Saturday, October 21, 2017

Palermo

We left the villa for Palermo in two cars. Darren’s Aunt Sylvia and her friend Kate joined John and I in our car.

Driving in Palermo is stressful. You can feel the tension in the car. I was so thankful to John for driving.

We parked a few blocks away from the Cappuccini Catacombs and met up with the rest of our group there. 

I must admit I had not read up on these Catacombs before we went. I was expecting ancient Catacombs without bodies. Instead it was hundreds of exposed and decomposed bodies that passed away in the 1700 to early 1900s, dressed in their burial clothes. Some still had their skin and hair; others mostly bones. You could not take pictures but they had postcards.


It was hard to believe that these were once human beings...now they are quite gruesome, like something out of a horror film. For some macabre reason, people are drawn to it. I guess it’s a fascination with the unknown.






We then walked around the nearby cemetery which had family mausoleum after mausoleum.


The group decided to move our cars closer to the town centre and meet in front of the cathedral. It took us forever to worm our way through traffic and was nearly impossible to find parking. Finally we found an underground parking lot.


We passed a butcher that had carcasses in the window. At first I thought it was a rubber chicken before I realized that it was the real thing.

It was some distance from the cathedral. John attempted to lead us with his map. He lead us through a local market selling fish, meat, produce, olives and more. 






I finally asked directions and we made it to the 12th century Palermo Cathedral. It was stunning. I would have liked to have spent more time there but there were a lot of other things we wanted to see.





We walked through the Garibaldi Gardens near the cathedral before finding a cafe for lunch.


Fully refreshed, we continued walking to the beautiful Quattro Canti which is a large square with matching statues and fountains on all four sides of the street.


We next checked out a nearby multi layered Pretoria fountain in a Piazza Pretoria. It was surrounded by buildings that looked very official...there were guards at the door.




Continuing down the pedestrian street, we finally bumped into the rest of our group. 


We took a gelato break in front of the gorgeous Teatro Massimo (an opera house) before finding a nearby Mephisto store which was closed for the afternoon siesta. I looked in the window and they didn’t have any Mephistos I liked.


We made our way back to the car. Getting out of the city was ugly but once on the highway, we made it back in plenty time to have a nap before the evening’s birthday festivities.


The owner of the villa and his wife made the most awesome supper for our group....and the food kept coming and coming. It was our best meal yet. Sun dried tomatoes and ricotta, cheese and local honey, mussels, bruschetta, seafood pasta, tuna, a white fish, salad, carrot salad, cannolis, fresh fruit including prickly pairs, wine, persecco, Marsala and more. I’m glad I had a short nap because I was able to stay awake for the rest of our festivities.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Segesta and Erice

The archeological sight of Segesta was our first destination of the day. A shuttle bus took us from the parking lot to the base of the site.




The hillside surrounded by lush valleys provide a dramatic setting for this ancient city.


Atop of one hill is the Temple of Segesta. After exploring it we went back to the base and had a cannoli.


The rest of the city and ancient theatre was on another, very tall, steep hill. I said to John, “I hope there’s a bus.” “There is no bus.” He replied.

We started climbing, up, up, up. Halfway there I was puffing and my leg muscles screamed bloody murder.Thats when I heard the sounds of a bus coming up behind ...and past me. It took a good half hour to get to the top. I just knew my glutes would hate me in the morning.


The views were fabulous and the ruins interesting. We took the shuttle bus down.


Our next stop was to Erice. We caught the cable car and rose higher and higher. My ears popped. Finally we arrived in Erice,  a medieval town on the top of a mountain overlooking Trapani.


The streets were cobble stoned. We first checked out a church and bell tower. Two homeless dogs lay sleeping on the square in front of the church. One of them rolled over onto his back with all four paws in the air, obviously enjoying his afternoon snooze.


Speaking of dogs, there seem to be a lot of homeless dogs around Sicily. There were two dogs sleeping in the middle of the road in Segesta. You also usually hear dogs barking through the night, in the morning...actually all the time. And word of warning; watch where you step.


Erice was gorgeous, however most of it was uphill on cobblestones and I didn’t choose my shoes wisely that morning.


I love Italian ceramics and had a great time going through the shops....so many ceramics; so little luggage space.


 When coming out of a shop I found John talking to Emily and Vince who unbeknownst to us had also decided to go to Erice this day. Em and Vince were just leaving Erice and weren’t looking forward to their trip back down the mountain. Unfortunately they had decided to take the car and the drive up was pretty hair raising.


We continued touring Erice. After lunch we went up to the Castle of Venus. In ancient times it was the place of the sacred prostitutes. Hmmmm. 


