Going abroad

October 11, 2019 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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J-Wire’s music reviewer Fraser Beath McEwing has added another string to his bow as he takes J-Wire readers on his travels…today on the road in Sicily.

On our way to Modica we made a stop at the Villa Romana del Casale, a large and elaborate Roman villa located about three kilometres from the town of Piazza Armerina. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the fourth century, but by whom and for what purpose is open to debate. One theory is that its owner was a very successful importer of wild animals for use in circuses and the Coliseum in Rome. The massive expanse of floor mosaics feature lots of animals, but there are other interesting images too, like a collection of women athletes limbering up. This was pretty risqué stuff for the time because they were dressed in what looks like 1940s two-piece bathing costumes.

The mosaic equivalent of 3rd Century Playboy

Busloads of tourists added to the fun as they joined us on elevated walkways that looked down onto the remarkable mosaic floors without damaging them. The best business was being done by the toilet attendant who charged half a Euro per contribution. I wondered how he would have reacted if I’d returned two hours later asking to continue my earlier visit which I hadn’t quite finished.

Back on the road, the satnav was in an ugly mood, especially at roundabouts where she loved playing deceptive exit counting games, sometimes sending us into charming but tiny country lanes barely wide enough for one car. We passed the usual olive farms and then came across extensive cactus farming. This enterprise is most suited to lazy farmers because they must treat their crops with neglect, never making contact with them except to gingerly pick the fruit – which is a local delicacy.

We were looking forward to Modica because it is the home of Italian chocolate. It is unlike any chocolate I’ve tasted previously. Absolutely delicious, is slightly aerated and a little crunchy, with a huge range of subtle flavours on offer.  Seven blocks, enough to guarantee hives, cost us about $20.

Prior to dinner, we boarded a little green train which pulled us through rainy streets for 40 minutes. It showed Modica as a charming old traditional European town, with mouldering stone, shuttered apartment buildings and narrow, cobbled roadways.

Modica where we found old stone, chocolate and a very non-cheap eat.

We had booked dinner at Accursio, a Michelin Star restaurant, as a special treat. We chose the superb tasting menu with accompanying, but somewhat ordinary wines, presented with an exhaustive narrative by the wine captain who stroked each bottle like a much-loved cat as he extolled its virtues, almost to the point of tears. At the end of the meal, the maître d appeared with the bill and a defibrillator

The Torre Don Virgilio. Made to look old and big. It is neither.


We returned late and impecunious to our lodgings, the Torre Don Virgilio Country Hotel with only about ten rooms made from stones and cement to give a restored ruin look. Our room was tall but tiny, with the smallest shower stall I have ever seen. Michelle had previously tackled reception for an upsize room but was told we already had that. Entry-level rooms were even smaller the receptionist said, with a typical Italian shrug. I couldn’t see how, unless they specialised in accommodating Hobbits.

Space-saver shower


Hotel Toaster Review

From the best to the worst. This Blue Ticker model at the Torre is, without doubt, the slowest most disappointing toaster so far. It has hand loading clamps and a timer that ticks for ages before it dings to designate il finale, only to produce lukewarm bread. I’m sure the instruction book would tell you to load the bread, then go and so some odd jobs before the ding eventually calls you.


Another two-and-a-half-hour drive brought us to our final destination in Sicily, Taormina, where the nearly three-star Hotel Condor offered us a superlative view over the sea from a spartan bedroom but not much else. It did not provide drinking water but could probably suggest a doctor if we drank from the tap. Apart from local Italian programs, it charged for watching television. It is built on multiple levels, as is every structure in precipitous Taormina, with a creaking two-person lift in offering buttons with minus floor numbers as well as some plusses. Finding our room remained a challenge, even though we’d already been in and out of it a few times.

A seven-hour walk around the town was a delight, as it was for the thousands of other tourists who had come to marvel at the perched houses, attractive but expensive retail merchandise and restaurants that seem to hang in the air at the top of impossible flights of ancient steps or hidden away in secret stone burrows. I’ve now had one too many pizzas, great as they are here in the home of the genre. I could only get through half tonight’s diavola, delicious as it was, and brought the other half back in case we can’t find the breakfast level

You can open a restaurant wherever there is room – even if there isn’t.

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