Search for  Sicily  found 18 posts
Order: Newest / Oldest / A to Z / Z to A
Nov 12, 2014, Wednesday
Train to Taormina    Sicily Messina Italy Taormina
Nov 12, 2014, Wednesday
Nov 13, 2014, Thursday
Eye candy    Sicily Italy Taormina
Nov 13, 2014, Thursday
Nov 14, 2014, Friday
Castelmola    Sicily Italy Taormina
Nov 14, 2014, Friday
Nov 15, 2014, Saturday
Nov 15, 2014, Saturday
Nov 16, 2014, Sunday
Castello Maniace    Sicily Italy Siracusa
Nov 16, 2014, Sunday
Nov 17, 2014, Monday
Nov 17, 2014, Monday
Nov 18, 2014, Tuesday
La passeggiata    Sicily Italy Siracusa
Nov 18, 2014, Tuesday
Nov 19, 2014, Wednesday
Churchapalooza    Italy Islands Ragusa Sicily
Nov 19, 2014, Wednesday
Nov 20, 2014, Thursday
Breakfast with Angelo    Italy Islands Ragusa Sicily
Nov 20, 2014, Thursday
Nov 21, 2014, Friday
Frack!    Italy Islands Modica Sicily
Nov 21, 2014, Friday
Nov 22, 2014, Saturday
Stuck in Ragusa    Italy Islands Ragusa Sicily
Nov 22, 2014, Saturday
Nov 23, 2014, Sunday
Palermo    Italy Islands Palermo Sicily
Nov 23, 2014, Sunday
Nov 24, 2014, Monday
Quattro Canti    Palermo Italy Sicily
Nov 24, 2014, Monday
Nov 26, 2014, Wednesday
Sicilian cornucopia    Palermo Italy Sicily
Nov 26, 2014, Wednesday
Nov 26, 2014, Wednesday
Nov 26, 2014, Wednesday
Dec 7, 2014, Sunday
Serial justice    Sicily Italy Taormina
Dec 7, 2014, Sunday
Dec 8, 2014, Monday
Dec 8, 2014, Monday
Dec 12, 2014, Friday
Dec 12, 2014, Friday

Train to Taormina

November 12, 2014   Wednesday
Sicily   Messina   Italy   Taormina

It is 7am and we have to catch a train from Naples to Taormina. While I look forward to seeing Sicily it is somewhat unfortunate because we miss the 8am breakfast at Marina Piccola 73 and the breakfast is very good. Every morning they feature a different delicious tart in addition to meats, cheese, breads, cereal, cake, and cappucinos. I’m on holiday so i eat lots of dessert.

If you’ve read previous posts you know the Circumvesuviana train connects Sorrento to Naples (also Pompeii and Herculaneum) so once again we are on the local train to the city.

Once at Naples’ Garibaldi station we find all the trains from Rome are late so our 9:50 becomes a 10:50. Breakfast is at a stand-up cafe at the station.

The Trenitalia train is clean and comfortable which is not what i’d expected from online comments. No food is available though so we bring snacks for the ride. As we wait for the train to pull out of the station a woman stands in the aisle talking very loudly to anyone who will listen. Passengers hand her food which buys her silence and then she exits, all of which brings to mind a similar experience on the Buenos Aires metro.

The train heads inland, east from Naples, then south along the rocky coast. For the rest of the trip the scenery alternates between tunnels, beautiful coastline, and towns of nondescript apartment blocks.

The train is full. Passengers are quiet: they read, sleep, and listen to their phones.

In between looking out the window and following the train’s progress on the map app on my iphone (citymaps2go which i highly recommend) I start Camus’ The Plague. The story is set in a nondescript French town populated by nondescript business people. As the story begins the town’s rats all die, then people start to succumb to what appears to be the plague. For some reason Camus’ story fits my mood.

That’s as far as i got in The Plague. I stopped reading because i was curious about the ferry crossing to Messina. You see, you don’t have to get off the train to cross the strait, yet there is no bridge.

At the port in Villa San Giovanni, a town at the tip of the toe, the train, minus the engine, rolls onto the ferry which then takes it on the twenty minute ride to Messina. Train passengers are free to disembark the train to wander the ferry.

We walked out on the ferry deck during the short ride. We could walk wherever we wanted to on the ferry - the captain’s door was even open though we figured we’d not bother him.

