January 28, 2017: The Noto Cultural Society

Today is Saturday.  We have been in Noto for about a week now.  What a week it has been.  We are feeling kind of worn out.

My day turned out to be one interruption after another.  We started off needing to take a hike down the hill to go to the big grocery store down there.  That is about 2.2 kilometers which is not very much if the ground is flat.  But it is a bit of a hill here and on the way up the hill I have to carry all of the groceries so it is hot, sweaty and slow going.

We were only home for an hour or two before we had someone that we did not know stop by the house to inform us of the Noto cultural society (or the swarm as they call themselves) meeting this evening in town.  Of course the person who came by only spoke Italian which made the entire thing so much more challenging.

She was probably at the house for most of an hour, but we eventually got things figured out that we were to go to this meeting across town about two hours later, take the kids, pay twenty Euros… meet people or something.  All very complicated and surprising.

So our day ended up being absolutely nothing like we had expected it to be.  Dominica was in the middle of cooking dinner when the woman arrived, too.

So it was a scramble to get everyone showered, bathed, dressed, prepped and whatever and out the door to walk across town and try to find this place.  This is not what we pictured ourselves spending our evening doing.

We actually did pretty well finding the place.  You had to enter an ancient building and poke around a bit and fit a door going to a stairway and go up to what is basically an apartment upstairs.  We were actually decently early so took the kids for a walk down to city hall to kill twenty minutes before going back to be on time.

It turned out to be a very interesting evening.  There were only a few people that spoke English, mostly ex-pats from the UK and Scotland.  There were three kids there and after a bit our girls managed to break the ice and the five of them had a great time playing for hours.  They ran around the whole place like maniacs and did not want to leave.

There was a small dinner there and we visited with people and learned about town, although mostly what people want to talk about is American politics, unfortunately.  No escaping it here.

We stayed out until late then walked back home.  Definitely a very interesting and educational evening.  Well outside of our comfort zone.

January 27, 2017: Full House and Minecraft

Friday in Sicily.  Nice day today with the windows open again.  Sun is out.

I did some back end website work tonight.  Dominica is going to give it a try and see how she will do at doing some web design work.  She has talked about doing this for a long time but it has never come to fruition.  It takes time to get past the initial barrier of figuring out the platform, figuring out the theme(s), getting the hang of the latest styles and trends and you really need a bit of time to just concentrate on that.

I put in a normal day then spent the evening with the girls in the living room working on our long standing Full House marathon and playing Minecraft on the Apple iPads with each other while the show is on.

January 26, 2017: Full House Marathon Begins

Thursday.  The weather is nice enough today that I opted to open the windows around the house and get fresh air in.  It’s chilly, but not bad.  About fifteen degrees and the sun is out.

Very busy day of emailing, writing, posting and all of the usual.  Plus some new scrambles caused by yesterday’s news.

This evening we finally got (I guess “finally” is a strong word, we have only been here three days) got the Amazon Fire Stick set up in the living room and got everything working so that we can use Netflix.  Like back in Romania, Full House is available for us here.  The girls have been asking to be able to watch this for more than six months now.  They love this show.

So we picked up where we left off with Full House back in Romania in June and are over halfway through the series now.  Making our way towards the end so that we can start watching Fuller House all over again.

We stayed up quite late watching Full House and snuggling on the couch.  Dominica has a recliner sort of thing in the living room that she uses and the girls pile onto the one couch with me.  The television that comes with the rental house is tiny and only 720p but it works okay.  We will be getting our projector hooked up at some point, although we have no idea when or where we are going to put it.  We’ve been contemplating it and walking around the house trying to figure out where it could work and there are several places that are almost great and none that are really good.

We had a bidet mishap this evening that literally had the water pressure turn on so high that it blew Ciana’s pants right off and shot water all over the room.  That’s one bidet that is going to need some careful management.

The girls are anxious to be video gaming again.

January 25, 2017: Day Two in Sicily

Wednesday and our second full day on Sicily.  This morning we were up a bit earlier and we went to the local produce market and picked up a small number of supplies to get us through another few days.  Liesl has discovered yellow delicious apples and cannot get enough of them.  She goes on and on about how much she loves these apples.  They taste exactly like the yellow delicious apples from New York, but she has never wanted to try a yellow apple before until they were the only ones available and now she realizes that they are the best apples that there have ever been and she is eating them with reckless abandon.  Not only does she eat one after another, she eats them right to the core with the seeds falling out.  There is nothing left but a stem!  Yellow delicious have always been my favourites, so I guess that she gets that taste from me.

