Tag Archives: beauty

Noto: Blooming Lovely!

Around every third Sunday in May, Noto holds a flower festival. Now, I am familiar with Cities in Bloom in the UK but this festival is something else. It would knock every city I know out of the competition. I first went two years ago and was taken aback by how colourful the display was and amazed by how creative the designs were. This year was even better. There were flower displays everywhere! Noto is a pretty city anyway but the festival really brings it alive. I would go as far as saying that it is the best festival in Sicily and that says a lot as there are many.

We arrived early in the morning to beat the crowds. I am so glad that we did as we were the first up through a narrow and winding staircase to get a bird’s eye view of this year’s main display. The theme changes every year and this year it was ‘Ospiti il Mondo’ or ‘The world is our guest’ (or close enough). The displays are made up of soil, petals, flower heads and even vegetables. I have posted a photo which shows the damage a bit of wind can do but these ‘temporary works of art’ are taken care of and any dying flowers are quickly replaced. The main display takes up a whole street, there are churches either end where for a small fee you can admire the displays from their rooftops (worth it) and withoutany fee whatsoever you can walk alongside the flower displays but patience is a must as everyone wants to stop to take photos and who can blame them? First time visitors should take note and not forget to look up from the eye-catching art as the baroque balconies are outstanding. This year there were further displays near to a church and along another street further along. There were also lots of craft stalls, some traditional entertainment and lots of refreshments on offer, including some lovely craft beer which was I could go on and describe in detail what I saw but as a picture says a thousand words, I will post a lot of pictures instead. Although if you can get here and see it for yourself next year, even better!

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Descending into the Valle del Bove

‘Hmmm….’ the Parco Del Etna guide looked us up and down, ‘…………..they are walking shoes, not boots and have you got anything warmer it can get cold up there’. My partner and I looked at each other and promptly decided we would be fine as we had used the same shoes in Iceland where there are far more volcanoes, we had warm clothes in our backpacks (which in the end we didn’t need anyway) and that the guide had just felt the need to say something as tends to be the case here in Sicily. Someone is always there with some unwanted advice and this was no different. This was confirmed when others joined us and the guide said nothing about their ‘inappropriate footwear’.

Every now and again, the Parco Dell Etna organise walking tours at the weekend. You pay a very small and reasonable fee and you get to discover new walks on Etna whilst learning titbits of information along the way. Finding out about these walks is down to luck as they are not advertised very well and you therefore often come across them by chance, as I did. This one particulary intrigued me as it was a walk into the Valle de Bove or Valley of the Bulls. I have stood at various points and looked down into the Valle del Bove but never have I actually ventured into it, mainly because I had no idea how to get there.

The Valle del Bove is a massive, wide valley that was thought to be created from a collapsed crater. It hugely important as the majority of lava flows from eruptions end up here and the basin is so large that it is able to take all this lava thereby protecting the towns on the lower slopes of Etna – most of the time anyway. When you see it you can’t quite take in how big it is but what you definitely notice is that it is one vast, black expanse of lava. For more information on its formation, click here, it is quite an interesting read!Above the clouds

The weather was perfect on the morning of the walk. Clear blue skies gave us the best view of Etna that we have ever had as we made our way up the winding roads to Rifugio Sapienza. A group of about 20 of us took the cable cars up to a height of 2,500 m. The view of distant mountain peaks and the occasional lake was  quite a breathtaking sight. We walked uphill for a short distance before veering away from the main craters and walking to a ridge which overlooked the Valle del Bove. Here, the panorama was something else. Yes, we could see the mainland of Italy to our left but on our right we were also able to make out the Scogliera at Aci Trezza. As we marvelled at the view a cloud of ash blew out of one of the craters behind us.Black & Red

As we stood on the ridge, I kept looking at the angle of the slope we were about to go down. A steep slope which consisted of volcanic sand. As we started to descend my legs felt a bit wobbly and I nearly lost my bottle but I soon learnt to lean back slightly to steady myself and before I knew it I was taking bigger and more confident steps. The sand was so soft that it went up to almost knee height. Little by little people grew in confidence and soon one or two of them went flying past me. It didn’t matter that we were only wearing walking shoes and  not boots as everyone had to stop now and then to empty the sand from their shoes. The changing landscape and views as we made out way down continued to impress as we snapped away with our cameras and phones. Several stops to empty shoes (and boots, I gleefully add) later we arrived at the bottom of the valley where we pearched on some lava rocks and ate something, lamented how we should have brought some wine with us and emptied our shoes again.Angles It's all downhill from here The long way down

The next part of the walk was equally as fascinating as we meandered through the valley past different lava formations, jumping over large cracks and finding a new route around a large rockfall.Cracked open

After a brief respite we started the climb out of the valley. We had to climb over a few trees which had fallen across the path and the climb was steep. Most of us stopped to take photos of a particulary poisonous mushroom which glowed bright red against the black earth. For me, it was a great excuse to catch my ever dwindling breath. Once we got to the top, we were again met by beautiful views of one of the craters and the Valle de Bove. I managed to appreciate it despite my now wobbling legs.