In this the Italians are less nanny-state than north americans. For example, BC Ferries loads passengers, bikes, and cars separately whereas with the ferry to Capri everyone poured on simultaneously, cars and foot traffic intermixed , the vehicles weaving around the people. And there are no railings along the dock, either. One of the benefits of travel is seeing how others do things.

Once the ferry arrives in Messina the train cars are pulled off and half head west to Palermo, the other half head south to Siracusa. Our car goes south.

After another hour or so we get off at Taormina-Giardini and grab a taxi to our hotel. Tomorrow we’ll explore Taormina. 

The picture is of the train in the hold of the ferry.

Train to Sicily on the ferry

Eye candy

November 13, 2014   Thursday
Sicily   Italy   Taormina

We're in Taormina, our first stop in Sicily. The skies promise off-and-on rain so we'll explore the town today and hike tomorrow.

We are staying at Isoco Guest House, a b&b with 5 rooms, each with it's own theme (Keith Haring, Herb Ritts, Botticelli, ...). Paul and I are the last guests of the season. After we check out they will close for the season. Winter in Sicily is balmy compared to Canada, of course, but most tourists would rather be on the island in the sweltering summer. I've read that in summer the streets are packed with tourists but this time of year Taormina is wonderfully free of crowds.

Taormina is a small (11k population), well-preserved medieval town perched on the side of Monte Tauro. It has long been a popular tourist destination, attracting a similar clientèle, and acquiring a similar reputation, to Capri.

Taormina's setting is spectacular. At about 300m elevation it offers expansive views of the east coast of Sicily, the Ionian sea, and Europe's largest volcano, Mount Etna.

On top of the beautiful setting Taormina itself is a feast for the eyes. Taormina features remnants of an old town wall, charming streets, intimate piazze, warm pastel-colored buildings, and balconies overflowing with flowers. Like most old Italian cities, street widths vary from barely two cars wide to maybe a meter wide. This is Italian eye candy.

Taormino is famous for its huge amphitheater, the Teatro Greco, which was built in the 3rd century BC and is still in use today.

After breakfast we walk a short distance down via Cappuccini, pass under one of the old city wall's arches, then down the main street, Corso Umberto.

Corso Umberto is chock-a-block shopping and most is very high end. I find myself admiring an olive trench coat in one window but the 900€ tag gives me pause so I pass it by.

We walk Corso Umberto from one end of the town to the other, stopping in old churches and artsy stores and a pastry shop for cannoli and gelati. Delicious. We return to our b&b to rest up from our strenuous day then head out for dinner. All is good in Taormina.

The photo was taken from our room's balcony.

Taormina square      
Taormina coastline      
Taormina rainbow


November 14, 2014   Friday
Sicily   Italy   Taormina

After breakfast on this beautiful warm November day we hike up to the picturesque hilltop town of Castelmola (530m). The hike involves many, many stairs. (We are starting to notice a pattern: almost everywhere we want to go in southern Italy involves stairs.)

In the center of this very small town is a castle or rather the remnants of a castle. Not much left of the structure but the views of the sea, the snow-covered mount Etna, and the terraced hillsides make the hike worthwhile. And everywhere bougainvillea and lantana are in bloom. Lots of cactus, too.

Castelmola is a more substantial town than expected. The town's sights include a church that is part cave and a bar with a phallic theme. In a small shop we buy a couple of colorful ceramics to hang on our walls. The ceramics are non-phallic I might add. 

Next we hike back down to Taormina to check out Teatro Greco, Taorimina's famous Greek/Roman amphitheater. It is carved into a hillside and features great views. Of course most places in Taormina have great views.

From the Teatro Greco we hike down to the beach at Mazzaro and then walk the rocky beach to Isola Bella, a small island just offshore. The Mediterranean water is crystal clear and a number of people are swimming. We didn't expect such nice conditions in November so did not pack swim suits.

Our hike is still not over. We climb the stairs back up to Taormina, walk through a beautiful public garden brimming with flowers, then snack on pizza and arancini at Da Cristina, a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop that usually features a line of customers. We ate there yesterday and found it good and cheap. Today i noticed, posted on their wall, a page from the NY Times of 4/28/2013 recommending Da Cristina. 

Finally, we stop in a small store to purchase a couple of pieces of art that we'd admired the day before. Now we just have to figure how to fit our purchases into our bags.

Taormina has been a pleasure. Lots to see in such a small place, great views from almost every corner, pretty architecture, and plenty of restaurants and hotels .

One pattern we are picking up on in this trip is a lack of cuisine diversity. Not that we don't love Italian food but if you want something else the pickings are slim.

