Sicily and Malta.4 – Temples and Mosaics

Sunday October 14 – Valle Dei Templi

October 14 2 copy.jpg

Departing Ragusa on Sunday morning our first stop was at the Valle Dei Templi, site of seven temples on a huge 1300 hectare site on a ridge, not in a Valle, near the town of Agrigento.

After the seeing the Valle we bused to Palermo, where we dined with the whole group at our hotel.

Monday October 15 – Monreale Morning, Palermo Afternoon

Monreale and Palermo - Oct. 15 copy 3

After breakfast on Monday Roberto delivered us safely uphill to another cliffside place – Monreale. Its beautiful Duomo Di Monreale is world famous for its Norman architecture and the fact that is chock full of spectacular mosaics.

We climbed many stairs from the road to reach the square where the Duomo, dedicated in 1182 to the nativity of Mary.

Palermo Afternoon – The Cathedral and A Historic Palace

We visited Palermo Cathedral and killed time checking out graffiti until our 12:30 appointment at perhaps the #1 attraction in Palermo: Palazzo Conte Federico. The Count’s family can be traced back to Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, one of the truly great figures in history and King of Sicily at four years old in 1198. His descendant loves to race vintage sports cars and the Countess, who guided our group around, is an Austrian swimmer and musician.  She was a fascinating guide, explaining some Sicilian customs and superstitions such as the proper direction for a bed and warned us not to make the upward “corno” sign even by accident. This belief apparently predates Christianity.

Two more nights in Palermo left… Visiting Erice and Trapani on Tuesday and on Wednesday we will have a great visit of Cephalu and proceed to Taormina.

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Vienna, Our Final Two Days

Yes, Sadly, Goodbye Vienna

 

The two main museums we saw were the Belvedere Palace (Upper) on May 18 and the Kunsthistoriches Museum of Art on May 19. I went to the Belvedere on my own on May 18. Anita had suffered a pretty bad sprain on the 17th that affected her mobility. She had recovered well enough by May 19 for us to visit the Kunsthistoriches Art Museum in Maria-Theresien Platz, the Secession Museum, have lunch in the Haschmarkt, shop and take in the romantic ballet, La Sylphide, at the Staatsoper (the famous Vienna State Opera House). We had a fabulous last day and night in Vienna!

First let me introduce a map I put together showing everywhere we visited or used in Vienna during our 8 days there:  May 3, 4 and 15-20.

Where we went in Vienna in 2015 - Courtesy of Google Maps
Where we went in Vienna in 2015 – Courtesy of Google Maps

May 18 – Belvedere Palace and other Activity

The Belvedere Palace was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who got very rich because the Habsburgs appreciated the wonderful job he did in repeatedly successfully fighting the Ottomans, French, Italians, Spanish, Saxons and Russians spanning six different decades. Eugene, unrivaled before or since in Austria, was rejected by the French for not looking like a general (too short and ugly). A genius in both military and diplomatic strategy, Prinz Eugen served three Austrian Emperors, Leopold I, Josef I and Charles VI, between 1683 and the 1730’s. Eugene loved architecture with a passion and was deeply involved in the design of the Schloss Belvedere. He died in 1736, frail, aged 72. Continue reading “Vienna, Our Final Two Days”

Vienna, May 17 – Sisi and So Much More

Sisi:

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O’er thee, like thine own sea birds

I’ll circle without rest

For me earth holds no corner

To build a lasting nest.

Sisi

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The Sisi Museum is a decade or so old, but still a huge attraction in Vienna. Publicity and souvenir shops are everywhere. No photos were permitted in the Sisi Museum, so the above two offerings are all I returned home with. But the good news: read further on in this post for beautiful photos the other museums we visited on the 17th let us take : treasures, weapons, art… But Sisi was fascinating, so I start with her…

As royal celebrity goes, long before our modern love affair with Lady Di, there was the very different, complicated Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known affectionately (to some) as Sisi. Sisi was a beautiful, brunette, Bavarian, royal teenager with long, long, long hair. The teenage Elizabeth’s china doll radiance swept  Emperor Franz Josef I off his feet, causing Franz to defy his mother, Sophie, for perhaps the only time. Sophie had selected Elizabeth’s sister. Both were Sophie’s nieces.

