On Wednesday, October 17 our tour left Palermo and headed for Taormina via the really cool town of Cefalu. Cefalu was superb fun to walk in and very picturesque.
We would have our last two sleeps in Sicily in Naxos, on the coast facing the Italian mainland below another hill town, Taormina, famous for its sunrises.
If you’re desperate for one of those famous sunrises that helped so many, including D.H. Lawrence, fall in love with this town, stay not at sea level where Insight put us, but rather in a high place. And do NOT be a slave to a timetable like we were.
We had one crack at a Taormina sunrise: Thursday morning. And it was overcast.
On Friday, way before the sun came up, seven of our tour group who had opted to add three nights in Malta to our holiday had left Naxos in a van headed for Catania airport to catch an early morning flight to Valletta, Malta’s lovely capital city.
Wednesday in Cefalu
October 17, Stage 1
We snuck up on Cefalu as quietly as a large bus full of tourists can…
Produce vendor truck with detachable cart.
An operatic voice helps. I’m confident this fellow can sing as well as Elvis at least…
It’s bigger than it looks in this photo…
In a place as sharp as Sicily, these two statues looked surprisingly tired…
I’m sure there’s nothing precisely like this anywhere in Sicily.
One more Pantocrator. I kinda prefer the one in Monreale.
An old fashioned safety trick.
Nice. Love those colours. Reminds me of Alfama, Portugal, but this town has potential.
Is That A Cannoli Stand??
I’m no longer into fishing, but like being in a solitary boat. This place is all right in October…
David F., with the backwards cap, is the keenest photographer I’ve yet met on a tour. A good guy. As a photo bug, I know why the peak is at the back!
Yeah… mundane boats, but a pretty bay.
Good time of year if you don’t like crowds.
So! The Lisbon district of Alfama has nothing on this town!
We were told that these rocks are covered with sun worshippers in the summer :-Q
Is Josie giving me that Corno sign??!!
Wednesday Afternoon in TAORMINA
It took longer than expected to get to Taormina and our visit was rushed. Pity, because Wednesday was our one chance to see it. Tomorrow, Thursday, would be a full day visiting Mount Etna – our last full day in Sicily. After visiting the Teatro Antico in Taormina and taking our group photo in front of the chiesa there was no time left to properly visit the town.
The group photo was amateurishly hurried, the photographer taking 3 quickies and didn’t see a pigeon that photobombed his “best” shot, which he printed for us. See if you can spot it… We stayed outside Taormina at sea level at the Hilton Giardini Naxos. Nice, but not up high.
Cefalu to Taormina
Not exactly l’Arche du Triomphe
Begun in the third C. BC, probably over a Greek foundation.
This chap was very proud of Taormina
Almost a religious experience… He loved this theatre dearly.
Ahh, the beautiful perspective of differential focus
Bricks prove that this temple was built in Roman times
One of my favourite photos of this temple
While the bricks prove it’s Roman, the shape of the temple points to it being built over a Greek original.
Taken by David F. for us.
Lovely altar in Baroque style.
We have to go back down?
Beggars can’t be choosers. Isn’t that the Ionian Sea below…?
In front of Santa Caterina Church, photo-bombed by a pigeon! Good Grief!
October 16 was our third and last night in Palermo. The tour schedule took us for a morning in Erice, a mountainside town East of Palermo, and we spent the afternoon poking around Trapani, visiting an area that produces sea salt before the a visit to a farm that produced olives and made wine.
I’d have preferred to spend an actual afternoon on my/our own in Palermo and had figured out how to get to its fine Marionette Museum and what our tour did in Trapani was disappointing, especially when I realized that we would not return to Palermo before the museum closed.
Tuesday October 16
We were warned that the walk up from the gate was steep and long, so I went on my own. Halfway up I realized that Anita could have done it. She spent her time near the gate but walked into Erice far enough to find a very nice Pinocchio marionette for our granddaughter. The long-nosed liar was a hit with her and the children of a friend of my daughter’s from her University of Toronto undergraduate days, who were at our place when Anita gave it to her. I had checked and adjusted the cords so that Pinocchio moved as he was supposed to.
We’ve traveled with Insight Vacations about 8 times since 1995. Insight’s specs call for fewer seats and more legroom. It also helps limit customer group size to about 37.
