Agrigento

After our enormous lunch in Ragusa, we had to drive about two and half hours to get to Agrigento. Some of what we drove through was extremely picturesque. Think hills covered with lovely meadows. But the Sicilians have a trash problem. We aren’t talking about the occasional bit of litter, we’re talking “Honey, can you take the trash out?…Thanks babe, and while your at it, drive it out to a lovely country road, throw it out the window, hide the car and wait and see what humans or animals eventually come along, rip the bag open and randomly distribute the contents along side of the road. What’s that? Well I love you more.”

We were going to just go straight to our country inn (with pool!) to cool down and relax after a long day. The whole point in coming to the area was to see the Greek temples at Agrigento, but we thought we could see them the next morning before heading to Palermo. But as we drove to the hotel, we literally came across the Valley of the Temples site and it seemed silly to go past it only to have to back track the next day to see it. Plus it turns out that visiting in the early evening is a great time to see it, not just because of the nice light and cool breezes, but because there were hardly any people there.

Siracusa is out of order

[Somehow I forgot to publish this post about Siracusa which was our first stop in Sicily. This happened the day before that amazing lunch we had in Ragusa.]

Siracusa is a bustling, charming city on the southeastern coast of Sicily. I failed to take any pictures of its relationship to the ocean, but trust me it’s there. The ship stayed in port for three days, but we left it after one night and headed inland to see some Greek temples and then the day after that made our way to Palermo.

If the charm and quirkiness of vintage Europe could be summed in a vehicle, it would be this. Although I think this is actually a new, not vintage, vehicle. One could imagine an Italian Inspector Clouseau pulling up in this.
Surely those dark clouds don’t mean rain.
Not only did those clouds mean rain they also meant crazy strong winds. Many of the vendors at the market (not this guy) packed up their wares and umbrellas and went home.
See if you can sound that one out.
The wind and rain was so crazy we ducked into this little restaurant while we were still dry to wait it out.
Nothing says Italy (and stormy weather) like a perfect plate of pasta at 11:00 AM. This one with fresh dill and tuna bottarga (cured fish roe).
This is where they film the Italian version of Sanford and Son.
By the end of the day the weather was perfect. This is the main piazza in Siracusa.
I like this picture of the cathedral because it shows the ancient Doric columns down the side while it’s a Corinthian, and much newer, party in the front. It’s like an architectural mullet.
Inside you really get a feeling of Johnny-come-lately Christians taking over a pagan temple. And I’m talking about the spaces filled in between the Doric columns of the temple, not the people glued to their phones.
We ducked out of the rain into what turned out to be a fabulous museum of antiquities.

Lunch in Ragusa

After one night on the ship in Siracusa we disembarked and barked our way to Europcar where we picked up our Alfa Romeo Giula. Our goal for the day was to make it to Agrigento about three and half hours by the scenic route. But before we went there we had lunch reservations at Ristorante Duomo. It was a place John had come across online before we left the U.S. It was too close to Siracusa to make it our stop for the night so we had to make it lunch. A tad bit tired of fancy food by this point in the trip, I gladly would have cancelled the reservation in favor of something much more rustic. Thank God we didn’t. I would have missed one of the best meals of my life. The drive to Ragusa was uneventful and finding parking there in a brand new municipal garage was pretty easy as well. But then again the garage was not exactly next to the restaurant. We had about 30 minutes to walk on, yes, another hot day. The walk to the Ibla part of Ragusa was scenic and happily we found an outdoor table at a cafe with a lovely strong breeze to cool us down before making our way to the restaurant.

I didn’t know that the restaurant was a 2-star Michelin establishment until I went to the bathroom about halfway through our extensive meal. Although we were tidy, we had on shorts and sneakers and I would have been a little self conscious about that. However, despite the formal appearance of the staff and the elegance of the dining room, we were made to feel right at home. They even brought a little stool on which I could place my messenger bag. The interior was sophisticated and chic and we decided on the tasting menu. I think they told us it would be seven to nine courses, but we literally lost track and left the place feeling stuffed and very happy.

