Archive | memories

Life Lately… An Overdue Update!

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First of all, the giveaway for a signed copy of Elliott’s first novel ends at midnight tonight! Enter by commenting on this post if you’d like to win. :)

Secondly, I have stopped looking at/posting regularly on Instagram for a while after getting back from Yosemite because I enjoyed the break so much, and I don’t like the [self-induced!] pressure of always trying to take an “Instagram-worthy” picture. Can anyone else relate to this? Anyway, I’m sure I’ll eventually post/browse regularly again, but in the meantime I wanted to bring some of the family memories back to the blog again. It’s been a while! Here are my favorite photos I found on my phone from the past month:

IMG_1312 As we often do in the evenings here, a few weeks ago we jogged to the beach to enjoy the sunset and a family picnic. Lena’s 4.5 years old now, and sometimes she amazes me by how grown up she seems!

IMG_1314 The setting sun shines down on Point Loma and a lone fisherman.

IMG_1322 The tide’s coming in, save the tractor!

IMG_1335 I hosted a pool play date at my house for my local moms club after feeling convicted that I haven’t been opening up my home much lately. Elliott and I don’t know how much longer we’ll live in Coronado, and I want more friends to come over, see my dirt, feel loved, and enjoy our home with us. Anyway, tangent aside, sooo many kids came (mine aren’t even in the pool here), and I had to get a second baby pool for the little ones, and there were snacks everywhere, and moms could only get five-second conversations in before they were interrupted again and again, but we all had so much fun. Must do this again!

IMG_1357 The kids and I went to the zoo with my friend Heather and her three boys, and at the end Heather pushed four kids in her stroller up a huge hill. Look at that front tire! I don’t know how she did it, but I was her cheering squad as I pushed one lone child in my own stroller beside her.

IMG_1373 This is a memory from a fun morning, so I thought I’d share it. I write for a local online paper, and one article I wrote recently was about a brand new breastfeeding support group in Coronado. For the first 30 minutes of the support session, no one showed up, and so I just chatted with the lactation educator and hoped she’d get some clients. And then three moms and babies walked in! We were both so happy, and I think her support group is off to a great start.

IMG_1392 Later that week, I took my family out to a restaurant (Calypso Cafe in the Coronado Cays for my local readers!) to write a food review for my job. It was a special outing, since we don’t eat out as a family very often, and we all enjoyed the delicious food by the water.

IMG_1403 Not the best picture, but Lena and I are finally twins! I’ve been wanting to get us matching Saltwater sandals for a long time, and finally a pair became available in her size on eBay to match my own favorite shoes. Now she picks both pairs out of the closet and brings mine to me before we go anywhere.

IMG_1425 It RAINED one day! I delayed nap/rest time for an hour so that the kids could enjoy the deluge outside. Mostly they enjoyed one of their favorite activities: crushing chalk just to see what it will do… because our house is where chalk comes to die.

IMG_1426 My friend Maggie invited us over to her house to watch a movie on a rainy afternoon, another novelty for many reasons. The kids looked so cute all lined up and snuggling!

becca-garber-life-update The first photo is from a run I took a couple of weeks ago with my friend Annelie. I haven’t run more than four miles in a long time, so this was a historic day! Next I’ll work on my pace (haha)… but Annelie and I talk too much during our weekly runs to go much faster! I love that the map shows we ran around the island of Coronado (the whole western half is a military base), something I’ve wanted to do since I moved here.

The second photo is of another fun trip to the zoo with friends! Lena is always happiest when climbing the highest thing in sight, and Gil is always happiest with a bag of snacks in hand.

IMG_1459 We spent a Saturday at the beach! I got a little reading in before some of our friends arrived, and we spent the rest of the morning playing in the sand and surf. I actually swam in the ocean that day because it was so warm, something I’ve never done before in Coronado! The beaches here bring currents of water down from Alaska, meaning the water is bone-chillingly cold most of the year.

IMG_1462 IMG_1465 Auntie Jess came to visit for a few days! We took her out to one of our favorite restaurants in Balboa Park, Panama 66. Their tuna melt and cheese board are to die for…

IMG_1472 Elliott played hooky from work for a couple of hours so we could go hiking at Torrey Pines, one of our favorite urban hiking spots near our house.

IMG_1477 On another night, I took Elliott and Jess out to dinner for San Diego Restaurant Week, as I was reviewing their menu for another article. I loved all the seafood, but that key lime pie for dessert is what I’m dreaming about now…

IMG_1476 We took a picture of the receipt showing the 100% discount for being a “media/travel writer!” Dreams really do come true.

IMG_1495 Lena walked out of rest time in her bedroom one afternoon covered head to toe with marker ink. I tried so hard not to laugh out loud and almost succeeded. The end of her rest time that day turned into a solo bubble bath!

