Drinking Coffee in Sicily: An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

Scopello rocks
coffee cup
Travel and coffee, an excellent combination!

I never used to drink coffee.  In fact, when I was younger I couldn’t even stand the smell of it. Especially when some liquid residue of brewed coffee sat for hours or days on a burner in a workplace break room. But I bought the family an espresso machine for Christmas a couple of years ago and now I am as addicted to the holy bean as anyone.

When traveling, I don’t desperately need a cup of joe as soon as I get up. I can eat a leisurely breakfast and then seek out a café for my espresso and latté caffeine fix. In a pinch, I will go to Starbucks, but I think when overseas it is much better and nicer to find a friendly local place frequented by the natives.

Scopello view
The countryside near Scopello in Sicily.

I recently spent some time touring around the northwest corner of Sicily, just west of Palermo. I stayed in a villa out in the beautiful Sicilian countryside. The fields were full of olive trees and vineyards in one direction, and I had a delightful view of the Mediterranean Sea in the other direction. I ate breakfast every morning on the pool deck outside the house, but since there was no espresso machine (and I refuse to drink brewed coffee), I had to venture out by car to get a latté.

Scopello view of sea
View of a bay on the Mediterranean Sea near Scopello. No sand!

I found a small town called Scopello a few kilometers up the road. Scopello was built in the 16th century on the site of an older Moorish settlement.  The rocky coastline near Scopello is phenomenal with its crystal clear turquoise sea, beautiful bays, and jagged cliffs.  Scopello is located near a nature reserve called Zingaro, which is one of the finest and unspoiled areas of the Mediterranean. Near the town on the Mediterranean coast is an old tuna factory, where tuna was processed up until the 1980s. This region is certainly one of the most beautiful areas in Italy.

Scopello rocks
The famous rocks and old tuna factory of Scopello.

There was a small café in the main square of the town. I wandered in to practice my feeble Italian language skills.

Scopello cafe sign.
A cafe sign in Scopello.

“Un café con leche por favor,” I said to the grandmotherly woman behind the high counter. The old woman was clothed in traditional Sicilian country garb.  She was timeless. What year is this? Being in this town, in this café, with her behind the counter it could be 1850, 1950, or yesterday.

She stared at me with a blank look on her face. Shoot! That’s Spanish. I’m not in Spain. What am I thinking? I have to try again to not look like a dumb American tourist.

Scopello piazza
The Scopello piazza, with the cafe in the background, and a centuries old water trough.

“Un café au lait, s’il vous plaît,” I said.

The blank look had not changed on Grandmama. D’oh! That’s French, brain. Wrong language, wrong country again. What is my problem mixing up what few words I know in Spanish, French and Italian? I loudly cleared my throat and started over.

“Un latte per favore,” I said. I tried to clearly enunciate this phrase so she would understand my request.

Grandmama nodded her head and replied in English: “Yes, sir. A latte for you. Would you like any pastries with that?”

“Uhhhh, yes, please. I would like a chocolate filled croissant.” (They are my favorite).

Scopello baglio
The 800 year old “baglio” of Scopello, an agricultural estate headquarters.

I went into the café in Scopello each of the next few days. Each day I asked Grandmama for un latte e un cornetto al cioccolato. She would smile and rattle off a monologue of Italian back at me. I would not understand anything she said. I would simply nod my head like an idiot and smile back.

One day Grandmama was missing. Maybe it was her day off (I hope she hadn’t died during the night). A burly guy in his mid-30s was behind the counter. He had a New York Yankees baseball cap on his head.

“Un latte e un cornetto al cioccolato per favore,” I said to the man. He looked at me intently and then smiled.

“Sure, man. Coming right up,” said the guy in a strong New York accent.

Scopello chair
If you hang it on the wall you can call it art!

We got to chatting. Of course, he was from New York City; the Bronx in fact. He was born in Sicily but spent many years in the Big Apple. He was probably related to Grandmama somehow and came back to the ancestral home to help out in the café. He was a big Yankees fan so we talked about baseball and why Alex Rodriguez is such a jerk.

His name?

Michael Corleone III

The View of Vieux Ville in Nice, France

Castle Hill view top

I climbed the steps on a sunny morning.  They started at the end of the Vieux Ville (Old Town) of Nice, France, one block in from the Mediterranean Sea.  I stopped every few minutes to take photos.  At every point the view was fantastic.