Tomorrow we head south to Siracusa.

The first picture is of Teatro Greco, the second is of Mount Etna as seen from Castelmola.

Mt Etna from Castelmola      
Mt Etna from Castelmola      
Paul examining ceramics      
Hike to Castelmola      

He made us a meal we couldn't refuse

November 15, 2014   Saturday
Sicily   Italy   Siracusa

We walk off-island tonight to eat a 18€ prix fixe meal at a small restaurant owned by butcher Ciccio and his friend Mauro. When we arrive at 8pm the place is empty. Since everything in Italy is closed from 1 to 4ish in the afternoon i guess 8 is early for dinner.

The waiter brings two hard-boiled eggs. Paul and I look at the eggs and the small bowl of salt and wonder why we have eggs. The waiter comes back to our table to indicate that we are to eat the eggs now. He does not speak English. We eat our eggs.

Next comes a large plate of antipasti, a bowl of beans, and a bowl with a soft cheese. Then bread, wine, and tripe. Then a selection of grilled meats: chicken, steak, sausage, bacon, and horse. Despite the amount - twice the food we need - we eat everything but the tripe. It is all very good, all except the tripe that is.

By 9 pm customers are waiting for tables and I feel like I'm in the middle of a Godfather movie. And I mean that in a good way. Everyone is well dressed, made up, talking Italian, and they all know each other. As customers come in to the restaurant they say ciao and talk and do the double kisses with those already seated. Paul and I are the only non-Sicilians in the place.

Let me back up a bit. We are in Siracusa, about two hours south of Taormina, on the southeast tip of Sicily. We are here because Siracusa is very old, a town with enough history for a hundred other towns.

We are staying at hotel Gargallo, a small place in the middle of the island of Ortigia. Ortigia's streets are narrow, crooked, and disorienting; it brings to mind Venice without the canals. The architecture is stunning. One old stone building after another, with beautiful details and crumbly textures that come alive at night.

The pictures accompanying this post are of a beautiful old church a few doors from our hotel, a courtyard also near our hotel, and, best of all, the magnificent Piazza del Duomo, about a block from the hotel. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to old churches but I found the interior of this Duomo among the most fascinating. You can see the evidence of its being built and re-built. A beautiful building inside  and out.

Ciao for now.


Castello Maniace

November 16, 2014   Sunday
Sicily   Italy   Siracusa

Perfect weather today. After breakfast we walk to the southern tip of Ortigia to see Castello Maniace, a defense built in 1239 but named after a Byzantine admiral who conquered Siracusa in 1038. Part of the complex is used by the local university, the rest is available to the public.

It is an impressive fortification with thick walls, large vaulted chambers, and the remnants of a moat separating it from the rest of Ortigia.

Like many sites only some areas are open because of ongoing reconstruction. 

Lunch is in Piazza Archimede, named after Archimedes. Pizza topped with sliced potatos followed by way too many desserts. The piazza features a large fountain depicting the nymph Arethusa, the symbol of Ortigia. 

The photos are of the Castello, the clear water surrounding Ortigia, another  of the Castello, and the Duomo.

Siracusa boats

Travel's a gamble. I know that going in.

November 17, 2014   Monday
Sicily   Italy   Siracusa

About all I pack for travel is a few changes of clothes, something to read, something to write with, and a camera. A coat if it's cold.  Toothbrush and deodorant.

My travel clothes are all green and blue polypro. Everything matches. I’ve long thought life would be better if we wore uniforms, as the Chinese supposedly did during the cultural revolution. Olive green Mao jackets and matching pants. No decisions, just take out the next clean pair. Like Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriend Christie who always wears the same black and white dress. I get her.

I take something to write with and a camera because my memory sucks. Maybe I'm mentally lazy, maybe I'm defective,  maybe I had too much fun in grad school. In any case i find writing things down and taking pictures helps me remember. That is why I write this blog.

But back to Italy. Next on our short list of things we think we should see while in Siracusa is the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis. This is about a half-hour walk once you cross the bridge that takes you off Ortigia , so maybe 45 minutes from the hotel. Not the most interesting walk but not scary or anything, just city streets in a nondescript part of Siracusa.

This archaeological site features an arena built for circus games and where the sick drank the blood and ate the livers of the dead; a 200m long altar built to honor Timoleon that did double duty for animal sacrifices; a large amphitheate, the Teatro Greco; and a rock quarry complete with a huge ear-shaped cavern. The quarry served as prison for 7000 Athenian prisoners of war. 

