The Grand Tour ends ~ in Rome

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Ah Rome – what a treat to be back. Five years had passed since we first visited staying at the delightful Lancelot near the Colosseum.  This time we booked a hotel just out of the main centre – the Courtyard Marriot, as it offered parking, the rate was reasonable, and the rooms were good.  On arrival we discovered there was a shuttle into the Vatican, so once we had checked in we hurried off to catch it.

Around 15 minutes later we were at the drop-off point. What a sight! The queues to enter were enormous… nothing like that greeted us five years ago, although we had booked our entrance ticket online. It was surprising to see so many tourists in what is essentially Autumn, so not the high season.

Thankfully we had no need to join the huge queue so we went in search of lunch to shore us up for the hop-on hop-off bus trip which would re-acquaint us with this huge and bustling city.  It was surprisingly hot as we sat under shade umbrellas on a narrow sidewalk eating our lunch while tour groups gathered beside us. It wasn’t that pleasant so we moved on as soon as we had finished, walking though St Peter’s Square en route to the bus stop:

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The bus tour was at least an hour long and was initally not very good, but as we hit the more well known sights, the commentary improved and we rather enjoyed it. There are several companies offering this service and I think we would have been better to choose the I Love Rome service (pink and white buses and brochures) rather than the Red bus service we used. However it served a purpose, because we could now pick out the places we wanted to revisit – have  a look a some of the famous sights we passed:

Having completed the bus tour Phil and I decided to cram in as much as we could for the rest of the day. On our previous trip, I had not been able to wander the famous shopping streets so we grabbed a taxi and headed for the Via del Corso where I was able to pop in and out of shops at my leisure.

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I spy Laduree!

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Cos!

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How to display jewellery

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Royal Crown’s pretty window dressing

On our last visit we had enjoyed the atmosphere at the Spanish Steps so we headed back there, and climbed to the stop of the stairs which was surprisingly empty presenting a good photo opportunity…

 

The fountain at the bottom of the stairs (Fontana della Barcaccia)  was quite a different matter with tourists surrounding it and at one stage, a woman was actually standing in the boat….

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Next we headed off toward the Trevi Fountain – with a quick detour into  a very pretty church I spied along the way:

 

The Trevi Fountain was ridiculously crowded – on our previous visit it had been busy, but nothing like this – tourists were shoulder to shoulder trying to the get their photos, and we heard one guide urging her clients to hold on tight to their bags and wallets. A bit of jostling got us closer to the famous landmark:

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It appeared to me that the Fountain had been cleaned

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At the Trevi Fountain

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It is a truly magnificent Fountain

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Finally got the one we wanted, courtesy of a nice American lady

We completed a very busy day in a very rustic trattoria close to the Spanish Steps. It was lovely to see Rome at night with restaurants lit up like this one:

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For us it was the end of a wonderful few weeks spent with two people we love. Travelling with Roger and Frances has created a large bank of wonderful new memories – shared experiences that we will never forget. Hopefully there will be more to come… watch this space.

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Goodbye Rome

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Cheers Roger and Frances, thanks for the memories

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Cheers to us

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Leaving Rome

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The sun sets on our journey

 

 

 

 

Leaving Sicily ~to Naples by ferry …

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The ferry trip from Naples to Rome was an adventure for us all – I am not a keen sailor and certainly have no desire to join a cruise, so I was not sure how I would like this little jaunt. I had no need to be concerned. Getting the car onto the ferry went smoothly (though we had quite a wait in a queue because we arrived well before embarkation time) and what awaited us once on board was quite surprising.

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The fit-out of the ferry was better than I expected. It was a Tirrenia line ship and we had booked cabins rather than sitting up all night during the crossing. The cabins were small, but very adequate, and the shower was excellent. The bar and lounge were large, comfortable and well-appointed and the dinner in the restaurant was surprisingly good.

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Enjoying a drink in the large and comfortable lounge

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Dinner in the restaurant

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The lounge

The crossing itself was very smooth, and early the next morning our arrival in Naples provided a very pretty picture as the sun came up:

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Disembarking was easy, despite the fact the car was right in the back corner of the ferry and we were soon on our way to Rome for the last day and night of our Grand Tour.

