Travel can be a state of mind, but it can also be a state of the stomach too. Thinking back about Sicily has made me hungry all over again.
Sicily, Italy: I remember Sicily through food more than any of the things we saw there. If you go, be prepared to experience the island through its food. Be prepared to come home a little bit heavier.
- We found our B&B in a tumble-down part of Palermo and although I was a little nervous about the neighbourhood around our hotel, when I saw a queue of people outside a gelateria, we joined them. The rainbow of flavour choice prompted some indecision, but with our double scoops in hand, everything looked and felt a little better.
- That first night we went out looking for dinner and stumbled across a tiny restaurant in a little square (we couldn’t find it again when we returned to Palermo some 10 days later – which makes me convinced it was the restaurant equivalent of Brigadoon). We ordered a dish of sardine balls in a sweet onion sauce and it was more delicious than anything involving sardines had a right to be.
- From Palermo we travel by bus to Syracuse, where we asked our hostess at the B&B for a recommendation on where to eat. She pointed us to a restaurant in town where I had one a the best food experiences of my life. Simple food done so well it brings tears to your eyes.
- The Torta Sette Veli – Seven veils cake – a confection designed to obliterate all memories of all other chocolate cakes you might have once eaten. One slice is enough – share it between two – and try not to cry when you think about all the time you wasted on other, lesser cakes.
- The little town of Noto has two of the best gelaterias in Sicily and possibly all of Italy. We had to try both. At one, the dark chocolate orange combined the bitterness of dark chocolate with the sweet almost fragrant orange flavour – and I don’t even like orange as a flavour. In the other, we ate in the small cafe at the back – with blessed air-conditioning to give us a break from the heat outside – and here we tried basil flavoured gelato, which sounds wrong but actually the fresh green herbiness of basil actually worked when translated into gelato form and was surprisingly delicious.
- When we returned to Palermo we ate at a pizza place where the pizza was cooked in a woodfired oven. Maybe the pizza brought an aroma of woodsmoke with it but we didn’t notice. We opted for the Sicilian style pizza which included toppings of breadcrumbs and anchovies – two things I would not normally have picked, but again surprisingly delicious.
- A hot day is Marsala and after visiting the museums, a glass of copper-coloured Marsala wine in a cafe, chilled from the fridge, the glass gathering beads of condensation as I sip away slowly. Sweet wine but with a dry finish, so your mouth feels refreshed, not crusted with sugar.
- A small fast food place to grab a quick lunch, but this is Italy, or rather Sicily, so the options are various flavours of arancini: golden crumbed balls of sticky risotto rice wrapped around a centre of bolognaise or spinach and ricotta.
- Pistachios, pistachios everywhere. A fish filet “crumbed” in pistachios. Pesto made from pistachios. And for the daily gelato option (because the flavours are so many, you must try a new one every day) at least one of us must a scoop of pistachio. And we realise that true Sicilian pistachio gelato really does convey the flavour of the nut, unlike the ghostly green flavoured gelato we had tried in other places.
- Caponata, a dish made from eggplants, peppers, onions, pine nuts and raisins. A strange mix of ingredients but delicious.
- From the town of Trapani we took the cable car to the mountaintop village of Erice, where we sampled Genovese cakes, fresh from the oven. Small, sweet, crumbly and custardy, they were little mouthfuls of heaven.
Sopron, Hungary I stopped in Sopron because it was a close by town to the Esterhazy palace, and as this particularly trip seemed to be driven by classical composers, visiting a place where Joseph Haydn had worked was very much on my agenda. I stayed in a hotel-castle somewhere on a hill on the outskirts of the city in a room that smelt of damp and at night I was sure I could hear the gnawing of woodworm in the frame of the bed where I slept.
Walking around the town I was convinced that there must be a dentistry school and beauty school in the town. Why else would the town have so many beauticians and hairdressers and dentists? It turns out the town is very close to the Austrian border – close enough for Austrians to cross over and take advantage of the cheaper prices for dental work and haircuts available in Hungary. As the town itself was short on attractions (I had already gone for a swim at the excellently named Lővér fürdő) I decided to take advantage of the beautician services. After all, I had been on the road for a month already, so I reckoned I owed myself some personal grooming time.
I remember sitting in the pedicure room, my feet soaking in a bowl of warm water. I watched while my beautician attended to the feet of the elderly Austrian woman sat across from me. I tried not to look disgusted at the amount of dead skin the beautician scraped from her feet. At least my feet aren’t that bad, I thought to myself. How wrong I was! A month on my feet in sturdy shoes had taken its toll. When the beautician took her scraping tool to my well soaked feet, even more dead skin came off my feet than from the Austrian woman’s feet. I could see the Austrian woman looking at me with the same judgemental look I had given her.
Stuttgart, Germany Had there not been a COVID-19 pandemic last year, we probably would have made it to Stuttgart. I’m not a car fan by any means, but the Porsche and Mercedez-Benz museums do look worth a visit. There are also palaces, art galleries, castles – and perhaps most importantly – a schnitzel restaurant called Onkel Otto that (in the pre-COVID days at least) did an all-you-can-eat schnitzel deal on Monday nights. Not so good for me because I think one schnitzel is all I can eat, but Husband certainly was keen to pit himself against the schnitzel challenge.