It all sounds worth seeing but I find it more interesting to read about in the Rough Guide than to actually walk among the ruins. Part of the problem is the site’s lack of signage and part is its appearance of neglect. For 10€ the site should be better maintained. 

And that's ok, travel is a mix of good and disappointing. Everything can't live up to expectations which is why I try to dampen my expectations.

Two photos today: the Teatro Greco at the Parco Archeologico and a typical Ortigia street at night.


La passeggiata

November 18, 2014   Tuesday
Sicily   Italy   Siracusa

Another beautiful and warm day in Siracusa. We visit the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia which fronts the same beautiful square as the Duomo. The original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 then rebuilt and reopened in 1703. The 1693 earthquake comes up a lot when reading the history of southeastern Sicily.

Beautiful inside and out, the church’s highlights are a large work by Caravaggio - the Burial of Santa Lucia - as well as murals and old crucifixes.

We buy a small watercolor on papyrus on our way to the Fonte Aretusa, a freshwater spring just meters from the Mediterranean.

The Fonte Aretusa fronts a path along the west side of the island, one of the places you can participate in the traditional passeggiata or evening promenade. The promenade generally takes place between 5 and 8pm in every Italian town. Couples and families walk and greet friends and neighbors. Stores are open should you want to shop (remember, they are closed from about 1 to 4) but most people just walk. On weekends the numbers are huge; it appears everyone in town is out and about.

After dinner we sit in Piazza Duomo. The temperature is perfect and the piazza is almost empty aside from a few bicyclists , pedestrians, and cats. Sicily has a lot of cats.

The piazza is one of the most beautiful urban spaces i've seen. It is intimate in size and surrounded by buildings that are works of art. 

Tonight's photos are of Fonte Aretusa, Santa Lucia alla Badia, and the duomo.



November 19, 2014   Wednesday
Italy   Islands   Ragusa   Sicily

We say goodbye to Siracusa and Hotel Gargallo. The Gargallo is a fine little family run hotel. Mom prepares breakfast and cleans, the front desk is staffed by one of the kids, and everyone is friendly.  Weaknesses are the too-hard bed, crummy pillows,  and the all-too-common leaky corner shower. If you've used one you know what I mean, there is no way to shower without water going on the floor.

We walk a half hour to the Siracusa train station which is next to the bus station. Our choices are the 10:10 Trenitalia or the 12-something bus. Most take the bus but we take the train. The two tickets are a cheap 15€.

The train is sad-looking, worn and of course tagged with graffiti, but the seats are new and it’s not packed with passengers. It’s an odd looking train as it has two passenger cars and no engine car.  The engine is underneath somewhere. What is really odd is that we feel the transmission shift as the engineer moves through the gears to get up to speed. I pull down the window to enjoy the breeze - the temperature is great - and snap a few pictures of the country going by. 

After a couple of hours riding through gently rolling agricultural land and making a half-dozen stops we arrive in Ragusa.

We step off the train and are immediately approached by a small man in a sports jacket. He speaks nothing but rapid-fire Italian. I figure he's a taxi driver looking for a fare. I smile, say no, and start to move on.

Turns out it is Angelo, the owner of the b&b. He grabs one of our bags and leads us to his Citroen. 

He doesn’t stop talking - in, of course, Italian - for the next 45 minutes as he drives the short distance to the b&b; explains the three door keys; demonstrates the espresso machine (pointing to his stomach with disapproval when i tell him Paul drinks Coke); gives us a tour of the b&b; maps out a walking tour of Ragusa; tells us where to go for dinner and what to order; takes our breakfast order (croissant with chocolate or riccotta); and copies our passport details into a notebook. Whew. That's a lot of Italian.

We spend the rest of the afternoon walking the old town. The old town is called Ragusa Ibla as opposed to the newer part of town which is called Ragusa superior. 

We also check out the churches. Italy has a church on almost every corner. The churches in Ragusa are very beautiful so we've a pleasant time spent marvelling at the architecture and interior adornments.

The pictures are of Ragusa Ibla.


Breakfast with Angelo

November 20, 2014   Thursday
Italy   Islands   Ragusa   Sicily

It's another beautiful blue-sky day in Sicily. I down an espresso and take the stairs up to the rooftop patio. Angelo greets us. Angelo is a small, trim man, maybe 65, who dresses neatly like most Italians past 40.

We are the only guests in the b&b yet Angelo has set out enough food for ten. Breakfast at the b&b i soon discover is like eating with a dad who hovers over you, correcting your meal habits all while saying eat, eat.  