I did a lot of writing and posting today, was at it all day.  Loving that this house has an office for me to work from.  Most places that we rent do not and that makes it very hard to get anything done.  Either there is nowhere comfortable to sit or I’m stuck in the middle of where the girls need to do school or whatever.

This afternoon I got some work related news that might turn out to be good but for the moment has us rapidly trying to figure out our work, living, finances, travel and overall situation.  Lots of things are suddenly up in the air that were not before so our time in Sicily suddenly became rather hectic.

Dominica made pasta for dinner.  I have very little free time today as I am trying to catch up from all of the travel time and busyness and our week off in Rome.

Had some wine and worked until late in the night.


January 24, 2017: First Day on Sicily

Tuesday, our first full day on Sicily in the little hill top city of Noto. I was up at eight. Of course, there was no Internet so there was not very much to do. I set some things up and did a little posting from my phone, but that was about all that I could do. It was rather stressful because no one was responding to us and we have never had working Internet here so we did not know how bad this was likely to be. You expect that when you arrive at a new place that the Internet will be on, tested and working for you at least upon arrival. Hiccups happen, a lot, but they should be working when you get there! They have had unlimited time to make sure that that part was working.

We were very pleased when the Internet came on between ten and eleven this morning. We got everyone online and started doing some catching up. Now we can really start to get settled. And we know that we do not have to find a new house right away! That would be a major problem, of course.

Around noon I finally had a chance to set out on a hike around the city. We need supplies and I have to figure out where to get them. I had been out for a walk last night and came across nothing at all, so that was not promising.

I walked all over town, doing a lot of kilometres. I got down to Corse Vittorio, the main street in the city, and made it the entire length of the city! At least of the old town. On the way I found the big cathedral that is the main attraction in the city. And the amazing baroque city hall. And next to that was a large tourist information centre, although they were pretty much just into talking to one another and did not seem very interested in the fact that a family had just moved in for three months. They handed me a paper map and seemed to feel that their entire, large, three person office was only there to hand out a paper map. Odd. I did ask, though, and they showed me some stuff in town and where some mini-markets were.

I set off on a very long walk which got me to the edge of town just fifteen minutes after the only market on that side of town had closed and would not open again for two more hours. I took a picture of their open times, told Dominica and set off to walk back home. That really sucked.

I got quite the walk in, though, and got home and spent a few hours doing work in the new upstairs office. This is my first chance to start to actually catch up in weeks. I need the quiet, alone time of the office.

In the late afternoon, we went to the market after it had opened and did our first real grocery shopping. We got as much as we could carry, maybe a little more, and hoofed it back to the house. Now we have ingredients and can cook. And now we have bottled water so we can drink since we can’t waste the water in the house because we need that for toilets and showers and stuff. Having so little water is a major issue.

That was an exhausting walk, and I had done it twice (plus more.) I was super tired. The stairs up to my office are a flight and a half of very narrow, very stone stairs that wear you out quite quickly, too. I am getting a workout.

Dominica made pasta for dinner, what else would we have for our first homemade meal on Sicily?

We did discover that there is a market right around the corner from us, but that it is only open in the mornings, so we will check that out tomorrow if we can. There is a bakery near there as well. Hopefully that means simple, fresh, daily bread is available.

The evening was spent posting, writing and getting the house in order. Tonight we hooked up the Amazon FireTV in the living room and got Full House up and running so we started watching that as we only get to watch it when we are not in the United States and the girls love the show and have been waiting to watch it again since, we think, Romania. A long time, no matter what.

January 23, 2017: Train Day to Sicily

I got effectively no sleep last night.  I did not get into bed until almost two and was up by four.  At four thirty I gave up on resting at all and just took a shower to get a jump on the day and get out of everyone’s way so that we could get ready as quickly as possible once Dominica and the girls were up.  This is going to be a long, long day without a real chance to rest.

It was a bit of a scramble to get everyone out of the door by a quarter till six in the morning, but we did it – just barely.  We had to lug our luggage down the street and over to Cavour where the Uber was going to pick us up.  We were right on time and he was waiting for us.  We were on the wrong side of the street so he swung around in his Renault van and we fit in nicely.  Plenty of room for everyone and the luggage, we didn’t even need to use the third row seating to do it.

The drive to the train station, Stazione Termini, was only a few minutes and most of that because of construction.  Fourteen Euros and we were good to go.  It was before six thirty and we had more than an hour to camp out and relax before our train was scheduled to depart.  That’s what we like, better to be a little bored than in a panic.

