Archive | Taormina

October in Taormina with friends


Are you my friend?  Do you want to visit Italy?  Then please do.  We have only nine months left here and your time is running out!  Now’s your chance!  Free place to stay!  Free food!  Personal tour guides!  Cute children!  Buy a plane ticket!!!

Our friends Lewis and Bekah just visited, and it was SO fun.  Here they are:


Like I mentioned before, we had a blast during their visit, and I am so grateful that there are people like Lewis and Bekah in our lives.  They are forever friends.  It doesn’t matter if we live across the country or across the world or in the next neighborhood: we’ll all work hard to make sure this friendship endures and deepens with time.  And I mean… look how fun they are!  What’s not to love?

becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-17 One day during their visit we took them to beautiful Taormina, a city just an hour north of us.  I introduced everyone to Da Cristina, which makes the best arancini (traditional Sicilian rice balls) that I’ve had in Sicily.  Lena is chomping into my eggplant and cheese arancino on the right.


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His curls just keep on growing… and curling!  And getting blonder!


Vehicles like these are usually used by farmers or street sweepers in Sicily.  I loved the upcycled version!


These magnificent creations — called pasta reale — are made out of marzipan and shaped like fruit.


This would have been a cute family photo if Lena hadn’t deliberately closed her eyes and looked away…

becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-15 On the right, an amiable (and pregnant!) Bekah gave me a break to go running with Lena.  “Let’s run, Mama!” is her new thing.


becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-18 My family in the beautiful Villa Comunale park, one of our favorite stops in Taormina.


These two tried their first granite (Italian ice) at Bam Bar!


I could make a whole blog post with at least 30 pictures of Lena eating granite at Bam Bar.  It’s the best that we’ve ever tasted, and we’ve tasted a lot.


If you visit us, we’ll take you to Taormina!  Pretty promise, pretty please.

9 :: in pretty places, Sicily, Taormina, visitors

our last mom-outing to Taormina


Oh Taormina! Your picturesque streets, dazzling vistas, and romantic aura charm everyone who visits you. I’ve been hooked since my first visit over two years ago, which was also my very first “mom and kids outing” with my best friend Becca Arthur. We have visited this beautiful town together so many times, but this was our last trip together, as the Arthurs were moving to the States in just two days.  So bittersweet!


Lunch from Da Cristina, our favorite pizzeria in Taormina.  We learned about it in this wonderful NY Times article!


Lucas shares some pizza.  Caleb participates vicariously in the bite from the background.


Making friends with little Italian boys by the town fountain.


Our motley crew outside a Versace store
& peekaboo, Lena and Caleb!


Fascinated by the little mechanical toys in the piazza
& admiring the view from the cliffs of Taormina.


My pretty Lena… with a frown.


Mandatory stop for the best granite (Italian ice) in Taormina!  Lena got strawberry and lemon, and I got peach and lemon, both made with fresh fruit.  Gil got a taste but wasn’t so sure…


Rebecca enjoying granita and brioche for the last time in Taormina with her Lucas, Baby Eden, and Caleb.


Last adventure of the day: walking up to the Greek amphitheater!  This was the first time I had visited, even though it’s a huge attraction in Taormina.  Lena and Lucas wait for us to buy tickets so they can go in the gate.


The Arthur kids have visited many times and had fun showing Lena all the fun places to climb.


We loved exploring the old amphitheater and admiring the gorgeous view from the top.  The theater was all set up for summer concerts and operas, which are a big attraction all summer long.


Everyone was pretty tuckered out by this point… including Gil!

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Last pit stop: popsicles.  They were so so good, but…


… very, very messy!


At the end of that day, with two moms and six kids, we were all ready for a nap!

But leaving Taormina for the last time together was sad. Becca taught me so much about getting out and experiencing the culture of Italy. She embraced her stay-at-home mom status in a totally unique way: she would find another fearless mom, pack multiple children into a minivan, and set off on an all-day adventure around Sicily. She would savor architecture, food, gelato, and beautiful views while navigating rapid Italian, tiny roads, tricky parking, vague directions, and often a very confused GPS. She would roll her eyes and laugh at the chaos of life with so many little children, then pile them into her stroller and strap them onto her back and set off around the next corner. She loved Italy, and Italy loved her back.

Perhaps the parallels between her cultural adventures and the way she lived her everyday life are pretty obvious.  In so many ways, she is the mom and woman I aspire to be: warm, generous, self-deprecating, humble, and full of laughter… while also a fabulous cook (including of local specialties), creative mom, come-as-you/we-are hostess, and loyal friend.  In some ways, Becca was my first “mom” friend, someone I bonded with not just because we had a lot in common and loved being together, but someone whose kids loved my kids and who shared mothering — in all its crushing losses and thrilling joys — with me in everyday life.

