Thursday, October 7, 2021

Day 16--Sicily

 Bill and I woke up about 2:30 am, so decided to just get up and get ready for our 3:30 departure at the hotel.  

It didn't take long to get dressed and throw the last few items in the luggage.  We needed to put the luggage outside our room 10 minutes before we left, but we were ready before that so just carried them upstairs when we left.  Nunzia was waiting for us.  Every trip we've taken with Grand Circle/OAT the trip leader has been there until everyone has left no matter what the hour.

She introduced us to our driver and also gave us two packed meals.  I don't know what was in the bag but it was heavy.  Neither Bill or I like to eat a lot before we fly so we gave the driver and his side kick our food.

We had to go to Catania airport to catch our flight.  It was about a 45 minute very dark ride. 

After retrieving our luggage, the driver showed us where we had to go.  It was a long line that was roped off.  Once we got in line it began to rain.  The line didn't move very fast as there was someone at the door that wanted to see either your reservation or boarding pass and most people didn't have that paperwork readily available.

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that a doctor came to the hotel after breakfast to give us a Covid test for our flight.  This was not included in our trip but it was only 20 Euros.  Nunzia handed out paper copies of our Covid test the night before.  We also had filled out the attestation form for the US and had paper copies.

When we checked in with Alitalia airlines we gave them all of our paperwork and had our boarding passes very quickly.  They did tell us that our bags were only checked through to Rome and we'd have to retrieve them and check in with Delta in Rome.

We flew Alitalia to Rome.  Alitalia had strict rules about a face mask.  You had to have a KN95 and had to change it every 4 hours.  Our flight left at 6:40 am and arrived a few minutes early at 7:56 am.  I know it's been a while since we've flown to Rome, but the airport is much nicer than I remember on our last trip to Italy.  It was very clean and most of all quiet.  

It was a long walk to the baggage area and this time we decided to use one of their carts to go through passport control.  When they asked us to lower our mask for a photo, I said "gladly".

Once through the passport control, we couldn't find Delta.  There were a lot of airlines but we didn't see Delta.  I asked someone and they said to exit the airport and then come in on the ground floor.  

There was a line for Delta and when we got to the end the lady said she needed our attestation form.  I handed it to her and she said we only except digital ones.  One look at us and she said no problem.  She did something with her phone and we were told to go to check in.  Old age does have advantages because they will help you rather than wait for us to figure it out.

At check in the girl asked us to lower our masks so she could see our faces.  I asked her is she didn't need to see it again.  It felt good to remove the mask.  

We had a four hour wait between flights and I have to say I was glad for the extra time.  We got on the train to go to E terminal.  There are two E terminals but we found our gate with no problems.  

Bill and I split a sandwich.  We had to show our "green pass" before we could sit at the table.  I guess I didn't mention the Covid rules for Italy.  Everyone is suppose to wear a mask even on the street.  We found very few people doing this.  Any museum or government run building required you to show your green pass.  I had made a copy of our vaccination card and the front page of our passport before we left home.  That's all we had to show when they required a green pass.  I had the straps on our masks so every morning when we left we placed it around our necks and if we entered a government building we put the mask on when we showed the "green pass" and then took it off once we entered.

Our flight from Rome to Atlanta was very smooth.  We actually left 10 minutes early.  The food was once again not bad and the ice cream for dessert was good.  The full bottles of wine on these flights was much better than the little bottles some of the other airlines give you.  I know most people like to get near the front of the plane but Bill and I prefer the back.  Most people use the restrooms in front of them.  Also the serving carts don't block your access to the restrooms or the snacks they put out in the back of the plane.

It was an 11 hour flight, but it didn't seem that long.  We watched a lot of movies and by the time they served two meals and snacks the time went by rather quickly.  Neither Bill or I slept.

We arrived in Atlanta around 5 pm.  There was no waiting as we have global entry and no one was at the machines.  We retrieved our luggage and put them back in for our final flight home.  We had a four hour wait for the next flight.

Now we are starting to get tired.  Only one 4 hour flight and we'll be home.  The next plane was completely full.  Bill had an aisle seat and I had a middle seat.  There was a boy of 10 years old next to me and his mother was behind him in the next row.  The kid had a 13 week old puppy.  The mother also had a dog with her.

This kid kept getting up to use the restroom about every 30 minutes.  Just when you start to fall asleep, he'd say he had to use the restroom.  Needless to say, we didn't get any sleep on that flight.