We then completed our walk passing through a familiar trail and all feeling tired but satisfied with the day’s walk. The only downside was the large amount of litter we encountered at the car park. All those ignorant people who picnic there and dump their rubbish should be hanging their heads in the shame as they are destroying the very nature that the flock to visit.

Getting undressed at the hairdressers

Italian women are more often than not impeccably turned out or at the very least stylish. They take care of themselves and most of them before they slip into their 40s and 50s are enviably slim. So slim in fact that I sometimes wonder if they have any internal body organs. I could lose all of my body fat and I still wouldn’t fit into the skinny jeans they wear with such ease. A more robust person like myself finds it extremely difficult to buy clothes that fit, in fact I have come back from recent clothes shopping expeditions empty-handed and rather deflated.

Most Italian women spend a few hours getting ready, wear make-up, accessorise well and delight in discussing the latest fashions. I am definitely NOT like most Italian women and I get a fair amount of bad looks in the street from them to confirm this. My ‘mother-in-law’ often describes me as simple. I cringe everytime I hear it but she dishes it out constantly as a veiled compliment. My partner instead often refers to me as a ‘wild woman’, like the unruly Celtic warriors that the Romans encountered when they first invaded Wales. I guess it is just that I can’t do the vain thing. I often go whole days without looking in the mirror, when I do it is not unusual for me to screw my face up at my appearance or stick my tongue out at my reflection. My beauty routine consists of showering, applying a bit of UV moisturiser, a quick brush of the hair and that’s it, I’m done. My partner more often than not takes longer to get ready.

Frequently, I am given unwanted, and it goes without saying, unheeded advice on how to dress, what to do with my hair etc. I used to teach a class of 8 year-olds who seemed very concerned that I was single. Every lesson they would ask me if I had found someone, pass looks of disappointment and frustration between themselves when I consistently reported back that no I hadn’t and then they would proceed to lecture me on my appearance. I would be told that in order to get a guy I would need to constantly flick my hair back, wear make-up, high heels and even worse a low cut top and mini-skirt. Hmmmm, so they wanted me to hang out in the street and look like a prostitute. I had to refrain from giving them a lesson about feminism and women’s rights instead of English although I did try to explain that getting married was not the be all and end all of everything. They didn’t quite get it and went back to looking at me in despair holding their little heads in they hands and letting out huge sighs.

It is not just the young who I have had worried. An Italian flatmate (although really the word mate is not suitable here) once scolded me as I left the apartment for not drying my hair first. I’m surprised she didn’t step in front of the door and bar my exit. For her, I was going to ‘prendere fresco’, literally translated as ‘catch the cool’ and then obviously get pneumonia or something. In fact, it was more than 30 degrees outside and it dried within minutes. Even worse, much to the horror of the esthetician, I had my first facial in my 30s in Sicily. My partner had been going there for years, although I rather think this had something to do with her wearing low tops and almost planting his head in her ample bosom as she worked. I haven’t had a facial since, I just couldn’t work out why she would clean, massage, moisturise my face, thereby opening up all the pores then fill up said pores again with a hideous amount of make-up. When I looked in the mirror in the car I was horrified to see that I looked 10 if not 20 years older. She had said she would apply natural looking make-up yet it was caked on and appalling. I washed it all off as soon as I got home and vowed then not to let anyone ever apply make-up on me again.

Yet, despite all this I do acknowledge that I do need to spend at least a little bit of time on how I look. So every six months or so, I bravely venture to the hairdressers. I don’t really like going either and going to one in Italy is even more daunting. Before, I used to wait until I returned to the UK. Once I had my hair cut in Sicily because my boss kept going on about my hair and how she would like to take me to her hairdressers. I gave in but was less than pleased with leaving the hairdressers with a fringe, something I hadn’t described I had wanted to them. I remember them asking if I liked my hair and all I could say was ‘I like the colour’ over and over again. So when I went to get my hair cut yesterday I was a little nervous, even more so when the hairdresser handed me a gown and asked me if I wanted to get undressed.

It is the little differences between how things are done in another country that make otherwise everyday experiences stand out and here I was standing in the hairdressers being asked if I wanted to take my clothes off. It would seem that this was all a good intention and it was to ensure that my clothes did not get dyed along with my hair. It was also entirely optional so I took the risk and kept my clothes on which is just as well as the gown was rather skimpy and as I have already mentioned I am rather robust compared to their normally slim clientele. The rest of my time at the hairdressers was rather pleasant. As my Italian is painfully bad I didn’t have to have those tedious ‘Where are you going on holiday?’ conversations. I was left in peace. Most hairdressers here are men who seem to actually cut your hair exactly as you ask them to. I was not scalded by the hairdryer although I was sweating profusely as it was already hot. The only thing they don’t do unless you ask them to of course is brush off the cut hair so I had to pluck it out from my cleavage instead.It was also cheaper and I might just be cured of my need to constantly change hairdressers and I might even get it cut before six months passes next time. Although, I will refrain from flicking it back in a ‘just stepped out of the salon’ way as men pass me in the street and seeing as I have not looked in the mirror today I can’t tell you if it still looks good!