Angelo has laid out our croissants (chocolate, or is it nutella? for me, ricotta for Paul) but stops us as we start to eat. No, we must start with the bread, cheese, and tapenade course. Next, Angelo stops us when we use the same plate. Courses cannot share plates. I feel like a Neanderthal.

I put a few baked apples slices on my plate. Angelo stops me. He wants me to use a bowl and then he adds more Apple slices to my bowl because i haven't  taken enough. They are delicious so i do not mind.

As we eat, Angelo occasionally goes to another table and smokes. Everyone in Italy smokes. They are worse than Canadians.

Finally, my non-dessert courses are done and I dig into my chocolate-filled croissant. It is good but i am stuffed. If Angelo weren’t watching i’d skip the first two courses and just eat the croissant but i can’t so i don’t. When all is done i want to say thanks dad.

Breakfast over, we head out to hike the Cava della Misericordia. The hike begins in Piazza della Republica so we take the stairs down to Ragusa Ibla, the old town, then we walk down another set of stairs to the trailhead. 

We soon hit a river crossing too deep to attempt. So we walk the stairs back up to town and then down again, an alternative approach indicated by the openstreetmaps phone app. Success. This route has a bridge.

We spend the rest of the day hiking through a forested canyon surrounded by rocky outcroppings, then we circle back via a road which cuts through farms and cow pastures which are separated from each other and from the road by stone walls. The rocks, the olive trees, the stone paths, and the clear dry climate is how I imagined Sicily, and here I am, on this beautiful day, walking with Paul on this island in the Mediterranean so far from home. I am very fortunate.

We return to Ragusa mid-afternoon. After a snack at a patisserie (espresso, arancini, lemon cake that looks like art, and a whipped cream and berry pastry) we stop to trade travel tips with a young German couple we saw on the train, then we return to the b&b to shower, rest, and plan our dinner. Some days i think that life is composed of meals broken up by short periods of non-meals.

The photos are of the b&b's rooftop patio followed by shots from today's hike.

Ragusa as seen from our trail      


November 21, 2014   Friday
Italy   Islands   Modica   Sicily

I haven't mentioned why we are in Italy. Tomorrow, November 22, I am 60, so we are here to celebrate. I cannot understand how i've arrived at 60. Well I understand how i've arrived at 60 i just do not understand where the time went. If you are my age or thereabout you understand but if you are young you do not. The point is, we are travelling to celebrate that i've lived to a ridiculous old age.

But back to Italy. 

After another delicious breakfast with Angelo where i bravely skip one entree so as to make room for dessert. We then walk to the  station to catch the bus to Modica.

It's about a 20 minute ride. Modica is a little smaller than  Ragusa but otherwise it is not much different than Ragusa. Hills, stairs, old churches, narrow windy streets, and little cars that somehow squeeze through. In other words, Modica is fine but if you are in Ragusa you needn't bother even though the guidebooks say it is worth the trip.

A funeral mass is taking place in Modica's butterscotch-colored church so we sit and listen for awhile. That could soon be me, dead in a box. Well maybe not with all the Catholic bits. 

Modica's fame is chocolate so we stop at a couple of chocolate shops where we sample and buy. The chocolate is dark - no milk chocolate here - and has a curious grainy texture. 

We walk back to the bus stop for the return. We’ve three bus schedules to consult - one from the Ragusa tourist office and two posted in Modica - and each has a different time for the return bus to Ragusa. The 3:10 never appears, nor the 3:30 so we end up waiting for the 5pm. 

We walk down the many flights of stone stairs to Ragusa Ibla for dinner and find Ibla almost empty. It is post apocalyptic in its emptiness.  The upside is there are no tourists. The downside is that many restaurants are closed. If you come off season expect to hunt for a restaurant. Paul makes a list of restaurants from trip advisor and we then hunt for those that are open. This isn't to say we totally trust trip advisor but it is a place to start. Fortunately we find one open, Quattro Gatti, and dinner is very good. We drink a lot of wine and then walk back to the b&b.

Tomorrow we head for our final stop in Sicily, Palermo.

The pictures are of Modica.

Ragusa at night

Stuck in Ragusa

November 22, 2014   Saturday
Italy   Islands   Ragusa   Sicily

A whiney post today, sorry. I expect to be in a better frame tomorrow.

