Sicily, an enchanting island (Part 1)

While living abroad in the UK, we are currently choosing our travel locales based on some pretty basic criterion: cheap and direct flights from Bristol; southern and warmer during winter months; and northern and cooler in the summer months.

So, that’s how we came up with the idea of exploring the island of Sicily over the Christmas break. There are about 2 or 3 cheap flights a week from Bristol this time or year direct to Catania and once we’re on the island, because it’s the off-season, hotels/AirBnBs are pretty cheap (but it’s still warm to our thick Canadian hides).

We planned out an 11-day tour of the island. We got an inexpensive car rental and are able to get ourselves from town to town (going anticlockwise around the island).

After celebrating an early Christmas at home, we flew out on 24 December. We got in to Catania around 7pm. Sophie was under the weather (having woke up with a fever that morning, we even contemplated cancelling altogether!), so we just decided to get to the hotel, order dinner off the snack bar menu (which included sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas) and get to bed early.

After an early night to bed, we were able to get up, medicate, and go, and start to see Catania in the daylight. We viewed all the churches from the outside but there were so many masses going on we didn’t go in them. The Sicilians are very Catholic and mass was being held hourly all day. The churches were packed. The one time we did manage to peek in, we even saw a line-up for the confession booths!

It was a beautiful 19°C out so we were walking around in T-shirts. This immediately branded us as tourists because all the locals were in winter coats and/or huge, heavy sweaters. However, we were fine with this in order to enjoy the sunshine and weather. We also figured the sun and air couldn’t hurt Sophie’s cough.

We went to a Roman amphitheatre right in the middle of the city. It was originally built by the Greeks then when the Romans took over they continued to build it up. However, as the current, modern city was built up, they built houses right over it. It was only in 2006 that they started excavating the ruins.

You can see apartment buildings built right into the edge of the ruins.

This was how we spent our Christmas Day in Catania. We ate amazing food; we walked around the city seeing the piazzas, churches, and lights; and we toured ancient ruins.

On 26 December, we checked out of our hotel in Catania to make the drive to Taormina. The car we rented is a manual transmission and though Eric knows how to drive one, it’s been 10 years or so. He’d been doing okay on the relatively flat streets of Catania the couple times he drove. But now we had to go to a cliffside mountain town. This was what Eric was dreading more than any other driving on this trip.

However, the roads are in excellent condition, and we made it in one piece! He did great and never stalled out on a hill. We got to the parking lot in Taormina and happily left the car for 2 days. (You don’t drive your car into Taormina, you park and a free shuttle takes you into town).

We had originally booked an AirBnB for Taormina but it was cancelled by the owner a week ago due to ‘family emergency’. Luckily, it’s the off season and Taormina has hundreds of places to stay so we booked another hotel. While this new hotel meant we had to all share one room, we ended up quite thrilled with the location, right in the heart of Taormina’s main pedestrian street with a balcony view of the Mediterranean.

From our balcony patio

We dropped off our things, threw the insulin in the mini fridge, and immediately went back out on the street. We couldn’t wait to explore this beautiful town.

My sunglasses broke as soon as I got to Sicily, and Sophie didn’t bring any. So we found a street vendor to buy some from in Taormina.
In the narrowest street

We didn’t do anything specific except eat good food and walk around the town enjoying the sights and people-watching.

We had the whole day to explore Taormina the next day. We woke up early and headed to the ancient amphitheatre. It was originally built by the Greeks in the 3rd century but like the last one, taken over by the Romans when they took Sicily.

It was just huge, and we could walk around and in it. It also had great views of Mt. Etna.

We also did a lot more walking around and exploring this beautiful town.

Orange trees everywhere!


We took the gondola down the mountain to the water


Eric and I dipped our toes in. Sophie didn’t want to get her feet dirty… *Eyeroll*….
The waterside part of the town was completely dead and we were so glad our AirBnB cancelled on us and we ended up in a hotel on the main strip!

Taormina was just about the prettiest town I’ve ever seen. The restaurants were all wonderful, the people were friendly, and we couldn’t get enough of the views. The prices of things like food and souvenirs were more expensive than in Catania, but we could see why, in this tourist town.

That’s all for now. Next we are heading to Palermo and then an agriturismo (farm-stay B&B) near Modica in the countryside.

Ciao, bellas!

Christmas Markets!

The Christmas market is an outdoor market of stalls selling goods and food, often at nighttime, during the weeks of Advent, and originating in Germany. Their popularity has spread all over Europe and even into North America in recent years (heck, even Ottawa started a wee one this year!)

