I’ll make you a promise… No more marathon blog posts like last week. That’s the problem when you’ve got over 15 hours of flying time and nothing to do. I’ll do my best to keep them short and sweet and let the photos tell the story. Plus this week I’m writing most of this post from the duomo piazza in Castelmola, so I’ve got more motivation to wrap it up quickly and enjoy a panini with an Aperol Spritz. It really is beautiful here in Sicily, but first London.
Our stop in London was required as I needed to activate my UK working holiday visa before 11 April. We definitely wouldn’t have visited so soon because it was still fairly cool in London. Our grand plan of travelling the world and avoiding the winter season for 12 months isn’t going very well so far. I shouldn’t really complain because in the 5 days in London we only had 1 day of drizzle and on one day the temperature climbed above 15 degrees. The residents swamped Hyde Park on Saturday to enjoy the sunshine. They were wearing shorts though, that’s getting a bit carried away.
The funny thing about our visit in London is that even though we were there for a short period of time we caught up with so many friends. We had a Saturday night out on the toon (yes that’s on purpose) with my friend Andrew where he took us to a bar called Brewdog in the Soho area and then after a few local brews we went to an Iranian restaurant. He has been living in London for about 7 months now so it was interesting to hear his insights about the city and its different boroughs. On Monday night we had dinner and drinks at a proper English pub near Regents Park with Amy whose wedding we attended in Hawaii on week 5. Amy has just relocated to London with work, so it was nice to have dinner with her after her first day at work. It sounds like such an adventure for her and Gerrit and I’m sure they’ll love it in London. Tuesday afternoon we met up with one of Anna’s childhood friends – Angelica – who she hasn’t seen in over 10 years. Anna was amazed to see how much she’s grown up since they last saw each other. Then Tuesday night we attended catch up drinks that our Sydney friends Al & Marie were having. We spent our last night in Sydney with Al & Marie so it really put it in perspective how long we’ve been away. It’s been so nice to see some familiar faces and to catch up over a pint of beer. We’re constantly reminded just how lucky we are to be doing a trip like this, which is something I think I take for granted too often. I’m also very lucky that Anna loves travelling just as much as I do.
We’ve both visited London in the past so we didn’t have to do the typical tourist circuit this time. This means we didn’t visit Tower of London, St Paul’s, Buckingham Palace or even ride the London Eye, but what we did was experience the city more like residents than tourists. The surprising thing is that we both found London far more impressive than what we remembered of it. We visited the National Gallery and saw some rare works by the likes of Van Gogh and Da Vinci. It has been mandated that the gallery be free to visit since its inception so that people from all walks of life can come and enjoy the artworks. It feels like they regret this now as they ask for a 5 pound “donation” for visiting. Naturally we didn’t pay because if 2 unemployed people don’t qualify for free entry then who does. We also visited the Portrait Gallery, but the National Gallery was the most impressive of the two.
Most of our time in London was spent walking and it helped that we stayed in Paddington. The Tube is the quickest way to get around but it’s quite expensive at AU$5 for a one way trip within the city and you also miss so much being underground. Actually London itself is really expensive, with food and drink being the most expensive of the trip so far. It’s very easy to spend over AU$5 on a coffee and AU$10 on a beer. Naturally we employed our full suite of cost cutting measures – having cereal for breakfast in our room, having a couple of instant coffees before heading out, sharing a 1 pound sandwich from Tesco for lunch etc. I know that makes it sound a bit grim, but we still had our fair share of culinary delights. My farewell present from my colleagues at work was a day pass on a river cruise and then a dinner at a Marco Pierre White steakhouse for the 2 of us. The dinner was a full three course meal with cocktails included. The food was superb with a mix of beef and seafood options. The river cruise was also very enjoyable because it was a hop on hop off ticket so we were able to ride the ferry right down to Greenwich to the timeline. It also provides a great perspective of London and just how important the river was to the town historically. Many thanks to our friends at Rabobank, much appreciated.