Castle Hill view
A view from the start of the climb up Castle Hill.

Castle Hill overlooks the Vieux Ville and the rest of Nice.  It is on a small peninsula splitting the Vieux Ville on one side and the port of Nice on the other.  In the Middle Ages there was a fort on the site that protected both the port and the town.

view of Nice port
Which yacht can I take for a sail?

The fort was destroyed in the 1800s and a park was built on the hill.  Today it provides a good workout for those running up the steps, or even for people like me who hiked to the top to get one of the best views in the Mediterranean.

Castle Hill view top
I made it to the top of Castle Hill.
Vieux Ville street in Nice, France
The narrow streets of the Vieux Ville of Nice.

I had been to Nice about ten years ago. I had stayed in a hotel by the yacht club on the south side of the modern city.  It was a decent place to stay for a few days, but it lacked culture and interest.  For this visit I stumbled upon a small apartment for rent located in the middle of the Vieux Ville.  It was in a building at least a couple of hundred years old.  The streets were very narrow and were lined with small shops, cafes, restaurants, and service establishments for the locals.

The apartment was on the third floor.  The stairway was a challenge to navigate, since it was narrow and steep. There was no elevator in the old building. The view from the window was only of the building across the lane, but I could look down to watch the local residents shop at the patisserie on the corner.

Building in Nice, France
A typical building in the Vieux Ville.

A few yards away from the doorway to my building was another street called the Cours Saleya.  This pedestrian street hosts daily markets.  Fruit and vegetables are sold in the morning, flowers in the afternoon, and arts and crafts in the evening.  Along both sides of the street are restaurants of all kinds, with some of them serving traditional Nicoise cuisine.  Sitting in an outdoor café, eating a fresh croissant, and watching the tradespeople and shoppers is a relaxing way to take a mid-morning break.

Roof view in Nice, France
The red tiled roofs of the Vieux Ville.

The neighborhood of the Vieux Ville is a delight to wander around.  The middle-aged women line up outside the butcher shop to buy the main course for tonight’s dinner.  Old men drink pastis, the local aperitif, at the bar while arguing about the football news.  Trendy young women flit in and out of the designer clothes shops looking for a good deal on the latest fashions. At night the tables outside the restaurants are full of diners.  Once in a while a young man on a loud scooter speeds past the startled diners in a haze of blue smoke.

This is a working and authentic neighborhood.  Local people go about their lives in their daily routines despite the occasional group of boisterous American college students searching the back streets for good pizza.

Promenade de Anglais
Perfect for a stroll…

Across the street from the neighborhood and stretching along the coast is the Promenade des Anglais (Promenade of the English). Before Nice was urbanized, the coastline at Nice was bordered by a deserted stretch of beach covered with large pebbles. Houses were located on higher ground well away from the sea, as tourists visiting Nice in the 18th century did not come for the beach, but for the gentle winter weather. The areas close to the water were home to Nice’s dockworkers and fishermen.

In the second half of the 18th century, some wealthy English people started spending the winter in Nice, enjoying the panorama along the coast. When a particularly harsh winter up north brought an influx of beggars to Nice, some of the rich Englishmen proposed a useful project for them: the construction of a walkway along the sea.

I walked the Promenade des Anglais every day of my time in Nice.  The Mediterranean Sea shined in a bright blue glaze in front of the pebbles on the shore.  Like most beaches on the French coast of the Mediterranean, even today there is no sand.  Instead, the beach consists of various sized rocks and pebbles.  Although the rocks are worn smooth, it is still quite a challenge to position the rocks in such a way as to be comfortable for more than two minutes.

That doesn’t stop the hundreds of sun worshippers from spreading out across the beach every day all summer long.  Some of the women wear no bikini tops.  This is France, after all.

Beach scene in Nice
Ouch! That rock is poking me.

Major Sun in Majorca

Majorca, Spain villa view

What is the difference between Majorca and Minorca?

I had no idea. I didn’t even know where they are located.

I was searching the web for last minute cheap airfares from Munich. I was tired of the cold and wet spring. Where can I go to see the sun again?

Sunny sea view in Majorca
Ahoy there Captain! Do you need a first mate?

I found out that they are the largest of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, and a part of Spain. They are far enough south in latitude to have nice, sunny weather in June, unlike the flooded swamps of northern Europe.