IMG_1507 Lena and Gil are taking classes this fall at our community center, and Lena is taking a STEAM class (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). She came home and told me about the vinegar and baking soda they mixed in a bowl, and that reminded me of a science experiment I did in elementary school with my mom. We made a volcano out of play doh and then watched it erupt!

IMG_1514 This is all Gil wants to do for several hours every day: “my wanta paint.” (“My” is his word for me, I, and myself these days.) His favorite part is taking the tops off and lining up all the bottles, but he does enjoy painting every now and then too…

IMG_1525 One last delicious food item because I couldn’t resist! This is from Saturday night, when Elliott and I reviewed a local European cafe and then walked across Coronado to a little community theater to review the play Thoroughly Modern Millie. I love this writing/reviewing work so much, and Elliott is also enjoying the upgrade to our dating life. ;)

What have you been up to in September? I hope wherever you are that a pumpkin spice latte sounds perfectly seasonal and amazing. I am waiting for that day to come to San Diego, but it’s the hottest time of the year here… so I’ll keep dreaming.

And that’s all for now!  Oh, except… go here to enter the giveaway if you haven’t yet!

10 :: in Coronado, family, Gil, home sweet home, Lena, life lately, memories, San Diego

Catching Up on the 52 Project!

becca-garber-52-project-02:2015-gil Last year I took a photo of each of my children each week as part of “The 52 Project.” I only made it half the year and it was sometimes a rather last-minute deal, but it was fun and worth it because look at Gil’s hair! And this is one of my favorite photos ever of Lena.

So I’m late this year, but I think I want to do it again. (Now maybe by March or so I’ll write down my goals for 2015… and do whatever else people usually do on January 1!)

Here are Weeks 1 through 7. I’ll follow up with Week 8 in a few days, hopefully after I get out my “real camera” and have some fun!

Week 1

becca-garber-52-project-01:2015-lena Lena: Lena: She’s climbing anything and everything these days, and her brother isn’t far behind. This photo is from a quick trip the three of us took one morning to the San Diego Zoo, where Gil learned how to say “koala.”

becca-garber-52-project-01:2015-gil Gil: Enjoying the last vestiges of Christmas with his Grampa. We spent most of the first week of the year in Virginia with our families. I miss those candy cane-striped pajamas already!

Week 2

becca-garber-52-project-03:2015-lena Lena: We spent part of Week 2 and 3 up the California coast in Santa Barbara county, where Elliott’s friends have a ranch. I loved watching Lena slip right into ranch life. Look at the way she cocks her little hip as she watches her dad from the back of the flatbed truck! She rides on hay bales back there like a natural, too.

becca-garber-52-project-03:2015-gil Gil: He rode his first horse at the ranch that weekend! BAREBACK! When we were there in September, Gil wouldn’t let us put him on Bliss, but this time he took right to her.

Week 3

becca-garber-52-project-04:2015-lena Lena: So content and such a good traveler! She’s always been flexible and fascinated by new places, even when she was two months old and I flew with her to visit Elliott on an Army assignment in Israel. This weekend was no exception… except when we were in the car driving to and from Santa Barbara. That time was not so great…

becca-garber-52-project-04:2015-gil Gil: We found a real tractor. He got to sit on it. Bliss x2!

Week 4

becca-garber-52-project-05:2015-lena Lena: We started reading Little House in the Big Woods before bed, and I was amazed by how much I remembered from my own childhood! My mom read it aloud to me when I was about five, and in retrospect I think Lena was too young. We’ll read it again in a couple years when she’s ready for the rest of the series, too. We just finished Charlotte’s Web together last week, which was equally sweet and memorable for the two of us.

becca-garber-52-project-05:2015-gil Gil: This little guy turned two on January 25! He couldn’t wait to get out of the bath that night to keep playing with all his new toys, and this ended up being my favorite photo from the day.

Week 5

becca-garber-52-project-06:2015-lena Lena: She’s always coming up with new and hilarious games to play with Gil these days; this time it was finding pillowcases in the linen closet and announcing, “We’re ghosts!” I’ve waited a L O N G time for them to finally start playing together independently, and I feel like it’s finally, really happening.

becca-garber-52-project-06:2015-gil Gil: Our church celebrated “Scottish Heritage Sunday,” which I’ve never heard of before, but we loved! So much plaid and so many kilts, even miniature ones on a couple adorable little boys! Maybe Gil needs one next year??

Week 6

becca-garber-52-project-07:2015-lena Lena: Valentine’s Day! We were in the park when Lena’s little friend Caleb got out of his preschool Valentine’s Day party, and he sweetly sat down and shared his entire bag of candy (!) with his brother and his friends. Lena now wants to go to school. (Of course.)

becca-garber-52-project-07:2015-gil Gil: I learned that our library loans out free passes to the New Children’s Museum downtown, so I took the kids one day. I’d heard so much about the museum for so long, and it did not disappoint! A table of KAPLA blocks, a whole tractor to paint, an entire balcony for blowing bubbles, a gigantic soft squishy playground, a whole room full of books and tent-making supplies, and even a bouncy house… felt like heaven to everyone involved. San Diego wins.

