Archive | Sicily

portraits of my children {15/52}



The 52 Project: A portrait of my children once a week & every week in 2014.

Lena: Well, if these photos are not evidence enough, we went to the beach! Elliott’s parents visited for a few days, and we met up with them in Palermo on the western coast of Sicily. From Palermo, we drove a couple of hours down the coast to the beach town of San Vito Lo Capo, where Elliott had found this picturesque apartment rental for us. It was about 15 minutes from the beautiful nature reserve of Zingaro, where both of these photos were taken. Can you believe those colors?!

Gil: This little man might be turning a new leaf with his beach-phobia. He loved the smooth pebbles and amused himself for hours by throwing them against other rocks, piling them up on our laps, or trying to feed them to his Grampa. He also started saying “Lena” this week (“Neee-nah!”), is almost running, and continues to delight everyone he meets with his irresistible blond curls.

I’ve got more pretty photos to share of our hike, apartment, and time with grandparents. I’ll see if I can get my act together to share them tomorrow!

What were you up to this past weekend? Any vacation plans around spring break?

6 :: in 52 project, pretty places, San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily, travel

portraits of my children {14/52} + enchanted April



The 52 Project: A portrait of my children once a week & every week in 2014.

Lena: She turned three last week! We celebrated quietly at home on April 3rd, and then the next day we had a little party at a playground nearby. She had requested a raspberry cake, so together we pureed raspberries, dyed the cake pink with them, whipped up frosting, topped it with more raspberries, and finally stuck the candles in and sang “Happy Birthday”!

(Unfortunately, as with Gil’s birthday cake, I’m pretty much the only one eating the leftovers. I know this will not be a problem in another couple of years, but for now… anyone want some cake?)

Gil: On Lena’s birthday, the kids and I took a walk to the playground in our town, where I captured this shot of Gil right by some Italian graffiti that says, “I love you.” He refused to make eye contact despite all my antics to get him to look at me and grin.


Elliott had a four-day weekend, and it’s been so restful for all of us. (That’s unusual when I spend more time inside with two little kids, but this time it’s true!) Today we packed a picnic lunch and headed down into the valley to enjoy our enchanted April in Italy.



Lena said she was hot and wanted to take off her shirt (“like Daddy does”). It’s amazing how quickly she transformed from a cute little girl at a picnic into a total babe of the woods.


See what I mean? Viewer discretion advised: “On guard!”


And finally… I’m completely smitten with this little guy. Gil Garber, I’m so lucky to be the woman you love most!

What did you do this weekend?

5 :: in 52 project, family, hiking, Sicily

if you visit us in Sicily, you can do this too!


My wonderful mom spent two weeks with us in Sicily in late February before my whole family met up in Florence (more photos coming soon!). Here are some photos of our travels around Sicily with my mom, both for posterity… and to encourage any last-minute visitors to come if they’d like!

Would you like to visit us and Sicily? We move back to the States at the end of July. Free beds, good food, and friendly tour guides are available until then!


I’ve taken my mom to Taormina before, but I love it so much, so we decided to go back for a day trip. This is il postino, ie. Taormina’s postman.



Early morning package delivery through the pedestrian-only streets.





Sampling some goodies at our favorite cannoli shop.




Gil — who is learning the meaning of “wait!” — pushed his way around his sister and took them both down the slide together.

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The fountain in the park and granite at Bam Bar = two of our favorite things.


On another day, we took my mom to “the big city” (Catania) for some market shopping, lunch, and a ride on the tour train! The fish market was amazing, as usual.


And the tour train was a huge hit for all, once again.


We were visiting during Carnevale, so there was confetti everywhere!


And we spent plenty of time wandering the streets of our little town of Motta, too. Thank you for coming, Mama! I don’t think I washed a dish while you were here, and the kids were in heaven with all the books, tea parties, block towers, and love from their Grammie. Our home was so much more peaceful and harmonious with you here. We’re so grateful for you!

And now it’s your turn, my friends, if you’d like to visit! I write this as my friend Sarah softly strums a guitar nearby; she’s on the last day of her weeklong visit. We’d love to practice what we preach by making room to welcome you, too! Wanna come?

4 :: in hospitality, Sicily, Taormina, visitors

Skiing on Mount Etna: Everything You Need to Know!

Note: Driving directions, contact numbers, and equipment rental info
are at the bottom of this post!


“We heard you can go skiing on Mt Etna,” I asked right after we moved to Sicily. “Have you ever gone?”

“No,” said my new friend, “never tried it. I’m not sure what it’s like up there… there isn’t that much snow!”