It was a gorgeous location and the views....
The only thing marring the views were the numerous telecommunications towers throughout the town. 


While John was still exuberantly taking pictures, I started my descent from the castle....carefully picking every step so as not to wipe out or step on doggy refuse. That’s when I spied a man in ethnic dress with a beautiful white horse and decorated cart. I put up my phone to take a picture and he said it would cost me a kiss and pointed to his cheek. I said, “No problem” and took the photo. He said, “payment” and pointed to his cheek.

I walked over and started to give him a loud smacking kiss on his cheek when he tried to turn his head for a kiss on the lips. I laughed, wagged my finger and told him “that wasn’t the bargain.” He pointed and asked if I wanted a ride in the cart. I said “No thanks, I’m waiting for my husband.”

Fortunately, John chose that moment to come down from the castle and the guy calls out, knowing full well it was my husband, “ Here comes your father.” Cheeky guy!


John and I found the fountain with the statue of Venus and paid homage before taking the cable car back down to Trapani.


Driving out of Trapani was very stressful. Italian drivers are really aggressive, even the grandmothers. There were all kinds of bicyclists riding in the dark with no lights on.

We met up with everyone back at the villa. Some of Karen’s relatives came by and we all went to a restaurant that they recommended. The restaurant had no sign out front and was obviously a place where only the locals came to eat. The food was awesome...one of the best meals of our trip. Calimari, smoked salmon, shrimps, octopus, amazing anchovy sandwiches, pizzas and more. Yum.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trapani and the Egadi Islands

Trapani was our destination this morning. On our way there we passed flamingos grazing in the salt ponds along the coast. Salt seems to be a big industry in Trapani. We arrived to the harbour after about 45 minutes of driving. Karen had reserved a boat in advance to take the eleven of us to the Egadi Islands.




Passing a prison from 300BC, the first island we stopped at was Favignana. An ancient castle crowned the hill, high above the main town.  Crystal clear water, brimming with fish surrounded this slow paced island. We wandered the streets, stopping for gelato (or beer). John and I couldn’t decide if the floor of the shallow waters on one side of the island was the flooded remains of some ancient ruin or just unique natural rock formations.




I loved the bikes with painted, wooden crates attached to their backs.


We boated to the other side of the island where we anchored down and most of our group swam in the clear, vibrant turquoise water. The water was cool so I didn’t go in. Bright blue fish and needle fish swam around our boat. We had delicious pane con sardine sandwiches (anchovies, mozzerella, olive oil and tomatoes)and a pasta baked into a cup shape with a breadcrumb crust.




After lunch we travelled around the island a some more, checking out the caves before making our way to Levantine Island.




Levantine Island reminded me of Greece with its whitewashed buildings with blue doors and window frames. Tired from our day of sun and sea , we headed back to Trapani.






The town centre was lovely with its polished rock streets, Baroque church, shops and restaurants. We had supper at an outdoor osteria before driving back to the villa.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Archeological Ruins, Wine Tasting and Marsala

We left Siracusa early this morning for Mazara del Vello which is on the west side of Sicily. On the way we stopped at the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. The interior landscape of Sicily is more arid than the coast. It was more like Malta.


The ruins were gorgeous. The temples are spread out over a long sloping ridge (not in a valley) connected by a wide pedestrian walkway . There are parking lots at each end and we started out at the high end of the walkway at the Temple of Guino (Juno) which has a commanding view over the countryside. At the midpoint of the ridge is the most intact temple (for a ruin) called the Temple of Concordia. These temples must have been quite the sight in their day! At the far end of the walkway are the jumbled remains of the once massive Temple of Zeus along with many other ruins but almost nothing of the ruins is left standing.






From Agrigento we took the coastal road to Mazara del Vallo to the villa we are staying at with friends. I was totally impressed that despite the small streets with numerous twists and turns John found the place.

A number of us were meeting at this large villa in order to celebrate our friend Karen’s milestone birthday...after all, what better way to celebrate than a week in Sicily?

After freshening ourselves up, the twelve of us headed over to a family run winery. The father and daughter gave us a tour through the facilities which ended up in a room with a large table laid out for tasting and eating. The mother and winemaker soon joined us.


The wines (many of them medal winners)were delicious as were the local home made foods. Best of all was the company. The father pulled out his accordion and we drank, ate, sang and danced. What an amazing time. I would recommend this wine tasting experience to wine lovers staying in the area. It needs to be booked in advance. Www.tenutebotticella.com




Our next stop was Marsala, where many of our group grabbed a bite to eat and drink at an outdoor cafe. John, Darren and I strolled around the small town enjoying the scenery of buildings lit up at night. 


We ended the night chatting in the courtyard of our villa before hitting the hay.