Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Heiligenberg


 

It was foggy, cold and rainy. Graham met us at the townhouse and we literally headed for the hills. Heiligenberg to be exact, which means holy mountain. Apparently this mountain was used a lot by pagans in the past.


Heidelberg is in a valley surrounded by high hills. We drove up and up through heavy mist to the top and then we got out to walk.


The fog cloaked our surroundings in mystery. Our first stop were the ruins of a Nazi amphitheatre built in the law 1930’s. It was very similar in style to the Greek or Roman ones.


We passed some innukshuk like rocks with a sign that read inner gate. A black and yellow salamander creature crossed our path.


The ruins of the medieval Cloister of St Michaels was our next stop. I am sure it would have a total different atmosphere on a sunny day. Very cool.


Unfortunately we had to leave for the airport, so we dropped Graham off at the townhouses where he had left his bike. It is always so hard saying goodbye to either of my boys.


We plan to do more exploring in and around Heidelberg in the spring.

Getting gas into the rental car was a pain in the butt. The GPS took us all around and through the airport area only to find that the gas station was closed. Then we had to go through the airport area again and we found a gas station that was different than the one we were looking for... but it did the trick.

The rest of the trip to Canada went without a hitch.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Heidelberg

Early morning saw us leaving Catania. The streets were almost empty except for the cars parked everywhere to the point that a car could barely squeeze through a two way street. 


We flew into Frankfurt on RyanAir. It took quite a while to get our bags. It was grey, cool and drizzly outside.

The German autobahns have no speed limit. John was doing 140 Km per hour in the slow lane.

The GPS took us straight to our Airbnb place in Heidelberg. The townhouse is wonderful...spacious, clean and comfortable. Graham biked to our location and we all took the car into the old city.




It was beautiful despite the dreary weather, it would be downright stunning in the sunlight.


Heidelberg was not bombed during the war so the old city has all these gorgeous buildings, the oldest university in Germany and a castle in the hills. It’s very picturesque.


We walked around the university and down the pedestrian area in the centre of the city. We saw the old student residence where Graham lives and walked along the bridge.




We went to eat at a lovely German restaurant where we filled up on schnitzel, sausages, sourkrout and spetzle. 


John and I then made it back to the townhouse. My leg is still really bothering me. 

Mosaics and Catania

I pulled a pomegranate from the tree, peeled it for the road and drank a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice from our tree. We said goodbye to our friends at the villa and began our 4.5 hour drive to Catania.

My leg was still quite sore but at least not throbbing like the day before. 


On our way to Catania we planned to stop at the Villa Romana Del Casale which is a 3.5 hour drive from Mazara del Valle. Some of the largest, well-preserved mosaic floors in the world are at this UNESCO world heritage site.


Romana del Casale is near the town of Piazza Armerina which was a little out of our way but well worth it. It was hard to believe the mosaics were created in Roman times.


Making our way back to the highway was a bit more challenging. Our GPS froze and we accidentally went into the town of Piazza Armerina with streets so tight and steep that we could brush the cars on either side. We would make a turn to get out and find ourselves on an even narrower and steeper street. Finally the GPS started working again, just in time to bring us into a funeral procession where the mourners were walking behind the hearse. Eventually we made it back to the highway.


I wasn’t expecting much from Catania but I was pleasantly surprised.

We drove past our hotel three times before we noticed the small sign announcing its existence. We parked our car up on the sidewalk Italian style, checked in and headed out to explore the city despite my aching leg.


I love Italian cities at night; they come alive with people walking around, socializing, shopping and eating.

The Piazza Duomo was a short walk away and low and behold, in and amongst the beautiful buildings was a pharmacy with a pharmacist who spoke English. I showed him my knee, which was a little infected and he took John and me into a back room where he cleaned it up, disinfected it, put medicine on it and wrapped it up. He gave John directions on caring for it (I’m squeamish with that kind of stuff). He even gave us suggestions for a great place to go for supper.