I miss you, Becca!  Can’t wait for some adventures together soon in North Carolina!

8 :: in friends, motherhood, Sicily, Taormina, travel

another pre-baby getaway to Taormina

photo 2

My friend Becca is about to have her fourth baby any day now, which is about the stage I was at the last time we went to Taormina.  Both of us love the gorgeous vistas and old-world charm of this beautiful cliff-top town, and we’ve been visiting it together since we first became friends.  (See photos of our first adventure to Taormina here, back when Lena was just four months old!)

With just one week left of Becca’s pregnancy, we decided to brave the hour-long drive and steep hills for a fun day with our little kiddos.  There is no lovelier time to visit than on a balmy May morning!  We parked along the water and rode the cable car up into the town, wandered down to the city park (Villa Communale) to eat a picnic lunch, and then stopped for granite (Italian ice) on the way back to the cable car.

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I really hope we get to go to Taormina one more time together before the dear Arthur family moves late this summer.  By that time Becca’s baby girl might be four months old… which would be an ironic way to finish off our adventures together after we’ve now visited with four-month-old Lena and four-month-old Gil over the years!

But that’s enough talk of people moving!  I think it’s often — but not always — hardest for the ones left behind, don’t you?

5 :: in friends, Sicily, Taormina

girls’ getaway to Taormina

Welcome back from MLK Day weekend, everyone!  Hope you kicked back, relaxed, and enjoyed the weekend wherever you are.  We laid very low here at home other than a couple of hikes into the valley and some evenings with friends.  And we twiddled our thumbs and waited for this baby to come, but… he’s staying put for now.  Oh well!


I’ve been wanting to share these photos with you from now two weekends ago.  It all started when I woke up on Saturday morning and saw an email from my friend Emily, who was on her way to Florence with her family and wanted advice about flying with a runny-nosed toddler.


I turned to Elliott and sighed, “We don’t travel anymore!   We used to go somewhere every few weeks but now we just stay at home.  Which is fine with a baby due any day, but… I miss it.”


“Well,” replied my husband, with a twinkle in his eye, “what if I told you that you were going on a trip today?  That your friends are whisking you away for a girls’ weekend in Taormina?  That you are going to spend the whole day shopping and eating in nice restaurants and getting a massage at a spa… and that you’re staying overnight in a hotel there, too?”


Umm… whaaaat?!


But he wasn’t kidding!  My friend Bethany had secretly arranged to take her two pregnant friends–me and Becca Arthur–to Taormina for a little last getaway before both our babies are born.  (Becca is due in May with her fourth child, a girl!)  Bethany had arranged the whole agenda herself and would be picking me up in about 2 hours.  Time to pack my bags!



We spent the whole day just as Elliott had promised: wandering around the beautiful Sicilian town of Taormina (which I have blogged about before here and here), eating delicious food, and browsing through stores that we would never enter with our rambunctious toddlers!  It was a beautiful gift of a day with two dear friends.


We shopped for pottery in our favorite artist’s studio.


Fruit made entirely out of marzipan!  Better to look than to eat.
Mini cannolo with pistachio cream.
Cool design idea: display your wine bottles on old roof tiles.


Sicilian ceramics.


Becca and me at lunch in a lovely little restaurant overlooking the water.



 Later we ate granite at our favorite little shop.  We chose mandarin and raspberry.  So fresh and fruity!


The photos ceased after this as we left Taormina to drive to our hotel, where we relaxed that evening and all got amazing massages.  Later we went out for dinner, but unfortunately at this point I was starting to feel ill.  I had no idea why, but then around 1am I woke up and made a beeline for the bathroom to upchuck.  Sadly for me, the stomach virus (which has been ravaging our whole community these past few weeks) appeared to have struck at the worst possible time!  I took this photo from bed in our hotel room the next morning as I tried to keep a cup of tea down and read a book while Bethany and Becca enjoyed breakfast downstairs.


Bethany got a call from her husband that morning and learned that her own two boys were also losing their breakfast from the same bug!  Oh well… it was home and into survival mode for our two houses for the next couple of days.  An adventurous end to a relaxing weekend!  Thankfully it didn’t dampen the spirits or mar the memories for me.

Thank you so much, Bethany, for arranging such a fun weekend for us!

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11 :: in friends, pretty places, Taormina, travel, weekend

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