From the “newer” part of town looking at the old part, Ragusa Ibla.
It was a lot of steps down and then, thankfully, a pleasantly steep incline up to the restaurant.
Pretty things along the way. The city is one of seven in the region that make up a UNESCO world heritage site.
The ala carte menu looked tantalizing but we went for the 7-9 course tasting menu.
This was a jasmine, ginger iced tea that might have been the tastiest, most refreshing ice tea I have ever had. I was tempted to keep them coming throughout the meal. John’s is an Aperol spritz. You can’t move 10 feet in the Med without seeing one.
These were only some of the amuses-bouche we got. Actually if you look over toward John you will see two more. So I guess that make five each.
A perfect plate of pasta with (I think) an oyster on top.
I forgot to take a picture of this before I dug in. It was some sort of sweet potato or pumpkin mousse with sardines (maybe) on top segments of orange. It was one of the highlights for sure.
Pretty sure that is a piece of fish that tasted very meaty. I should explain, I only have pictures of some of the courses and as I said I lost track of how many of them there were.
Probably fish with shell fish of some sort. At this point in the meal I was thinking, surely it must be time for dessert. But then they brought our truffle gelato for a palate cleanser before our entree. Say what? First I hate truffles and the thought of it as an ice cream made me more than a little hesitant. But I popped the whole thing in my mouth and not only was it delicious but it did oddly cleanse the palate.
This was a piece of beef and a piece of pork (I don’t recall which was which). I’m pretty sure this was the only meat we were served and it was spectacular.
John also took the wine pairing (I was driving and did not). Here you see them starting to pile up.
This was some sort of citrus sorbetto before dessert. Now, normally I don’t mind this kind of thing, but it would hardly be something I would want to talk about afterwards. In this case, however, it was so spectacular I wanted another. The pink thing on top was a grapefruit supreme that was itself spectacular. I don’t know what they did to it but it was sublime. And normally I can’t eat grapefruit as it tastes like the bitterest thing in the world to me.
So the brought us some real, and delicious dessert but I failed to take a picture of it and I have zero recollection of what it was. I do remember it was very good. These sweets are the little confections they bring out about the time they bring the check. I was so full I didn’t eat much this.
And then they brought out a panettone. I mean c’mon. I turned in my chair and said there was no way I could eat another thing, let alone a third dessert. They persuaded us otherwise.
He gave us smallish pieces because we were so full. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
First, the panettone was out of this world delicious. Second , whatever that vanilla sauce was it was the most amazing thing ever. Third, the preserved tangerine gave it a perfect bit of brightness. Even though I was full beyond comprehension, if the waiter had been anywhere near our table I would have asked for more. This was soul satisfyingly good.
We waddled our way through the streets of Ibla past the duomo from which the restaurant takes its name.
Some sort of sun dial I think?
Modern porch looks perfect in this context.
Lovely gardens at the edge of the town.
Me, before the lunchtime blow out.

A picnic in Dubrovnik, well, Lokrum

Old town Dubrovnik was such a visually stunning town. Easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And it got even nicer as evening fell and the tour buses began to leave. (I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones in my life but the hordes of tourists in Dubrovnik certainly have and every tour guide we overheard seemed to be talking about it.)

While we were there we picked up our picnic that we had arranged ahead of time with Alexandra at Piknik Dubrovnik. It was full of delicious, carefully packed, local food and wine that provided the perfect repast when we took the ferry out to the island of Lokrum.

Alexandra, the proprietor of Piknik Dubrovnik said her printer was on the fritz so she drew us a map of Lokrum by hand.
This is actually the “after” picture. The blanket and table cloth were much more neatly rolled when we picked up the backpack from Alexandra.
Happily we found a log bench that worked really well as a table. Nice view and wonderful ocean breezes.
Among other things, our picnic included Croatian charcuterie that was really delicious and different than what I am used to, it had a definite Croatian flair.
There wasn’t one thing that wasn’t delicious, but that little container of stone fruit with mint you can barely see in the lower right corner was just what the doctor ordered. Taste of summer.
The strawberries were red all the way through. So much more flavorful than the sad things we are used to eating normally.
We finished just in time for a torrential downpour. Thankfully we stayed dry in the cloister of the ruined monastery on the island. And best part is the sun came out again so we could spend some time swimming before taking the ferry back to the mainland.

