Catania, Italy

Our recent visit to Catania was our last trip by plane before the baby arrives.  After our time in Palermo, Tony and I fell in love with Sicily and wanted the chance to explore another part of the island.

catania-map

Even though it was late October, the weather made it feel like it was the middle of July.  We packed sandals and summer wear and took full advantage of food, sleep and sun.

Catania is known for its history of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, as we passed Mount Etna on our drive back to the airport.  We only had two days to spend, and made sure to dedicate our time to the city centre, the outdoor food markets and the duomo.

Catania

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Catania

Catania

Catania

Catania

I know I’ve written it before, but there is just something about Italy…about Sicily…that makes it so special.  We spent a lot of time at a cafe right outside the duomo, snacking on Italian food and watching how beautiful our surroundings were.

On Saturday, after strolling through the city centre, we wandered over to the old Greco-Roman Theatre.  It was quite difficult to find the entrance, as there are apartments and buildings backed up right into the theatre itself.  The theatre was built around 300 BC and it was incredibly surreal to run my hands along the ancient rocks and sit on the seat benches.  To imagine plays being performed 2000 years earlier was something I could barely fathom.

Greco Roman Theater

Greco Roman Theater

Greco Roman Theater

Greco Roman Theater

Greco Roman Theater

On Sunday, we made sure to further explore the food markets.  The vegetables and produce were the largest I had ever seen.  Peppers the size of a man’s arm; olives as big as apples.  We had multiple vendors try to pull us over to buy items.  I would have loved nothing more but knew it would be quite troublesome to bring apple-sized olives back to Zurich.

Catania

Sicily holds a very special place in our hearts – not only because of how much we love the island, but also because of my ancestral lineage.  I very much look forward to when we can take our baby back to this magical island and show them exactly where they come from.

South Africa: The Lion Park

I am so thrilled and full of energy, I can’t even wait more than 24 hours to share my experience at the Lion Park today.  Usually I allow myself a couple of days to immerse into something before I blog about it, but today was so exceptional that I just have to share before I burst.

But to back up a bit, Tony and I arrived in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning.  I came for work and Tony tagged along so we could make a trip of it.  It was our first time visiting South Africa and we knew that it would incredible, but still couldn’t prepare ourselves for what was in store.

The first 3 days, I had meetings with my colleagues, and this afternoon was my first opportunity to explore.  We were recommended the Lion Park as it is close to our hotel and – holy of all holies – you can pet baby lions.  Decision made.

It took about 40 minutes to drive from our hotel and Uber is all over Joburg so it was an easy commute.  Upon arrival, my lips started curling up harder and harder, and I swear by the end of the day my cheeks were numb.  It was fairly easy to buy tickets – we paid 500 ZAR for a tour, lion cub petting, and cheetah petting – yes, cheetah – and then climbed into the cage of a mobile to start.

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The Lion Park

At first, we saw “boring” animals.  Does that sound mean and spoiled?  Yes.  But after you have pet a cheetah, zebras and bucks and gnus are just lame.

But we did them justice by taking some photos.  We wanted to ensure all animals felt equally special.

Zebra

Bucks

Then we entered the lion parks.  There were 3 separate areas we drove through and when you see a lion so up close like this, you go speechless.  It is nature, God, Earth, at its purest.  These lions are so majestic, beautiful, large, scary, amazing – there just aren’t any more words to describe them.  They need their own dictionary.

Lion Cubs

Lions

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Lions

And lazy?  Maybe lazy is a word for them too.  Most of them slept the whole time.  Except for this one who sensed the small child in our caravan and wanted to investigate further.

Curious Lioness

After the great tour, it was time to pet the babies.  This was something I have always dreamed of, and now it was going to happen.  We were told to only pet their backs, not their heads or tails.  And even though they were so very small, we jumped a bit when they went to nip or hit with their paw.

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Lion Cubs

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It was just Heaven on Earth for me, and I could have stayed there for the rest of my life just petting them, watching them, loving them.

The final stop was petting the cheetah and this was one I was candidly very freaked out about.  These animals were fast, large (not as large as lions, but still), meat eaters.  And we were just going to pet and hang out with it?

I entered the cage cautiously, but the handlers were all up in this cheetah’s business – Sabu was his name.  They pet him and frolicked with him like he was a kitten.  He laid in the shade and we pet his head and he started purring.  Actual PURRING.  I couldn’t believe it.  He liked it!  He liked being pet, manhandled, cuddled.  After awhile he got bored with us and walked away, which is exactly what our dog does.  That alone made me feel much more at ease.

