1st trip since Covid came about. It's been awhile, there's anxiety, there's nervousness. There's also vaccination, face masks and hand sanitizer. A whole new level of appreciation and taking care.
  • Day30

    Homeward Bound Vancouver

    November 7, 2021 in Canada ⋅ 🌧 5 °C

    Where did the month go? Of course time flies when you're having fun. Somehow a month is that sweet spot for me where I'm in a good space to head home, but at the same time, feel I could keep carrying on. Alas, this time, it's home time. I know I'm lucky though to have had this time off since work is quite busy. Hoping we can all have a break like this next summer.

    I'm proud that I've managed to keep up the blogging on this trip, I've learned that I cannot let more than 3 days go by without catching up, otherwise things begin to blur together.

    So, travelling in the time of Covid...being fully vaccinated, I definitely did have a peace of mind even though I knew I'd be in contact with more strangers than I've crossed paths with in the past 18 months. Most of my time was spent outdoors so that helped, and the places I went to were doing well. Folks were masked going indoors, though there were moments like at the Lisbon airport where I saw a few people that we'd definitely wave a finger at to put their mask on properly.

    In Spain, I saw folks outside with their masks on their arms when not in use and admittedly fell into that habit myself. It was a bit quicker to put the mask on and off while going in stores, but in honesty, may not have been the most sanitary even when the mask was folder in half. Italy was a bit more stringent, they actually checked green passes (vaccination status) and a few place limited how many of us could sit at a table, though this was supposedly lifted.

    Having now taken public buses, trains and planes, I definitely feel more comfortable out and about (with the proper precautions of course). Admittedly I think I was more nervous about anti-Asian sentiments than covid itself. Sad, but true. Now that I'm home, I think I'm ready to take on some public transit.

    I'm very glad that I was able to start this trip with a friend, it definitely helped the ease into it, especially exploring a new city overseas. I also thank her for steering me towards a local SIM card as I've really enjoyed and using data everywhere we went. From google maps to google searches, Instagram and Whatsapp, and Pokemon Go, this is a tool I want to have from now on. It's super helpful and keeps you in touch with everyone you're travelling with, so you can stay up to date and even make arrangements to meet up when there's no wifi.

    I've loved being able to get out again and clocked 10/20/30k steps daily. It was rewarded to see the step count and just keep moving, something I don't get to do much at home and sometimes when I do, I don't know where to go or feel like going somewhere. I've lost a couple of pounds despite all the pasta, but I knew I would. Hoping I can keep this up at home somehow and keep losing a few more, stay in shape for the next adventure.

    The weather had a couple of hiccups, but that's life, and maybe I just have to go back in the future. Never say never. Not a lot of shopping on this trip, perhaps I could've done more, but again, maybe a return trip (Ale hop in Spain, cough cough).

    The Covid tests - an experience. In Spain and Palermo, it was one poke as high as the eye ball. In Trapani, it was the back of your mouth and then quick swirl in both nostrils. Spain was a 35 euro antigen test (note I did not end up needing it to go to Italy). Palermo was a free PCR test at the airport after landing. Based on honor system really, and results in 10 minutes. 10 minutes??? It takes much longer elsewhere. Trapani PCR was 50 euro. The prices are all over the board, and I have no idea why. It is what it is.

    Back to work PCR tomorrow, and another on Wednesday. 3 tests in a week, as some of my friends were discussing, I'm very safe and healthy with all the testing. There was thought I might get a 4th test if they randomly picked me out when I landed in Toronto, but thankfully not. Instead I had an interesting conversation with the Customs Officer who had also travelled with G Adventures.

    Anyhows, enough rambling! Til next time! As of Nov 17, I've booked Mongolia & the Five Stans for next summer, let's see what happens =)
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  • Day29

    Palermo Revisited

    November 6, 2021 in Italy ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    Last full day on this trip and feeling some familiarity in this part of Palermo. Having already spent a few days here, I wondered how to fill my day, and whether I should've left from Rome like a few other people instead of flying tomorrow. Alas, we'll never know, and I'm a big believer of things happening when they do for a reason.

