More of Sicily.....

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
Trip End Oct 02, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Monday, September 10, 2012

12 September 10 - Monday

Breakfast was much the same as yesterday, although of course this morning the tour had started so members of the tour group were all there at various times. After breakfast I went back to the room and got my gear packed and ready to go.  At about 08:45 I headed down to the Bus to drop-off my Backpacks.  The driver, Antonio is the brother of Maurizio from the South Italy tour that I took, and he's also part owner of the Principato bus company.  I'm relieved that the tour is having a bit of a "relaxed" start this morning.

At about 09:05 we started our walking tour with Jacklyn, our local guide.  She was born in California so hardly had any accent at all.  The tour visited many of the historic locations in the older part of Palermo, including the Duomo, street markets, etc.  Jackie related the interesting history of the city due to the influence of not only Italians but also Normans and other foreigners.  One of the small Churches we passed was used by Patton to memorialize his fallen soldiers during the invasion of Sicily.

The tour took about 3.5 hours total and by 12:30, I was starting to wear out and was getting quite hungry.  We finally broke for lunch and the Guide suggested several local restaurants.  Myself and some of the others decided to dine at Mazzara, which seems to be a somewhat "upscale" restaurant.  I wanted to try an Arancini, a deep fried rice ball with a center filling of ham and cheese.  It was excellent and surprisingly filling.  For dessert I decided to try the famous Cannoli, which is a pastry filled with sweet Ricotta cheese.  It was incredibly decadent and delicious, and I’m sure I’ll be having more while I’m here (although I’m also sure they won’t be good for my waistline).

While I was waiting for the Bus and taking a few photos, I noticed a bald guy hovering behind me.  He had also been close to me several times when I was in the restaurant, and his constant proximity was starting to become a “red flag”.  Although I was moving around, he seemed to always be within a few feet of my location.   I turned around and faced him straight on, gave him a stern look and he ambled away.

It was wonderful to get on the Bus, even though the air conditioning didn’t seem to be working at peak efficiency.  However, the respite from the heat was short lived, as we only drove a short distance to Monreale, and then had to disembark for another walking tour.  We covered the main part of the town and especially the incredible Duomo, where Jackie explained the significance of the religious murals covering the walls.  The staff appeared to be getting ready for a wedding, as they were placing flowers leading to the altar.

After a brief coffee and washroom break, we headed back to the Bus through a gauntlet of street vendors selling a variety of trinkets, including scarves, small jewelry items, electronics, etc.  From there we drove to Cefalu which would be our stop for two nights.

Hotel La Giara in Cefalu doesn’t have a breakfast room, so we’ll be getting a voucher and visiting a nearby Trattoria for breakfast.  Unfortunately it won’t be buffet style, but rather the food will be served in “metered” portions by waiters.  After checking-in to the Hotel, the Guide, one of the other member of the group and I took some laundry to a nearby Lavanderia, and we’ll pick it up tomorrow.

At 18:30 the group headed out on a walking tour of Cefalu, which covered a “square” in the old town.  There seem to be outstanding photo op’s in every alley we walk past, so I’m sure I’ll be back here tomorrow.  During the walk, we constantly had to be aware of and move over for cars or Motorino’s that never seem to cease.  When we reached the waterfront, we were treated to an incredibly beautiful sunset, with a golden sunbeam painting a straight line across the water, past sailboats and a yacht.  At the end of the tour, we were back on the street to the Hotel, so I thought I’d try the restaurant right next to the Hotel.

Unfortunately, when we arrived there we found it was closed.  The Guide suggested an alternate choice a few streets over, but I found that was closed too.  I was getting really tired and hungry by this time, so I headed back down towards the water where I knew the restaurants were open as we had just passed by that area.

I decided to stop at L’Antica Corte and try some Spaghetti alla Norma, which was excellent although with a salad it was almost more than I could finish.  Just as I was finishing my after dinner coffee, I had a short visit with the couple sitting at the next table.  It turned out they were from the Netherlands, so I talked to them about my visit there last year.

After dinner I headed back to the Hotel to enjoy the air conditioning and have a rest.  The girl at the front desk explained how to make the TV work, as I couldn’t figure out the two remote controls that were provided in the room.   I also noticed an unusual control panel mounted in the headboard, which seems to remotely unlock the door, call for assistance from the desk and control the two bedside lights.  It was a bit “dated” but still somewhat high-tech.