Cheetah

Cheetah

Cheetah

And that was our afternoon, one of the most magical ever.  We are headed to Thornybush Lodge this weekend to experience animals in their natural habitat and will have more to report soon.

What a gift South Africa is!

Palermo, Italy: Part I

Palermo – what a city.  Tony and I returned from a long weekend trip on Monday and I am still reeling from the experience.  I cannot believe how many memories I was able to make in such a short span of time.

The best way to describe it, given how much there is to share, is to break it down into chunks (and different blogs!) – so here goes…Palermo, Italy: Part I.

To start, we were able to make this trip really affordable.  We booked our plane tickets months ago as part of a Swiss Airline sale and we secured a great AirBnB for very cheap.  We had a very early flight so we landed by 8:00 AM and I told the AirBnB host we would be at the apartment by 9:00.  Silly me, I forgot I had just landed in Italy.

Getting our one checked bag took 35 minutes on it’s own, and by the time we got on the shuttle to the car rental location, it was well past 10:00.  Everything was very chill, no stress, and as much as I wanted to get to our rental apartment, I was fairly chill too.

Once in the car, we started on our way but as soon as we entered the city limits of Palermo, we were on high alert.  I’ve been in countries where people drove crazy before but never as the spouse of the driver.  Tony became very red and I could read the stress on his face as cars cut in front of us, vespas sped past us and trucks weaved in and out of narrow lanes.  Once we finally parked by the apartment, we were able to breathe again.  Even though we had rented the car to travel around the island, after our arrival, we were unsure how confident we would feel venturing out again.

As we drove along, I made sure to take it all in.  It was fascinating to me – the buildings had peeling walls, the people looked straight out of a US beach town, but it still felt so authentic, real.  The smells of food and the sea, the talking with the hands, old men sitting in groups doing nothing – I couldn’t wait to explore.

The AirBnB we had rented was in an unbelievable location, right by the Palermo Cathedral.  We actually parked behind the church while we waited for our host to come get us.  As soon as we had dropped off our bags, we of course had to check out this magnificent structure.

The Palermo Cathedral, according to Wikipedia, “is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Palermo, located in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy. As an architectural complex, it is characterized by the presence of different styles, due to a long history of additions, alterations and restorations, the last of which occurred in the 18th century.”  That’s all fine and good – I just knew that I couldn’t stop snapping photos of it.

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral

 

We continued along and realized we were starving.  Our AirBnB host had given us two great restaurant recommendations that were near the apartment, so we started with what was closest – La Galleria.  Little did we know we were staying next to the #5 TripAdvisor restaurant in the city.  When we found that out later, we weren’t surprised – the food was sensational.  Tony ordered pasta carbonara and almost fell off his chair from the food.  You know he likes something by how his eyes roll really far back into his head and he has to close them.  He can’t concentrate otherwise.

While sitting outside, I noticed all these very colorful wooden carts resting along the stone wall.  As we were waiting for our food, I slowly walked along, running my hands along them, and snapping loads of photos.  They looked like they were part of a circus act, but the way they lazily sat there, you’d think they were on a coffee break.  These were the famous Sicilian Carts, and turning once again to Wikipedia, “the craft of making the carts is handed down from generation to generation, through the training of apprentices. Carts are known for being covered in carvings and brightly painted scenes from Sicilian history and folklore as well as intricate geometrical designs. These scenes also served the purpose of conveying historical information to those who were illiterate. The colors of Sicily’s flag, yellow and red, feature prominently on the carts, along with details in bright blues and greens. The animals pulling the carts are often elaborately adorned as well.”  I absolutely loved them.

Sicilian Carts

Sicilian Carts

Sicilian Carts

Our waitress at the restaurant was extremely kind.  We asked her for some recommendations for the evening and she directed us along the shore line.  There was a gorgeous outdoor bar right on the sea with live music and free potato chips. After a few drinks we then went for pizza at the second recommended restaurant from our AirBnB host, Al Manar.  My interest was heavily piqued by the name, even more so by the Arabic music and belly dancers.

Well apparently, over the centuries, Sicily was a hot spot for all types of people, but especially Arabic people.  There was a Muslim conquest that occurred in 827 and the period lasted through the 11th century.  There were even some mosques we saw, which I doubt originated then, but still.  I am absolutely in love with the Middle East and Arab culture and I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that I was of Sicilian descent had something to do with that.

We slept well that night, our bellies full of delicious pizza, and I couldn’t wait for the next day – when I would go back to where my family all started.