Sicily was a revelation. I had not recognised what a hub of civilisation it has been – over 3,000 years many cultures have impacted on this region – in particular the Arabs, the Greeks, and the Normans plus there have been French and Spanish rulers too, all contributing to the creation of a fascinating, unique and vibrant culture.  Personally this short trip gave me a colourful, and really enlightening look at a part of Italy I had only dreamed of seeing …

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Monreale is a perfect example the beauty created by a blend of cultures

Next post : Rome

 

Palermo part 3 ~ Magnificent Monreale

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We got really brave today and ventured out in the car to visit the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site of Monreale Cathedral.  The roads were surprisingly quiet (perhaps because it was Sunday) and in no time we were parking in a local carpark just a short walk from the Cathedral.

From the outside the Norman Cathedral the Moorish influence is obvious with delicate patterning hinting at what can be found in the exquisite and grand interior.

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Having been converted to a mosque during the Arab occupation beginning in the C9th, the church reverted to Cathedral status again when the Normans drove the Arabs out two centuries later and it presents a wonderful mix of Arabic, Byzantine and Norman styles – in both the architecture and the dazzling mosaic art within.

When we reached the Cathedral the huge C12th bronze doors with panels depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament were open:

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Panel of the C12th Cathedral door created by Barisano di Trapani

Mass was being celebrated but there were many people standing at the back, taking photos – among them our guide Claudia from the previous day. We assumed it OK to be there but it seemed intrusive so we left. Once Mass had finished the doors were closed until they re-opened at two thirty, so we explored the local area before sitting down to lunch in a trattoria adjacent to Church. We found our way into the peaceful public garden beside the Cathedral too which offers a good view down to the bay.

Closer to opening time, the town started filling up with visitors and we joined a higgledy-piggeldy queue to it in. It was certainly worth wait. The interior is truly spectacular:

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The statue of The VIrgin Mary is simple and beautiful

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Christ Pantocrator (the Almighty) looms large over the central apse- note the shimmering gold mosaic surrounds

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The glass Mosaics portray biblical characters

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The tomb of William II of Sicily stands in the Cathedral

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The glass mosaic work in the Cathedral is incredible

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The massive altar

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Beautiful geometric mosaic work adorns the Dado

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Perfect arches

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Huge columns with intricate capitals

There is no entrance fee for the Cathedral but there is a charge if you want to ascend the tower – two Euro and it is worth it provided you are not claustrophobic … while the entrance initally is quite wide, it quickly becomes quite narrow and dark – but braving it offers you not only a great view of the magnificent cloisters which you can see as you cross an open-air part of the roof, but also continuing on to the top offers panoramic views of the city and town below.

 

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The beautiful Cloisters

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She did it! Hold on tight, it is steep

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The top most part of the climb

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View from the narrow corridor leading to the tower

With our visit to  the stunning Monreale Cathedral complete we made our way back to Mondello to pack up and say goodbye to our lovely host Robert.  The final leg of our journey was about to begin  – the ferry trip from Palermo to Naples and the drove on to Rome.

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The artwork on the entrance way to B&B Mondello resort – done years ago by a 15 year old boy who is now a recognised artist

Next Post – The Ferry to Naples and on to Rome…

 

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Palermo ~ walking through history, part 2

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Claudia continued our tour along Via Vittorio Emmanuele, past a local landmark (Argento Vincenzo) where intricate marionettes are made.  The Sicilian puppet (pupi) theatre tradition has been recognised by UNESCO, being inscribed on the ‘Representative list of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’.  The range of puppets is impressive and we were delighted when Claudia introduced us to the elderly maker of these fantastic creations. He slowly made his way from his workbench to the shop entrance, large puppet in hand. I was quite surprised when he let us have a play with it!  I was tempted to bring one home, however they are too fragile to cart around Italy in a suitcase….