Anna was so happy when we touched down in Catania, Sicily. That was our 11th flight in 9 weeks and we’re glad that we won’t be boarding a plane for some time. Considering that flying makes Anna nervous, she’s done so well with all of the flights. Our high level plan for the next 3 weeks is to make our way through Italy to Milan via bus/train where we’ll spend some time with Anna’s brother and his family. It’s amazing just how flexible our travel arrangements are at the moment and I’m loving it. We have Greta our selfie queen as our travel advisor sending us recommendations on towns to visit along the way. We’ve spent the last 3 nights in Taormina and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s not quite warm enough to be swimming (although it’s not stopping some) but the scenery is spectacular. Taormina itself is up on the steep hillside looking across the coast. The town is so Italian postcard with it’s smattering of laneways and staircases connecting the buildings that were built where ever they could find space. There’s a pedestrian street that runs along the mountain lined with restaurants, stores and of course the occasional church. Last night we treated ourselves to dinner at a nearby restaurant for some pizza and ravioli. The host was nice and provided a free starter of fried polenta and some free after dinner plum wine. Our accommodation here is very ideal, as we have a one bedroom apartment with a kitchen and washing machine. The owner Gianny doesn’t speak English so we have been communicating through the Google translate app which has resulted in some very funny conversations. One thing that Gianny likes to stress is that he’s here for us – he’s funny.
The scenery here is picturesque and I’m sure you’ll enjoy Anna’s photos. There’s a Greek-Roman ampitheatre that dates back to 3rd century BC. It has Mount Etna the active volcano as its backdrop and in the summer they still hold performances there. We’ve explored the area on foot walking down to the beaches through a maze of laneways and steep staircases. You can take a gondola both ways to the beach but that’s boring. The beaches are beautiful but some are mostly pebbles not sand. That makes it a little hard to get the sexy strut going when your feet are in agony. We walked along the coast road to Mazzeo which looks like it really dies off in the low season. They were busily working away on the restorations of restaurants and accommodations in preparation of the approaching high season. This beach actually had sand and looks to be very popular in summer judging by the facilities. With the roads being narrow and windy with no pedestrian sidewalk we decided to catch the 7pm bus back to Taormina. It’s such a shame because I was really looking forward to walking back up the hill. 😉
Today we’ve walked up to Castelmola and I’m sure we’ve climbed far further vertically than horizontally. On the map it looks right next door but it took 45 minutes to climb to the top. Up the very top there are remains of a castle fort that dates back to 10th century AD. With an elevation of 529m it’s amazing to think that they went to the effort of building the castle up here, who could be bothered. Walking up there was hard enough! We were that couple who sat down for lunch and then pulled out the laptop and tablet to write this post and to prepare the photos. With such a beautiful backdrop, why not sit in the sun and enjoy it.
I’m not sure where we’ll be next week. We have 3 nights booked in Tropea but nothing planned after that, but it’ll be in Italy and somewhere north of here.
Until next time
Fail of the Week
We decided to head to the Taormina public gardens for some sunset photos. While we were strolling through the gardens we could hear bells ringing. Assuming that they were something to do with the church, we ignored them and kept going. After finding the photo we were after we then went to leave the gardens but the gate was locked. We followed the boundary fence along looking for an alternate exit and luckily the gatekeeper was at the cafe across the road so she came and let us out. I suppose we didn’t quite fail as she let us out, but I was having visions of sleeping rough that night.
Our tips for visiting London
We didn’t really visit for all that long but a couple of things we noticed:
- Get an Oyster card before using the train. It’s only 5 Pound deposit for the card and the fares are about half of what you pay for a paper ticket. You can get the deposit refunded at the ticket machines at the end of your last journey.
- Don’t forget about all the free museums and galleries in London.
- Make sure you check the beer taps before ordering as the ales will most likely be served warm.
Our average cost for London was AU$83.68 pp per night.