The group hadn’t yet split up into climbers and shoppers.
I, as usual, lag unnoticeably behind. This is the first trip I ever met a keener photographer. His name is David F.
A winding and beautiful climb. This was off the main drag.
An artistic ad in the park.
Don’t know if this was approved by the town…
Descending from the real castle I shot this tiny scary one.
Impressive deep, live splash of red on my descent. At east two contrasts came to mind as I paused here.
A little bit of sun 🙂
The hikers’ reward. An early bite of Michelle’s amazing cannoli Siciliani and a caffe. Barbara’s treat for the intrepid.
Still beautiful, but flatter 🙂
Lovely time so far. So much to see and do in Sicily.
Large piles of sea salt beside the lagoons near the old mill
The mill is clearly no longer wind-driven…
I’m thinking about that Marionette Museum. Also there was lots to see in Trapani, but…
I know, I know… Say it! “Wine for the whiner.”
After our wine and snack we stood here while some bought wine and olives and stuff.
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.
This dates from c. 450 BC clearly Greek and the columns are Doric, the earliest of the three Greek styles, with simple capitals. Later came Ionic and lastly, Corinthian.
Ruins and a tree at the edge of the “valley’s” cliff…
This 5 screen AV presentation showed some drama productions…
Circa 435 BC, this is claimed to be the best preserved temple in the world.
A rocky, rainy place dedicated to this son of Zeus.
First drama, now nudity. Oh, my…
The poor, we were told, lay buried here…
Our first dinner with everybody on the tour was in Palermo Sunday night. I photographed all the tables and sent them to our group after we got back.
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
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.
On the way up, Carmen from NJ (I think) paused to view the display.
Our local expert explains this impressive specimen to us groupies
Close up of the exterior shows its Arabo-Normanno style
Mosaics adorn the beams, ceiling, walls and archway
This Byzantine-styled Pantocrator (Christ as Lord Almighty) is popular in Sicily
Again the Arabo-Normanno style of the exterior
At the bottom on our climb down was this collection. In Erice, Anita later sprung for a lovely decent-sized marionette for our granddaughter.
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.
Dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, built on the site of an AD 600 church built by Pope Gregory I and then converted in the 9th C. to a mosque after the Saracen conquest.
Worth a huge fortune, I’m sure… There is a nearby tribute to Father Giuseppe Puglisi, killed by the Mafia in 1993 for opposing them.
St. Agatha, born in Palermo or possibly Catania, reportedly lost her breasts when tortured by Saracens. She is now the patron saint of breast cancer.
There was not much artistry in this piece but the rude looking slogan was “I only wanted to make you happy.” Awwww…
Easy to walk by this place, but this was a great tour and the treats were a hit as well!
Dashing, the speed-loving Count probably also fences…
A seat upon which bordello patrons would have perched during a shopping parade…
A swimmer, a musician, a teacher…
This is the proper direction for the sleeper’s head to point. No doubt the earlier countesses had shorter beds.
The countess explains where her palace is situated and its importance in Palermo
One of the count’s cars in the entrance is admired by passers by
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.
The Greek theatre, Ear of Dionysius and the Apollo Temple area are shown here. The tour also explored the Piazza Duomo, with which we were very familiar. Our local expert was excellent in describing these sights.
Perhaps the largest Greek theatre on the planet is here in mainland Siracusa. One can see that controversial, too high peak of the Santuario della Madonna even on this hill!
At the top back overlooking the theatre are several caves
Christened by Caravaggio, this spectacular ear-shaped cave has wonderful acoustics!
70′ High and 200′ Deep
Water divides Ortygia (Ancient Siracusa) from mainland Siracusa
One has to use one’s imagination here…
Then we had a lunch break and left for Ragusa, about 2 hours away including a rest stop.
Ragusa-Ibla – The Old Town
Our local expert for Ragusa was again excellent in describing these sights. We visited the Old Town on Friday afternoon and slept in Ragusa.
Ragusa Ibla (Old Town) on our approach at 3:30 PM. It was terribly damaged in the earthquake of 1693 but its citizens opted to remain and rebuild. Many of the wealthy started a “new” town on another hill.
These gardens in Ragusa-Ibla are magnificent but the trees are threatened
This palm has been killed and many others here and elsewhere are dead or threatened by Red Palm Weevils
Sundial to the right of this Ibla Church determined when farm workers would start and stop for rest.
