The day after Christmas it was time to unwrap another gift: a new city. So we said arrivederci to the wonderful Mario, and headed south to Siracusa.
Siracusa is another stunning ancient city set on the ocean, founded almost 3,000 years ago by the Greeks. As opposed to the city of Syracuse, named after the Sicilian version, but founded in 1820. While the city was originally named Syracuse by the Greeks, the Italians prefer to call it Siracusa — I mean, they run the place now, and have for a couple thousand years, so they get naming rights, IMO.
We stayed in the historical center, the island of Ortigia, at the stunning Grand Hotel Ortigia. The hotel seemed to have what I felt were art deco touches everywhere (the stained glass elevator is worth a visit alone). HWSNBN and I had a room overlooking the harbor, while the kids had one with a view of the ancient stone streets.
Besides the lovely artistic touches, this one had something I never thought before I would love so much: a lift that helped HWSNBN avoid the many stairs into the hotel. It took us awhile to figure it all out, but we became pretty adept at it by the end!
After settling in, Sailor Boy told us he’d found a Michelin starred restaurant right around the corner for lunch: Ristorante Porta Marina.
TBH, I really just wanted to sit outside in the sun and have cheese and wine, but he was so excited about we made it happen. Unfortunately, almost every restaurant we tried on Ortigia had several stairs to get into it (I think the land and buildings have sifter over the centuries — or maybe they are built above the street to avoid flooding?). We were pretty disruptive getting in, but folks seemed understand. They politely went about their chic lunches in the brick-walled room, quietly supping wine and looking more fashionable at a simple weekday lunch than I ever would with hours of a prep for a gala. As I observed the other patrons, I realized they were all couples about my age and realized that this was their “post houseguest holiday frenzy” reward lunch. Just the two of them, sipping wine while they discussed all the family drama the had just observed.
We, of course, were thankfully still on family time.
After lunch, we met our next tour guide in the hotel lobby. He was a retired professor, and definitely had a different air about him than Mario. Less gregarious, and more studious, the kids didn’t connect with hm right away, and frankly neither did HWSNBN. I enjoyed his history lessons, but then I always dig that stuff. Mario understood Singer Girl’s need for Instagram breaks. Not so much the professor. And the guys in my family had that look of “is the lecture over yet?”
But that doesn’t mean we didn’t find Siracusa stunning and fascinating.
At the end of the tour, we were scheduled to enjoy a glass of wine at a café in the piazza, but HWSNBN as struggling. He needed to get out of his wheelchair; he had had enough. When I politely explained to the professor that we would have to cut the experience short, he was baffled. He simply couldn’t understand why we didn’t wat to get a drink when we were right there in front of the bar. I felt bad, but said we just had to go.
We got HWSNBN back to the room, and he settled in. The kids and I still had energy, so he insisted we got out without him. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but we got him settled and into bed. I made a reservation for a little place that sounded interesting, and the kids and I set off. When we arrived at Osteria il Cantuccio at 8pm, they weren’t even open yet (oops. Dumb Americans). The owners, a darling couple, spoke almost no English, so we used a method HWSNBN would appreciate: Singer Girl spoke Spanish to them. Between the two languages, much sign language, and the Google translate app, we managed to order a great dinner (side note: Sailor Boy’s Sicilian girlfriend was horrified when he told her about the restaurant. She was appalled that we would go to a Roman restaurant! I guess that’s like getting Southern fried chicken in New York, lol).
After we ate, we texted HWSNBN. He was still ok, and urged us to continue the night. So we wandered around in search of a bar for a drink. Places were pretty quiet, but we happened upon a place that was lively and we ordered drinks — Mojitos. Don’t ask me why. But the kids and I had a lot of fun that night, just hanging out and laughing. I think we needed it.
This was a conflicting evening for me. I was thrilled to explore the city without worrying about HWSNBN’s safety and comfort, and to spend time with the kids just by myself. I hadn’t done that yet, and it felt good to check in with them and see how they were doing, and to let loose a bit. But HWSNBN was back at the hotel, alone, uncomfortable, and, I’m sure, sad that he wasn’t able to be with us. It sucked. I didn’t even want to tell him how much we had enjoyed ourselves.
