Wonderful Wednesday : August 2018

29 August 2018

It's been a while since I last sat down at my computer and tapped out a Wonderful Wednesday - life gets in the way, as always, and then it turns into a cycle of feeling guilty that I haven't taken part in weeks when I should just take this time for myself but then I don't because it's so much easier to pick up my phone or watch another episode of something on Netflix and then, another week has passed. 

But I do want to keep up with this tradition because it's a really lovely opportunity to sit and reflect on the good moments, so I've decided to follow Lynsey's example and opt for a monthly round-up - all of the wonderful but once a month and something that, no matter how busy I get, is completely manageable. All of the goodness and less of the guilt - I'm in!


♥ Cooler weather... While the sunshine was lovely at first, it was quickly *too* hot for this pale, freckly creature. This month, for the first time in a while, I've felt a cool breeze on the air when watering my little plants in the evening and it's been wonderful. And as August comes to an end, there's been a bit more of an Autumnal chill going on and I'm excited for it (although slightly scared by how quickly this year is flying by!) Here's to candles, scarves and walks through the woods crunching through the fallen leaves. And on that note:

♥ Noticing the seasons... Since moving out of London, I've really stopped to notice the seasons more. Everything was green when we first moved in - the crop fields were lush and budding, and all around were grazing fields full of buttercups and wild flowers, with blossom in the trees. We've noticed the crops continue to grow and over the course of this month, be collected in. Last week, as I left the house to walk to work, there was a powerful smell of manure in the air (that one, perhaps not such a positive) and traces of straw along the side of the road as it had blown off the back of the trucks transporting the bales. Although the year is flying by, I really do feel that I'm stopping to savour the passing of the seasons as I see what's happening around me. 

♥ Visits from friends... One of my friends came to stay in the middle of August and it was such a highlight this month. She arrived on Friday evening so I met her in town after work, giving her a little tour which coincided with a visit to one of my favourite old pubs. A few drinks and the world put to right later, we headed home to show her the house and to order a curry - the perfect Friday! The next day, we headed to the V&A for a few hours, then grabbed dinner before going to the cinema to watch 'Heathers'. I haven't watched that film in years and had forgotten how much I loved it - there's also something really special about watching an old film at the cinema, surrounded by people who love it as much as you do. Such a great weekend. 

♥ Long weekends... I'm going to struggle in Autumn because this week is actually another short week for me, falling immediately after the August Bank holiday. I'm not working Thursday and Friday because tomorrow's my birthday, so I've booked the time off! Tomorrow's going to be spent with my Mum - lunch and the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A, and then celebrating with my husband on Friday. I actually cricked my neck last weekend so here's to a long weekend in excellent spirits and no injuries! 

♥ Blackberry picking... I haven't done this in yeeeears but last weekend, I went for a walk in the woods with my neighbour and her dog, and we brought bags and boxes to collect some of the blackberries dotted all around the woodland. I collected two pots' worth and have frozen them all in readiness for a few crumbles as the nights draw in. I also collected more for my neighbour to add to her collection and this morning, she presented me with a jar of blackberry jam which I'm so excited to tuck into this weekend with breakfast!

Last night, we decided to harvest the bunches of grapes that have been merrily growing on our grapevine. A few bunches turned into a few more and it quickly became clear that we had vastly underestimated the sheer quantity of grapes that have been growing! The plan is to turn this vast array into grape vodka, which should keep us going for quite some time...

August, you've been super. Here's to an even better September!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week/month a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJo, LauraSarahPetaElMimmiLynseyKatie and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

A week in Ortygia, or why everyone needs to plan a holiday to Sicily

12 August 2018

Next year we're absolutely going to travel somewhere different. Absolutely. Maybe. Well, if I can find somewhere just as beautiful, fun, relaxing but cultural, and with such good food as you find in Italy.

Back in July, we hopped on a plane bound to Catania. My husband had just celebrated a milestone birthday (it's still a few years away for me - phew!) and I was determined to do something really special to celebrate, despite the fact that buying a house earlier this year was also a wonderful achievement and one which used up a fair amount of annual leave (and those all-important pennies).

After some to-ing and fro-ing, we decided to go back to Ortygia - the old town of Syracuse, on the south-east coast of Sicily - where we went on honeymoon a few years' ago. It's quintessential Sicily - historic buildings overhanging tangled alleyways, romance and bustle, and food to make your heart sing. But at the same time, the atmosphere is a world away from rambunctious Palermo, which we visited last year. With our last visit to Ortygia not being too long ago, we knew it would be comfortingly familiar while at the same time opened up options of new things to discover and the promise of a bit of a break as we didn't have to worry about fitting everything in as we'd already done that not too long ago.

Where we Stayed

We did something we've always wanted to do in Italy throughout all of our previous trips - we decided to opt for an Airbnb to enable us to cook some of the amazing food that you see in all Italian marketplaces.

We chose an apartment that was incredibly central, on the Via Maestranza, but really Ortygia is the perfect place to discover on foot so you'll never be too far away from anything. We popped to the market on the first day and picked up an array of treats, and developed a bit of a morning ritual of waking up to fresh coffee, succulent doughnut peaches and a fresh caprese salad. I also found delicious gluten free sliced brioche in the supermarket, which I enjoyed with very liberally-applied Nutella, which is a bit of a holiday tradition for me.