Last minute, cheap airfare in hand I took the U-bahn and the S-bahn to the airport, and a short while later found the sunshine in Palma de Majorca, the largest city on the island.
I made my way to the northern coast of the Majorca near a town called Alcudia. After taking a detour into the local garbage recycling station (thank you Mr. GPS!), I found the resort I had booked.

Majorca villas, Spain
I’ll take any color villa as long as it is white.

While checking in I changed from my very bad German skills to equally bad Spanish skills.

“Ola, Senior! My casa is su casa! I have a room reserved,” I said.

“Bon Sera, Senior. Yes, I have been waiting for you,” said the nice Spanish man behind the counter.

He gave me the key and told me where to go. Politely, of course.

I’d like to report that something memorable and funny happened to me while I was in Majorca. However that was not the case. This short sun break was spent lying on the beach, swimming in the cold Mediterranean Sea, swimming in the cold, unheated pool, and taking long walks along the seashore.

At night the port of Alcudia came alive with families strolling along the boardwalk. Tapas was prevalent in the trendy restaurants, meant to be tasted along with the local wine. The old town of Alcudia, originally built at least in part during the Crusades, was a delight to meander along the back streets in search of gelato.

old town gate of Alcudia, Majorca
The old town gate of Alcuida, built by the Crusaders?

Even the crowds of British tourists on the main beach didn’t dampen my mood. I could retire here, I thought. I could rent a small villa on the hillside with a view of the sea. I might even learn Spanish.

Majorca, Spain villa view
I could sit on that deck every day….

By the way, Majorca is a larger island than Minorca. That is the difference…

A Plea to Caesar, from Caesarea, Israel

building ruins in Israel

“If I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Acts 25:11.

The apostle Paul had been arrested and was in prison for two years in Caesarea. Festus, the new Roman governor, wishing to do the Jews a favor, asked Paul if he wanted to go to Jerusalem for trial. Paul replied that he should be tried before Caesar’s tribunal. Festus replied “To Caesar you have appealed, to Caesar you shall go.”

Caesarea, Israel
A view of Caesarea from the harbor.

I was standing at the site of the Roman governor’s palace on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Caesarea, Israel. I was in the ruins of the outer courtyard. This was the place where official business was carried on by Festus and the other governors. This was likely the very ground where almost 2,000 years ago Paul appeared before Festus.

Caesarea was built by Herod the Great in 25-13 BCE upon the ruins of earlier Phoenician settlements begun in 586 BCE during the Persian era. It was the administrative center for Judea in Roman times. It was a planned city with a network of crisscrossing roads, a temple, hippodrome, amphitheater, markets, and residential quarters.

Caesarea, Israel villa
The excavated floor of an ancient villa.

Some of the villas must have been magnificent, with mighty columns and a view to the Mediterranean Sea.

building ruins in Israel
Still work to be done on this site.

Even today fancy floor mosaics are still visible among the foundations of the excavated building ruins.

floor mosaic in Israel
Excavated floor mosaic in a villa in Caesarea, Israel.
Floor mosaic in Caesaera
Fancy patterns for the floor!

Every five years the city hosted major sports competitions and gladiator games in the hippodrome, and theatrical productions in the amphitheater overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Caesarea Amphitheater
Seats for 12,000 spectators in this stadium.

As I walked around the U-shaped hippodrome, I imagined what it must have been like back then. Twelve thousand spectators found their seats in the stands while the rich and powerful people sat on the special viewing platform at the finish line. The chariots lined up at the starting line for the race to the tight U-turn where fortunes could be won or lost in a heartbeat.

The city flourished from Roman times into the Byzantine period of 324-638 CE, but Caesarea lost its political and economic significance after the Arab conquest in 640 CE. It was conquered by the Crusaders in 1101 and fortified with massive walls and a dry moat by King Louis IX of France in 1251. Conquered again by the Mamelukes in 1265, Caesarea was destroyed and deserted. Its ruins became a source of lime and building stones for the region over the centuries.

Theater in Caesarea, Israel
Rock on Israel!

Despite the destruction, the 4,000 seat theater is still standing. The day I visited, preparations were being made for a concert by one of Israel’s top singers. The stone ledges looked like uncomfortable seats for a long show. Do you think they had stadium cushions in Roman times?

