Pools, Professors and Pavlovas

Sicily | Washington DC | Lake District, UK |

October starts on the island of Sicily at Al Plemmirio – a huge seaside villa near Siracusa, named to Conde Nast’s “Best Beach Villas in the World” list. Where else would we go to celebrate Anna’s  40th??  Vancouver Olympics friends Jamie and Alana and baby Ruby were spending a month there  and other friends Lisa and Rob also flew in to share the celebrations.   Looking back, the majority of our time consisted of moving from sun lounge to hammock to upstairs lounge to sea snorkeling to pool and back again (all in a 10m radius) – all the while grazing on local cheeses and enjoying some campari sodas.  Idyllic is the word that comes to mind.

However we did manage to take in a day of sight-seeing at the baroque UNESCO town of Noto finishing off with a bottarga pasta (a salted, pressed and dried tuna roe specialty of Sicily) at the quaint fishing village of Mazemema.   But our favorite excursion was to the deli in the local Siracusa market.   Heapings of free samples – enough to fill you up for breakfast (including wine) –  and the most amazing fresh cheeses were just some of the delicacies on offer.   If you can ever find tricotta (a dense double-cooked ricotta) and a traditional Sicilian smoked mozzarella, buy all you can immediately and invite me over.    I may even dance for you like I did when one of the fish shop owners in the market suddenly took up his guitar and broke out into folk song.

Back at the villa, the Ibiza-like sea-view upstairs lounge became an evening favorite and it was here that we celebrated Anna’s al-fresco birthday dinner cooked by a local chef.   Plate upon plate of fresh seafood and pasta was consumed (along with the obligatory bottles of Nero d’Avola red wine) finished off by a cake with sparkler!   Anna and I decided to extend the celebration with our own style of glamping by also sleeping up there.   Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are too old to go camping at your own rented villa!

Too soon it was off to Washington D.C. for a two week course on tourism and international development at George Washington University.    I was childishly amused to be staying in “Foggy Bottom” and very pleased to be reminded how much I like D.C – it’s extremely walkable with wonderful national monuments and beautiful river parkways.    I was even more pleased to spend some time with my business school friend Jordan and his wife Natasha (and see their spectacular view) as well as attend an alumni event – figured I might as well keep my professional networking skills up to scratch!   And to make it to Don Giovanni at the Opera at the Kennedy Centre – figured I might as well keep my cultural credibility intact as well!

D.C. continued to allow me to focus on food…conveniently hosting the Taste of D.C while I was there.   The chili eating competition was a cultural event in its own right.  Hot food trends to watch – waffles are the new cupcakes and mixing savory and sweet is the “in” thing in food.  Think “duck and cotton candy waffles” (that’s fairy floss for the Aussies and candy floss for the Brits), “lobster and chocolate soup” and a “mac and cheese tart with chocolate bacon” for dessert.     Of course, D.C pre-election was a fascinating time to be in town with lots of debate discussion and election predictions.

And finally my studies… I have to say it was quite invigorating to be around a university again – so many hopeful kids getting ready to start on their careers and lives.   And my course was worthwhile – lots of practical examples of projects using tourism as a development tool and a number of contacts that will be useful on my African volunteering journey.   And, almost most importantly, the other participants were fun and interesting.

I’m now just returning from a lovely weekend hiking in the Lake District in the north of England with Anna, Amee and Heather.  We lucked out with the mid October weather, not only avoiding rain but having spectacular t-shirt weather sunshine on Sunday.   Autumn/Fall colors had reached the trees and the crowds dissipated noticeably once you ventured more than 10m up a hill.  Hot tip: If you are ever in the Grassmere area, you must eat at Chester’s by the River – incredible lunch options and the most amazing cakes – although I may be biased because they had the biggest pavlova I’ve ever seen!

Now heading off to Dubai and Oman.


– Nikki

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