Along the way I also resisted the temptation to buy one of the ubiquitious lemon juicers you see in all the tourist areas (I did cave in and buy one later though):

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Next stop was the Chiesa del Gesu, (The Church of the Gesu), a stunning example of the Baroque, where ornate marble relief work is the main feature, along with the beautiful roof painted in rainbow of colours:

In contrast to the quiet Gesu, the market we walked through offered a loud and somewhat chaotic scene, where sellers were hawking their wares, sometimes reverting to English when tourists like us walked by. The colour, the vibrancy, the sheer clamour of this place was really exciting – we were able to finally taste prickly pears, and were given fresh pistachios as Claudia is obviously a favourite with the local vendors …

Here is a sample of what we saw – fresh produce, meat and fish, in a rainbow mish-mash of colours – oh and we stopped to try the highly recommended cold coffee (Caffé freddo)  – delish, but we were not so keen on the idea of that Silician delicacy, spleen sandwiches!

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Prickly pears are quite delicious

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I think these are tomatoes?!

 

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The inevitable peppers

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Carob

 

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Cheese

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Olives

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White onions

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Fish stall

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Roasted onions!

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Red veges

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Poor swordfish

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Caffe freddo

As we headed off toward the Quattro Canti, Claudia took the opportunity to detour into a side street where the vendors specialised in making kitchen equipment:

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pots and pans

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Extractors

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Utensil for handling prickly pears

The Jewish Quarter was close by so we wandered through, continuing our walk until we came upon the Renaissance Fontana Pretoria, the so-called Fountain of Shame – thus named because of the naked statues which encircle it. The fountain was originally made in Florence then bought from its noble owner by the Palermo Senate and transported in pieces to be relocated in its current position in front of the City Hall.

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The C14th Praetorian Palace (now the Town hall

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The C17th Church of Saint Joseph dei Teatini viewed from the stairs of Santa Caterina Church

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In front of the Fountain of shame

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Fontana Pretoria from the stairs of Santa Caterina church

A pedestrian only street took us along to the Quattro Canti. The street was lined with pink and white stalls, set up in preparation for an upcoming icecream festival:

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Pedestrian only shopping street

At last we reached the famed Quattro Canti,  which was smaller and more grimy than I expected – but spectacular nonetheless. It is at the intersection of the Via Vittoria Emmanuele and the Via Maqueda. The curved buildings on each of the four corners have three levels. On the bottom level the sculptures in the fountains represent the four seasons; on the middle level are four Spanish kings, and the figures on the top level represent Patron Saints. It was rather a thrill to stand in the middle of the piazza (Piazza Vigliena) viewing the facades, each adorned with marble statues.

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Charles V (Spring) on the South Facade

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Philip II (summer) on the West Facade

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Philip IV (Autumn) on the North Facade

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Philip III (Winter) on the East Facade with Sant’Agata above

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Charles V

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Philip IV on the Autumn, North Facade with Olivia di Palermo

Claudia completed the tour with a walk to the C19th Teatro Massimo, which we had seen from the bus the day before. It is a magnificent structure on the Piazza Verdi. Built in the neoclassical style, it is the largest opera house in Italy :

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Teatro Massimo comes into view

 

Tours of the theatre are available, but we decided to forgo this option in favour of lunch in a shady square – in the company of local pussy cats….

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Palermo ~ walking through history …part 1.

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We met our German-born guide Claudia Pace outside the entrance to the Palazzo di Normanni (Norman Palace). Claudia is an attractive and intelligent woman who has lived in Italy for thirty years. We discovered she is passionate about Palermo and her tour was one of the best we have taken.

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There were a couple of busloads of tourists lingering at the entrance, but Claudia slipped us in through the entrance to the stunning palace before the large groups. As we waited to enter she pointed out a flowering tree called choresia speciosa, which has a very pretty pink flower, and produces pods which burst into wads of cotton-like substance – a stunning tree when it is in bloom but with a very thorny trunk!

 

As we ascended the stairs to the Capella, Claudia pointed out the fossils encased in the marble.