Week 7

becca-garber-52-project-08:2015-lena Lena: She continues to be my effortless fashionista. (Either that or the topknot is the easiest and cutest hairstyle ever!) We’ve been going to the beach a lot lately, taking advantage of the milder temperatures and sun during the winter. It’s 75-80 degrees most days, so we should live it up while we can! (Did I mention that San Diego wins?)

becca-garber-52-project-2015-gil Gil: Our local MOMS Club took a trip to the Coronado fire station, which was kind of stressful with 91 children (just kidding) but also totally fascinating and very “small town.” The kids watched a real fireman slide down a real fire pole and Gil has wanted to “see pole” (see the picture) every day ever since. Here it is, just for fun:

becca-garber-coronado-fire-station ——–

And now a question for you: how do you enjoy and look at your pictures? All mine are on my computer! Do you print out individual photos and put them in albums? Or do you print photo books through a certain service? I am starting to worry that Lena will lose her memories of Sicily if we don’t reinforce them with photos, but I don’t have a single photo book — or photo! — printed. Help! Where to start?

21 :: in 52 project, memories, San Diego

Confessions of a Third Culture Kid + A Book Giveaway

Update on 11.4.2014: The winner of the book giveaway, according to Random.org, is #10: Karen. Congratulations, Karen! I’ll email you to get your address. Thank you for all your wonderful, insightful, and beautiful comments, everyone!

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On the L: With my siblings and dad at the pyramids circa 1996. I’m the one with the unfortunate bangs on the far left.
On the R: Back at the pyramids with Elliott and Lena (!) in 2010.

A recent Monday morning. Six women sat around a table, plates filled with food, ready to talk.

“Let’s get to know each other a little better by sharing about the cities we’ve lived in,” my new core group leader suggested, shifting the baby in her arms as she surveyed our small group. “Might but a fun way to tell our life stories. I’ll start…”

In my seat next to her, I tensed inwardly. I felt my otherness, my weirdness, slipping back over me. I had dressed like the others, talked like the others; I fit in, they thought. I looked the part. I looked like a nice, average American girl, just like everyone else in the group.

But that’s just part of my story. It’s only the last eight years of my life story, actually. The eight years that involve living in America, going to an American school, marrying a semi-American boy, and having two cute and semi-American children.

The 19 years before the last eight were what had me sweating.

I didn’t grow up in the States. I was born in Egypt and lived in Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, Singapore again, India, and Brazil all before I started college. It was a different life, a life studded with foods and holidays and cultures and languages that I can taste on my tongue, see in my memory, and long for without warning.

As I waited for my turn to share my life story last week, I remembered a book I was reading at home called Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. The author, blogger Marilyn Gardner, is a friend of mine, and recently I had agreed to read and review her book. However, I had no idea how relevant the book would be to me. Marilyn also grew up overseas; she spent her childhood in Pakistan and her adulthood between Egypt, Pakistan, and the States. (Sound like someone you know?!)

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With my dad when he graduated from the American University of Cairo in 1987.

In her book, Marilyn writes with poignant understanding about third culture kids: children who spent most of their childhoods outside their passport country. Her observations and anecdotes flooded me with memories, sometimes bringing me to tears, sometimes leaving me running to Elliott, saying, “Listen to this! I have felt this way and it’s so true!”

Here’s one of my favorite quotes (which perfectly captured how I felt that Monday as I prepared — again — to share my “third culture kid” childhood):

As a child raised between worlds… I was neither of one world nor the other; I occupied a culture between…. In this other world called the United States, the blue passport bearing my picture and various stamps told me, told the world, that I belonged. That I was a citizen. But I never felt like I belonged in this other world. At any given time I was less or more comfortable, but I always felt like a bit of a fake. I didn’t know how to buy clothes. I didn’t know how to dress for winter. I didn’t know the idioms, the slang that was so important at that age. I had no clue about pop culture. I was trying to fake it, trying to fit, but at heart an imposter.

I got it. I knew how the author felt. Especially in college, fresh from a childhood overseas, I struggled daily just to fit in. I worked so hard. What did the other students wear? What did they do in their free time? Where did they live? What did I need to do to fit in? I transformed my wardrobe, made friends, joined organizations, moved out of my far-away dorm into the center of student life. Packed my life full just to fit in, to lose my otherness, to stop feeling so awkward, so left out. So lonely.

I just wanted to belong.

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My first smile on a bus in Cairo. I have a  feeling I will look exactly like this when I am 92 years old, plus wrinkles and including chub.

I’ve spent the last few years synthesizing my childhood and my future, trying to blend them into a cohesive whole. Elliott — my multifaceted, amazing husband and best friend — has enabled me to do this. To embrace our American-ness and combine it with a life overseas.

