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Trip Report Trip report: a taste of Italy Sicily, Sorrento, Orvieto, Siena, and Montalcino

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March 22 to April 21, 2006

I had been planning our next trip to Italy when my wife told me that a friend of hers and her husband would like to come along. They knew our travel style and it was what they wanted to do. So the travel plans changed a little to give my wife's friends a taste of Italy. The plan was nine days in Sicily, seven days in Sorrento, two days in Orvieto, two days in Siena, seven days in Montalcino, and two days in Florence. The closing of the Florence airport changed our flights and my timing. The last two days would be one in Florence and one in Pisa.

Wednesday 22 March
The flight out of Wichita to Chicago was delayed so we had to hurry to make our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, then the flight to Rome was late arriving and we hurried to make the flight to Cantina. At the Air One check-in the girl at the desk told us it was too late to check in even though the lounge was full since they hadn't started boarding yet. I explained that we were late arriving because their sister airline, Lufthansa, was late. She didn't care. Fortunately another girl at the desk told her to check us in. Arriving at Cantina we found that our bags didn't make the plane. We filled out the forms making sure that they had the address and phone number of our first stop, La Masseria http://www.lamasseriabb.it/english/dovesiamo.htm

Thursday
We had no trouble picking up our car from Autoeuropa (rented through Autoeurope) and getting to the Autostrada. We got off the Messina-Cantina Autostrada at Giarre and pulled over on a very wide exit from the motorway. I then called Mario. In previous e-mails I tried to get directions to La Masseria but Mario said to just call him from the Giarre exit. When I called Mario said he would be there in five minute, driving a Jaguar. Five minutes later a white Jaguar pulled into the entrance/exit, waved to us, and headed out the exit. We followed. The white Jaguar speed through traffic and in three minutes I lost it. I called Mario and told him I was sitting in front of a church and read the name off it. Three minutes later a blue Jaguar pulls up next to us and says to follow him to Masseria. He drives slowly and ten minutes later we are at La Masseria.

Mario shows us around La Masseria and ended on the deck overlooking the orange grove. I asked him if there was anywhere to eat lunch, it was now 2:00 (waiting for our bags and filling out the forms had taken about an hour and a half). Mario said everything was closed but he could make something simple to hold us until dinner. We told him not to bother but he insisted and immediately started making lunch. While he was cooking I asked him if it was his son in the white Jaguar we followed. He had the deer caught in headlights look. Apparently we followed a stranger who must have waved to one of the cars behind us. When I explained what happened he thought it was funny and that explained why I didn't wait at the exit.

Lunch was great. A large macaroni with bacon, peppers, and tomato accompanied by a carafe of local wine was more than I expected. Dinner was pasta with tuna sauce and grilled swordfish and lots of wine. Mario asks when we want breakfast and we figure we will be up early so we tell him 7:30.

Friday
We wake up at 5:30, so we get dressed and decide to walk down to the town of Macchia de Giarre. At 6:30 nothing is open and all we succeed in doing is waking every dog in town. After breakfast we call the number on our lost bag document and get an automated voice that tells us our bags have been found and have been picked up or are being delivered. There is no way to get a human on the phone.

We drive over the ridge behind La Masseria and take pictures of Mount Etna then head to Taormina. It is easy to get there, about 30 minutes, and we park in an underground garage and take the bus to the town. The Greek theater is amazing as are the views. We walk the town and have a nice lunch at La Cisterna del Moro where we can sit on the terrace and admire the view. A few necessities are taken care of: we hit the ATM (we already have euro from an ATM in Frankfurt airport but you can never have too much) and make sure our friends have their first gelato. They decide that a daily gelato break is a necessity.

Back at La Masseria we ask Mario for help locating our bags. With all our lost bag documents he can only get the same automated response we got. Mario calls a friend who works for Alitalia in Rome and then informs us he will pick up the bags at Cantina airport tomorrow and put them in our rooms.

We go into the dining area even though it is about a half hour until dinner. Mario is singing to 60's rock and roll and cooking. When he sees us he changes the music to Italian and brings us a carafe of wine. He tells us that rock and roll is the music of his youth and we say 'ours too, crank it up'! We sing and dance as Mario prepares a pappardella with mushrooms and veal with vegetables and fresh fruit for dessert and of course wine. After dinner be brings out the limoncello and we start to discuss politics. When the second bottle of limoncello is empty we decide it is time for bed. It was a great evening at La Masseria.

Saturday
The next day after a great breakfast Mario heads for the airport to get our bags and we head to Acriale. This is Saturday and market day in Acriale, my wife, Pat, is happy. After too much shopping we stroll the town and see the Duomo and go to the puppet museum (our friends are very interested in the puppets) but the museum is closed until 4:40. We have a nice lunch at La Leggende and then head back to La Masseria.

When we get back our bags are in our rooms. We find out later that the bags arrived 3 hours after we did and just sat for two days. Dinner was pasta, swordfish kabobs rolled in cheese and pine nuts, stuffed mussels and strawberries for dessert.

I really liked La Masseria mostly because of Mario. He made us feel welcome and went out of his way to do things for us. He was prompt with e-mail replies and when I said I wanted to do something other than wire a deposit he said no deposit was necessary. At 35 euro per person for the bed and breakfast and 15 euro for dinner I thought it was a bargain. In addition he didn't charge us for lunch (I did offer) or for the vast quantity of wine we drank or for the limoncello. I highly recommend La Masseria. The web pages are accurate and the location, about five minutes from the Autostrada, makes everything easily reachable.

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