Friday, May 31, 2013

Our last tour in Sicily was an extra excursion with Go Ahead called "Hidden Sicily" to a town the locals are very proud of because part of The Godfather was filmed there. After walking around the town for two hours I could see why it ended up as a film location. Everywhere we looked it appeared to be a quaint Italian village. Everyone in Forza D'agro is proud of this film heritage with souvenirs and photos up on every store wall. (to see the full size versions of the images just click on the photo)
 This may be my favorite photo from the trip. From the courtyard to the walls to the ironwork to the castle on the hilltop it practically screams Italy.
 Ornate doors are everywhere in Italy. From hand carved lions to intricate ironwork there are gorgeous doors everywhere but this one with the broken stone work around it, turquoise color and ancient hardware just captured my heart. 
 Castelmola is also a little quaint village but it has a bit more polish on it than the first village. The paint looks new and the shops are a bit more expensive. But not every corner was this one. I love how "real" it looks and undressed up for the tourists.

There were a few real surprises in Sicily for us. We were amazed that a lot of the terrain looks like California, that there seemed to more emphasis on wine and wine tasting than we encountered in Northern Italy, that we were able to communicate much easier with my broken Italian and their broken English to be able to have a wonderful time. Palermo felt like a big city with all of the unwelcoming attitudes you would expect to get in a big city whereas Milan had none of that feel to us. Siracusa and Taormina brought us back to the friendly welcome we had encountered in Northern Italy. I would love to return again someday and explore central Italy but I think our next excursion overseas will be to Spain.

Next week I'll start sharing our Bavarian Castle Tour with all of you so I hope you can visit back this time next week!


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

From Siracusa we traveled to Taormina. This city is broken up into two sections; the hilltop town of Taormina and the beach section of Mazzaro. (click on the photos to see the full sized image)
The view of the coastline and Mt. Etna from the main town square of Taormina.

 Right before you enter the ruins of the Greco-Roman Amphitheater in Taormina you will see this amazing hotel. The Grand Hotel Timeo is an ultra expensive yet incredibly beautiful hotel centrally located to everything except the beach. 
 The town itself is gorgeous. We loved the details and bright colors on the regular homes of the area.
 We stayed with our Go Ahead tour group in Mazzaro at a hotel on a cliff over the beach. There were stairs down to the beach so it was very accessible. This was the view of Castelmola from our hotel balcony near sunset. 
 Zafferana Etnea is located on the side of Mt. Etna. This is still a very active volcano so there are times when this beautiful cathedral often has to deal with sweeping up ash that falls like snow.
Having been to Kilauea and Haleakala many times I wasn't too terribly impressed by the craters of Mt. Etna but with the right lighting to punch of the natural colors of the minerals it became beautiful.

I'll finish up the trip to Sicily Friday and then start on the Bavarian Castle Tour after that. Hope you can join me here!


Monday, May 27, 2013

In Sicily, and I'm sure in other parts of Italy, there is an industry that provides tourists with access to working farms and vineyards. We were treated to just such a day at Casabianca which is just a short drive from Siracusa. This Manor House is one of the extra excursions that you can get from Go Ahead and is owned by a Contessa and we were welcomed like family. (click on the photos to see the full sized image)
 The main building was covered in ivy and, due to the fact it was early May, surrounded by flowering bushes as well.
 A real stone oven was used to make our meal. How something so simple can make food that tastes SO good amazes me.
 The other building was covered in bougainvillea vines. These are very common in California but the combination of the patina'd walls and the blooming vine was breathtaking.
 Because of the wall discoloration this one will look like a watercolor when enlarged for framing.
 The region is very volcanic and it shows in the color of the brick, the walls and the ground. 
 One of the crops the Contessa grows is artichokes. Known, here in California, as one of the ugliest plants ever I was able to find a lot of beauty in them. This is my favorite of those shots.
 The red poppies were everywhere in the artichoke fields. What I love about this photograph are the "thorns" that trail up each stem. They are actually very soft to touch but discourage small bugs from feasting upon the bloom.
 I love the way the barred window, the discolored wall and the perfection of the bougainvillea seem to blend perfectly together in this shot.
One of the other crops was semolina wheat. This short version of what we see in California was beautiful from a distance but gorgeous up close due to the muted variance in colors and textures. I can't wait to see this one enlarged.

