Monday, July 14, 2008

Next trip - more memories

The very grand and baroque, Pallazo Biscari, that I didn't get to see the interior. It is now converted into a hotel. Other Pallazos remain in private hands and one can only view them from books. There are still reasons to return to Sicily, if only just to see the grand interior of Pallazo Biscari.
Compare with this crumbling Pallazo which was our base while visiting Catania. This ruin is now a hostel, run by a Dutchman and his Sicilian family. It's dirt cheap and always full of young Europeans. I love this place, I've stayed here during both trips to Sicily. (Search this blog for detailed accounts of my 2 trips to Sicily).

Lots of beautiful mosaics in churches, some of the oldest in Europe, Sicily was part of the Byzantine Empire and an important part, wars were fought over it throughout it's 2600 years of recorded history. Some of the most beautiful and extensive mosaics can be found in Monreale, just outside of Palermo, in the Palatine chapel in Palermo, in the duomo in Cefalu and many others, too numerous to mention.

The fabled, Vucciria market in Palermo. Artists like Renato Guttuso has painted it, many travel writers has written about it, it hasn't changed in hundreds of years, 'the red plastic covering over the market, the naked light bulb, illuminating the whole place, the sale of huge chunks of tuna caught off the coasts of the island, besides poultry, beef and pork, the sale of dead rabbits etc...Fish mongers singing about how fresh their stuff is to entice housewives to buy from them.

I'm among them, buying some Alpine strawberries for 2 euros. I remember this so clearly. It was consumed within minutes.

The quatro canti or four corners, in Palermo, a very beautiful and again baroque area, lots of beautiful churches are found within yards of each other. Palermo is actually pretty compact. It was raining the whole time during both trips to Sicily, in March and in October, but it didn't dampen our will or our spirit, we forged on and had a great time.

The Oratory of Santa Zita, a small chapel, richly decorated by the famed Palermitano and Sculptor, Giacomo Serpotta, whose prolific works can be seen all over Sicilian but principally in Palermo. One can spend whole days just going around examining his work, there is a 'Serpotta' itinerary that takes you to see all his work. He has a way with putty, he can make it look like marble, but marble it is not. His whimsical christian caricature decorates the four walls of this chapel and it is the most delightful thing to behold.

Noto, another absolutely baroque city, 'whose baroque out-baroque all baroque' Frances Mayes wrote this about Noto. It is true, it is so pretty.

View of Ragusa Ibla, we had to navigate a little lane to get down to it and get lost in its windy and narrow streets, an absolutely delightful experience.

Noto, with its Unesco World Heritage site designation.

March in Sicily is wet and rainy. While along the coasts, the palm trees sway and the bougainvillea are in bloom, up in the mountains, they can hardly be called mountains, more like hills, up where Mt Etna is, there is snow and skiing. There are villages and farmlands all around the foot of Mt Etna, which has spewed its lava very often over the centuries. There are lots of evidence still littering the area around it. These are lava rock from the lava flow which was at the time of this picture covered in snow, a very unusual sight. We took the little train, the Circumetna, around the foothill of Mt Etna.

The wet streets of Taormina, an extremely pretty resort town. It was here I had sea urchins with my pasta. I'd love to return and eat it again.

Here am I fighting with the wind in Cefalu, I lost 2 umbrellas due to the fierce winds.

The lush hill top in Taormina, right next to the ruins, this view is towards the sea. On clear days, one can see Mt Etna from Taormina but not on the day we were there.

'Dionysius ear' in Siracusa. Another ultra friendly town, where are the fierce mafia?

The valley of the temples in Agrigento, the biggest Greek ruin outside of Greece. The ancient Greeks were among the first to conquer Sicily, resulting in a series of other conquerors, the ancient Romans, the Saracens, the Normans, the Spanish and the list goes on, each leaving their mark on the island and makes what Sicily is today, a land of contrasts, a land of enigma, one can forget that it is just a tiny island.

Valley of the temples, Agrigento, Sicily. It stretched for miles and miles and is so beautiful.


Sicily, my beloved Sicily. There are many more that delight the senses here on this tiny island. Forget about other islands, forget about Hawaii, Tahiti, Fuji and everywhere else. One can spend a lifetime on Sicily and not uncover everything. The food is so incredible and the people so friendly. We got into strangers' cars a couple of times.
While traveling to Italy this March with my 2 teenage nieces, I warned them about getting into cars with strangers. When I recounted the 2 incidents where Sophie and I got into cars with strangers, Ashley, being so observant said, 'you got into strangers' cars?' The first time was at the train station in Caltagirone, we were hustled by some old Sicilian when we asked how to get to the historic area of town. He was hustling for a fare, we refused him, saying we will walk. We hadn't gotten very far when he came after us and gave us a lift which we accepted. There were 2 of us and we were adults, what could happen? The second time was in Erice, a few days later. It was raining so hard and we couldn't see our way back to the bus stop. We asked everyone but was ignored, they were trying to get out of the rain too. Then this nice Sicilian tried to explain to us where it was but he didn't speak English, he motioned us to get into his brand new BMW and drove us to the bus stop. We were soaked to the bone and must have made a big puddle in his car.
Why Sicily? Who goes to Sicily? It was a previous trip to Southern Italy where we discovered Baroque. It was a chance visit to the little baroque city of Lecce that I fell in love with baroque and was on a quest for more. I read that there is an abundance of baroque in Sicily and that Sicilian Baroque was in a class of its own. I wasn't disappointed, not at all. Sicily is not all about the baroque, there's so much more.
When I think back on my peregrinations, it is not Paris or Rome that I remember most, it is Sicily. It is Sicily that thrilled and enthralled me the most.

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