After breakfast we walk to the bus station where I start to feel sick. Bad tap water, too much red wine, too many rich foods, maybe some combination of causes. It doesn't help that the Ragusa bus station is a parking lot and waiting at the station involves standing in the parking lot inhaling a mix of diesel fumes and cigarettes. As mentioned previously, it feels like everyone in Italy smokes - though maybe i should qualify this and say southern Italy - and since indoor smoking is prohibited (yay) when outdoors you are continually surrounded by smokers chain smoking. The diesel plus cigarettes  combine with my shaky digestive tract to make me feel nauseous.

I don't want to be sick on the bus - it is a long ride with no toilet - so I decide we should stay another day in Ragusa. But I learn to regret this decision since tomorrow is Sunday and transport options are limited.

The same thing occurred last winter - one of us sick on a day of a long bus ride - but we were able to fly at the last minute. But Ragusa isn't Buenos Aires; we've few options and none include an airplane.

We head to the train station but it is closed. They've a sparse schedule on work days. Sundays just won't work. 

The bus is our only option but we spend what seems like hours trying to decipher the Sunday (Festivi) bus schedule. The printout is surprisingly complex and it doesn't help that it is in Italian.

We ask the fellow at the hotel's front desk for help as he speaks English - we didn't return to the b&b because of communication issues - but we don't trust his interpretation of the schedule. That he says the bus to Palermo goes via Modica after Ragusa makes no sense as it is the wrong direction. And he wouldn't go online to confirm. Jerk.

And we can't get our phones to connect to the AST bus website. So tomorrow morning we'll walk to the bus station to see if we can get an answer.

Yes, I know, too much complaining.

Bus schedule


November 23, 2014   Sunday
Italy   Islands   Palermo   Sicily

Much of today is spent on the bus to Palermo (13.5€), time spent binge listening Serial podcasts and watching the agricultural scenery go by.

Serial makes me think about the challenge of creating a just judicial system. For example, in one episode the judge instructs the jury to disregard the defendant’s  refusal to testify. But in the podcast this is followed by a statement from a juror who clearly did not do as instructed. The juror states that Adnan’s failure to  testify made her think he was guilty. I don’t blame the juror.  When i watch tv court dramas (I really enjoy the Good Wife) the same thought hits me when a judge tells a jury to "disregard that last statement". Just how does one un-hear something? This is a pretty serious weakness in the jury system.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Italy.

We are in Palermo. Our b&b is only steps from Via Maqueda and the Piazza Verdi, home of the Massimo Theatre, Italy’s biggest opera house (see photo).

Shortly after arrival we head out for dinner and find Via Maqueda vehicle free and filled with people young and old promenading through the old town. The city has a lively and festive atmosphere. We look forward to our last days in Sicily exploring Palermo after which we will catch an overnight ferry to Naples to begin the journey home to Canada.


Quattro Canti

November 24, 2014   Monday
Palermo   Italy   Sicily

We spend the day exploring medieval Palermo which is just outside the door of our b&b.

We start at Quattro Canti (four corners) which divides the old town into four quadrants. At one time inhabitants of the quarters had their own dialects, trades, palaces, and markets, and intermarriage was discouraged.

Quattro Canti isn't a piazza, which is what i expected, it is the intersection of two major streets, Via Maqueda and Corso Emanuele. 

Mind you, a major street in old Palermo is barely wide enough for 2 cars plus sidewalks. As in many Italian cities, the typical Palermo street is barely wide enough for a Fiat and you often find yourself flat against the building to let cars pass. This isn't as bad as it may sound. While aggressive, drivers here don't want to hit you.

At each corner of the Quattro Canti is a tall concave wall with several tiers of statues. In years past this was where the heads of convicted rebels were displayed.

Immediately adjacent are Piazza Pretoria and a church. This being Italy, there are actually four churches facing the Piazza but only one caught my interest, San Giuseppe dei Teatini.

San Giuseppe's misleadingly simple exterior conceals a breathtaking interior.  Ceiling to floor, front to back to side, it is covered in different shades of marble and tile and paint, all worked into beautifully detailed representations of religious themes. It's almost enough to inspire me to join the Catholic church, which I think may have been the point. I imagine this space had a magical impact on the minds of the residents of seventeenth-century Sicily, residents who likely lived in a style that differed vastly from that represented by this gorgeous spectacle.

Next to the church is Piazza Pretoria, and at its center is a fountain surrounded by many many statues of naked nymphs, in other words, naked men and women. The flagrant nudity on display so offended neighboring churchgoers that they called it the Fountain of Shame. Given that the fountain predates the church i wonder why the church was built next door but I've no answer to that question.