In the morning, we had an amazing brunch at the rooftop terrace restaurant at the hotel. Free Prosecco on the buffet? Yes, please!
Afterwards we hopped into the van and, with a new guide headed to the ancient yet newly trendy town of Noto (Mick Jagger recently joined the ranks of famous homeowners here. Originally, the plan had been a 10 hour day of drives and sight seeing, but this was our last full day in Italy (and with Sailor Boy), and we wanted to have some down time. So Mario and I had whittled the day down to what he thought we would enjoy the most, and thus we visited Noto.
It was a gloriously sunny day to visit a city whose architecture oddly, reminded me very much of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This was a city fully destroyed by the earthquakes I mentioned in a previous post, and was rebuilt in a very baroque style, in a much “sunnier” color than the lava buildings of Catania. It also had some hilly areas, meaning that we all took turns “feeling the burn” as we squired HWSNBN around in his wheelchair!
Inside the Noto Cathedral, we were charmed by these wooden sculptures. They were made by Africans immigrants, out of the very boats in which they sailed to Sicily.
And I loved this elaborate manger scene in another nearby church!
Our guide recommended Caffe Marpessa for lunch. While we weren’t all thrilled with what we ordered to eat (except for taht soup — yum!), the wine was great, and the setting was perfect. It was probably one of our favorite meals for the atmosphere and mood — even if Singer Girl did get in trouble for feeding the prowling cats.
Next it was time for a little souvenir shopping, where I finally purchased one of the Turkish heads I mentioned in a previous post. (here is a great explanation behind their history and significance!).
When done touring Noto, we headed back to Ortigia where we left the boys at the hotel to rest up. Singer Girl, the guide and I were on a mission: search the charming streets for souvenirs, gifts, and a suitcase to pack all those clothes we had to buy when our luggage had been lost! We also needed some picture taking time, and knew the guys would not be into that.
Dinner that night was our farewell to Sicily — and Sailor Boy. He was driving back after the meal, as he had to be back on duty early the next morning. We went to another place where we were the first in the door, and where the steps were steep. No problem! In typical Sicilian fashion, a few waiters scurried out and carried HWSBNB up the stairs, wheelchair and all, lol. The restaurant, Anima e Cori, was a pizza place — the first pizza we had had on the trip I think. It was fun, it was casual, there were strolling accordion players and, frankly, many out of towners. But it didn’t feel touristy — it had been highly recommended, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Our only regret was only ordering 2 pizzas, because the menu was amazing! Our fave reminded me of one HWSNBN and I enjoyed in Colorado the previous year, as it included honey as a topping. Still weird to wrap my brain around, but man is it good with the right crust and toppings!
I feel sad typing this, but it was time to say goodbye to my boy. It was a bittersweet moment, as we not only don’t know when we will see him again, but we also don’t know what HWSNBN’s condition will be when that does happen. But it was an amazing trip, and we treasured every moment together.
This time, though, HWSNBN was also not ready to call it a night. Back at the hotel, we headed once again to the rooftop restaurant for cocktails. It sucked that there were only three of us, but we laughed and rehashed the trip’s highlights. The next day we were hitting the airport (after another fantastic brunch, of course), but not to go home. We decided months ago not to rush, and we were headed back to Amsterdam for a night!
Got back last night from Syracuse, NY, where Singer Girl was auditioning.
As you’ll recall from my last post, ’tis been a bit stressful around these parts. I have been trying to find my inner grown up, and held my tongue and smiled pleasantly a lot over the last few days. We flew in a day early to tour the campus. I had already decided to spring for the club level at the Sheraton — a brilliant call, if I may say so (and I may. It’s my blog, after all). The extra cash got us free breakfast, and snacks and our own bar in the evenings, plus the club room was open 24 hours.
That was the best part. Singer Girl was wound a little tight. She has always been angry if anyone was home when she needed to rehearse, often refusing to even do a warm up unless I left the house (so she didn’t warm up. Until she pays the mortgage, she is not kicking me out of my own home, thankyouverymuch). But because of the club room, she got the hotel room to herself for awhile, and I just took my laptop and hung out with Mr. Wine. Win-win, wine-wine!