Marilyn’s book, though, brought back wave upon wave of memories. I remembered afresh the delight of living in another culture, of assimilating new and old, of learning to navigate a foreign land with ease and awareness. I remembered how my heart sings as I stride through international terminals, as I hand over my passport, as I find my seat on a plane, as I feel the dip and the lift as the plane climbs into the air. I remembered the deep pain of leaving a country behind forever, of re-entering the States, of reverse culture shock, and of feeling achingly far from home. Marilyn’s words, memories, and stories brought it all back.

Some passages in her book felt like I could have written them myself:

The day my passport expired and I realized there was no upcoming reason to renew it, I felt as if I had been robbed of my identity.

My passport was my grown-up teddy bear. [When it expired], I made up my mind that no matter what, I would not let my passport expire again. While I knew that my identity was far more than a document that had expired, the symbol represented too much of my life — people I loved, places I had been and pivotal events that shaped who I had become — to let go.

I am an invisible immigrant….. I can adapt a chocolate chip cookie recipe to taste good without brown sugar or chocolate chips. I can decode idioms in Arabic or Urdu. I am completely comfortable in crowded bazaars or navigating any major airport in the world. I can make an orange-cranberry salad without the cranberries…. And I understand the importance of identifying friends with commissary privileges and make sure they are invited to dinner so that next time I see them there will be cranberries for my orange-cranberry salad.

(All throughout my childhood I loved being friends with kids who had commissary privileges and could buy cranberry sauce and Blue Bunny ice cream and chocolate chips. And then in Italy I became the friend with commissary privileges… and it was glorious.)

Third culture kid envy… It is what I feel when my feet are trapped on the ground for too long while I watch others travel. It is what I feel when I hear others, sometimes worthy and sometimes not, talk about Pakistan or Egypt, my beloved places. It is what I taste when I hear that someone is going on a long trip, leaving from the international terminal just minutes from my house. It reaches crisis stage when I find out someone is moving overseas. And I so long and need to overcome this syndrome, but there are times when I think that it is impossible.

(Yes, it’s true. I’m not proud, but such envy has consumed me, especially since we moved back to the States this summer.)

What happens when the third culture kid becomes an adult and settles in their passport country? For a time everything seems backwards and contrary. Few of us had the dreams of owning our own homes, or becoming “successful” as defined by middle-class America. Our parents had lived counter-culture and had passed that on to us. Nothing really prepared us for a life in suburbs or small towns of the Western hemisphere.

Perhaps our unspoken fear is that if we learn to sing songs of joy in this new place, this new land, then we will forget the old, we will lose our identity, all that we know, all that is familiar. As one person put it: “I wanted to preserve my identity, to hold dear the soil in which my roots are settled, to Never Forget Who I Am. After all — my identity has come at such a high cost.

This past Monday, when my turn came to share my life story, I chose to start it in a new way. I chose not to blush, smooth over my strangeness, downplay the different childhood that I’d had. I chose to own it, to share it, to explain it and hold it out and offer it without reservation.

Take me or leave me, here I am.

“I’m a third culture kid,” I said. “I spent most of my life overseas until I started college, and I got back overseas as soon as I could after that. Living overseas is a huge part of my identity, and I want to live as much of my life outside of the U.S. as I can. My story starts in Egypt when my dad was in graduate school…”

May it not be too long (oh please, Lord, don’t let it be too long) before I’m standing in the international terminal of another airport, passport in hand, ready to fly away into the Great, Beautiful World once again.

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image via

Would you like to win a copy of Marilyn’s beautiful book? For the third culture kids who read this blog (I know there are many of you!) or for the parents out there who long to raise kids overseas, this book is for you! Marilyn has an autographed copy just waiting to send to you.

Entering to win is easy. Just leave a comment in this post and tell me why you’d like to read this book!

Giveaway closes next Monday, November 3. Happy reading!

P.S. If you haven’t seen this crazy-but-true list yet, it’s guaranteed to put a few smiles and eye rolls on your third culture kid-lovin’ face.

70 :: in Army, book reviews, giveaway, home sweet home, memories, thoughts, travel

6 Places in Sicily that are Worth the Trek {Over 1 Hour from Sigonella}

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Last week I shared our 10 Favorites in Sicily Within 1 Hour of Sigonella, which is also within one hour of Catania, the capital city on the east coast. Sicily is about the size of Massachusetts, though, and it takes about three hours to drive across it and two hours to drive the width of it.

What is your point, Becca?

My point: there is a lot to explore far, far away from Catania and Sigonella!

So, without further ado, here are a few places within two or three hours of Sigonella. They’re all very kid friendly (we took our little kids!) and showcase some of Sicily’s unforgettable beauty.

If you have questions or if my directions are wrong, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to get them updated. And if you have suggestions of your own, add them there too!

