Monday, May 18, 2009

Italy Vacation (Day 5) – May 11, 2009

I woke up MUCH later this time. In fact by the time I had gotten out of the shower, MO was already up and moving around, eating breakfast, playing with dogs, and waiting patiently for my lazy ass. She made some reference to a list of chores she had made expecting me to be up at 7am again – I conveniently slept right through those chores.

We hopped in the car to go find this super old castle – Castello Eurialo – just north of Syracusa (Syracuse). On the way there, MO drove me past various “umbrella girls.” This was seriously one of the highlights of my trip. I’ll tell you why in a second. Umbrella Girls are prostitutes which line the highway between cities. So they tend to be out in the country side underneath giant beach umbrellas waiting for Johns to drive by, slam on their brakes, and reverse… on the highway. On top of this, when the girls are really working their stuff, they step out in front of your car, or they show you their goods (or not so goods), so it’s quite an adventure driving down these roads. And it’s not in isolated spots – these girls line the highway for MILES. MO especially likes it when we came to “whitey corners” which is where the more expensive lighter-skinned prostitutes work and ask for more money (we’re assuming here). And no, I didn’t take advantage of any umbrella opportunities, before you ask.

(Blanket apology to Gerd’s family for this next paragraph…) This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because Gerd and I used to drive our friends into downtown Minneapolis to look at whores when our friends came up from Illinois. It was generally a highlight of our tour, ask Coach and the Delivery Boy. We would drive down by the clubs and watch the trampy girls show their goods or watch party busses filled with club sluts show their hoo-has to the spectators. It was great fun. So you can imagine how bummed I was that Gerd didn’t get to see international whores with MO and I. She would have loved it. I video-taped part of the drive, so you can hear MO and I talking about it. The file is too large to post anywhere, so you'll have to ask if you really want to hear it. ha ha ha

Back to the castle - We eventually found the castle after multiple missed turns and U-turns. It's not labeled very well, to say the least. The castle was built in 402 B.C., so it is by far the oldest thing I have ever touched. The castle is in ruins, but some of the caverns and passageways underneath are still accessible. It was really cool. Also, lots of lizards and bees. I took far too many photos, but you’ll have to deal with it. I love stuff like this. MO’s injured foot was acting up, so she told me to go explore underground and she would sit up on top and work on her tan. Since we were the only people at the ruins, I felt it was safe to abandon her and go take some photos with both of our cameras (double fisting cameras).

We left the ruins and headed into Syracusa proper. MO was telling about this national historical campus where there’s an ancient roman amphitheater, a huge quarry, a greek theater, and something called the “Ear of Dionysius.” The big park is called Neapolis (which apparently is the bigger version of the Mini-version that I live in – ha ha ha). MO’s foot was still in pain, so she sent me in to take some photos. She said she would be back here in a few weeks to catch a greek tragedy put on at the theater, so I could take some photos and then we’d head back home. We decided to score her some lunch first so she could eat in the car while I was running madly through the ruins. I scored some gelato for her as well, cause I’m good like that.

I had to walk like 2 miles to the ticket booth since none of the satellite ticket booths were open this day. So I walked through the middle of the park, grabbed my ticket and started back through the park to take some photos. There’s a pretty sweet roman amphitheater, very similar in design to the coliseum in Rome, with seating for like 15,000, passageways for moving equipment, people, and animals, and it’s in really good shape.

Next was the “Ara Di Ierone II” or the Altar to Ierone the second. This is a seriously giant altar where they could sacrifice up for 450 bulls at once. It’s in bad shape now, but you can see how immense the things is.

Next was the greek theater. This is a ancient theater set into the hillside, complete with box seats, and pumped in water from the aqueduct and overlooking the sea. It’s actually quite beautiful. And they were doing a dress rehearsal for the greek tragedy that MO would be seeing the following week. I’m glad she didn’t see it or she would have known Darth Maul dies at the end.

Then I went to do a quick check of the quarry where they cut most of the stones for Syracusa. It’s a huge quarry where they’ve simply cut large stones out of the walls for building blocks and pillars. Very cool to see how large these things are right out of the tapper. Ha ha.

Finally, I got to see the Ear of Dionysius. This is basically a huge echo chamber cut into the rock wall. It’s designed to return an echo only once. When I went in, it was pitch black, but my eyes adjusted. There were large tour groups in there when I went in. At one point, every single person left the ear canal except for me. So I fire up my best “ka-kawwwwww”, and end up cracking myself up at the echo… right as two young kids walked in and looked at me funny. Sorry boys, bird noises are a universal language. MO has a fear of birds and one of the guidebooks mentioned pigeons living in the cave, so she said she wouldn’t be going in there. I assured her I only saw like 2 pigeons hundreds of feet above me, so not to worry. If you’ve got the same fear, don’t be scared. It’s fine.