When she texted me the all clear, she was starving. Room service was an obvious choice, as we were travel worn and not willing to put shoes, or bras, back on and go out in public. But I pulled a teaching moment: if she wanted a steak brought to her under a silver platter, SHE needed to place the order. She was horrified. She refused. “I can’t! I don’t know how!” I shrugged, and said I didn’t need to eat. She, however, was ravenous. She stared at the phone, terrified, absolutely flummoxed on how to start (kids these days.) I showed her the little button on the phone that said room service, and she dipped her toe into the shallow waters of independence. A hurdle had been crossed. A woman dependent on over-priced mashed potatoes and tiny salt and pepper shakers was born.
Next day was the tour, which was cool. Very pretty campus, Syracuse. People were friendly, weather wasn’t anything we weren’t used to, school seems to have what she needs. The rest of the day we were hotel bound; she did homework and texted Drummer Boy, I worked on planning parties for puppies and high school seniors. That evening she needed more practice time, and so I was sent to “my room,” where I met my new best friend. The lovely gal working the bar greeted me with a warning: “I pour big.”
Come to mama!
My already-oversized glass brimming with Merlot, I sat down and worked some more. A little later the Wine Fairy brought over a second glass — on the house — also perilously close to overflowing. Damn, gurl. I’m not sure what work I got done, or which emails I sent, but if you got some sloppy declaration of love, I apologize. And I hope I didn’t volunteer for something new… My Bartender Angel announced she had to close up — would I like anotherhouse? Um, I had barely finished half the second one — but she insisted on topping it off.
Needless to say: if Singer Girl ends up at Syracuse, I know where I will stay for parents weekend.
The next morning was the audition. I tiptoed around the room, giving her her space. I watched surreptitiously as she pulled out her wardrobe choices. We had yet to discuss clothing options, as I was fiercely rebuffed on the subject last week. It’s a delicate dance, when asked “do you think I should wear this or this?” when neither are what you would’ve picked, but her only choices are what’s in the suitcase and it’s not about you anyway. Several changes later, she was ready, looking very cute, even if not wearing what I had read she should wear.
But she was right, and I was wrong.
Yes, she was the only girl not in a skirt or dress. Yes, her bra straps showed. Yes, she wore bright yellow doc martens instead of the more modest dark colored boots and heels of the other musicians. But she was herself, and the others in the room sort of regarded her as a threat for being so unique. The judges in the audition told her they just loved her boots. She bonded with one over their shared love of Led Zeppelin. She came out of that audition beaming, lighter than I’d seen her in months. I don’t know if she got in, but she was glad it was done.
Next week we fly to Miami for her second and last audition. I learned this week that most of the musicians were doing auditions numbering in the double digits — made me nervous we were putting her eggs in too few baskets. That thought re-occurred when I learned that at Syracuse they were only accepting 40 students in the music school for 2018 — and only 10 in her program. Gulp. But she will be good. I have faith in her — those boots were made for singing.
I don’t know what she will wear for the audition in Miami — but I know it can’t be the same outfit. We did have one crisis moment: she had left the waiting room to go warm up, then came back a few minutes late, loudly whispering, “Hey mom! I need your help!”
I rushed out, eager to see what she needed. Was it a word of encouragement? A hug?
Nope. Her zipper broke — did I have any safety pins? I did not. But this was my moment. My MOMent. Why I was there. I rushed about, asking total strangers for safety pins. It was looking dire. I finally found a woman in an office who dredged some out of her junk drawer, plus requisitioned some cute “Go Syracuse!” buttons that were to go on jacket lapels. It wasn’t pretty, but her pants stayed up. And I helped. We’ll never forget that moment — even as she had one foot out the door, on her way to the future, she had to turn back to mom one last time.
No matter what happens in Miami, we will always have Syracuse.
(Oh yeah: I finally got my new car! She’s a 2018 Mazda Cx9, and I luff her. Actually bought her last weekend, but we decided to add a few things — roof rack, remote engine starter and some rust protection coating stuff, as car warranties against rust are null and void in Minnesota, the land of road salt. They’d have had her ready mid week, but we were going to be gone, so we waited until today. Went to get my new wheels — and we couldn’t register the remote starter as the computer insists that it already belongs to someone else. The baffled staff had never seen that before — so they need to bring her back in to get that fixed. Of course. Two steps forward, one step back!)