A nail in the middle of the top line creates a time telling shadow but one needs sun for this
The sisters who weren’t at the wedding in San Giorgio Cathedral were praying inside…
Several of our group are also in this photo. I was on the Duomo stairs within for the bride and groom…
Why three nights in Siracusa? That island city’s key treasures and its historical importance in the ancient, storied, Greek world (larger than Athens and Corinth in its time).
We (well, mostly I…) like to arrive and have one or two days on our own before joining a guided tour. Siracusa was a perfect choice. We landed at Catania Airport on October 9 and needed to return there to begin the tour. Siracusa was only a one hour bus ride direct from Catania Airport.
These are the attractions in central Ortigia that we visited
We traveled from Hop 3 to Hop 12 to get to the Museum. It goes N off the island into mainland Siracusa
Wednesday, October 10
We walked a short distance to the Piazza Duomo, first visiting Santa Lucía alla Badia Church that has a huge painting of the Burial of Saint Lucy by Caravaggio, a painter whose wonderful chiaroscuro work I search for wherever I am.
At 10:30 AM walking past the Archimedes Museum to the Piazza Duomo
Santa Lucía alla Badia Church has Caravaggio’s “The Burial of Saint Lucy”
Photos are not permitted in the church. This is from Wikipedia
I did sneak this one of Caravaggio’s life
After visiting St. Lucy’s Church we visited the Duomo itself, a cathedral built on the site of an ancient Greek temple, supported by the temples original columns and full of beautiful art .
There are many treasures in this place
The Duomo was built on original Doric columns from a ruined Greek temple
Santa Lucía with her eyes in a jar
Looking down the nave are two Doric columns
We aborted our walk through the Ipogeo, an ancient tunnel that leads to the Fonte Aretusa, because of the smell of urine, we cleansed with gelati at Gelati Bianca in P. Duomo and finished leftover pizza from our late supper on Tuesday. Then we walked north along Via Roma and just off the island to see how we would get to the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum on Thursday. The two regular city bus lines weren’t working but we learned we could catch the Hop On Hop Off Bus at Hop 3 (Piazza Archimede), very near our BnB then get off at Hop 12 and the Museo tomorrow.
This early 20th C. statue by Giulio Moschetti represents the nymph Arethusa having been transformed into the goddess Diana, to whom she appealed when pursued by a horny river god.
We walked through this market on our walk near mainland Siracusa
Tourists cross from Ortigia to Siracusa’s mainland
We ate at a very busy Osteria Mariano, where we enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was good. I enjoy cannelloni so I tucked into one for dessert.
Thursday, October 11
Our stop for the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum
Its sheer contrast with everything else in Siracusa renders this place scornful for many despite its “miraculous” tearful Madonna
This one was signed on the dolphin under Arethusa’s neck. The coin and jewelry items are plentiful and splendid.
A second century BC Venus at the Museo
La Fonte d’Aretusa – a fresh water spring that the Oracle of Delphi spoke of. It enabled the island of Ortigia to withstand sieges.
We walked from our B and B here for lunch on Thu
We enjoyed ourselves here on Wed night so returned (a tad early) on Thu
Friday, October 12
On Friday morning we explored Siracusa’s Forte Vigilena and the Papyrus Museum.
Friday morning we walked east to Forte Vigilena and I went to the edge, where the view was nice. But then almost all views are exceedingly nice in Ortigia.
At the Papyrus Museum I learned that it grows in the fresh waters near the mouth of the Ciane River – the ONLY place outside Africa where it grows in the wild.
At the mouth of the Fiume Ciane is the Papyrus Reserve.
Then we got on the Interbus, which goes to the airport, but getting off near the Catania train station, close to our hotel, instead. We were in good time to meet our tour director and a few of our fellow tourists before supper. I explored the centre of Catania very thoroughly – looking for a lens cover I’d lost. No decent photo shops to be found. Guess the Samsungs and iPhones have taken over…
We knew beforehand that Saturday we would return to Siracusa with our tour and this time visit its amazing Greek Theatre, the massive Ear of Dionsyius Cave and the bits left of the Temple of Apollo before continuing to the picturesque hilled town of Ragusa. All this the subjects of Sicily and Malta.3 – coming soon.