John and I then admired the lava elephant statue in the centre of the Piazza Duomo before going in to the Cathedral of Sant’Agata. We went inside and paid homage at Bellini’s tomb. There was also a glass tomb with a mummified cardinal.




Leaving the church we joined the lively crowds walking down the pedestrian streets. At one spot, there were armed guards keeping their eyes open for anything suspicious.




We walked up Via Etna to Piazza Stesicoro, where the Roman Theatre ruins were located. We travelled down a street that had coffin shop after coffin shop; a few of them offering 24 hour service...??... on our way to the Castello Ursini where numerous restaurants lined the street. With a crisp bottle of white wine,  we enjoyed our last a la fresco meal in Sicily.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mazara del Valle

I love the villa we stayed in. I highly recommend  Baglio Sciacca for a large group. It is large, has a pool, a wonderful courtyard area, a large great room with a pool table and many fruit trees including pomegranate, orange, lemon and olive all around it. I peeled a number of ripe pomegranates right off the tree. Delicious.




The best part are the owners Francesco and his wife who helped us in so many ways. They took us under their wing, introduced us to so many local places and things that we wouldn’t have known about any other way. Best of all was the dinner they served last night including their own olive oil and Marsala. They did so much to make our visit to Sicily such a memorable experience.

Last night nineteen of us comfortably slept at the villa.

We stayed close to the villa today. The Archeological Site of Selnunte was only a half hour away so Chris, John and I headed out to explore it. 


The 5th century BC ruins were beautiful in the bright sunlight. Little green lizards scuttled around the ancient stones. So many temples.




The waves rolled in to the beach below as we walked towards a distant hilltop temple.




Unfortunately as we were walking downhill on the gravel road, I felt my feet slide out under me and I went down full force on my left knee. Oh it hurt. It didn’t take long for the blood to start running. I washed it with my bottle of water and we continued on.


It hadn’t stopped bleeding by the time we arrived to the temple so I sat on the stairs by the bathroom while John and Chris walked around the temple. A lady saw me, dug into her purse and pulled out some bandaids and pads and walked on. She came back ten minutes later to check on me. So kind.


I took a few pictures of the temple before starting the long walk back. The deep goudges in my knee started to bleed again. We flagged down an electric golf cart and he called another cart to take us back to our car at the entrance.



Chris and I stopped to check a couple ceramic shops and we drove back to the villa for lunch. Both Debra and Kate were nurses and Leonie (one of the villas owners) had medical supplies. Aunt Sylvia poured me a big glass of wine to dull the pain.


We then had an fabulous lunch from last nights leftovers.

My leg was throbbing but I still joined our gang for a tour of Mazara del Valle. On the way there a herd of sheep crossed the road.


We met up with a historian/guide in the square. Joanne would translate what he said into English. We passed a number of beautiful churches. We went into San Francesco church, that seemed fairly ordinary on the outside but as soon as you went in, your breath was taken away by the intricate carved work on the walls and paintings on the ceiling. We went into the Catacombs. They accidentally turned the lights out on Mike and Angie while they were still in there.




The guide took us through the narrow streets of the old Jewish section and the Tunisian and casbah sections of the city. There are many tile details on the walls  and on the walkways. Many of the tiles were hand painted by the mayor.


We stopped in an old baroque church that had lost its roof ninety years ago.


Our final stop was in a museum dedicated to the Dancing Satyr statue that had caught on some fisherman’s net in 1998. One of those fishermen was our friend Angie’s cousin. We found his picture in the museum. Small world.


I hobbled back to the car and we all returned to the villa for a few hours.

We all went back into Mazara del Valle for supper to a wonderful seafood restaurant called Al Pesciolino d’Oro.

After supper (about 11pm), we went Mucho Gusto for some of the best gelato that I’ve had on this trip. I had Rocher (as in ferrero). It was sublime.


It was almost midnight when we walked back to the car. It seemed like everyone was out socializing and enjoying the night; old, young and even toddlers and babies.

My leg was aching so it was time for bed.

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.