From Quattro Canti we walk to the Cattedrale (7€) where we climb to the roof for a view out over the city. Afterwards we climb down below the Cattedrale to check out the (not interesting) treasury and the (sort of interesting) crypt. Unlike San Giuseppe, only the exterior if the Cattedrale is worth looking at.

We spend the rest of the day walking the old town's narrow streets, shopping, stepping into the churches that are open, and eating: ice cream, pastry, pizza, espresso, and arancini. 

Today's photos are of  San Giuseppe, the roof of the Cattedrale, the Fountain of Shame, and Quattro Canti.

Cathedral in Palermo      
Quattro Canti, Palermo

Sicilian cornucopia

November 26, 2014   Wednesday
Palermo   Italy   Sicily

Our plan this morning is to take the bus to Monreale, a town about 15km from Palermo. The Monreale Cathedral is acclaimed as a stunning fusion of Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman craftsmanship.

We wait over an hour at Piazza Indipendenza for bus 389 which is said to run every half hour. The bus finally arrives and a crush of people approach the door. We push our way in but the bus passengers already inside refuse to move to the back where there is free space. I am jammed in, I feel someone grab my shoulder bag, I cannot move, and I think this is no fun. 

My claustrophobia kicks in so I call out to Paul, who is a little further in, "I'm outa here!" I push my way out of the bus to the street. Paul follows. What a relief! Seeing yet another church wasn't worth the aggravation.

The bus stop just happens to be in front of the entrance to the Palazzo dei Normanni which was the residence of the king during the Norman occupation. Today it houses the Regional Parliament of Sicily, which some claim is the world's first modern parliament.

The Palazzo was built in the ninth century though like many of the local buildings it has been enlarged and modified repeatedly as different groups came and conquered. Because of this pattern of being overrun by different groups over thousands of years, Palermo's architecture exhibits a diversity of styles which to my eye blend well.

The highlight of the Palazzo is said to be the Cappella Palatina, the private chapel of Roger II, and it is open to the public today (7€) so we decide to visit.

We sit in front of the entrance to read about the Cappella Palatina. As we sit, a large group of young people who are gathered in a nearby park start marching towards us and i watch as the guard starts to pull the gate to the Palazzo  closed.

The guard lets us in then shuts the gate just before the marchers converge on us. I hear the same chant that i heard in Salta last February, "the people, united, cannot be defeated" though in Italian, not Spanish, and of course they could be saying something completely different. If you've done a few demonstrations, anti-war, act-up, etc., you know it.  Maybe the protest is related to the socialist posters that are plastered on walls in town.

The Palazzo is beautiful and the chapel is stunning, completely covered in mosaics depicting stories from, you guessed it, the bible. Also nice is that the chapel is empty except for one other couple.

November has proven to be an excellent month for visiting Italy: no crowds plus comfortable weather. Paul and I are once again the only people in our B&b. Taormina, Ragusa,  Siracusa, and now Palermo, in the first two we were the only guests, in the last two we were the only guests at check out. Only Sorrento was full. Actually i think a few more guests would be nice as trading travel ideas with others can be useful.

From the Palazzo we walk over to check out the Ballaro market which is spread over maybe ten blocks of Dickensian streets. Dark and dirty looking like much of old Palermo, the Ballaro market consists of block after block of market stalls selling fresh vegetables, cheese, smartphone covers, clothing, every size of fish, long silver eels, underwear, octopus, entrails, cow heads, it just goes on and on. The worn cobblestones are slippery wet in places from the market  guys washing away fish bits, and the passages are barely two people wide. Annoyingly, there are the ubiquitous motor scooters squeezing through. Reminds me of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar though the Bazaar lacked scooters. 

For dinner we go to il culinario, a neighborhood restaurant, for a wonderful meal. Silvio, the owner, explains each course with Sicilian pride and passion and brings extras such as an additional appetizer and an after dinner sweet wine. The large group dining at the next table exhibits the unreserved passion and physical expression i've come to enjoy observing while in Italy. So different from my family.

Tomorrow night we are on an overnight ferry to Naples and may not have wifi so the next update may be from Frankfurt.  

Photos are of Chiese Capitolare di San Cataldo (a 12th century Arab-Norman church), the main shopping street via Maqueda, a poster take off of Breaking Bad, and a ceremony we encountered and evesdropped on after dinner.