In the evenings, we enjoyed some fresh swordfish - simply fried with a squeeze of lemon juice, a rocket salad and the best aubergine I think I've ever tasted - honestly, anyone who's asked me about the holiday has heard me wax lyrical about this aubergine but unless you tried it you just don't know...

We didn't just eat at home though - having been here before, we had some favourite restaurants to go back to and I've mentioned them below, just in case you ever find yourself in Ortygia at a loss for where to eat.

What we Did

Ortygia is best discovered on foot - its maze of tiny backstreets and its winding paths along the seafront with rusting rails that look fit to crumble at any moment. It's not a 'beachy' location. There are a few tiny little beaches and more further along the coast but the sea front of Ortygia is quite rocky and there's one particular spot where people like to sunbathe/swim from the rocks and a platform is set up there each summer for people to swim from more easily. One morning, we got up early (around 7) and walked down to the seafront. There were just two old chaps there, taking in the early morning sun before going for a swim. The water was slightly chilly to start but you soon got used to it and it was like a delicious bath. We swam out and floated on our backs, looking back at the old city walls and the buildings above us with their faded shutters and peeling-painted fronts. I think I was happier at that moment than I've been in a while. The sea is always my happy place.

We also went back to the Duomo - the cathedral at the centre of the city, in a beautiful piazza that's particularly stunning to walk through at night. The Duomo was a 5th century BC Greek temple that was converted into a church and you can still see the huge Doric columns inside and outside the church.

One thing we didn't do this time but I'm mentioning it here for anyone taking a trip to Ortygia is the miqwe - an ancient Jewish ritual bath that lies buried beneath the Alla Giudecca hotel in the told Jewish ghetto, called the Giudecca. It's absolutely fascinating - three deep pools that were only rediscovered relatively recently. They were once connected to a synagogue but were blocked up when the Jewish residents were expelled from the island in 1492. 

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

For me, a holiday isn't a holiday unless it includes a visit to at least one historical place and you're spoiled for choice in Sicily. We visited the archaeological park during our last visit to Syracuse and it was top of my list of must-revisits. There's a Greek Theatre, which this time was set-up for its annual season of classical theatre, the Latomia del Paradiso, deep limestone quarries riddled with catacombs, and the Orecchio di Dionisio or Ear of Dionysius, an eerie grotto hewn into the rock. For a few blissful moments, we were in there on our own without any tourists and it was like stepping back in time. 


On our list visit to Ortygia, we took the train to Noto - a historic little town with stunning red-gold buildings, baroque churches and the best granite (drinks made of crushed ice). Taking the train in Italy is an experience in and of itself so we decided to use one of our precious days to visit the town of Modica - a hill town famous for its chocolate and churches. (I'm a big fan of an old church!)

Modica has two distinct areashigh Modica, where most of the churches are, and low Modica, where most of the restaurants (and the station) are located. I think our trip to Modica fell on one of the hottest days that we were there and it was a long climb and a lot of steps to get to the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, a wonderful baroque church which is itself located at the top of its own sweeping staircase. It was so worth it though - the church was beautiful and the views over the countryside were stunning.

What we Ate

Oh Italian food, how I love you so. I know I must have mentioned this about a hundred times before too but Italy is fantastic for us gluten free folk. There's an array of choice in the supermarkets and most restaurants have at least gluten free pasta in the kitchen and generally speaking, a much better understanding of what a coeliac can and can't eat than I've found here (although that is improving every day).

The Syracuse region is famous for its seafood, meaty ragus, lemons and tomatoes. If you pop to Noto, you'll get some of the best granite and Modica is famous for its chocolate.

I would particularly recommend the following restaurants in Ortygia:

Trattoria la Foglia, Via Capodieci 21
This is the oddest little place - mismatched tables with crocheted napkins, porcelain dolls sitting in the window and a huge old wadrobe are just some of the decor choices making this more Edwardian drawing room than restaurant at first sight but this place is always busy for a reason. The food is amazing - cosy, comforting and very reasonably priced. I opted for the mackerel pasta on our first visit (this time) but the ragu is delicious and the local chilled red wine slips down a treat. Don't miss the local cheese platter either.

Taberna Sveva, Piazza Federico di Svevia
This little restaurant is tucked away in a quiet piazza near the castle and is hugely popular with the locals so I'd recommend arriving early or booking a table. It serves traditional Sicilian food. (I went with the sea bass and we shared the house antipasti to start - olives and cheese and meats, oh my!)

In Modica, we chose the Osteria dei Sapori Perduti, Corso Umberto I 228-230 as it was recommended for its Sicilian specialties and it was very meat-heavy. We didn't have too long there unfortunately because we were keeping a close eye on the train times but it was full of local families enjoying a long lunch. It's one of my favourite memories from our trip though because they made me homemade gluten free ravioli with a simple tomato sauce and it's one of the best things I've ever tasted. It was exquisite, I wish they delivered to England.

There are lots of bars in Ortygia but our favourite from our honeymoon (and we were so pleased to see it still running and very popular) was Solaria Vini & Liquori on Via Roma 86. It's a small place, with a few places to sit inside and about 4 or 5 tables outside but the wine list is extensive and it's a wonderful place to sit and people-watch, while enjoying a glass or two of a particularly fine wine. You can also get small platters of food too - cheese, olives, prosciutto and the like. I can wholeheartedly recommend the dessert wine from Noto.


And with that, I'm practically booking my next trip again... Do let me know if you're planning a visit to Sicily anytime soon, or where I should visit next!

Latest Instagrams

© Happy Go Lucky Cat. Design by FCD.