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Rosemary's visit to Sicily

Our friend Rosemary left behind the UK heatwave (it is true) and spent a week with us recently in Sicily. Luckily, we also had good weather and spent our time visiting the Baroque towns of Syracuse, Noto and Modica. We sampled huge granitas in Noto, gluten-free pizzas in Syracuse and soya ice-cream in Modica and enjoyed every mouthful.

Come and see us again soon Rosemary.

The Greek temples of Agrigento

Considered to be one of Southern Europe's most compelling archaeological sites, the 1300-hectare Valley of the Temples park encompasses the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas. Together with friends Dan & Judi, we decided to make a visit to see this UNESCO site for ourselves.

Arriving around lunchtime, we decided to spend our first afternoon at the archaeological museum. It was filled with hundreds of artefacts found in and around the area, some dating back to the 6th century BC. The coin collection there was also very well exhibited with sliding magnifying instruments to help you see the details on the coins.

We spent that night at Villa San Marco, a B&B situated in a perfect location (once you find it! - just follow the dirt track, going through the arch, right next to the museum) overlooking the Valley of the Temples, which was illuminated at night. Vicenzo looked after us very well and we enjoyed a lovely breakfast sat in the sunshine watching the resident peacocks strutting their stuff.

It was a perfect spring day to visit the site. The sun shone on the rich red stone and the deep blue sky made for some great photos. The Tempio della Concordia, one of the best preserved Greek temples in existence and model for the UNESCO logo, has survived almost entirely intact since its construction in 430 BC. There are several reasons for this, one being that it was converted into a Christian basilica in the 6th century and the main structure was reinforced. Another reason however is that the temple stands on a layer of soft clay that acts as a natural shock absorber, protecting it from earthquake tremors.

Tempio di Hera is perched on a high ridge offering magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Much of the colonnade is still intact, as it the long altar, originally used for sacrifices. The traces of red on the stones however are most likely to have occurred during a fire during the Carthaginian invasion of 406 BC.

Tempio di Ercole is the oldest, dating from the end of 6 BC. But Tempio di Giove, would have been the largest Doric temple ever built had its construction not been interrupted by the Carthaginians. In the archaeological museum, we were able to see a cork reconstruction of the temple to get an idea of its size and beauty.

The drive there and back gave us a chance to see the different kinds of countryside there is here. Close to Marina di Ragusa are lots of greenhouses growing all sorts of vegetables. As you travel further west, towards Agrigento, the countryside becomes much greener with rolling fields and lots of vines.

Click HERE for the photos

San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) Celebrations

In Western Christianity, St. Joseph's Day is the principal feast celebrating St. Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary.

In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron Saint, thanks are given to St. Joseph ("San Giuseppe" in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honour him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph's Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph's Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a zeppola. Sweets are popular because St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs.

Upon a typical St. Joseph's Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table.

We celebrated in the evening by visiting the nearby town of Donnalucata to watch flower decorated horses parade along the main street. Bible scenes were depicted in flowers on a frame that the horses wore. The riders and handlers all wore traditional dress of black, white and red.

Click HERE for the photos

What have we been doing all winter????

Having enjoyed ourselves last winter in the UK & USA, we decided to return again this winter to see family and friends. We've been so busy having fun that we just didn't have time to keep the blog up-to-date with it all.

We are now back on board in Sicily and have finally updated the blog. So, grab a drink, sit back and read on for our latest updates, long overdue, with link to the photos.

Florida Fun

Our time in Florida was mostly spent with our good friends, Katherine and Craig. We enjoyed lots of good times together including a day spent at the Miami Boat Show where we all manned the SSCA stand and signed up some new members before checking out the show ourselves and bringing some goodies back too.

We also visited the Museum of Science & Discovery in Fort Lauderdale where I wanted to test out the 93mph hurricane wind simulator (well, it seemed a lot safer than the real thing) and we both got up close to a shark. Chris also tried a flight simulator and though he crashed the plane, we agreed that we would probably both have survived it! A great place to visit for interactive and informative fun.

Click HERE for the photos

Asheville Arboretum

From Florida, we headed north to South Carolina to spend some time with my brother, David.

The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains are the location of Asheville's arboretum, a collection of trees, bonsai, outdoor exhibits and quilting. A sunny day provided us with a walk around the grounds, through the woods and creek before we spent time admiring the wonderful bonsai collection.

Click HERE for the photos.

The Grove Park Inn Spa & The Grand Bohemian Hotel

The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains were also the setting of a special trip for us thanks to my brother. To celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary, we were treated to a visit to the magical spa at The Grove Park Inn for a couples massage followed by champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries. From there were headed over to The Grand Bohemian Hotel were we dined on elk and sampled the local blueberry port. A wonderful trip, thank you David.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Whilst in South Carolina to visit my brother, we spent the day in Charlotte at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The exhibition was very well presented with lots of interactive exhibits that included a simulated ride in one of the cars around a NASCAR track.

NASCAR originates from the days of prohibition when alcohol was outlawed in the USA and the locals, who made their own brew, were out pacing the police who were chasing them in their cars. The locals made their cars faster and faster and by the time prohibition came to an end, stock car racing had become a popular sport. Following lots of accidents, some fatal, the decision was taken to put some order into the sport and NASCAR was born.

Click HERE for the photos

Darian, Georgia

On our way back to Florida from South Carolina we visited Darian, a small town close to Brunswick, not very far from the Florida border. The highlight of our visit was a trip to St. George's Fort, named after King George. It was the oldest fort in Georgia, built around 1721. The original fort didn't last very long, but it has been recreated to show the importance of the location when England, France and Spain were all fighting for control of the area. The trees all around were covered in Spanish Moss, famous in that area. It gives the trees a very spooky look to them.

The town still supports a large shrimping industry but you wouldn't want to fall into the water - a sign warned of fast swimming alligators!

Click HERE for the photos.

Houston – we have lift off!

Not to be missed on a trip to Florida, the Kennedy Space Centre did not disappoint. We met up with our pals, Katherine and Craig, and spent the day being totally amazed by man's achievements and the world both around us and beyond. The IMAX film of images sent back to earth from the Hubble telescope of stars being born and galaxies trillions of light years away made us feel very small indeed. The fact that no other planet has yet been found to support human life made us realise just how special planet Earth is and how we should cherish it. This film should be made compulsory viewing for everyone.

Click HERE for the photos.

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Who: Chris & Sandra Mennem
Port: Shotley, UK
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