Agrigento

becca-garber-agrigento-kiss-family Agrigento, or the Valley of the Temples (Valli dei Templi), is about 2.5 hours from Sigonella/Catania. Here’s a map. We’ve visited twice and stayed overnight at this lovely B&B and at this agriturismo (farm stay). Both were very close to the archeological park, where we spent several hours exploring the ancient Greek and Roman ruins.

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The Greek temples are in beautiful condition, rivaling the magnificence of Athens. Some of the ruins are open for exploration, which is a lot of fun for kids and adults alike. The three temples are all in a line along a ridge overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean sea, so bring a picnic and enjoy the view if you can!

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While you’re there, don’t miss the dazzling Scala dei Turchi, or Turkish Steps. It’s a huge white limestone rock rising from a quiet beach, and the rock is easy to climb on with dazzling views. Here’s a map to the Turkish steps, which are about 20 minutes past Agrigento along the coast.

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Here are posts from my blog about our visits to Agrigento and the Turkish Steps:

San Vito Lo Capo & Zingaro Nature Preserve

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For almost three years, we heard friends rave about the turquoise water and soft sand beaches of western Sicily’s gem: San Vito Lo Capo. Finally we got to visit in March of this year, and it was just as dazzling as everyone said! The drive from Sigonella/Catania takes about three hours, which is arduous with small children, but the beauty and beachy low-key vibe of the area were worth it.

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We stayed in this rustic apartment with a gorgeous view. We were about 20 minutes from the town of San Vito Lo Capo, which is famous for that beautiful beach. We also were about 20 minutes from the Zingaro Nature Preserve, where we hiked through the preserve to find three gorgeous white stone beaches.

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The whole area is very popular in the summertime, and for good reason! Be sure to book your hotel or apartment well in advance. Our friends have enjoyed the option of “camping” at La Pineta very close to the beach.

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Here is my blog post about our visit to San Vito Lo Capo.

Granelli Beach

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I’m actually writing this while staying at Granelli Beach, where we have come for the second summer in a row. It’s a quiet cove on the very southeastern tip of Sicily, a 1.5-hour drive from Sigonella/Catania. Here’s a map. We loved the warm, shallow, calm water for the kids.

becca-garber-granelli-beach-sicily-12 Elliott first discovered it because he wanted to stay in a house ON the beach. Weirdly for an island like Sicily, rental houses on the beach are extremely rare. You almost always have to walk or drive a short distance. But he found one, and we rented it with our friends the Arthurs for a long weekend.

This year we returned to a pretty little cottage about three houses down the street from the beach, and I like this house even better. The enclosed garden is lush and beautiful, perfect for kids!

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Here are three posts from Granelli Beach:

Cefalu

becca-garber-cefalu-sicily-3 Continuing with the beach theme (clearly we’re obsessed!), Cefalu (cheff-ah-LOO) is a gorgeous town with a wonderful beach just less than two hours from Sigonella/Catania. Here’s a map. We stayed in this three-bedroom apartment just across the street from the beach.

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We spent a day exploring Cefalu, which has several lovely sites including the gorgeous cathedral and La Rocca (the Rock), which you can hike up for spectacular views of the town. We could even see the Aeolian Islands (described below) in the distance across the pure blue water!

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From my blog, see this post for more of our pictures of Cefalu, and check this one out if you’d like to have lunch in a castle nearby!

Aeolian Islands

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We visited the Aeolian Islands in May for the first time and, to be honest, it was not our best vacation. We both agree that was the weather’s fault, though; it rained most of the long weekend, and we were stuck inside with our kids. Two of my friends have visited since then and have had the same weather! So my first piece of advice about the Aeolian Islands is to check the weather report before you go!

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Nevertheless, the islands are a lovely vacation spot. Here are a few things we learned to make your trip easier:

1) There are five islands, all volcanic, but only one of them (Stromboli) is still an active volcano. The largest and most populated island is Lipari, and the main town on the island is Lipari Town. There’s no beach in Lipari Town, though, so we stayed in Canneto, which has a gorgeous beach and is about a 10-minute drive from Lipari Town.

2) We drove to Milazzo (20 minutes past Messina) where hydrofoils leave every hour for Lipari and the other islands. We parked our car at this reliable, popular garage, and then we took the hour-long ferry to Lipari Town.

3) We rented an apartment in Canneto, which has the only good beach + accommodation on the island of Lipari. It was a 10-minute drive from the port, and our apartment rental lady picked us up. We rented from these apartments. They were small but had great views of the beach! And they were super cheap, so that was nice. They were also right above the main grocery store in the town and right outside the bus stop, which came in very handy. If I could do it again, though, I might rent at Mistral Residence, which we passed and where I went inside to get information. The woman was lovely and spoke English, and it’s really an apartment-hotel situation with very good prices.

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4) There wasn’t much to do in Canneto besides go to the beach, so I recommend going in the warmer months when you are guaranteed to have no rain and warmer water. September (after the high season and when the water’s warmest) would be a dream.