By the time we walked down to baggage, our luggage was going around on the carousel.  We walked outside and the parking lot shuttle arrived.  We were the only ones on the shuttle.  Of course, it's about midnight now.

We took the elevator up to our floor and Bill punched the key to open the tailgate.  Nothing happened.  We tried to start the car and still nothing.  I went down to the office and said we had a dead battery and the girl said no problem.  Just sign a form that they aren't responsible for any damage and they'd bring a charger right up.  The car started up and away we went.  45 minutes and we'll be home.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the 143 was closed at I 10.  No problem we'll go another way.  No we won't.  Okay, let's try this again.  Finally, we got down to I 10.  I might mention that I do not drive at night if I can help it.

It was a wonderful trip.  We met some amazing people that I know we'll stay in touch with.  Wonderful memories!  Now comes another problem.....where do we go next?

Turtle Safely......


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Day 15--Mount Etna

 During the night I got a phone call from Edward Jones office that woke us up.  I thought I had the phone in airplane mode.  It was about 3 am in Sicily.  We were enjoying the fresh fragrant air with the windows open.  Before we fell back to sleep, we heard the explosions of the volcano.  I was thankful for that phone call or we probably would have been so exhausted we wouldn't have woken to hear the volcano. 

We've had excellent weather the entire trip except for a few sprinkles while we were on the bus after leaving Taormina and returning to Zafferana.  Nunzia told everyone that there was a chance of rain around noon for the day we hiked Mount Etna.  Nunzia called the volcano naturalist and the 4 wheel drivers to see if we could begin 30 minutes earlier, it turned out to be a good thing.

Our local nature guide gave us a 30 minute talk on the volcano before we left.  Sorry about the blurry photo.

 Mount Etna is more than 10,000 feet tall and the tallest active volcano in Europe.  Add the fact that it is also one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Four 4-wheel drive vehicles picked us up to take us to the northern slope.  I didn't expect a big black Mercedes.  Nunzia rode with us and the driver was telling her all the famous people that he's driven around Sicily.  I think that was the first automatic transmission I've seen in Europe.

Here we are at our first stop.  I didn't expect to see all the trees.

Nick is explaining that the lava comes from the fissures not out the top of the volcano.

It was a beautiful day once again.

All eight in our group elected to do the volcano 2.8 mile hike.  

Here's where we started the hike.  The transport company had hiking sticks for everyone.  I did notice they gave Bill and I two sticks while the younger ones in the group only had one stick.

The weather would change in seconds to a light fog and then back to sunshine.

It felt like walking on a deep loose sand beach.  You really sunk in.

We were above 6,000 feet at this point.

The "path" was very narrow and the higher it went there were steep straight down drops on both sides.

I believe this is Gary taking photos.  The last thing I was thinking about was taking photos.

Eureka!  Here's the hole.

I have to say as much as I loved the Fiat 500 ride, the Mafia discussions and all the other things we did, this was something I'll never forget!

As we were hiking back to the vehicles we saw some locals gathering mushrooms near the roadway.  

Bill didn't even wear a jacket but I was comfortable in my rain jacket.  We stopped at local coffee shop for a bathroom stop.  I enjoyed a great cup of hot chocolate.  The European's really know how to make it.

This is what it looked like when we left the coffee shop.  Of course, a few moments later once we started down, the weather cleared up.

We enjoyed a great lunch at a beautiful place on the volcano.  

We saw these goats  between the roads. Back to the hotel and we have a couple of hours before drinks and dinner with drinks.

I started packing the luggage and then it started to rain.  We've been so busy we didn't have time to use the outdoor pool.  I thought this was the time to use the spa facilities of the hotel.  There was an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, whirlpool and I'm not sure what else.  Then I remembered that we had to leave the hotel the next morning at 3:30 and I didn't want to have a wet swimsuit in the luggage even though I had a waterproof bag.

We all toasted our drinks together the Sicilian way--look them in the eye!
Nunzia wanted to know what people liked and didn't like about the tour.  There were no dislikes.  The appetizers were great.  She then prepared a video of the photos she'd taken during the trip.  I don't know how she had the time. Here's the link:

She gave each of us a gift to remember the trip.  Thank goodness they were small or I wouldn't have been able to put them in the luggage.  There were two cards from the Scoppa deck, a hand painted wine cork, a papyrus painting and a piece of lava from Mount Etna.  The lava went in our display case of items from other trips as soon as I unpacked.