Next we move onto Taormina, a lovely hilltop town overlooking the coastline of Sicily. Hope you can stop by to see more!


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ortigia Island is in Siracusa as well. This very walkable town is filled with plenty to explore and enjoy. Our Go Ahead bus parked across the waterway and we took the very short walk over the bridge onto the island.(click on the photos to see the full size image)
Arethusa Fountain is in the middle of the town. This sea nymph fountain features many of the Greek mythological figures including Poseidon.
My favorite was of this mermaid riding with her baby on a crazy looking fish. Her face just looks so open and friendly while the baby, clearly, isn't buying the fun part of the ride.
As crowded as the shop areas of Ortigia are, there are also plenty of quite areas to explore. Especially during the siesta period between 1 and 4 pm. The shops stay open but the homes shutter up for a quite family time.
Mmmm, cappuccino is a weakness. I'm a true coffee person, extremely picky in what I drink here in America, so Italy is a pleasure to visit and I get coffee whenever I can. So when we stopped for an afternoon snack I was very happy to find this one set before me.
As a cake artist I have come to love food photography. It's totally different from anything I had ever tried to do with a camera before so I'm always honing my skills. This is blood orange gelato topped with limoncello liqueur. Served in this pretty glass and on a coordinating saucer with the light blue tablecloth was just too gorgeous to pass up taking a photo of it. My friend graciously held off eating this so I could take a photo first.
These little courtyards are everywhere you look. Little areas where the residents park a car or a bike, more often a moped since they rule the streets in this town, and then walk into the real part of their homes.
The new and the old meld awkwardly in Italy. You will see the centuries old buildings with new lights or air conditioning units and always the wires traversing the outside of each building. They can't dig up the streets to run the electrical lines under them so everything is attached to the buildings. "Modern" Italy is now a part of each photograph but the ancient still wins in the end.

More tomorrow as we head to the countryside and a gorgeous Manor owned by a Contessa. If you love the food of Italy you may want to go check out my Pistachio Cream filled cupcakes on the new Cake Blog today.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Much of what makes Italy is the centuries old architecture but the scenery of the countryside, with it's rolling green hills, a random castle on this hilltop or that mountain top and the small vineyard or olive orchards also adds to the visual memories of this place. When we had originally planned out Italy trip we considered driving this ourselves but quickly discovered that it is SO much nicer having someone else doing the driving. (click on the photos to see the full size image)
 Sicily is known for many things, citrus groves, ceramics, wine and olive oil to name a few, but it's many archaeological sites offer a few unexpected treats. Dionysius Ear, located in Siracusa, Sicily, is one of those treats. Now, I'm a bit claustrophobic so entering a cave is a big deal for me but the acoustical wonders of this particular cave drew me in step by step. From the back of the cave you can whisper and those at the front can hear you like you are standing side by side. One of the reasons I love this photo.
 We stayed at the Villa Politi in Siracusa with Go Ahead. Built in 1862 by an Austrian noblewoman who married a well known Italian painter. The beauty of this place reflects her desire for elegance and his artistic details. This is one side of twin staircases that decorate the front of the villa.
 Many of the verandas lead to simple yet elegant architectural views such as this patio and yet another staircase to another area of the property.
 Cows, sheep, horses, tons of types of birds and butterflies dot the scenery of Sicily. I kept finding these wonderful little green lizards. They wouldn't exactly pose for me so it took several frames to catch this one particular shot.
Tomorrow I'll highlight a few photographs from Ortigia Island. This picturesque small town had many incredible views. I'll share just a few of those and some food art as well!