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Once into the Palazzo proper, we waited in the courtyard to be allowed to enter. The Capella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) was built by Roger II, the first king of Sicily in the C12th.  It is absolutely breathtaking with its stunning golden cupola sitting above the main aisle in the sanctuary and its richly mosaiced walls.

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My amateur photos are the best way to show how spectacular this glittering mosaiced chapel is:

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The wooden carved roof, Arabic honeycomb-like carving (muqarnas)

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Glittering gold mosaic works

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this is in the Sanctuary in the main apse

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Marble pillars gold mosaics and the wooden roof

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While these photos do not do the beautiful interior justice, I think it is obvious that the Chapel is truly an outstanding example of Byzantine art.

The Palace houses the seat of the Sicilian Government, which was the first European Parliament, and we were lucky to be able to view the Parliamentary chamber:

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The Chamber- Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy, with special status

 

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The artworks depicting showing strength in difficult situations are meant to inspire the politicians

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As our fascinating tour continued outside, moving towards the magnificent C12th Duomo, Claudia pointed out a group of men playing cards, apparently a common past time in Palermo, (gambling).  As we passed a tree with plastic chairs chained to it, she explained  this is so they don’t have to take them home and bring them back for the next game….

 

We also passed the  beautiful Park we had seen the previous day on the hop-on hop-off bus.

 

We soon reached the Cathedral with Claudia explaining it encompasses many architectural styles. It was built on the site of a Muslim Mosque, and displays Gothic and Neoclassical features but is not richly decorated like the Monreale Cathedral. Surprisingly,  it  boasts a type of sundial:

 

Claudia had much more to show us, and we were hanging on her every word as she introduced us to the rich history of the city…

Next post – the walking tour part 2.

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Palermo ~ Mondello

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Palermo is a lively, historic and quiet thrilling city – filled with crazy drivers who practice even crazier parking, doing what they do in their own inimitable way. Our taxi driver told us the people of Palermo could be characterized thus: they were either sleeping or acting crazy – and that pretty much sums it up. Despite the traffic chaos it seems that they take life at their own pace, albeit with much energy and gesticulation – there is a theatrical element to watching Sicilians go about their daily lives …

We decided to stay out of the busy city in a stylish B&B in the seaside suburb of Mondello. The B&B Mondello Resort is a real oasis of calm, located in a leafy and pretty street,  behind a high fence. It is modern and elegant, with just a few suites, and a great pool. The owner, Robert was there to greet us, and made us feel very welcome, inviting us to take a Prosecco or coffee with him. Once settled in we wandered off to explore the town, after lunching in a nice shady spot at Bar Alba (recommended by Robert):

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Gate of B&B Mondello

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Walking to lunch

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Homes on the hills – some occupied some not or incomplete so it seems

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Boats on the beach near the Charleston

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Looking up to one of the private beaches

A relax around the pool was fitting before we ventured out to a low-key local bar for drinks, and then on to a very stylish and modern restaurant, (Badalamenti Cucina e Bottega) for which we had to make a reservation as it is so popular. The meal was excellent and I loved the stuffed zucchini flower entrée and tasty arancini, but the service and staff demeanour were somewhat disappointing.

In  the morning we took a walk,  heading in the opposite direction to the previous day. Mondello is just lovely – there are public and private beaches, the location is beautiful, the waters are a clear blue/green and there is a really relaxed feel to the place.

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Breakfast on the Terrace before the walk

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Roger contemplates the pretty foreshore

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Cute house on the shore

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The church is an interesting shape

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Mondello Beach

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There are plenty of places to escape the sun to enjoy food and wine

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The quiet street of B&B Mondello Resort

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There is a stingray in the water

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Boats on the Mondello foreshore

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Looking out to the Bay

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Art Deco Charleston Restaurant

Later, we got a taxi into town to ride the hop-on hop-off bus so we could get a feel for the city. The tour was informative and set us up well for our private walking tour with our guide Claudia, scheduled for the following morning. Palermo turned out to be more of an elegant city than I had expected – the refined Via Liberta leading into town is lined   with high-end fashion houses and reminded me a little of Madrid. Here is a bit of local colour for you, as snapped from the bus:

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On the hop-on hop-off bus

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Teatro Politeama Garibaldi

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Intricate light

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Balconies and street colour

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Light stands in front of a church – would like to see it lit up in the evening.