    This morning, I took a tour of the Massimo Theatre. It was really nice to be in a performance space again, and I was reminded of my time of the opera house in Buenos Aires a few days back. I feel this one was a little less impressive, though it is the 3rd biggest in Europe. Maybe it was because the tour was a little short, I would've loved a bit more time to sit in the box, especially since they were auditioning singers for an upcoming chorus.

    More walking and wandering through the old city as one of the other girls had time to explore before her bus was to leave. We ended up walking back down towards the Cathedral and outside the old city gate there before winding back through the nearby gardens and back towards the hotel. I continued to add more steps walking back to the train station with her before heading back towards the hotel.

    Instead of stopping though, I decided to keep going towards Giardino Inglese, an urban park. There's a couple of statues there and some cool trees as well as a very small amusement park. A pleasant surprise and great for a stroll. I really do enjoy wandering in local spots that few people visit, and a wonderful reminder to keep doing that in future trips, to get off the beaten off and just spend time walking around.

    A little break back at the hotel, and out again. Back towards the Cathedral, but this time I'm headed to a family owned puppet theatre to take in a show as recommended by our tour leader. Puppets are a fading Sicilian tradition, and although the entire presentation was in Italian, I caught enough words to understand that the story was about 2 guys fighting over a girl. The show was short but exciting to watch, especially the swordfights between the puppets. It is truly an experience to add to your Palermo visit, and I hope they find a way to keep it alive.

    One last meal as I head back to the hotel for an early night, and perhaps it can't get more Sicilian than this - the infamous street food: spleen sandwich. It's tastier than it sounds, honest. Maybe because in Asian culture, we consume a fair amount of organs. The spleen sandwich is more than just spleen, there's also other organs in there. I think it depends on the lemon vs cheese ratio and left it to the chef to decide =) It is very filling though so if you want fries with it, hopefully you've got someone to share it with. I got mine at Passami U Coppu which is right on the main street as I wanted to make sure it was at a clean place since I was travelling the next day.

    The streets tonight were quite busy and I found myself pulling on my mask as I weaved my way back to the hotel. It almost seems like the pandemic is over, but I know it's not. Dealing with staying safe from Covid has definitely been interesting on this trip, but more on that tomorrow as I recap this adventure.
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  • Day28

    Full Circle

    November 5, 2021 in Italy ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Full circle today as we head back towards to Palermo for our last day together. In the morning, we stopped by Monreale to visit its cathedral. The outside may be fairly plain, but inside were beautiful gold mosaics. We got audio guides to better appreciate the various scenes depicted and for once in a long time, I really paid attention to the images. So often times, we visit church after church, a good glance and look around without really seeing what was there.

    The explanations were a bit long though as I'm sure everyone skipped through a few.

    Back in Palermo, a quick orientation walk and lunch, then some free time. Having been in Palermo already, I mostly sat back. One new site for me was Bellaro Market, but the rest seemed almost as fresh as 2 weeks ago.

    Last dinner with the group and tomorrow we start goodbyes/see you laters.
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  • Day27

    Trapani Free Day

    November 4, 2021 in Italy ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Free day in Trapani, that included our Covid test in the late morning. I headed out on my own to Tonnare Tipi, the ruins of an old tuna facility. It's about a 25 minute walk from our hotel and I had just enough time to go and come back so that the morning wouldn't be wasted. The site is a bit eerie being there myself but it was nice to have the space all to me and wander/check it out on my own time. There's a little bit of garbage from other people who've been, but I really liked how nature is slowly taking back the structure with the greenery amongst the rocks.

    Later, we ended up taking the cable car up to the hilltop town of Erice. The ride up was beautiful as we were awarded with a view over Trapani and the surrounding area including the distinguishable marshes and Egladi Islands. Trapani really is a summer destination, as Erice was fairly cool in temperature and the streets mostly empty. Our other option for the day, Favignana Island would also have been more beautiful in the summer sun.

    One more trek out for the day as I went for a walk to the opposite direction of the salt marshes, this time, making my way to the end of the peninsula here. The winds definitely picked up, but a nice walk through the old city center before rejoining the group for dinner.