And more pictures of the old town. Couldn’t get enough of it.

Makarska

It’s quite a surprise to wake up in the morning to find that someone has placed mountains outside your window. Makarska is a lovely little town with a spectacular setting but it wasn’t as interesting as Hvar. And like other stops on our trip, it was hot. Granted, there were amazing breezes that were refreshing if one was sitting in the shade, but overall it did put limitations on our interest in exploring. We did take one very pleasant walk through the park just opposite the harbor on a hook of land that fronts the ocean.  However, after a day of sweaty sightseeing, one bad meal, and being in town as Croatia was gearing up to win their World Cup match against Nigeria, we decided to spend our second day in Makarska on the ship reading, puzzling, pooling, eating, and watching the scenery change as the anchored ship drifted into different positions throughout the day.

Staying cool in Hvar

Hvar was a magical place. We were there for about two and half days. I did a guided walking tour on the first afternoon while John took a sunset photography tour/class. (The better pictures below of details are likely the result of his camera.) For a day and a half we had been hot as heck and surrounded by the aquamarine gorgeousness of the Adriatic, but unable to actually get in. On our final afternoon we were desperate to get into the water and we made it our mission to do so. It was amazing. Very refreshingly cool and quite salty. Turns out the Adriatic is a very floaty.

It wasn’t until I saw this sign when I got off the tender that I realized that HRVATSKA is Croatian for Croatia.
I like to fantasize about what this looked like and how it was used on the day that it was finished. (And who the owners and builders were.)
I tried a million times to get a good shot of this spire, but it had an essence that wasn’t easy to capture on film. And we didn’t.
The main square in Hvar town.
All of these passageways with stairs were so charming.
Again back to my architectural fantasy. Did the owner sit down with the mason and say “Not all of my windows should be rectangles. Do you have anything in a Gothicky, pointy, quatrefoil kind of thing?”
According to my guide, the brackets with the holes in them were meant to hold dowels from which wet cloth could be hung–not as in to dry laundry, but to cool down the interior during the hot, but windy, summer months.
The guide also told us that the attitude of the animal in these carvings revealed whether things at the time were peaceful or not. Something about the book in his paws and his tail, but I don’t remember.
What I don’t have a picture of is the other end of the waterfront that had many rocky beaches for swimming. Since we didn’t break any kind of water socks and our feet are not exactly tough, we found a beach club that had loungers and, more importantly, platforms with stairs so one could get into the water without having to walk on point rocks. It was so cool and refreshing. And it had the added benefit of table service so cocktails and french fries happened as well.


We also visited a lavender farm and Stari Grad (Old Town)

 

Lesson learned: It takes an ungodly amount of lavender to produce lavender oil.
A side street in Stari Grad.
Midday things were kind of quiet in Stari Grad. Although just to the right of this photo there were some shops and cafes that livened things up.
You have no idea how good this felt.

Near Rijeka

Our first port of call after Venice, and our first time in Croatia, was the city of Rijeka–Croatia’s third largest. Rijeka itself had some great old Belle Epoque-era architecture, of which we took no pictures. I think it would have been an interesting place to explore but once again the heat did us in. And let me say something about that heat. We get hotter in DC but we also don’t go traipsing around the city taking pictures. Plus the sun in Croatia felt particularly strong. Maybe all the haze we get in humid Washington dulls the fierceness of the sun. In Croatia we felt like ants under a magnifying glass.

We took an organized tour to Mošćenice and Opatija. The former was a tiny little village where we were able to take a picturesque photo or two and the latter was a rather upscale resort town but didn’t really lend itself to an organized tour. Our tour guides seem to have nothing interesting to say. I know that can’t be true but I found myself so bored. And I like boring things. I think part of the problem was that I had taken a preventative Dramamine  (which I didn’t need) so I was sleepy and hot. In Opatija, John and I left the tour group and sat ourselves at a shady table on a beautiful hotel terrace and had ourselves giant ice creams.

When we got back to the ship we headed straight for the pool and a cocktail or two before cleaning up to go to dinner at Kukuriku in the charming nearby village of Kastav. When we arrived a grade school graduation was just wrapping up so the square in front of the restaurant was buzzing with local life.