some relief. We buy some after-sun cream, which has some relaxing effect.

– The symbol of Catania travels to Latvia

It’s been a long morning, but we’re on the plane now. With a slight time delay, the plane is high in the air and we are all on our way home. Also Italian landlord, because he has called Latvia as home for some time.

The first hour of the flight passes in a slight fog, as the short night’s sleep does its work, which this time I am glad for, because those traces of sun… However, the next hour is very restless, which is successfully endured, and the last or third hour of the flight is quite calm. No one is biting under the skin anymore, at least not so intensely that I can’t stand it. The last few metres of sky are covered and we are ready to land.

– On the way home

Last hugs and goodbyes at the airport.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible. Special thanks to Nikolas, because without him this trip would not have happened, and to Sanita, because together with Nikolas she was the initiator.

Travel buddies: Alexander (Aleksandrs), Andrew (Andrejs), John (Jānis), Nikolas, Mikus, Baiba, Ketija, Sanita, Ulvis

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