Hope you stop by again soon!


Friday, May 24, 2013

In California we have gorgeous orange poppies that cover our hills every Spring. In Italy they have red poppies. The same flower just a beautiful red color. (with all of the photos you can just click on them to view them full screen)
 One of the very interesting things about Sicily is that it was once settled by the Greeks. This means that there are Greek Temples or Grecco-Roman Temples and ruins everywhere. 
 We were lucky enough to visit The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento with Go Ahead. This is the Temple of Juno. 
In front of the Temple of Concordia was a sculpture. The sculpture is new, by the sculptor Igor Mitoraj, which was installed in 2011. I think he fits right in like he's been there 2000 years.
We also traveled out to Segesta. The entrance to the Amphitheater was a startling illusion. You feel like you could walk off the edge and right into the air. 
 The steps of the Amphitheater make you feel the same way. They are very very steep and I'm sure many, distracted by the amazing view have made it to the bottom the hard way.
On your way back down to the parking lots you are treated by this wonderful view of the Doric Temple of Segesta. And, no, it didn't lose it's roof, it never had one installed to begin with. Beautiful. 
 We were treated to a visit to the Medieval city of Erice. This beautiful town in the clouds is lovely at every turn, even the shops are picturesque.
We did have lunch at a lovely square but when we turned the corner and I saw this little cafe by the church I had a moment where my breath caught and I knew I had to have a photograph. For me it captures the "feel" of dining alfresco in this town.

More photos soon so I hope you will stop back by!


Thursday, May 23, 2013

First Post: Palermo, Sicily.

Quickly, let me introduce myself. Years ago I use to photograph nature and wildlife professionally. Then our son was born and I retired from the life of traveling all over the place for weeks at a time. As he got older I drifted into being a Party Planner and a Custom Cake Artist. Basically just another way to play with art. Over my lifetime up to 2009 I'd managed to travel to every state in the US except for Alaska but had never been to Europe. In 2009 my mom and I traveled with a tour group called Go Ahead Tours to Northern Italy. I'll post photos of that trip soon. What I found was that it was wonderful to live inside my camera for two weeks solid at a time. To have the freedom to let my photographic eye wander wherever it wanted. Fortunately I travel very well with my mom and this tour group, Go Ahead Tours, we travel with takes us to wonderful places and gives us plenty of time to explore on our own. 

This past May found us in Sicily for 9 days. I'm going to cover one small bit of that trip at a time, in separate blog posts, and share with you the 40 best photos from that trip. (Just click on the photo to see it in full page format.)

Let's start with Palermo...
 I'm a Californian girl and while I had always wanted to try a Canoli, I had never picked one up whenever I visited New Jersey or New York. Someone told me that they originated in Sicily so I had to give one a try. The cup o' green stuff is actually called Pistachio Crema. Think "mostly melted smooth pistachio ice cream". You start off eating it with a spoon and then finish it off by drinking it. Very good. Sicily is also, we found out, known for it's pistachios and citrus.
 The first tour included the Palermo Duomo. The spires look like sandcastles to me. Lots of details. We drove past this one on our way to Monreale. We returned later.
 The gates of Monreale. This Duomo is stunning enough to make the hike up the stairs and streets worth the trip. I loved all of the details.
 Inside it's all gold and cream. Yes, real gold. The effect is very welcoming and warm. If you visit take a few moments to just soak it in and take in all of the millions of details this cathedral has to offer.
 The Duomo is a combination of 3 different cultures. Roman, Arabian and Baroque. The outside is very ornate while the inside is very subdued. This intricately carved marble had me stunned trying to take it all in.
Lastly is the inside. The many domes are simple but beautiful, letting in the light from each oculus to help naturally light the church.

Thank you for stopping by. I'll be sharing photos off and on every few days so check back often or subscribe to be notified when a new set is ready to view.

If you want to see the rest of what I do just stop by my Cake Blog or Party Blog pages.