We had a wonderful farewell dinner and no one seemed to want to leave the table.  

Here's Nunzia with Howie, a solo traveler.


Here's Gail and Gary who we hope we'll travel with again.

Alain and Viktoriya, who we will see again on a tour.

We were the first to leave since we had an early morning departure. 

I'll finish up the trip in the next blog.

Turtle Safely.......

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Day 14 Sicily


Bill and I were ready for our adventures which began right after breakfast.  Our bus took us to Taormina but first Nunzia wanted to know if we wanted to stop at local honey place first.  Of course, everyone wanted to stop even though we had been on the bus less than 5 or 10 minutes.

Here's a close up of the bee hive.

It was interesting to learn what they did with the honey.

There were all kinds of different products that they made from honey.  They also had samples of olive oil.

This was the first time that we have had a wine tasting right after breakfast.  It was good but I would have been afraid to carry a bottle home in my luggage.

Nunzia said "let's stop and walk along the water before we go to Taormina.  This little village, Gardina, isn't as touristy."  If you look at the right side of the photo up on the hill you can see Taormina.

Nunzia joined us for a photo.

This photo shows the date of Gardina Naxos--734 

It was a beautiful spot, but then every place was beautiful in Sicily.

The bus stopped along the road to Taormina so we could take photos.

Here's a group photo of the smallest alley in Taormina.  We're all in it, but the taller people didn't show up well.

I took this next photo for Rebecca and Ron who put on the film festival in Beaufort every year.  These are the people who are in the Taormina film festival. If you click on the photo it will enlarge it.

Our local guide who is an expert on the Teatro Antico di Taormina showed us around.

 This dates back to the third century.

Even though this is a Greek theater, you can still see signs of the Romans.

Here's a view of Taormina from the theater.

Bill wasn't sure he could climb all those steps--but he did it!

It had some fantastic views.

Our local guide suggested visiting this at 2 pm as that was when less people were there.  When we left there were huge lines to get in.

This theater was formerly a gladiatorial battle arena.  Today opera and theatrical performances are held there.

It was about a 45 minute drive back to our hotel.  I knew Bill was going to enjoy the next event for the day.

We were lucky once again as Claudio Fava was available to give us a lecture on the Antimafia Movement.  He is president of the Sicilian Antimafia commission.  He told about Giuseppe Impastato who was murdered by the mafia. After the discussion there were a lot of questions.

We boarded our bus for dinner nearby.  What an interesting place it was.

Notice the wine bottles and bicycle in this ceiling shot?

The owner said he did all this decorating during the Covid shutdown.

While we were eating we were entertained by Giorgio.

The food was served on roof tiles.

It was another very busy and informative day.  

Turtle Safely........

Monday, October 4, 2021

Day 13 Sicily--Catania and Casa di Maria


After breakfast we traveled to Catania which is the second largest municipality in Sicily.  The dining room had a panoramic view of the sea.

Once again we had a local tour guide show us around Catania.  Our first stop was the World War II museum.

I'm sorry my battery died so I don't have many photos to show.

When we entered the museum there was a typical village scene with all the destruction from the war.

We then entered a bomb shelter and sat down on a bench with the sirens going off.  Pretty soon you could hear bombs being dropped and the whole shelter was shaking.  I can't imagine what those people went through at that time.

Our guide told us stories of what her family had to endure.

After the war museum we walked over to the fish market.  You don't find many supermarkets in Italy.  Everyone goes to the local markets for fish, vegetables, meat and cheese.

Nunzia had a special treat for us after our walk through the market.  I wish I had a photo of them, but they were little white covered sponge cake with a little cherry on top.  

We then drove to Biancavilla to visit Casa di Maria.  It is one of the foundations that Grand Circle supports.  

Our group had a nice lunch and we got to met the children as they arrived home from school.  All of the children have to be driven to and from school.  They are all different ages and in three different schools.  The youngest is 2 and the oldest is 20.  

This is a foster family and the story of how this came about was interesting.  

The children knew that we were OAT travelers and that some people brought gifts for them.  Bill and I had asked Nunzia before the trip how many, what ages and sex they were so that we could bring a gift for each of them.

They were all well behaved.

Even the dog got in the group photo.

Turtle Safely.........