5) Because we had little kids (ages three and one), the only thing we did outside Canneto was take the bus to Lipari Town to wander around and eat pizza for dinner. Other activities would be to take the bus around Lipari to other beaches and hikes, or take the hydrofoils to other islands, or going to Stromboli, the permanently active volcanic island. Tour guides arrange evening hikes so you can see it erupting inside at night, and it’s apparently really cool. You get home around midnight.

6) People also rent cars on the island, or you can take your own, but it’s pretty expensive and those larger ferries run less frequently. I think it’s cheaper just to rent at car in Lipari Town. We didn’t need a car, though, because the buses are very reliable, at least on the island of Lipari.

Madonie Mountains

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To be honest, other than my own house, the Madonie Mountains are my favorite place in Sicily. We visited them in December when the air was crisp and cool, when the fall foliage was at its peak, and when the mountains were lush and green after the autumnal rains. I loved the quaint mountain towns, the focus on Slow Food, and the taste of high mountain life that is so different from the plains of Catania.

For our long weekend in the mountains, we stayed at this wonderful agriturismo and ate amazing farm-to-table dinners in their restaurant every night. Spectacular food! We also hiked in the mountains on one of their guided tours and visited Castelbuono, the largest mountain town in the area.

If you have any interest in the mountain towns of Sicily (including many on the slopes of Mt Etna), I highly recommend this beautiful memoir.

For more information and photos, see this post.

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Of course, there are approximately 973 other amazing things to see, do, taste, and experience in Sicily, and — even with three years here — we ran out of time. I hope you get to see all these places and more during your time in Sicily! It is a rustic, gorgeous land, and living here has been one of the best experiences of our lives.

If you’d like to see more of our favorite places in Sicily, check out this post.

As always, I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions about visiting Sicily. Happy exploring!

5 :: in agriturismo, beach, Italy, memories, military life, San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily, travel

Our 10 Favorites in Sicily {Within 1 Hour of Sigonella}

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I’ve been wanting to share some of our favorite day trips, restaurants, and beaches in Sicily because these places hold our best memories from the three years we’ve spent in this beautiful place. I hope new generations of visitors and Sigonella military families to enjoy them after we depart!

If you have questions or if my directions are wrong, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to get them updated. And if you have suggestions of your own, add them there too!

Taormina

I love Taormina so much that I could go there every week, and Elliott thinks that I pretty much do. It is the prettiest town in Sicily, and it’s what you dream of when you hear the word “Italy.”

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When you visit Taormina, you can park in two different places: at the bottom of town and ride the cable car up into the old town, or in the public garage right outside of the old town.

The cable car parking lot costs about 5 euro a day, and cable car tickets are 3 euro each way per person. (Small children ride for free.) The cable car drops you off right outside the city walls of Taormina.

If you prefer not to ride the cable car, follow the road signs from the toll booth to “Taormina” or “Porta Catania” (the name of the huge public garage). Once you park in the garage, you can walk up the hill and enter the city. I usually do this, and I pay about 8 euro to park for 5 hours.

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Now you’re in Taormina! I always eat lunch at Da Cristina, which was written up in the New York Times and sells the best Sicilian street food I’ve ever eaten. We stop for mini cannoli at one of the little pastry shops along the way. We generally walk through the town until we reach the beautiful Villa Comunale gardens, which has stunning views, quiet benches, stone picnic tables (yes!), a fish pond, Amazon parrots that say “ciao!”, and a dilapidated playground that my kids love.

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On our way back up the hill from the park, we always, always stop at Bam Bar for the best granita (Italian ice) in Taormina. Actually, it’s the best granita in the world. Get the lemon and raspberry (limone e lampone) or maybe the coffee granita with thick whipped cream on top. Order a brioche (sweet bun) and a cappuccino, and take a bite of everything for me!

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Beach tip: The cable car parking lot is also a great place to park if you want to visit the beach in Taormina. You just have to walk out of the parking lot, turn right, climb the hill, and cross the street (follow the signs) to take a long flight of stairs down to the rocky beach. In April, this staircase is full of brilliant purple wisteria! On the rocky beach, you can also wade across to the beautiful little island of Isola Bella, where a Scottish heiress built herself a house when she escaped her unhappy marriage.

To inspire your visit, here are all our many Taormina adventures!

Cassibile Nature Reserve Beach

We love a lot of beaches in Sicily, but Cassibile is our favorite. It’s also called Fonda Pineta del Gelsomineto. It’s an hour drive from Sigonella, past Siracusa, so generally we make a day of it. The pin in this map indicates the beach. Admission costs 10-12 euro during the week and 12-15 euro on the weekend during the summer, and you pay the parking attendant when you turn at the new yellow building by the side of the road.