The Old and the New, Jaffa and Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv view

MEOW!

The cat stared up at me with huge eyes.  She sat still like a statue with an intent look on her face.  She wanted something from me.

You picked the wrong man to beg from, furry feline.  The world is divided into two parts – dog lovers and cat lovers. I’m a dog lover and I typically push cats away from me with my foot (I would never admit to kicking a cat).  I made our cats sleep on the porch or in the barn.  I never let them in the house, because they are cats….

Tel Aviv view
The Mediterranean Sea and Tel Aviv, Israel.

I was having dinner at an elegant seafood restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel.  The restaurant, called Manta Ray, sits only a few feet from the Mediterranean Sea.  Cloud cover had ruined the sunset, but the weather was warm and a light breeze blew.  I was sitting outside on the deck when this cat appeared and picked me out from the other diners.  How odd.

I had just finished a delicious dinner of shrimp, scallops, and fish.  I had a small pile of shrimp fins, and a fish skin.  The cat meowed again.  Hey, buddy, can you spare a fin?  Ok, you win.  I must be getting soft in my advancing age.

I scanned the restaurant for the waiters and waitresses.  When no one was looking I fed shrimp fins one by one to the cat.  She loved it.  For each shrimp, one second it was there, the next it was gone.  She remained by my side, patiently waiting.  She was giving me those big cat eyes of love. When the shrimp was gone, she devoured the fish skin.

Old Jaffa sign
The entrance to Old Jaffa.

Earlier in the day I walked down the promenade to the old port town of Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew).  Jaffa is just south of Tel Aviv along the coast.  It is built onto a hill jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea.  It is one of the oldest ports in the world.  In Old Testament times it was called Joppa.  The Bible tells us that this is where Jonah embarked on his voyage where he ended up in the belly of the big fish.  It is also where cedar logs from Lebanon were unloaded from ships and transported overland and up the hill to Jerusalem to be used in building Solomon’s temple.

Old Jaffa street.
A narrow lane in Old Jaffa.

The town is small and crowded. The buildings overshadow the narrow lanes and provide much needed shade in the summer.  They are made of buff colored stone.  A small stairway across from the wharf appearing as a hole in the building leads up into the old town. Coming from the New World, it was amazing to me to walk streets that were first built upon over three thousand years ago.  There is so much recorded history in the Mideast that it is hard for me to comprehend.

Wall in Old Jaffa.
An ancient wall in Old Jaffa.

The ancient streets of Jaffa are one extreme.   The other extreme is a short taxi ride back into Tel Aviv. In a few minutes one is back to the modern world.  Giant new condo towers are being erected for Israel’s rich and famous citizens to live in style with a view over the beach to the Mediterranean Sea.  Five star hotels overlook the Promenade while inline skaters and joggers use the paved trails in the park.

Tel Aviv condos and beach
Condo towers along the beach in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv was started in 1909 by Jewish settlers fleeing the crowded living conditions in Jaffa.  In the 1920s and 1930s it grew into a small city.  As a result of the persecution of the Jews in Europe in the 1930s, its population exploded as many people came to Tel Aviv to start a new life.  Many of those people were artists and architects.  The architects were prominent proponents of the International school of design, called “Bauhaus.”  Their white buildings soon dominated the Tel Aviv neighborhoods.  Hence the city became known as the “White City.”

More recently, Tel Aviv has arrived as a hot spot for its fine restaurants, all night club scene, and sunny beaches.  I’m not much for the club scene, and I’m trying to move away from the meat and potatoes diet, but I never pass up a beach opportunity.

I hit the beach on a Saturday and it was filled with families picnicking, playing paddleball games, and relaxing at the many beach cafes.  It was a glorious late winter afternoon.  The sun was shining and it was a nice change from the winter weather in Germany.  I found an empty chair in the crowd, pulled my sandals off, and stuck my feet in the sand.

beach cafe in Tel Aviv
Beach cafe in Tel Aviv.

The water was too cold at this time of year for swimming, yet that didn’t stop several surfers in wetsuits from riding the small waves in sea.  I pulled out my book but was snoozing in no time…

The cat meowed again.  Hey man, don’t forget about me.  I’m still hungry!

You’ve got a good gig here, cat.  Eating scraps from a top notch restaurant in a city renowned around the world as a foodie capital.  Who said cats aren’t smart?  Shalom!