Palermo street      
Butcher shop

The Palermitani are looking out for us

November 26, 2014   Wednesday
Sicily   Palermo   Italy

I wasn't expecting much for our last day in Sicily. Check out of the b&b then hang out with luggage until time to board the 20:00 ferry for Naples.

But no, the Palermitani (residents of Palermo) are looking out for us. Marco at the b&b offers us to keep our room for the day at no charge. A real friendly guy and a nice place to stay.

We find a ceramic shop with colourful Picasso-inspired designs. The question is, do we want to carry one more breakable on the plane home? Of course!

We walk to the Kalsa neighborhood, which is seaside, and along the way we pass a school overflowing with students. Late teens, maybe a bit older. Palermo is full of young people, i think they've some universities here, which adds good energy to the city. Anyway, the kids call out to me, they see my camera, they want me to take their pictures. They pose and i shoot and we all have fun. Nice kids.

We wander into Santa Maria dello Spasimo, or Lo Spasimo, a church in the Kalsa neighborhood.  The church was never completed because of the rising Turkish threat in 1535, where resources meant for the church were diverted to fortifications of the city against any possible incursions. 

Once inside a woman walks over to tell us the history of the building and about how it's now used for jazz concerts. Then another lady flags us down to show us a cupola that she thinks we'll find interesting.

By now we are hungry, but it us 14:00 and not much is open. We just happen to walk past il Culinario, where we ate last night. It is closed, they only serve dinner. Suddenly Silvio, the owner, walks out and calls to us. He seats us, brings some of his delicious chickpea and crostini appetizers, then gets us two pizzas. He hangs around and talks about his travels in his broken English. When we're done he serves us a small dessert and a small glass of his homemade lemon liquor.

Palermo has made a very positive impression on me. It's Italy turned up a notch, proud and passionate survivors of thousands of years of battles, from the Romans, Burbons, Arabs, the inquisition, etc., up to the more recent fascists and the mafia. A fine place to visit indeed.

The photos are of Lo Spasimo and a group of students posing for me outside their school.

Serial justice

December 7, 2014   Sunday
Sicily   Italy   Taormina

Just listened to serial episode 10.

Prospective jurors who've had brush with the legal system are pulled and questioned. And by brush I mean everything from convict to victim to relative of convict or victim. One of the things they are looking for, says the voice over, is bias against cops, but there is no mention of bias in favor of cops. 

Is Adnan guilty? If Sarah Koenig can't tell I certainly won't venture a guess. But the story provides a look inside the US legal system that reinforces the view that justice isn't truth, it's a roll of the dice.

Pictures are from the beautiful town of Taormina. #2 is a double rainbow from our room, #3 is on the way to Castelmola, and #4 is of Etna and, on the hilltop in the upper right corner, the town of Castelmola.

Don't know what I'm talking about

December 8, 2014   Monday
Sicily   Italy   Taormina

One of my post-travel tasks is to write reviews, usually to Trip Advisor. Then I put it off by telling myself the world's store of information doesn't need the additional bits it would take to store my reviews.  Today I wrote two. Both are establishments in Palermo, Il Culinario with its imposing proprietor who appears twice in my blog, and Casa Galati, a near-perfect economy b&b. 

And speaking of Italy (you are probably sick of it by now), in yesterday's nyt Taiye Selasi caught my eye by writing about Italy. She says the northern mountains in Italy are more like Germany, and the far south is, well, not like Germany. Since northern and southern Italians have little in common they might be better going it alone. I just wonder if this is true? I appreciate the desire to cement prejudice into law, I just don't want to live in a place where that becomes a reality. 

I'm slowly processing photos which means i convert them to jpgs then make a small version for the web. I post all that i process. Today's photos are of Taormina, Mt Etna as seen from Castelmola, and Castelmola itself. Taormina and Castelmola are ridiculously charming.


Herculaneum and Palermo

December 12, 2014   Friday
24-120/4   Sicily   Palermo   Italy   Herculaneum

At the moment the most important article of clothing on Vancouver Island is a good raincoat. It's not cold, just wet.   

I've added a number of shots to the Herculaneum and Palermo photo galleries. A few are copied here: the first six are the ruins - I don't know why I'm surprised at the colors - and the rest are Palermo. The last is of a group of students who insisted on posing.

Palermo and Naples are similar.Block after block of narrow streets squeezing between old stone buildings. So much detail! And you often feel you've seen this before, because it fits some idealized or maybe television or movie sourced brain picture of how Italian cities are supposed to look. Despite their similarities Palermo seems more prosperous, youthful, and energetic.