As I am sitting here, left behind on the day to Siracusa with Jessica, Michelle and Bob due to the situation with Michelle's bags not yet arriving, I thought I'd start writing about Jessica's trip here and all the things we've done. If you haven't been following along, Jessica has been here since the 8th of March and her friend Michelle arrived on the 22 only to find that her suitcase did not make it all the way to Catania. Alitalia has finally located it but we are still waiting for its arrival here in Marina di Ragusa. So I am the logical one to stay behind and wait. I'm not particularly overjoyed with Alitalia at the moment and think they've been giving us a pretty good run around but at the moment we are at their mercy. Hopefully the bag arrives by the end of the day.
Jessica arrived over two weeks ago and, not one to waste a minute; we stopped in Aci Trezza to see the "Riviera dei Ciclopi," the big rocks that jut up above the water, just north of Catania. The water was a beautiful turquoise blue and the sky so clear that she was able to see Mt. Etna with its snow-covered peak clear as a bell when we left the airport around noon. We found a nice restaurant with a view of the harbor and enjoyed our first meal together in Sicily. The trip to Sicily is obviously longer than the one to Umbria had been when she came in October and she was getting tired so we drove straight-away to Marina di Ragusa where we walked along the Lungomare with her, showing off our little town. We spent the next few days showing her around Ragusa, Ragusa Ibla, Modica (during the Chocolate Festival which was fun!), Scicli and the area around Ragusa. We took a day-trip to Siracusa to show her that city and the Greek theatre there. Since our daughter works in theater as a stage manager and has always loved anything related to the theater as well as, in her words, "touching old stuff," you can imagine that she really enjoyed Siracusa. And Sicily, in general, I would have to say with all its ancient ruins and Greek and Roman theatres that date back to pre-Christian times.
On our way to Palermo and our week in the west of Sicily, we made a stop in Polizzi Generosa, where my grandfather was born. It was cool still in Marina when we left but that didn't prepare us for the snow and icy roads in Polizzi! She had seen a little yarn shop as we drove through the town (she has taken up knitting and even made me a beautiful scarf which I wore the whole time!) and we scurried, freezing from the car, into the tiny shop filled to brimming with row on row of yarns and threads. The storeowner didn't mind moving everything out of the way so he could get to the yarns in the window that had caught her attention and she purchased a big bag of different types of wools. It is so sweet to me that my daughter, who learned to knit using my mother's knitting needles, will now make something beautiful using wool she bought in her great-grandfather's birthplace!
We spent two nights in Palermo, staying at the very comfortable and friendly Hotel del Centro near Quattro Canti. We visited the Norman Castle, which was miraculously open, and got to see the beautiful Capella Palatina founded in 1132 by Roger II and its incredible mosaics and wood ceiling, built by Arab artisans under Norman rule. We went to the Ballaro and Vucciria markets and of course introduced her to "pane panelle crochè," the tasty treat we first enjoyed on our last trip to Palermo. We visited the Orto Botanico and saw more types of aloe in bloom than we had ever seen (and coming from Phoenix this is saying something!) and the startlingly incredible Ficus Magnolioides, the giant ancient trees that send their roots down from the branches above, and they take root and become thicker and fatter until they seem like many trees, all meshed together and take up a huge area, under an enormous canopy of green. They are like some strange alien being and we wondered how large they could grow and what their life span might be, having already lived one hundred and fifty years! The little villa-like building has been recently renovated where you enter the garden and was not open for tourists yet. But we did enjoy an exhibit on palms by an Italian botanist and his botanical studies were works of art in themselves that I really enjoyed seeing, with one large page devoted to each species of palm and the way he pinned them on and wrote his descriptions, including all the seed pods and various parts of the plant was like a living botanical illustration.
Teatro Politeama Garibaldi and the Teatro Massimo, both having recently been renovated were stunning as the lights came on and day turned into night. We saw Palermo with new eyes and are glad to say that we gained a new appreciation for this city in spite of its more crumbly bits. We introduced her to cassata cake, and she was instantly hooked on this very Sicilian delight. We drove inland to Monreale and were awed again by the amazing elaborate ceiling and dazzling mosaics.
The creepiest thing we did was to go to the Catacombi di Cappuccini, the catacombs that originally were only for the Capuchin monks but became a burial place for the well to do in Palermo. We had seen photos in our guidebooks but nothing quite prepared us for the sight we encountered upon entering. Row after row, from floor to very high ceiling were hanging, on hooks, like some bizarre display, dead people, some mummified, some skeletons, all dressed in their finest Sunday best, some still with dried skin sagging off their faces, mouths agape. Some appeared to be leaning towards each other as if in conversation. There were entire families hanging there together. This practice began in 1599, with the first monk's interment and continued until 1881. The families of the dead, we had read, used to come in once a year and change the clothes of their dearly departed if you can imagine such a thing! The next creepiest thing was the family who were also touring the catacombs with their little baby in a stroller and a 4 year old who kept singing a song and saying "guarda mi!" (look at me). It was like some weird scene from a horror movie and we were not unhappy to leave the place and go out into the fresh air again!
Leaving Palermo we headed west, stopping in the little fishing village of Castellamare del Golfo. We were astounded to read in Jessica's guidebook that in the past, the mafia activity was so great here that one in 3 men was said to have killed someone! Hard to imagine in what seemed like such a sleepy little place. We decided to continue on towards Trapani, where we would spend the next few days.
(to be continued. See Trapani and the West of Sicily)