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Public executions were once held in this Piazza Marina

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Onc quarter of the Quattro Canti in the Piazza Vigliena – each corner has a three level building adorned with Baroque sculptures

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Interesting arch

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Villa Bonanno – beautiful public gardens behind the Norman Palace

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Part of C12th Duomo from the bus

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Horse sculptures atop of the Teatro Politeama

On our return we walked up the  area full busy seaside restaurants and had dinner in a local trattoria  – more swordfish for me – can’t get enough of it.  …

Next Post – a walk through history in the Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel

 

Piazza Armerina – only one highlight …

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Staying at Villa Trigona in Piazza Armerina was really a means to an end – so that we could see the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famed for its superbly preserved Roman Mosaics.  Situated in the Silician interior almost half way between Ortigia and Palermo, it made sense to stop there overnight – the other attraction being that it is only a short drive to the feted Roman Villa that we were keen to see.

Villa Trigona is promoted as a country house and indeed it is – it appears to be a family-run affair, and has employed staff, who cater for their clients very willingly. The rooms are quite basic but comfortable and the young men who do the daily running of the place are extremely obliging – even offering to make us lunch as we arrived feeling somewhat hungry.

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Room with a view at Villa Trigona

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The lovely courtyard

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Lunch in the shade

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The herb garden

After a very typical Silician lunch – caponata, mozzarella and tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and the obligatory bread, we set off for the C4th AD Roman Villa.  I had no idea what a magnificent sight awaited us. The mosaics are incredibly vivid and well-preserved, and the scale of them  has to be seen  to be believed. As we walked around the boardwalks erected not only to protect these treasures, but also to give the best view, we continued to come upon breathtakingly beautiful works. The massive hunting scene for me was the most impressive. The best way to show what we saw is to share the photos:

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The hunting scene

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The slave is about to be beaten by his master

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The famous red bikini

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Athletic women exercising

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FullSizeRender 103After the visit to the Villa we decided to seek dinner in the town. It was in the sleepy state  we have become used to in smaller towns, with very few people on the street, but we found a smart local bar where we were served by a young barman  who was a dead ringer for Johnny Depp…  As we lingered over our drinks we wondered if we would find a place which opened early,  but as luck would have it we noticed an Irish Pub across the road – go figure!  A short  stroll through the town which was now glowing in the setting sun revealed the old town sitting high on a hill. Time permitting it would have been interesting to explore, but for us a return to the Irish Pub was required. Woohoo! hamburger and chips for dinner served by a very personable Argentinian.

We breakfasted early at Villa Trigona which had burgeoned with guests since our arrival the previous day, and after a last walk in the rustic grounds we were on our way to Palermo…..

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Next post: Pulsating Palermo…

 

Syracuse – highlights from Ortigia

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 Ortigia is an island suburb of Syracuse (Siracusa) on the Ionian coast and it is also the historic centre. It is a beautiful and elegant town and I adored the time we spent there, staying at Des Etrangers Hotel and Spa, which overlooked the Marina.

 

I guess you could say it was love at first sight for me after leaving Catania, which failed to impress. The island is connected to mainland Syracuse by two bridges and boasts a stunning white stone Duomo which stands in a glistening white stone Piazza.

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We arrived just after lunch and ate at a tiny cafe on the slope right beside the hotel – I had the best salad of the trip there – salmon, rocket and lemon yoghurt dressing – SO good! We had arrived a little too early to check into our hotel so we took a stroll in the shady lanes, excited to see how attractive Ortigia is.

 

There are plenty of wonderful places to eat al fresco in Ortigia and we ate our first dinner in a delightful trattoria under huge shade umbrellas – initially we were the first diners but the place filled up very quickly with potential patrons being collared by the strategically-placed staff member in the busy lane that ran alongside.