We moved on to other topics. But in the back of my mind I remember thinking, “I’m not going to say what she said! I’m going to ski that mountain!” It’s an active volcano, after all. How many people can say they’ve skied on the tallest active volcano in Europe?!

Skip ahead about… oh, three years. “Have you ever been skiing on Mt Etna?” some new friends asked us, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about life in Sicily.

“No,” I said, flooded with regret. “We’ve always wanted to go, but we never have. It’s so hard to find an all-day babysitter, and I don’t even know if there’s enough snow!”

Our friends took it upon themselves to find out if there was enough snow. This is what they found:


On the right: that puff is smoke coming out of the active volcano!

So now I really wanted to go. We finally figured out an all-day babysitter: my mom! She gallantly agreed to care for our two children while we went back to our favorite B&B on the slopes of Mt Etna and enjoyed 24 hours to ourselves. Thank you, Mom!


After a leisurely breakfast in the quaint town of Nicolosi, we packed our bags and drove another 30 minutes to the “South Station,” or Etna Sud, where the cable car leaves for the ski slopes. (See the bottom of this post for more details.) We ran around a little bit looking for where to rent ski equipment. Just look for the log cabins!


We then bought ski passes inside the large funivia/cable car building. Since we arrived after 12:00pm, we bought the afternoon (pomeridiano) ski pass, and the guy gave us the residential discount. Thirteen euro (about $18 USD) each for ski passes? I’ll take it!


Kitted out and ready to board the cable car!


The view from the cable car was beautiful, and would have been spectacular without clouds. Unfortunately, there was less snow than we’d expected, and my hopes were dropping.


However, once the cable car stopped, we saw plenty of snow. Hooray!

We clicked our boots into our skis (one of my favorite sounds) and took off down the first hill. I felt a little wobbly because we haven’t skied since we went to France two years ago. But the conditions (icy, not powdery) felt familiar because we skied a lot when we lived in New England (and were falling in love!). Pretty soon we were right at home.


Say cheese!

After a few runs, we figured out that there were only three runs/pistes open. Three! So there wasn’t much exploring to be done. Our friends told us that there were about six runs open when they were there, so maybe it just depends on the amount of snow.


Suddenly the clouds came rolling in, and our visibility dropped to about 30 feet. We were a little nervous about making a wrong turn and careening down the volcano.


There’s Elliott in front of me on the ski lift about 30 feet away, and I could barely see past him. The ski lifts were another surprise: no chair lifts, just these single-person “button lifts.” They were fine, but unfortunately that meant our legs didn’t get much of a rest. I really love those breaks on chair lifts!


And then — as suddenly as it came — the clouds blew away! We could see again!


We tried to get a shot with the volcano behind us… you can kind of see it.


We took a break for an Italian-style lunch: a cappuccino and an aracino. I usually look forward to hot dogs for lunch at the ski lodge, but — would you believe it? — they didn’t have any. Something tells me I’ll now want an arancino every time I ski.

The ski slopes are open until 3:45pm, and we were ready to call it a day then, too. As we headed down the cable car, it really started snowing, and we were in for a surprise when we got back to our car. That little Civic hasn’t even seen snow in three years, and now he’s blanketed in it!


The snow kept coming down as we left Etna Sud and headed down the mountain. We spotted our first Sicilian snow plow…


… and got treated to breathtaking Narnia-like scenery along the way. How we wished we had the kids with us for this!




The snow turned into rain right as we entered the outskirts of Nicolosi. Such a beautiful, peaceful end to our little getaway! We drove home to the open arms and snuggles of two little children who were very, very glad to see their mama and daddy. Thank you again, Mom!

