Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Island-hopping, European-style: Sicily and Mallorca

Now that Todd finally has some leave accumulated, and since my sister Suzanne and company are leaving mid-July, we decided to check RyanAir’s schedule to find exotic destinations on the cheap.  

Ready for adventure

As Todd’s favorite cuisine is Italian, Italy beckoned.  Even better, Sicily, the island at the toe of Italy’s boot with its bad-boy reputation as the mafia stronghold, seemed like the ideal place to eat well.   We bought the tickets (60 euros round-trip) and booked a villa in the lesser-traveled southern part of Sicily.

Cathdral of Modica

We arrived late one Wednesday night to a villa that was half romantic medieval palace, half grandma’s creepy Munster mansion.  The flickering fluorescent lights jammed into the cobwebby chandeliers did little to enhance the pictures of dead relatives and jampacked 50-year-old décor and doilies, and I watched my sister for her reaction—a dead giveaway when she said nothing at all.  “This is so—interesting!”  said Ethan, my ever polite brother-in-law.  Todd, Tia, Sasha, and I took the small, plain guest house, leaving Suzi, Ethan, and the boys to fend off the phantasms certainly inhabiting the villa.

Maybe the Addams family live here?

Romantic entrance

The bright Sicilian sunshine the next morning made all the difference.   We threw open all the French doors, lace curtains blowing in the breeze, turned around some vases with unsettling faces painted on them, and hid several pieces of the worst clutter in closets.  The pool was simply glorious, a recent addition to this 300-year-old residence, and the balconies and pathways afforded views of the pastoral countryside, rock walls everywhere, testimony to generations of Sicilian attempts to clear the land.  We loved it.

Sun makes all the difference

Picture-perfect countryside

Sicily has heavily touristed areas; we visited Taurmina’s cliffsides and Agrigente’s Roman ruins.  But our villa lay near the hidden gem of Modica, its claim to fame the Aztec chocolate brought from the New World (similar to but even better than the very familiar Ibarra chocolate from Mexico).   We wandered Modica’s streets, climbing up to the top of the town through winding footpaths, and dined al fresco in an unassuming but delicious street café. 

Modica's winding streets

Icarus outside of Agrigente temple

Italianesque beauty

Tia and Sasha were in search of “turquoise waters,” their brains full of images of Tahiti and the Caribbean, but while Sicily’s beaches were pretty, we had to wait until Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands of Spain, to finally bask in blue.  Two weeks later (squashing months of travel into a span of several weeks), we arrived at our catamaran, home for a week of sailing around this famous (and overrun by Germans) island.   We all prayed that we wouldn’t kill each other cooped up in 500 square feet of living space! 

Now this is what we were looking for!  Frogman courtesy of Ado
Usually windy!

Mallorca cathedral
Sailing, sailing, over the bounding blue…leads to seasickness.  I was okay after a day, but every beach landing led to mal d’embarque, the rocking sensation you feel once again on dry land.  Ethan had it worst, the wristbands and Dramamine not particularly helpful, and he spent most of the first few days gazing at the horizon from topside. 

The kids were untroubled

Gorgeous despite seasickness

Still, the turquoise, crystal-clear water was enchanting.   Snorkels and masks in hand, we paddled through the seagrass, finding fish, rays, an octopus, and—uh-oh—jellyfish!  Despite our best efforts, Ado came screaming out of the water, big welts forming on his backside, but thanks to a lovely enfermera on the little island of Cabrera, he was fine in an hour. 

Ready for the plunge

Cabrera sunset

Underneath such beauty lurks stinging danger

Stay away from ME!!!

Sleeping on a boat is charming and taxing at the same time.   A catamaran affords more space, but still, it’s a boat.   Cooking anything resembling our typical gourmet meals was also a big challenge, given that Ethan could spend approximately 30 seconds in the kitchen before needing to skedaddle topsides.  But we managed, pasta and rice our staples, and managed to feed ourselves and Sergio (although it will be a while before he wants pasta and rice AGAIN!).  

The castle-fortress of Cabrera

At the lookout

We traversed the southern coast of Mallorca, seeking turquoise coves (easy) and  uninhabited beaches (impossible!).   The more daring showed off their cliff-diving skills, and we watched the US lose to Belgium (World Cup fever is alive and well in our family) at a fancy resort we sneaked into.   We were set upon by pirates, but talked them out of attacking with an offer of pasta with tuna, arugula, and grated cheese with a side of rice. 

Cliffs and caves

Sergio jumps!

Suzi right behind him!

Coming in for a perfect landing...Ethan and Todd were not so perfect
Watch out for pirates

The weather was fickle, bringing us a couple days of overcast and high winds which led to big waves, not great for a catamaran nor for seasickness.  A catamaran is wide, its living areas spread out across two pontoons, and this square design creates a rolling tossing bucking sensation that the kids loved. We made them put on life jackets.

Aunt Steph makes us wear life jackets
All safe with Sergio
But in the end, we were happy to have sailed together, traveled together, and bonded even further in the confines of what is equal to a small apartment.  We were happy to get home to our palace, where we spent the final days preparing for Suzi and Ethan’s departure back to the states.  Cousin Olga came to visit as a distraction, and of course the world cup drama captured everyone’s attention.   Now for our next challenge:  Getting ready for Todd’s retirement October 1st!

Happy sailors

Pirate dreams

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