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Bring food, a portable grill, a beach umbrella, a beach tent, your dog, whatever you like. There are virtually no rules. There is a tiny cafe, and sometimes a guy walks down the beach with a cooler full of fresh coconut, but otherwise no food for sale. There are public bathrooms, but nowhere else to change, so I come and go in my swimsuit.

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My husband loves to take visitors and friends on a short walk/hike (shoes or flip flops are recommended) up the cliffs to a safe place to jump off into the water below. I’m always stuck on the beach with a baby, but he says it’s great! We’ve also explored the pillbox on the northern end of the beach; it was used by the Germans during WWII to watch for invaders by sea.

Siracusa & Ortigia

I love to take visitors to beautiful Ortigia, the little island connected by a short bridge to the city of Siracusa. I usually park at this large parking lot and then wander through the city towards the main piazza.

My absolute favorite place to eat is right there in the piazza at the delicious pizzeria called La Volpe e  l’Uva (The Fox and the Grape). Their menu is trendy and their food is delicious, and I will dream about their four cheese pizza forever.

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After lunch and a gelato cone, we wander down to the waterfront, where papyrus grows in a little freshwater pond. Sometimes we go swimming at the tiny little beach in the port. One summer my sister-in-law and I were so hot, and the teenagers in their mismatched bikinis looked so happy jumping off the pier into the sparkling water, that finally we just took off our shorts and jumped into the water with them!

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While in Siracusa, I have also visited the Archeological Park several times. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Ortigia, and it’s possible to do both in the same day. Admission is 10 euro per person (buy your ticket across the street from the entrance), and there are three large archeological sites to see inside the gates: an amphitheater, a theater that is still in use during the summer, and a cave with a notorious echo.

Here are photos from three trips to Siracusa

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Catania

I visit Catania at least once a month, mostly because I absolutely love the huge market. It’s open every day except Sunday from 8am-1pm, and the prices and produce are incomparable.

I park here underneath the arched bridge. My friend taught me to do this and I’ve been parking here for three years with no issues. The attendant (a friendly guy with gray hair) guides me to a parking spot and will watch my car until about 1:30pm for whatever I want to pay him. I usually give him two euro. Clearly it’s not “legal,” but it isn’t illegal either, a paradox that only makes sense in certain parts of the world.

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Once I park, I walk through the main city gate into Elephant Square (Piazza Duomo/Fontane dell’Elefante). I then might:

  • Ride the tourist train around the city (here are pictures and information from a trip we took)
  • Walk into the huge and magnificent Cattedral Sant’Agata
  • Stroll down the main street of Catania (Via Etnea) to get the best arancini in the city at Pasticceria Savia. I then walk across the street to eat them in the Giardino Bellini, the beautiful public gardens.
  • Wander around the market for fresh produce and fish. When you’re in Elephant Square, look for the white marble fountain. The fish market is behind it (a must-see!), and the fresh fruits and vegetables start there. I buy fresh live mussels (three euro a kilo) for dinner almost every time I come here.

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On our way out, the kids love to visit the playground right next to where we park. The playground is in pretty good condition and has a lot of equipment, which is unusual for Sicilian playgrounds.

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Mount Etna

It is possible to hike most of the way up Mt Etna, and we did it once as a family right after we moved to Sicily. It was an experience I don’t want to repeat — lava is not interesting scenery! — but I’m glad we did it. Mt Etna erupted while we were as high as we were allowed to climb, and that is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can read about that whole adventure (and get some advice) here.

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These days when we hike on Mt Etna, we drive to Etna Sud (the South Station) and hike on a trail nearby. You can find the trail head by driving through the South Station, passing the Silvestri crater on your right, going down the hill, and parking at the T intersection at the bottom of that hill. There’s a little volcanic ash parking lot to your left at that intersection (here’s the location on Google Maps). A wonderful trail starts at that parking lot; just walk around the metal boom and start up the rocky path. The hike takes about 45 minutes for active adults and leads you around the side of Mt Etna to look down into the huge, black lava field. You can continue up the path from there to climb more of Etna if you’d like. Here are pictures from one of our hikes.

You can ski on Mt Etna, too! Here’s everything you need to know.

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Nicolosi

While you’re near Mt Etna, there is a lot to see and enjoy in Nicolosi. This beautiful mountain town is full of delicious restaurants, shops, cafes, parks, and B&Bs. Elliott and I have gone there twice for overnight getaways, staying in this lovely little B&B both times.

We’ve enjoyed delicious spreads at three restaurants and I recommend all of them: Antichi Proverbi, Antico Orto Dei Limone, and 1877 . We also love cappuccinos and gelato at La Dolce Vita and pre-dinner drinks at Santo Doca in the main piazza.

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Here are links to our first getaway without the kids and our romantic skiing weekend (oxymoron?).