    Tonight, we headed to Versi di Rosso for a tasting menu paired with wine. As usual, yours truly didn't partake in the wine. Instead the owners offered up a passito (sweet wine) for me. It wasn't as sweet as I'd like, but still nice. The menu was 3 courses, including tuna crostinis, fava bean/shrimp soup, gnocchi, and cassata cake for dessert. My favorite was the first tuna crostini that was paired an orange.
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  • Day26

    Temples & Stairs

    November 3, 2021 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Tour of Valley of the Temples this morning. We arrived early and was the 2nd group in. Turns out one of the temples here became the logo for UNESCO. After walking around and seeing them, I'm pretty sure it's Concordia as it's the most complete. The temples are built on hill above today's Agrigento and you can see the coast from here. It's not the highest hill, but easy enough to defend without being too strenuous.

    To be honest, I was actually more interested in the temporary exhibit throughout the park. It's called The Quantic Man, there is no Future without Memory by Gianfranco Meggiato. To quote the website:

    "The monumental sculptures by the Venetian artist Gianfranco Meggiato enter into a dialog with the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas, inviting visitors to make their own observations and creating a point of contact between memory and future.

    Borrowing from the theories of quantum physics, Meggiato raises questions about human existence that projects from the past into the future, in search of new ideals of beauty and hope. From the ruins of flourishing civilizations, from the temples, places of pagan spirituality, witnesses to an era of splendor, the individual of the future, the quantic man can be reborn and will be capable of interacting with the external reality in a profound way, aware of the energy and light that emanates from the individual.

    The sculptures trace a path through history, science, philosophy, and art to tell the story of the stages in this evolution."

    In this space of deep history, it was very fitting to dwell on the ideas and artworks he presents to have a ponder of life.

    Our next stop was a quick one at the Stair of the Turks. This was not on the itinerary but one I'm glad we were able to make. I'd mentioned it to our Tour Leader in the beginning hoping we could make a quick stop, after I'd seen photos online. While initially it looked like we couldn't go, our driver was kind enough to make the stop as it's on the way. The stairs itself are currently closed so we couldn't approach, however, there's a great viewpoint where we were able to spend a few minutes. The stairs themselves are actually closer to Realmonte than Agrigento.

    Lunch stop in Marsala and a planned visit to the salt marshes. Unfortunately, the effects of the recent weather are still affecting us as the paths around the marshes are muddy and closed. Unable to wander around and the weather overcast, we left fairly soon to continue to our night stop of Trapani.
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  • Day25

    Ragusa Ibla & Villa Romana del Casale

    November 2, 2021 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Today's travel was broken into 3 drives, the first stop being a visit to Ragusa Ibla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for more Sicilian Baroque architecture. We started in the upper town and then walked towards the old town. There's a lot of churches to see, so if that's your thing, you should be in for a treat. Otherwise, there's not too much to see otherwise, so we grabbed a simple lunch and wine flavored gelato. I was initially going to decline but saw that one of the two flavors was moscato, which incidentally is one of the few wines I do like. The first bite was an explosion of flavor and just "wow" came out. I'm not quite sure if it was a "wow, this is strong" or "wow, this is amazing", but if it started out strong, I must've gotten used to the taste as I'm sure the flavor wouldn't diminish over the course of a cup.

    Stop #2 was the Villa Romana del Casale to check out some mosaics preserved in their original location, It's a good stroll around, but lacked a wow factor for me as it reminded me of what I've seen before in Cyprus.

    One more drive, this time we're headed to Agrigento our stop for the night. Along the way, we were treated to a view of Mt Etna in the distance. Finally on this trip, we managed to see it. Unfortunately since we were so far away, pictures aren't great, but it gives great perspective to the height of the volcano since we could still it.

    Towards the end of the drive, we were treated to a nice long sunset as we were literally driving into the sunset. It was like the entire horizon was orange, and just stayed that way. The Sicilian countryside we passed was beautiful as well, so I think my favorite part of the day was just driving along (even though I slept a good portion of it ;). )
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  • Day24

    Free Day in Syracuse/Noto/Marzamemi

    November 1, 2021 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 18 °C

    Bit of a hodge podge on our free today. Many of chose headed to the Archaelogical Park this morning to check out the ruins in Syracuse. As with most sites, the Greek Theatre is always a draw, but there are also caves here as well, including one shaped like an ear. The necropolis section was closed to the recent weather, but thanks to our of our tourmates, we were able to walk along the road outside the park to see some of it, including a shapely 300 year old tree and what's rumoured to be Archimedes Tomb (it's not).

