Syracuse (or Siracusa), the city known for its white buildings and Greek architecture, was our last stop in Sicily. We had every intention of going to Palermo but our plans were spoiled when we realized that all of the trains from Syracuse to Palermo and Palermo to Rome were sold out. It was the end of August and the end of holidays for many Italians, so we really shouldn’t have been surprised. Up until this point, we’d been traveling all over Italy, buying train tickets on the day we needed them. We were nearing the date of our departing flight from Italy to Egypt, so we couldn’t be quite so flexible. At the time, we were a bit crushed about missing out on Palermo, a city that everyone raves about. But in retrospect, Syracuse was just the right place to end our Sicilian adventures.
Allow me to introduce my favourite (food) discovery of the year: Granita. You may remember granita was our top pick in the Top 10 Ten Vegan Desserts of 2010 post. We first heard about this frozen treat, which is made from water, sugar and fruit or almonds, when we were in the north of Italy. We saw it from time to time in gelato shops while in Venice and Florence, but waited until we made our way down to Sicily before trying it. In Sicily, you’ll find the best granita in the world (duh, they invented it!). Knowing this, we held out for the good stuff.
After a two night stay in Messina, we packed our bags and caught an early train heading towards Acireale, a coastal city in the north-east of Catania, Sicily, Italy. The train tracks kept us close to the sea and time passed quickly as we zipped by beach after beach. About half way between Messina and Acireale is a small town called Taormina. Several people recommended we stop there and take in the famous views. We were traveling with our big backpacks but decided we could stop for the afternoon and stash our luggage in lockers at the train station. Sadly, the lockers were out of order. This meant we had to lug our bags up the cliff. Normally it wouldn’t have been a big deal, especially considering there was a bus to get us most of the way, but it was a super hot day. We sucked it up and made it to the top where there were two special things waiting for us: gorgeous coastal views and some of the best vegan gelato we found all year.
We managed to cover a lot of ground during our month in Italy. After traveling south from Padova to Rome, stopping in a bunch of cities along the way, we then took an overnight train from Rome to Sicily. Our first stop was Messina, a small border town. Most people told us to skip it but we wanted to make a quick stop so we could meet Päivi and Santeri, two (newly) vegan nomads who have been traveling since 2004. It was a quick visit but they taught us a valuable lesson: how to make fresh vegan pasta from scratch.
We visited Rome from Sermoneta, taking the train in after breakfast and returning in time for dinner. We were so busy walking around Rome, taking in all of the sights and sounds, that we didn’t stop to eat at any of the city’s vegetarian restaurants. We did, however, make a special trip to Il Gelatone for some soy gelato. We went for ice cream not once, but twice…
Before we went to Italy, if I had to guess which city was going to be my favourite, I’d probably have said one of the big, famous places like Rome or Venice. But, as it turns out, one of our favourite stops was in Sermoneta, a small town in the Latina province that’s about 40 minutes from Rome by train.
We were two weeks into our Italian getaway before we realized we hadn’t eaten in a single restaurant. With all the veggie restaurants closed for August, we weren’t tempted. We used this time to give our budget a break and cook our own meals. By the time we arrived in Sermoneta, which is about 40 minutes outside of Rome by train, we were ready to treat ourselves. We were delighted when our Couch Surfing host, Martine, suggested we eat at Le Piccole Vele (The Little Sales), a small restaurant located in the Lepini Mountains, just a short drive from Sermoneta. The picture above may not look like much, but it captures the scene. After driving up the mountain, we parked the car and came around a bend to see these lights shining from inside a small house, and smoke coming off the barbecue. We knew we were in for a special meal.
We ate a lot of pizza in Italy. Just look! Whenever we found ourselves craving pizza, there was a pizzeria anxious to serve one up. Pizza often seemed like the best option when we were out and about, sight seeing and away from any kitchen. They’re a great choice because they’re cheap, easy to share, and can be taken to a park for a simple picnic lunch.
Italians love their food, and so do tourists visiting Italy. If Florence wasn’t totally jam packed with beautiful outdoor sculptures, buzzing piazzas (squares), river views, famous museums and churches, we would have probably eaten the city out of ice cream and pizza. Despite the welcomed distractions, we managed to make a good dent. Our Couch Surfing host was vegan, and had a real sweet tooth. As soon as we arrived in the city, she directed us to her favourite ice cream parlor, Perche No!. I’m known for choosing soy milk gelato, for the creaminess, but on this rare occasion opted for a scoop of fruity fig and peach, because you just don’t see these flavours everyday. They were fresh, light and oh so satisfying.