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We also love to hike in Monti Rossi, which is a beautiful park on two small hills just outside the town of Nicolosi. There is a ropes course there that’s a lot of fun for kids’ birthday parties (Monti Rossi Adventure Park), and past that is a picnic and grill area. Elliott and I have hiked all over the two hills with and without our kids, and we always feel like we’re in another world when we step into the quiet pine forest.

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Borgo Antico Agriturismo

There’s nothing like Sunday lunch at a Sicilian agriturismo! Our favorite farm-to-table restaurant is Borgo Antico Agriturismo, which is about 30 minutes from Sigonella. As of Summer 2014, the meal costs 30 euro per adult and it is worth every penny. There are four courses:

  • Appetizers, which consists of about 15 different dishes, all more delicious than the last!
  • Pasta, usually two different kinds with homemade pasta
  • Meat, usually three different platters accompanied by a simple salad
  • Dessert and seasonal fruit

The meal also includes as much wine and olive oil as you want to consume, and both are made from grapes and olives on Borgo’s land. The setting is lovely, and between courses the kids can run outside in the citrus groves. I’ve been there at least five times and each meal is better than the last.

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We also enjoyed an incredible agriturismo meal in Randazzo on Mt Etna at Etna Quota Mille. where the meats were grilled instead of breaded and fried like at Borgo. A vineyard called Nanfro (also about an hour from Sigonella) serves an incredible agriturismo meal accompanied by their own delicious wines, and the tour of the vineyard is also fascinating.

Casa delle Farfalle (The Butterfly House)

We love to go here as a family on Sunday afternoons, which is when the butterfly garden is open to the public. We park for two euro for the day, and admission to the butterfly house costs 5 euro per adult. The employees will want to give you a tour in English if they can, and we’ve enjoyed that every time, although it is tedious with small children. Afterwards you’re left alone to enjoy the beautiful butterfly garden.

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We picnic in the grass behind the butterfly garden, usually surrounded by other picnicking families. We’ve always been the only Americans there, so it’s a wonderful chance to mix quietly with Italian families enjoying the sunshine and outdoors on a Sunday afternoon.

becca-garber-casa-delle-farfalle-butterfly-house-sicily-2.jpg The butterfly garden is also open on Saturdays and weekdays, but you will have to call and make a reservation. Only Sundays are public. It’s open from April to October during the year.

I wrote about the butterfly garden twice before: visiting with other moms and kids and a Sunday afternoon family trip.

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The Sigonella Inn Pool

There is a pool on base at Sigonella, but you have to pay to use it (usually $4 for adults and $3 for kids) and it is only open for recreational swimming from 12:30-6pm from roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day. By 12:30, the baby pool is in the shade, and it gets cold for kids and moms.

So, because of sunshine, nap schedules, and general thriftiness, I head to the Sigonella Inn pool across the street from NAS 1 instead. This pool is free if you don’t rent a deck chair (which is 5 euro), and the shallow kids’ pool is beautiful and lit with sunshine. We usually leave by 2pm because apparently the pool party really heats up later in the day. On the weekends, it’s bustling with Italians and Americans together, and I love being a part of the melting pot.

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Also, their restaurant makes pizza at the poolside for about six euro a pizza, and you can eat it in a take-out box right by the pool. This summer my friend Sarah have gotten into the habit of swimming with our kids and enjoying pizzas at least once a week!

Random mom tip: if you’re looking for a cool place to go on a hot day, IKEA is not a bad choice. During the week it’s not crowded, and there is a delicious restaurant to break up your browsing for everything you don’t need but are going home with anyway. The restaurant is also right by the kids’ section, which has a great play area. My kids play, eat the food I brought (hello thrifty), get a 50-cent ice cream cone from the super fabulous machine, and then play some more before we leave. I love the place so much that I’ve blogged about it here as a playdate and here with a brand new baby!

Caltagirone

Home of Sicily’s traditional yellow-and-blue ceramics, Caltagirone is a lovely spot to browse take visitors, shop for souvenirs, and eat a delicious meal at a tucked-away restaurant. In addition to shopping for ceramics, I have visited during the Christmas season to see the many presepe (nativity) scenes set up in garages and little shops throughout the town. More details in these blog posts: pottery shopping and the presepe.

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——–

We have loved our three years in Sicily, but I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of cappuccino. If you’re about to move here, it will probably be a lot different from what you’re expecting. And those who have lived here for any length of time know that it’s easy to focus on the negatives, like the driving, or the trash, or everything that comes with living in a rural area.

What we have found is that it’s best to focus on what Sicily does best: deliciously fresh produce and seafood, rich red wine that’s cheap as water, the tallest active volcano in Europe, farm-to-table meals that last all afternoon, sparkling turquoise water by yellow sand beaches, warm and filling street food, and — of course! — sweet gelato cones on hot summer afternoons.

Combine this with Sicily’s warm, generous, welcoming, wonderful people, and you have a whole new world at your fingertips. I wish you a wonderful time in Sicily!

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