While we certainly plan to make it to a German Christmas market at some point in our 3 years here, we knew it wouldn’t be this year. However, there are many Christmas markets happening not far from us that we thought we’d check out this season.

First off, we did a big one – Bath Christmas Market. The Bath Christmas Market is one of the biggest in the UK, and consistently awarded one of the best in the country (this year being no exception).



Bath is only about 15 miles from Bristol, but as things are in England, it’s a 45 minute car ride or a 45-60 minute train ride. We opted for the train because it’s cheap (£13 round trip for all 3 of us) and then we wouldn’t need to search for parking.

However, we were warned – – – being the most popular market in the country means it’s busy! We originally thought we’d go in the evening, but were told we’d hardly be able to move then, and there’s too many drunk people around. So we changed our plans and decided to go at opening. Good thing, too, because when we left 3 hours later at 1pm, we could hardly move!
(We heard that brawls broke out on later trains because they were so packed and busy… so we’ll stick with going early!)

Our favourite stall – we had to circle back around and return to.

So, we may have missed the ambience of the evening market and the lights, but as none of us like a crowd, we were very happy with our choice. We spent a whack-load of money at the stalls buying gifts and treats for others and ourselves. We enjoyed sampling cheeses, charcuteries, and spreads at many stalls, and drinking thick hot cocoa and mulled wine as we ambled around.

We got freshly made sugar doughnuts that will haunt my dreams until next year – they melted in your mouth…
Grabbed a pizza from a mobile pizza oven along with a cider for lunch. I love that the UK doesn’t limit you to staying in beergardens if you want to buy a drink.
Our pile of shopping on the train ride home.

Overall we just loved the Bath Market. It was easy to get to, a fun morning out shopping, and a feast for the senses.



The next market we went to was a few days later and a bit more local. Okay, a lot more local. The Henleaze Christmas Festival is a one-night affair a few blocks away from us. We live right on the edge of Henleaze neighbourhood in Bristol, and we really love the Henleaze high street to do our shopping and errands.

Nighttime, people moving, etc… and I think I had a sausage in my other hand. Sorry, this is the best photo I got.


Apparently this was the 12th year this festival has been running, and it’s a market of about 30 stalls and 3 blocks long. It was a Wednesday night, so we had to pick Sophie up from gymnastics class at school (2 blocks away) and scuttle over there where it was already fully underway.

Sophie said she saw every kid in her class except 2. We enjoyed the stalls and the music, there were school choirs and children’s entertainers. We didn’t buy much at all because we had just spent so much in Bath, and there really wasn’t anything new. I was a little disappointed, as I would have waited for this festival and bought more locally had I known. Well, next year.

But we enjoyed sampling the cheeses!

We were able to grab dinner at a BBQ stall, get give-aways at local traders (Sophie got a big box of 6 full-sized Cadbury bars at a law office!), and enjoy the whole festival with local cheer. Every time we move, we love being able to find these great things to be proud of in our new home town/ neighbourhood area.


The third market we went to wasn’t much- it was the smallest yet. We stopped in at the Christmas Festival at Sophie’s school on Saturday afternoon. I don’t have photos to show due to privacy for all the children present. But I was very impressed with the school’s ability to put on a festival with crafts, games, music, food, stalls, raffles, and prizes. Most importantly– and this is something so important I think we need to bring it to all Canadian school festivals and parties — there was mulled wine.
Yes… to get through a couple hours at a junior school function with children running amok everywhere, I was able to purchase a warm cuppa mulled wine.
This. Is. Just. Civilised.
Every school Christmas concert really needs to have a cash bar – they’d make a mint for the school!!!! And before you get your panties in a knot, NO, I’m not suggesting anyone get drunk around children. Hell, even put a one-glass maximum if you want. But that one glass really helps a parent get through the screaming children/the children singing off key/the waiting for the 400 children that aren’t yours to finish their part so you can watch your own kid for 2 minutes/the putting up with overzealous parents.
Sure, maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I’m okay with that. School events need wine. This was the best school event I’ve ever been to.

I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have mentioned the last market, because I didn’t have photos, and it was so small, but it really needed a shout out, just for the wine.

Our tree this year in our new home. (With a few new ornaments this year from our travels and the Bath Christmas Market, too!) – I just wanted to share with you! xx



Well we can’t wait until next year or heck- maybe even the following year, when we can make it to Germany for a Christmas market. Now that we know how fun they are and have had a small taste, we will definitely be putting this on our short list and be aiming to get there!