Franz stood firm for Sisi. Continue reading “Vienna, May 17 – Sisi and So Much More”

Vienna and Melk – May 16

Detail of Courtyard
Detail of Courtyard

May 16: goodbye Insight Vacations Highlights of Eastern Europe Bus Tour. Now for four self-planned nights in Vienna and a change to more  affordable digs. The concierge at the Hilton on Am Stadtpark was very helpful. He suggested leaving our bags with Hilton and leaving asap for Melk. I phoned the amazing Tina at K&T Boardinghouse, where we had booked 4 nights months before, to let them know we would be arriving much later than 9 AM because we were seizing the nice day and going to Melk. Tina suggested 6 PM and promised there would be someone there to welcome us. Going to Melk first made it possible to buy a money-saving 3-consecutive-day transit pass for our last 3 days in Vienna. We grabbed the U3 line right across the street. It took us 3 stops to Westbahnhof Station where we bought our tickets for Melk Abbey for €51 pp. These combi-tickets included the train from Westbahnhof Station to Melk, admission to the Abbey, a Danube boat from Melk to Krems and a train on a different line from Krems back to Vienna.

Vienna ►Melk  Melk ► Krems ► Vienna
Vienna ►Melk
Melk ► Krems ► Vienna

Read on for some photo souvenirs from our trip, followed by a description of our new digs and our Schnitzel dining fun evening in Vienna: Continue reading “Vienna and Melk – May 16”

Vienna – May 15

Detail from the Pestsaüle showing a kneeling Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I
Detail from the Pestsaüle showing a kneeling Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I

Our tour returned to its starting place, Vienna, on May 15, 2015 after 12 days on an Insight Vacations bus visiting major cities and key sites in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. If you count our drive-through of Slovakia while heading north from Budapest to Kraków we visited six countries.

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May 15 was our last night with the tour – and our last Vienna night in a 5-star hotel! We were happy to see our local expert from May 4, Peter, on the 15th. Peter took us to the Hofburg Palace and then inside Stephansdom, Vienna’s great 13th C. cathedral. We walked around the old parts of town, including the Jewish section and had a peek inside the simple, Romanesque St. Rupert’s Church, c. 800 A.D., with the oldest bells and stained glass windows in Vienna. Peter also showed us two things related to the plague that hit Vienna in the 7th C:

  1. The Pestsaüle (Plague Column), featuring Leopold I with his huge Habsburg-inbred jaw, and
  2. A restaurant called Der Liebe Augustin, after the famous 7th C. piper minstrel named Marx Augustin who brightened up those scary plagued times and wrote O Du Lieber Augustin, a simple, forgettable ditty that somehow is remembered still today – well… until my day anyway. The restaurant has an upward staring, yet somehow iconic, Augustin, complete with pipes, in a cellar below a barred trap door as you enter the place. He is sprinkled with hundreds of bright, copper coins.

Later, Kari Anne and Alex took us to a lovely farewell banquet in the Palais Auersperg that was followed by a beautiful concert in the same palace put on by the Vienna Residence Orchestra. From the first chord I realized we were in for a treat. They played, sang and danced favourites by Mozart and Johann Strauss II, with the de rigueur performance of the Radetsky March by Johann Strauss I.

Concert Tickets :))
Concert Tickets :))

A beautiful end to a fabulous bus tour of Central Europe. We spent four more fascinating self-planned days in Vienna. More later on those…

Some photos from may 15:

Vienna – A First Taste

Klimt's The Kiss welcomes us to Vienna
Klimt’s The Kiss welcomes us to Vienna

On May 3 we landed smoothly in Vienna at about 08:40, more or less on time, after an overnight flight with three names operated by Austrian Airlines direct from Toronto. If one must wait for one’s bags and be bombarded by marketing, let it please be four illuminated panels of The Kiss. Always. I’m very OK with that. We had selected Insight Vacations’ Highlights of Eastern Europe bus tour because it began and ended in Vienna and included Budapest and Warsaw, where we had friends-well-met on our 2013 Camino Santiago. This enabled us (well, me) to add a precious four more days of self-guided sight-seeing in amazing, once-imperial-still-magnificent, Vienna before flying home on May 20. The itinerary also included two nights in Budapest, Kraków, Warsaw, Berlin and Prague plus one night in Cesky Krumlov. As bus tours go, Insight delivers one of the best. They use excellent tour directors, more legroom on the bus and centrally located, classy hotels. We weren’t disappointed. Out of seven tour directors on as many tours with Insight since 1995, we had six who were stellar and only one selfish, mercurial, intimidating, paranoid, should-have-retired-long-ago jerk. That was on a 2011 tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Say no more. We had a welcome dinner planned for that evening with our tour director, Kari Anne. Her poster asked us to meet for roll call at about 17:30. Our room was ready at 10:40 when our transfer arrived at the Hilton Hotel near the Stadtpark, on the western edge of the famous Ringstrasse, a 12-minute walk to St. Stephens Cathedral, Stephansdom.

They still like real, paper, vintage books in Vienna
They still like real, paper, vintage books in Vienna

Continue reading “Vienna – A First Taste”