Saturday, March 31, 2007


Alberobello was a friendly town, and away from the trullis I had the strange feeling of being in Australian inner suburban streets. I can't quite put my finger on the similarity, but the feeling was quite strong.

The dog that ate Alberobello.

Bondi makes a new friend in Marco, until someone else offers treats of course.

Bondi was mobbed by a few dozen teenagers.

Hiding under a table at the local information centre.

Ads for ultra-mobile Tablet PCs all over Italy.

Mimmo, Marco and friends.

Mimmo and Marco offer B&B accommodation in a Trulli. I got into town too late to organise something like this, but I would surely do it on a return visit.

Hiding from the crowds on the street.

Front and back of the King Trullo, one of the best made, and the only one with a second storey.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Trulli Sassi Deeply

Today was to be the first of a couple of days with no accommodation booked ahead. Starting from our Etna/Catania base over the last few days, we were heading for Bari on the southeast coast of Italy, where we'd get the ferry to Dubrovnik on the 31st.

I tried to book a locanda in Castrovillari, but they wanted to impose a 15€ room-cleaning charge for Bondi, which would make it the highest I've encountered in any of the 3 continents, 16 countries and over 100 B&Bs, hotels, etc that he's stayed in. As one hotel owner put it to me in the USA - "if we're not cleaning our rooms well enough to remove the signs of a dog having slept there, then we're not cleaning properly." Every place we have been in Italy has a stone floor, so there's not much carpet to be cleaned.

First stop for the day was at Messina, where we had to catch a ferry over to Villa San Giorgio, crossing the straits fabled to be dominated by the monstrous Scylla and Charybdis. Now it's a dull short journey on a ferry with unfabulous food and monstrous toilets. Sea mists inhibited photo-taking, but neither shoreline seemed to offer much in scenery.

Back on the mainland, we just followed the A3 highway north on (potentially scenic) viaducts until it was time to exit east towards the Gulf of Taranto (inside the boot's instep). The scenery wasn't terribly inspiring here and I ploughed on to through the province of Basilicata to the UNESCO-listed city of Matera (pronounced maTEra).

Matera is known for its buildings cut out of stone, known as "Sassi". There are some hotels that offer accommodation in some of these, but they're afraid of rock-eating dogs so nothing for us there. I actually found that after walking around for less than an hour that the mold in the air was making me gag, so probably not a wise choice for me after all.

Around this time in our journey, the scenery became much greener, rolling hills that seemed rather evocative of a familiar scene that I can't quite place....

My last intended stopover was the town of Alberobello, in the province of Puglia (or Apulia), with the greatest concentration of trulli (singular: trullo), stone huts with conical roofs. Although accommodaton in trulli B&Bs is possible, I couldn't locate an agency when I reached town, and so after a couple of enquiries found an inexpensive hotel to stay for 2 nights. Bari is less than an hour's drive from here, and I didn't feel like going anywhere tomorrow after the long drive.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Etna - Silvestri Crater

Unsure of Bondi's chances at catching snow again as we travel on, I took him back up Mt Etna, it being only 16km or so straight up from Massalargia B&B to the Etna Sud ski area.

Moon over Silvestri Crater

We discovered the Silvestri Crater, one of a row created by an Etna eruption in 1892.

The wall chart below gives some idea of Sicily's amazing topography, with Etna dominating the entire northeast of the island.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


To give an idea of the distances involved in driving in Sicily, I have overlaid the island on the area around Sydney, so you can see that nothing is more than a 2-3 hour drive from central Sydney (whose urban area would cover several Sicilian provinces). It's fascinating to think of how the crinkled topography of this island has been fought over by so many empires in the last 3000 years.

For comparison, I've also overlaid France and Italy on NSW, which is almost as big as both countries put together.

France: 551,500 (excluding outlying territories)
Italy: 301,318 sq. km
NSW: 809,444

I've made some pictorial and textual updates and additions to the blog going back over the last two weeks, including Siena, Naples and most of our Sicilian sojourn.

Just had the pleasure of reading Barry Hughart's tale of "an Ancient China that never was", his Bridge of Birds (1984), a story of an old scholar "with a flaw in his character" and a strong young villager, on a serious of quests to save the lives of some poisoned children. It's a huge shaggy dog story (or is that "soggy dragon") that reminds me a bit of Jack Vance's Dying Earth (I guess "of a future that will never be") stories, but much funnier. There are 2 sequels that I must must read.

Mt Etna and Taormina

Our B&B, Massalargia, is on the south side of Etna, at an elevation of about 520m. We drove around to the north-east for the closest approach to the summit. We got up to 1800m or so, where the road runs out (or appears to) near lookout points or ski-fields.


Less than 45 minutes drive down to the coast is Taormina, seen from the highway thus.

The Greek Theatre has distractingly wondrous views.

I'm a statue! I'm a statue!

Views along the coast to the north and south.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sicily Update

We're staying on the southern slopes of Mt Etna, just outside of Catania which is where we'll be for the next two days. After that we return to the Italian mainland, and still need to locate accommodation for two nights on the Messina-Bari route (stopping in Alberobello) before we take the ferry to Dubrovnik.

I have plenty of pictures from our time in Palermo/Monreale, Cefalu, and the drive through Agrigento (Valley of the Temples), Comiso, Modica, Noto to Siracusa (Syracuse). We spent two days on the small island of Ortygia, which is the old part of Siracusa. I have been thoroughly successful in avoiding the heat by travelling south at this part of the year, as it is also snowing on Etna.

Internet cafe access is limited and what I have found has been thoroughly infected with viruses and spyware so I have been reluctant to enter any passwords (such as for the blog) on any of these systems. Normal service will return when possible.

Catania and the slopes of Etna

Fontana dell'Elefante (made of lava rock)

Theoretically a short drive today but dire traffic in and around Sicily's second largest city, Catania, kept us in the car for hours longer than planned. I tried to get into the city twice but the roads and the Garmin satnav disagreed at nearly every turn: there were obvious some recent changes but I got the feeling that existing road data was not correct. Ongoing roadwork meant that each mistake was penalised by extra time sitting in traffic.

Although it was only midday I thought we should look for our B&B on the southern slopes of Mt Etna, spied for the first time as we reached Catania. It should have been visible long before, as it is far and away the tallest thing around, supposedly visible from near Syracuse. Further road deviations and the usual blizzard of signs ( pizzerias, B&Bs and cities are all promoted with signs of approximately equal size at most intersections ) meant a longer search than expected. No one was home, so I thought we'd make one more attempt on Catania.

This time we got close to the city centre, and then got trapped on a long one-way street for nearly 40 minutes - amost of the roads leading off it forced you to loop back into it further back up into the congestion ( tick. done it ). Without ever finding out the cause of the slowdown I got off into a side-street and parked, walking Bondi through the fish-markets (with that familiar mal-a-mute chant) and then to the main piazza. From here (it is written) Via Etnea runs north, with the volcano visible over the fashionable cafes and stores. North (tick), Etna visible (cross), fashionable (hmmm, just regular high street stuff on a road not out of place in Manchester) ... but we did settle at a cafe doing tavalo calda ("hot table") which is basically a pick your meat and three veg and pasta from the display and have it brought to you. This was all accomplished quickly despite my limited and dubious Italian, with lots of "questo" , "si", "buono", and smiling a lot. The food was all delicious: a generously portioned primo + secondo course and cafe macchiato for under €14.

Nothing much else to do but the usual ( photograph Duomo (tick) and a fountain (tick) ) and get out of town before the peak hour made the midday slowdown a fond memory.

Checked into the B&B, and Bondi had a sniff around the gardens while I re-packed the car.