And now…


All You Need to Know About Skiing on Mt Etna

  • We had decided to ski at “Etna Sud,” or the southern side of Etna, which is open this year for skiing. (The North Side/Etna Nord is usually also open for skiing, but it’s closed this year because of a lot of lava flow down that side of the volcano. Too warm for snow, I guess?)
  • Call ahead to make sure that the mountain is open for skiing. The official website is Etna Sci, but we couldn’t find any info on ski conditions or hours or rentals on that website or their Facebook page. Neither are updated very frequently. So I called the cell phone number of a ski instructor who was listed on that website, and he told me it was open and that I could ski from 9am to 4pm.
  • You can also call the cable car offices at Etna Sud to see if the mountain is open. Their website is Funivia Etna and their phone number is listed at the bottom of the page.
  • To get to Etna Sud, type “Refugio Sapienza” into Google Maps and follow those directions. That will bring you right to the South Station, where you can park (and donate a couple of euro to the parking lot attendant) and start your adventure.
  • We rented skis, poles, boots, and helmets at Etna Sud before getting on the cable car. (You can also rent snowboarding equipment.) We were very happy with the quality and the selection, and the price was reasonable: 20 euros each. We left one ID and paid by credit card (or cash) when we returned our equipment. There are two rental shops that are side-by-side and separated from the rest of the buildings. They both look like log cabins and are marked by large “noleggio” (rental) signs.
  • The ski pass is the same as your cable car ticket. You’ll choose which ski pass you want (half day or full day, child or adult, local resident or visitor, etc.) and pay a maximum of 29 euro. (See the photo of the prices in my post.) The pass is electronic, so you’ll attach it to your ski jacket with an elastic cord that they give you, and you will slide that ski pass into ticket readers to get onto the cable car and to ride each ski lift.
  • After you buy your ticket/ski pass, you board the cable car. The ride to the refugio/ski lodge takes about 15 minutes, and it’s really beautiful! Enjoy it, because the same cable car ticket costs about 70 euro in the summer to go hiking on Mt Etna.
  • Once you arrive in the refugio, you can use the bathroom and get a snack at the bar/cafe, or head right out to the slopes. That is the only refugio.
  • In terms of difficulty, all the slopes are pretty easy Blue-level slopes. Again, there were only three, and they were all very wide, so there is plenty of room to learn. We saw some snowboarders who had gone off-piste to practice some jumps, so you could always blaze your own trails, too….
  • If you are military, you can sometimes rent ski/snowboarding equipment or go on organized ski trips through ITT on base at Sigonella Naval Air Station. Call ITT at 095-56-4777 or 095-56-4396 for information.

I hope that helps! As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Have fun skiing on Mt Etna!

14 :: in Mt Etna, Sicily, skiing

Confetti (and Crushing Disappointment) at Carnevale in Acireale


Well, we got a spoonful of Italy and a spoonful of misery on this excursion. Lesson of the trip: make lunch reservations on a Sunday afternoon in Italy!


But let’s start at the beginning. As Lent approaches, ’tis the season of carnevale in Italy, and the most beautiful carnival in Sicily takes place just about 30 minutes away from us. We decided to go see the fantastical floats and throw some confetti this past weekend in Acireale (pronounced “ah-chee-ray-ALL-ay).

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The floats were amazing. Historically, artists craft them from papier-mâché and make some into caricatures of political figures or financial crises, thus bringing the spirit of carnival to even the most serious issues.

Lena completely freaked out and started screaming at the first float she saw, leading me to believe that our excursion might be over before it even began! Thankfully some parental encouragement changed her opinion of the technicolor characters coming towards her, and pretty soon she was just as awed and delighted as we’d hoped.

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We walked into the main piazza of Acireale, where a blanket of confetti covered the cobblestones. Elliott unbuckled the kids from the stroller and set them right down in the middle of it, and they had the time of their lives!





Lena quickly got into confetti-throwing wars with other kids. Guess we missed the memo about putting our kids in costumes!

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Finally we packed up and started walking down towards a little fishing village that I had read about in our guidebook. The tiny town of Santa Maria la Scala, the guidebook said, boasted several quaint trattorias that served a delicious seafood lunch. We could pretty much live on seafood, and the hike down to the town sounded simple and beautiful, so off we went.


The hike down was beautiful! But it was a bit longer — and a little harder with a heavy double stroller — than we expected. When we arrived, we started looking for a restaurant along the town’s meandering main street.


Unfortunately, every single restaurant was completely packed. Whenever I caught the eye of a harried waiter, he would ask me if I had a reservation or tell us we’d have to wait 30 minutes. When we looped back after inquiring at every restaurant we could find, the still more frazzled maitre d’s now informed us that it was too late. The restaurants had sold their food, it was now two o’clock, and they were closing.

We sat on a park bench in stunned silence. No food? It was two in the afternoon. We were starving. That hill back up to Acireale was enormous, and it would take us almost an hour of sweat and whining children to reach the top again. Sadly, we unpacked the snacks I’d brought — a meager lunch indeed — and then turned our stroller wheels back to the cobblestone pathway up the cliff.

Elliott heroically pushed that stroller all the way back to our car.

What an end to the day! I did manage to smile about it with Elliott a few days later — “will you ever trust me to plan an excursion again?!” — but I think it will take awhile before we can really laugh about it. So much for excessive eating and bacchanal drinking for our carnevale! More like an early taste of Lent! Thank you to my family for being such troopers, and I promise I’ll make a reservation next time… even for lunch in a tiny seaside village.

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13 :: in hiking, Sicily, travel

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