We had time to build a luggage fort for the girls that they played in.  They thought that that was great fun.  We got coffee and snacks for now and snacks for the train.  Plenty of time for a walk around and scoping out the train station.  We got there only a few minutes earlier than ideal and not knowing how Uber was going to work in Rome, we did it perfectly.

We boarded the train right on time and off we went.  No issues this morning.  It was still dark out when we got underway and would be dark when we arrived in Sicily, too.  A long day, but no changes so we just get to sit back and relax all day.

The ride went well.  Long, but well.  Our luggage all fit into the end luggage area so we were able to keep a decent eye on it easily.  That was very good.  Our backpacks went into the overhead above us.  We had a table just for the four of us so we all faced each other as a family.

We got to go through Naples, which was neat.  What a huge city.  Napoli is actually larger than Roma, just by a little.  And both are much smaller than Milano up north.  Those three dominate the country as the big power house cities.  In Napoli we got see to Mt. Vesuvious was is pretty cool.  We have seen a lot of volcanoes in the last year!

The trip south went well and was interesting.  The train route really does hug the coast once you leave Roma so we got to the sea for a large portion of the trip, which was neat.  Southern Italy was far more industrial and depressed than I would have imagined.  Hundreds of miles of beaches and we never saw a single person out enjoying some of the best sea front in the world.  Just old run down houses and condos in one little depressed town after another.  I knew that south of Napoli, Italy got pretty poor but I really did not know the extent to which the coast itself was not even developed.

The highlight of the trip was getting to the port of Messina where our train drove onto the giant ferry to cross the strait between the Italian mainland and the island of Sicily.  How cool.  We have done nearly everything with trains, but this is a new one.

On the ferry Liesl was fast asleep so I stayed on the train with her while Dominica and Luciana went up on deck.  It was a good thing that they did as there was a tiny storm and the water in the strait was really rough.  We were getting thrown all around down on the train in the bottom of the ferry. Dominica was getting a bit sick even up on top in the air.

The strait is tiny, so small that they regularly consider building a bridge to cross it, so the crossing was maybe fifteen minutes of actual time on the water.  Not bad at all.  Once docked the train just pulled us out and we were right into the Messina station where our half of the train was separated from the half that was heading to Palermo and we went down the east coast of the island towards Siracusa.

Eastern Sicily was much, much nicer than western southern Italy.  Beautiful towns and we got to see the mammoth that is Mount Etna, Europe’s most active and imposing volcano.

We were all pretty sleepy by the time that it was dark and we pulled into Siracua, the final stop of the mainland train.  It is nice riding to the end because there is plenty of time to unload the kids and the luggage of which there is so much.

Thankfully Siracusa is a terminus and we were able to walk on ground level around the end of the tracks, no need to go up and down a ridiculous amount of stairs.

We were going to book another train to take us on to Noto, but there was a taxi van waiting right outside of the station, so I went and talked to them and they said that for eighty Euros they would take us to Noto, so we did that.  A bit more expensive, but we could go there straight away.

The taxi took no more than half an hour and we were up into the hill town of Noto.  It was very dark so we really got no view of the area around.

Google Maps, as always, was useless. It could not show us a way to get to our house and kept trying to send us on roads so narrow no car could go down there and some were stairways!  We would days later figure out that Google Maps has the road names all wrong in this town and many are in the wrong places.  Our driver had no idea where to take us and had to use our GPS since he didn’t have any.  This is a good reason to use Uber, they have this stuff ironed out a bit.

The driver and I wanted to get dropped off at a spot that he found where it seemed reasonable for us to walk.  Dominica would have none of it and made him drive us all around trying to follow her GPS.  It would turn out later that the driver and I had found the spot literally closest to the house on the best ground.  We did not know that we had, but from looking at maps it appeared to be the best possible option.

So we drove around a bit and ended up parking on Cavour and blocking the street for quite some time as we unloaded onto the tiny, tiny sidewalk and then worked to drag everything that we own up a very uneven cobblestone street with traffic constantly making me move over to the wall to let them pass.  It was terrible.

Thank goodness the housekeeper for the house got our message that we were nearly there and looked for us out on the streets.  It turned out that we were never going to find the house given that the maps were totally wrong.  There was no way to ever find it.

Even with her finding us, it was an ordeal to get all of our luggage to the house itself. There was just so much and no good way to move it.  I was in some serious pain by the time that we got into our new home for the winter.