    After that, it was off to the baroque town of Noto. We focused on a main pedestrian street in the old center, and checked out the cathedral, as well as climbed the tower of another church for 360 views. One thing you may have heard about Noto is its Caffe Siciliana, which was featured on Chef's Table. We managed to get a seat inside and get granitas. Mine was a cappuccino flavored one, which was essentially coffee on top of almond. The texture is like snow and delicious. I wish there were more flavors though.

    Next stop, the fishing village of Marzamemi. There isn't much to see here, but I hear it's quite busy in the summer. We walked around, had some gelato and caught a bit of the sunset before heading back to Syracuse.

    Dinner wise, we ended up sharing a tapas styled dinner at one of the local restaurants in town. They brought us several of the antipasti to share, as well as lemoncello and maybe Amaro, I can't remember aside the fact that it had a bitter orange peel after taste. It was nice to have a change from pizza and pasta, and a long time since we had a meal that we didn't order individually.
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  • Day23

    Exploring the Isola di Ortigia

    October 31, 2021 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    This morning we set off to the island of Ortigia, it's connected to the city of Syracuse. It's fairly contained for self exploration with a pedestrian zone with shops and restaurants. You can also walk around the island and check out the waves crashing in.

    Today's activities included an arancini cooking class in the home of a local family. I prefer to refer to it as an arancini making class as we were assembling more than cooking. Our host Fiona had already pre-made the risotto and ragu as they take longer than our allotted time. It's a great activity to have on the 1st day, as it not only became lunch, but was a good opportunity to continue to getting to know people, especially since part of our group weren't able to join us for dinner the prior night.

    The rest of the afternoon was a bit of an orientation walk and then free time. We stopped by Apollo's Temple and Diana's Fountain, before walking along the water a bit. On our own later on, we just wandered the streets, checking out picturesque streets that caught our eye.

    Rain returned for the evening as we stepped out for dinner and then drinks at a local bar. I've noticed here in the south of Sicily, they are more vigilant about checking green cards and not letting people sit more than 6 per table. A bit of a challenge for a tour group, even a small one, but we managed.
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  • Day22

    Southern Sicily - the last leg

    October 30, 2021 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

    The end of a tour, the beginning of another. My first task of the day is to move hotels. Thankfully, they changed our starting hotel. The new one is a much better place. I think if we had to stay in the last one, one more night, I definitely would've booked my own place and just come back for the welcome meeting and dinner.

    There was a break in the clouds this morning, the sun actually shining. I was hoping that maybe we could still do Etna, but alas, the red alert was still on. In the end, I found a beach nearby and went to watch some waves. After that, just meandering and watching Netflix at the hotel. I did step out once more to get bubble tea, but got thorough caught in the rain. Things are still drying in the room, including my shoes. I may have to blow dry them in the morning.

    Our group on this final tour was is smaller and some members are still missing. Not sure if they got delayed somewhere or if there were late cancellations, like one of the girls from our previous leg. The rain mostly stayed away tonight as we strolled back to the center for dinner. Our tour leader is actually from this city, so it was interesting walking with him as he also showed us places only a local would know, like the underground cavern in our restaurant.

    Through the cavern ran the underground river flowing through the city, and the walls were made of the lava from Etna's eruption in the 1600s. Very very cool, and definitely something we would've never found in a guidebook. A quick gelato, then more walking around before heading back for a rest at the hotel. Looks like the weather should be better the coming week, so fingers crossed things run smoothly for one last hurrah before back to work.
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  • Day21

    Catania Day In

    October 29, 2021 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 15 °C

    The rains receded a little this morning, but much of the day was spent indoors and watching Netflix. Catania still had a red alert in place and we weren't able to visit Mt Etna as per the optional activities. This trip has been a little disappointing in not being able to get to the volcanoes, considering the volcanoes themselves were supposed to be the main highlights.

    We ended up ordering panani's to be delivered for lunch and made plans to have our farewell dinner in the restaurant of the hotel some of our group had moved to. In the afternoon, a few of us took a short walk to see some of the sites from the outside. It was a bit eerie with the empty streets, a view many visitors don't get. It was a little reminiscent of covid lockdowns as well since people were ordered to stay home.
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