For the first time for both of us, we are visiting Sicily. Friday (3/7) we arrived to Catania from Naples. Strange route, but we got an offer from Air France that brought us there very cheaply from Paris. There was a slight delay to board as we waited for ten policemen to transfer two prisoners to the back of the plane. Welcome to Sicily! We had reserved a car, but were so flabbergasted by the additional theft insurance which made the total insurance higher than the car rental, that we left Avis and went to National. They gave us a cheaper price, and not before having made the deal we realized that they were smart enough to offer us a reduction of 25% to get us as customers. Remember that next time you rent a car: go to the dealer next door and provoke a cheaper price!
In rain and early darkness – we are further south and more east compared to Nantes – we arrived in Siracusa halfway helped by a GPS from our French cell phone. Right up to the seashore of the original peninsula of Ortygia, but in a room without a view, we settled into this nice palazzio-hotel. After the obligatory technical problems of installing our computer and smartphones to the local Internet, we had a lovely dinner, pure Italian style with excellent local wines: Centopassi red and white organic wines produced on lands confiscated from The Mafia by the government!
Our first full day in Siracusa was windy as a storm. Protected in our windbreakers, we explored the sea-side streets of the island of the Ortygia, the oldest center of the city, settled by the Greeks in the 8th century B.C. Most of the buildings in the city date from the Renaissance or later, squeezed into the ancient Greek city street pattern.
Back at the hotel we sent postcards to family members in Syracuse, New York.
For the celebration of Stephen’s 59th birthday we went to a one-star Michelin restaurant, disappointing in two ways: Stephen was indisposed due to a poisoned clam the evening before, and Flemming did not find the menu worth the star. But we did not forget that the 8th of March is also the International Women’s Day. In the castle we peeked in on a conference with the theme “Women and the Sea”. Four female navy officers presided the event:
Sunday we first went to the papyrus museum and learned about the oldest way of producing paper for writing and painting. Then we went by car to the most beautiful of the towns rebuilt in the Baroque period after the big earthquake in 1693: all too many churches for today’s need surrounded by the modern, rundown city of Noto:
Monday we drove through many long tunnels on the autostrada to Taormina. 100 years ago this was the place to be for the European cultural elite. The city, perched high on a cliff overlooking the ocean, has the second largest Greek theater on the island:
and a beautiful public garden created by an English aristocratic lady, a girlfriend of the Prince of Wales, but Queen Victoria was not amused. Unfortunately today the city is overrun by busloads of tourists who shop and eat. We didn’t shop!
We returned that evening to Catania, the second largest city in Sicily. The city was destroyed by earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt by use of the easily accessible lava stone from nearby volcano Mount Etna. The black elephant is the symbol of the city. Flemming found an excellent seafood restaurant.
Octopus* [Here is a little video – click on "Octopus" and take the time to upload it.]
We saw a large octopus in the lively fish market Tuesday morning before leaving for the 220 km long drive on the autostrada crossing the island to Palermo. We have no photos from Enna, a little mountain top medieval town where we tried to stop in the middle of a pouring hail storm. We never found the cathedral. Apart from that the landscape of inland Sicily is strikingly empty and mountainous with colors oscillating from yellow to all shades of green, very beautiful.
The next morning in Palermo upon leaving our hotel, we were surrounded by military and local police. Later that day the hotel receptionist explained that an anti-mafia judge was staying at our hotel, and he receives the highest level of protection in Italy. All alone we managed to reach the huge Operahouse, Teatro Massimo, the biggest operahouse in Italy and on an European level second only to Opera Garnier in Paris. “The Godfather” was filmed in the theatre, and we were shown around by a young lady of sufficient knowledge.
The enormous Norman- and Baroque-blended cathedral features a marble-calvaire in the obligatory 14 steps running high up on the walls surrounding the church conter clockwise:
But the highlight of the day as a tourist was the Palatine chapel in the Duke’s Palace: A small church packed with Byzantine mosaics from the 12th century. The afternoon was spent in the hotel beds where Flemming suffered from a slight food poisoning. Once recovered we shopped like tourists: new shoes and the long-sought-after Italian men’s cologne, Trussardi. There are more shops selling expensive watches than in Switzerland; we didn’t buy any. No dinner, but a second visit to the “Berlin” bar, very trendy with free appetizers:
From an Italien barman in a thalasso place in Pornic back in Britanny we had a referral to his cousin’s restaurant in the small fishing port of Cefalu. We went there by train on Thursday. Visited the 12th century Duomo, again with splendid Byzantine mosaics and Arab artisans woodwork. Was lunch worth the detour? Well, we met the first smiling Renaissance man from before Mona Lisa.
This painting from 1465 by Antonello da Messina is the opus magnum of a 9,000 items bric-à-brac museum, collected through a lifetime by the 19th century Baron de Mandralisca.
Back in Palermo we had an evening meal in a difficult-to-find but good-to-be-in resto; the most innovative cuisine of the week.
Friday we had to go to Monreale, the third but the most beautiful Byzantine mosaic-decorated church of them all. There is no end of the pictures. No event from the Old Testament and no figure from The New is missing. We had to buy a book to capture them all!
Back to the continent Friday night by ferry. No dinner, nothing was worth eating and we had too many opulent meals. We spent a long morning waiting in Napoli Airport where this blog was finished.