 

While we were very taken with Ortigia we had to see  more of  Syracuse so the next morning we walked to catch the bus from the famous Piazza Archimede containing the Fountain of Diana (created in 1906). The Piazza honours Archimedes who was one of Syracuse’s most famous citizens.

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The fountain of Diana stands in the Piazza Archimede

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Some of the sculptures in the fountain

We have become fans of the hop-on hop-off bus system which we used to help us get a good orientation in unfamiliar cities – it makes it easier to decide which areas to explore further.  The spire of the stunning modern church of Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime (Our Lady of the Tears) was visible from our hotel balcony, so we made that our first stop in Syracuse – I found the church quite eerie and unattractive, but the architecture is grand and impressive.

 

We alighted from the bus just before the bridges leading back to Ortigia and walked along the shady promenade below the hotel up to the restaurants facing the ocean for a relaxing lunch break.

There was still rather a lot to see, so Phil and I continued to explore the town and I managed to get into the magnificent Duomo which had been closed the previous evening:

 

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Duomo interior

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The vaulted roof

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These arches were surprising

I could have wandered the streets of this gorgeous town for days, steeped in history as it is, but we had discoved the wonderful rooftop terrace bar on the hotel where we had fantastic views to enjoy with apertivo before dinner – the sun was setting and it was a magnificent sight.

 

The Piazza Duomo was a must for dinner to complete our stay in style so we dined in the restaurant directly opposite where coincidentally there had been a wedding, with a celebration in the adjacent restaurant – it was a perfect way to end the most magical two days in Ortigia, Syracuse…

Can’t resist posting a few more photos for you:

 

Next Post – Piazza Armerina

Catania – highlights

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We didn’t really fall in love with Catania – it is the second largest city in Sicily and the area we explored was dominated by buildings discoloured by deposits of volanic ash. It is apparently sometimes called ‘the black town’ –  it ain’t pretty in my opinion despite its Baroque architecture which gained it UNESCO World Heritage city status. I should stress that we only stayed for one day and night in the historic centre which was smaller and not as enchanting as I had expected. I am aware I not doing justice to this great city but my personal reaction is based purely on my experience of staying in other towns or cities in a similar historic areas.

Our accommodation at Duomo Suites and Spas was in stark contrast to our reaction to city itself. It was very modern and elegant and we enjoyed our overnight stay there – drinks on the rooftop terrace were good too … rooftop views in old towns can be very picturesque.

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The Duomo Suites rooftop terracre

We began to explore the town in the early evening, walking along the Via Etnea, the main shopping street up to the Giardino Bellini, beautiful gardens set in a peaceful park.

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Giardini Bellini

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Rotunda in the gardens

It was extremely hot so we stopped for an apertif and some very tasty but very filling arancini.

As we recommenced the walk back to our hotel we still found the place lacking in spirit and colour but it did perk up once the sun set, and we found a courtyard with a busy and quite rustic trattoria which offered a good menu, so we enjoyed the ambience there.

The next morning we did find a vibrant and noisy scene when the market behind our hotel town began.

In contrast, our stop off on the way to Catania via Mount Etna was a unique experience that we all felt was very special. The GPS lady sent us on rather a circuitous route to get there but we eventually arrived at the first level which is at 2,000 feet above sea level – the Rifugio Sapienza (Sapienza Refuge) on the southern side of the volcano. We were speechless when we arrived as we had seen very little traffic but it was swarming with tourists and locals alike. We could see people starting the steep walks up the shifting scoria path, the chairlifts were working and there were families everywhere – it was  hive of activity.

We decided not to try to get any higher than this level – out footwear was unsuitable and it was incredibly windy. Phil and I ventured out onto the Silvestri craters beside the self-serve restaurant and we could hardly stand but it was thrilling nonetheless. It was incredible to think were standing on the live volcano, whose outline so strongly dominates the landscape in Sicily.