Right next to the Ear is another cave entrance for the cave of the ropemakers. It was closed off and looked kind of boring, so I took a quick photo and left. I guess they made ropes in here. Oooohhhh, scary... ha ha ha.

We bailed out of Syracusa and headed back for home. I took the wheel from MO, so she could rest her foot a bit. It was the first time I’ve driven in Europe – which is sad considering I’ve been to Europe so many times. We all thought it was an excellent idea as I sped down the highway dodging hookers like I was playing PaperBoy. Then we remembered I had surrendered my driver’s license to the Navy back at the base and maybe I shouldn’t be driving. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. We took a quick drive through Mineo (the closest town to the Navy base) and I hit the ATM so I could buy dinner that evening. MO told me Mineo is the home of nativity scenes. I’m not even sure what that means, but it cracked me up.

For dinner, MO had gotten us reservations at the Agriturismo, Borgo Antico. An agriturismo is a family farm which houses a really nice dining room and everything they serve to you is produced on the farm, from meat and cheese, to wine and desserts. It’s a brilliant concept which is growing in popularity around Europe, but I know it’s been around a while. This place was awesome. There were other couples that had canceled their reservations that night, so it was literally just MO and I in the dining room that night. The couple that run the place were super nice and friendly. MO is a semi-regular there, so they know here and gave us the silver platter service. Here’s the best part – you pay one price and they just keep bringing you food and wine.

I took a ton of photos, but still couldn’t get everything in a picture that we ate. We counted about 13 appetizers/small plates, pasta disc, soup, salad, two meats, dessert, after dinner drinks, and a really unique but tasty wine. Did you catch all that? We kept getting up to walk around the dining room to make sure it would all fit. The wine was almost fizzy or carbonated. It was really unique for a red, but it was really good. I would definitely drink this again.

Here’s some of what we got (just what I can remember):
  • olive plate
  • sundried tomatoes
  • old pecorino cheese
  • zucchini and parmesan
  • eggplant pomodoro
  • this egg soufflé/ouovo frittata thing
  • awesome sausage
  • tuma vecchia (old tuma) and some cheese with an “L” in it
  • prosciutto and melon (which I had been dying for for days
  • baby onions with parmesan on top
  • artichoke hearts
  • fried ricotta
  • bell pepper slices rolled with breadcrumbs
  • Casa Recci (pasta)
  • a kind of fideo soup with potatoes and artichokes
  • meatballs and some sort of meat franks (insert inappropriate joke here)
  • breaded veal chops with prosciutto and cheese inside
  • chocolate cake with candied orange peel (which I now know I love)

After dinner the guy asked us what kind of drinks we wanted and we couldn’t decide, so he brought us all of them. Limoncello, which you’ve heard me talk about. Chocolatecello, which is like rich chocolate and lighterfluid – freaking amazing. And then citronella, which comes from the citronella plant. Yes, the same plant that kills mosquitoes. And despite the fact that it tasted just a TAD like bug spray, I really liked this. Of course, it might have been the carafes of wine I drank since MO was driving back to the base and couldn’t get hit with the breathalyzer.

I’m super bummed that Gerd didn’t get to share this meal with me. Up until this point, the best meal I’ve ever had has been with her, and I feel guilty eating the meal that beat that one without her. This meal was truly a food lover’s dream-come-true. She would have annoyed all of her friends and family by talking about this meal for years.
MO and I headed home after talking to the husband and wife team for a half hour. They were both really cool people. He wants to visit Canada and she wants to visit Turkey. I’m not sure who’s going to win that battle – they both seemed pretty strong in their stance on vacations. When we got home, MO began speculating about the umbrella girls. She apparently has lots of questions she’d like answered.

  • Are they expected to serve a certain number of years? Or until they’re used up?
  • What happens when they’re done? Are they killed or retired with pension? (MO asked this question by using the term “glue factory” which absolutely slayed me) Are they ground up for perfume? Are they sent to sweat shops?
  • What happens to their chairs and milk crates after hours?
  • Why are they always on their cell phones?
  • Why aren’t they reading books, filling out job/school applications, playing suduko or brain teasers?
  • Do they get female customers or just men?

Considering the whole operation is run by the mafia, I’d suggest NOT asking those questions to too many people around town. I think the mafia’s new rule is “If it’s not on Wikipedia, you don’t need to know.”

Top 5 things about day 5
1. The whores (sorry mom, it’s true)
2. Borgo Antico Agriturismo
3. Castello Eurialo
4. Syracusa’s Neapolis
5. MO’s list of questions about umbrella girls

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd should have been eating that amazing meal with us
2. Gerd would have loved the umbrella girls more than appropriate
3. MO’s bum foot. I wasn’t completely recovered yet, but I was better. She missed cool stuff
4. Ropemaker’s cave. Lame
5. So many unanswered questions about whores

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