The house is really nice.  Solid old stone structure and a lot of room.  A nice big living room, good bedrooms for us and the kids.  The bathroom upstairs is ridiculously small, to the point of actually being a joke.  The girls can use it, but neither Dominica nor I can, at all.  We actually cannot physically get to the toilet in it!  It has a nice shower, though.  The downstairs bathroom is really big, which is good.

No Internet was on when we got in.  None at all.  Apparently they forgot to turn it on before we got here.  So our first night is one without any Internet.  Not such a big deal, we get 3G and sometimes LTE inside of most of the house, so we are able to let people know that we have arrived and are safe and we can let the landlord know that we have no Internet.  We are pretty tired so not looking to be up very late, anyway.  By the time that we were really into the house, it was likely nine or ten at night.  We are exhausted, especially after getting essentially zero sleep last night.

The really big shocker for us is that there is only two hours of water, per day, in the house.  That’s right, I said it, only two hours of the day is there running water and twenty two hours of the day, there is not.  The only water available during those times is what is in the hot water heater (which we’ve not seen, it might be an inline) and what is stored on the terrace in two, big Rubbermaid cisterns.  There is a total of 2,000 litres that gets stored up there, if all goes according to plan.  Enough for the basics, but just barely.  Showering, laundry… these things are going to be difficult.

Well, our new adventure in Sicily has begun.

There is no food in the house, obviously, since we just arrived so we decided to go out to eat on our first night. Dominica set to unpacking some things and I did a walk around the vicinity to see if there was anything open.  I found one thing, a trattoria, that was really close to our home that was open and looked nice.  I walked quickly home, got everyone dressed and ready and we walked the girls down there and went out for dinner.

It turns out that the place was pretty fancy, as it would turn out nearly everything in Noto is because it is mostly a tourist town, and we were the only people in the restaurant, likely all evening.  We popped in and asked, in Italian, if they were open and they assured us that they were and we ordered their antepasti buffet, which was seven amazingly different antepasto piatti mostly made of seafood.  The girls tried octopus (pulpo) but did not care for it.  There was a lot of really neat stuff.  We enjoyed it a lot.

Then we had pasta for dinner, all of us.  It was all amazing and we were very happy with dinner, although it was not cheap and we were not looking to spend any money unnecessarily.  But it was what it was, we needed food and it was the only option.  Tomorrow is going to begin the search for groceries.

After dinner we got home and were off to bed.  Dominica and my bedroom is the not the master, but is the ground floor room with the main bed, it is off of the living room.  The girls have the upstairs master suite that doubles as my office.  They have the en suite pointlessly small bathroom.

Finally, time to sleep.  Fingers crossed that someone will get us Internet access in the morning.

January 22, 2017: Final Day in Rome

DuoLingo Italian Day 66

Sunday and our last day in Rome.  Today is our day of rest because we need to pack up the apartment, get all of our devices charged and get the family off to bed early so that we can get up very early tomorrow morning, get a taxi (we hope) to the train station and catch our very, very long train ride from Rome to Syracuse.  It’s funny because Rome and Syracuse are neighbouring stops on the Amtrak line in New York, but they are about eleven hours apart in Italy!

We all slept in a lot today.   All of the walking yesterday wore everyone out.  Dominica is still in a bit of pain from all of it.

For lunch today no one wanted to go out for food except for Liesl; so she and I went out on our own to find a place to eat. We did some looking around and found a nice place with outdoor seating on Cavour that seemed to have a wide menu and things that she would be interested in.  She ended up getting salmon bruschetta and penne alla salmone, both of which she loved.  She described it as a “boom” of flavour. She has decided that salmon is her favourite fish.  It was a really nice lunch.

I went out a while after getting lunch and did some filming while I had the chance.  I have had so little time to do that since getting to Rome because of our jet lag.

After most everything was packed this evening Dominica decided that she wanted to go out for our only real dinner out in Rome.  We just went to a little place across the street that turned out to be amazing.  We got a traditional cheese and pepper Roman pasta dish that was just fantastic.  Dominica also tried to get dessert and got a rum soaked sponge cake that was so heavy with rum that she could not eat it and got a little tipsy.

We tried hard to get everyone to sleep tonight around one.  Best case scenario is four and a half hours of sleep before we have to be up.  Reality is that we will be lucky to get any.  Everything is packed around ready, though.  And our Uber for the morning is scheduled.  So, in theory, we will be all set.  We want to get to the train station around six thirty, but our train is not until seven thirty.  But with kids and all of this luggage there is just so much to go wrong that we cannot have any less time than that.  If our car does not show up we “think” that I can run the luggage to the train station in that amount of time if Dominica and the kids wait at the station.  But boy would it be hard and risky.