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Silvestri crater

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Trying to stay upright in the wind

The following morning we decided to get better aquainted with the area and explored the huge and impressive Baroque Duomo dedicated to Saint Agatha which has survived several rebuilds due to earthquake and eruptions:

Due to our limited time in Catania we took the tourist train to get a better overview of the centre. Unfortunately we had no time to get to the coastal part of the city which may have enhanced our fleeting impressions of the place, so the once the tour was over we had move on to Ortigia..

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Ready for action on the train

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Two blokes on the bus

Here is a little more of the town …

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Sunsets are beautiful anywhere…

Next post – Ortigia – its outstanding…

Taormina – highlights

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This mornining we set off early on an Ape (ah-pay) tour of this beautiful town.  An Ape is a vespa-like bike with a cab and up to three seats in the back – it is a unique and delightful way to to get an overview of a place, as we discovered with Paolo in Matera.

This morning our tour guides were two delightful Sicilian blokes – one Reuben, complete with a coppola hat and the very out-there Vincenzo, who gesticulated expansively while mangling English words and then puncutating what he had just said with  “eet iz bee-youtiful no?” – mostly we had no idea what he was saying,  but the theatre attached to his performance made for an interesting ride as he weaved all over the road, calling out to passers-by, and occasionally stopping to embrace one of them – it was memorable and hilarious.

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The hotel pick up

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Vincenzo – our driver is taking the pic

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Reuben drives Roger and Frances

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Vincenzo – best pic I could get of this unforgettable guy

As soon as we set off we could see that our ride with Vincenzo would be unforgettable. Every now and then he would shout out a piece of information and immediately put his skinny little roll-your-own back in his mouth. Our first stop on the ride was the medieval village of Castelmola which is perched on a rock promontory high above the town – we were delighted as we had seen it from below, but never expected to get up there. At the top we first went to the C17th Church of Madonna della Rocca, which is created inside a rock. It is very simple, but it had a tangible aura about it which made me feel privileged to be inside.

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The stunning medieval village of Castelmola

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Looking down on Taormina

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Icon in the church

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The Altar in the Church of Madonna Della Rocca

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Crucifix in Madonna Della Rocca

Reuben then had a treat in store for us, insisting that they treat us to a typical Sicilian breakfast of brioche and granita, so off we went in the apes to a shady restaurant, where we were treated to more Vincenzo theatre as he alighted from the Ape and kissed the parking lady (complete with whistle), who was insisting they move the Apes into a corner:

After a short stroll through this tiny place, we continued the Ape ride and got a good overview of Taormina with these two characters, We also stopped to visit some beautiful gardens which provided wonderful views down to the bays. The gardens were closed but our two guides seemed to have some sway with the owner…

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Looking down on Taormina

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View from the gardens

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Looking down the coast

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Etna is behind

In the early afternoon we ventured out in the heat to see the Greek amphitheatre, the second largest in Sicily and in a location affording amazing views to the Ionian coast.

There is no shortage of things to do in Taormina but a relax by the hotel pool was in order, followed by dinner in a very modern bistrot, situated beside a  busy little lane lined with shops whose colourful products spill enticingly from their entrances.

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The modern bistro

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fruit and vege stall

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Limoncello of course

After dinner Phil and I went off to explore the area below this little lane which we discovered had totally burst into life with nightfall… a host of pavement restaurants had sprung up – it was a lively and colourful scene – a must for us to explore for our final dinner.

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Our final day was spent exploring as much as we could, beginning with a cable car ride down to the beach below the hotel and a walk out on to the stony public beach leading Isola Bella (a tiny island in the inlet previously owned by an English woman, Florence Trevelyan, but which is now a Nature reserve).  We were not dressed for the beach so we didn’t venture across to the island though we were tempted. As we walked back we could see the attraction of  private beaches since sunloungers, umbrellas and a food service are provided.

The return trip on the cable saw us return to the town for lunch and to simply soak up a bit more local colour before returning to the busy restaurant enclave we had seen the previous evening. We chanced upon a restaurant in an unbeatable setting – an old Roman garden courtyard – it was a fabulous way to end three brilliant days in the gem called Taormina…

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Goodbye Taormina, you are one of our top highlights…

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