12 September 11 - Tuesday

This would be a "free day", so I decided to follow a more leisurely pace this morning, and didn’t bother rushing too much. The Guide will be leading an optional hike up the mountain to have a look at the ancient fortress there, but I decided that I’d make things a bit easier on my back and forgo that activity.

I ended up in the Lobby at about the time the tour members that were going on the hike, so I walked with them as far as the restaurant that was serving breakfast.  I figured the breakfast would be a bit “sparse” and my hunch was correct.  The waiter brought only a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, one cup of coffee and one Cornetto (Croissant).  That may be typical for this part of Italy, but it’s certainly not enough for my breakfast.  I eventually bought a Calzone, and the restaurant provided another cup of Café Americano and Orange juice.

While sitting at the outside tables in the Piazza finishing breakfast, I noticed numerous tour groups passing by on their way to the Duomo, led by the ubiquitous umbrella-toting Guides.  Some of the groups were really large (60-80 people) and I learned that at least one was a Collette Tour.  One of the other groups was from the Netherlands.

I enjoyed a long leisurely breakfast, but finally felt I should get my day started, so went to pick up my laundry.  The order was thankfully all there, although they had forgotten two socks in the Dryer.  The laundry owner was more interested in talking on his Cellulare than he was attending to customers, so he just dumped the bin with the crumpled laundry in front of me and gave me a plastic bag to put it in.

I was sure glad to have my Tilley Vest back, as I felt lost without it.  I gathered my Camera gear and headed out to get some pictures.  My first stop was the Duomo and while it was like many others in Italy, it was still very impressive.  There were a few people in there, but thankfully not too many.  Despite being indoors, it was quite warm and humid in the Duomo.  I got some good pictures and was just preparing to leave when someone started playing the large Pipe Organ.  In that setting with the elaborate religious mosaics and other décor, it was magnificent to hear that music!

As I was leaving the Church, I noticed a man and woman with a small girl on the steps.  I pointed to the girl and said “Bella”, for which they thanked me.  The woman could speak excellent English and she was originally from Germany but was now living in southern Sicily.  She could speak at least five languages including English, German, Italian, Spanish and French.  She said that she had forgotten much of her Russian.  The ability of the Europeans to function fluently in several languages never fails to amaze me!

I then continued towards the harbour and got a few more photos.  I’ve been running into other members of the group in various parts of town, so it looks like we’re all exploring.  I took the same route back that we had travelled on the familiarization tour last night, and was going to visit La Botte for lunch, however I didn’t see anything on the Menu that I liked (it was mostly seafood).  I then tried La Brace and found them still closed, so I finally went to a small Pizzeria near the Hotel, as they had a wider variety of items on the Menu.

It was quiet in the restaurant at the time, and my order was taken quickly.  After my meal arrived, I happened to notice a family (Mother, Father, small boy and grandparents) sitting on the other side of the room.  For some reason the small boy kept looking at me and smiling, as did the Mother so of course I smiled back.  This went on for several minutes while the boy was eating part of his lunch.  Eventually the Mother and boy went outside for some reason, and at that point the Grandmother came to my table and said that she was the “Mama” and several other things in Italian which I didn’t understand.

I asked the Waiter if he could translate.  The Italian family said that they had been telling the small boy that I was Babbo Natale (aka: Father Christmas or Santa Claus) so that he would eat his lunch, an unusual tactic which I found somewhat humorous at the time.  I really must lose some weight!  As I was paying my bill and leaving, I was close to their table and they again told the boy something about Babbo Natale, and I just said “Si, Si” in an agreeable tone.  That was certainly an interesting "cultural experience"!

It was after 14:00 when I left the restaurant, and one thing that became apparent very quickly was that it was now “siesta time”.  Earlier in the day, all the shops were open and the streets were packed with cars, motorino’s and pedestrians and everything was a “bustle” of activity".  However, now there were only a few people in the streets and it was very quiet.  I can appreciate why they have a siesta though, as in the hot afternoon sun it’s nice to go home and have a long lunch and take a break from the heat.  The stores are open well into the evenings though, to make up for the few hours they’re closed in the afternoon.

After lunch I walked up the hill to find a Bancomat (ATM) that I had noticed earlier, and found two other members of the group waiting.  Finally it was my turn and the machine worked fine for me right away, although some of the others had been having trouble with it.  The ATM indicated that I was taking a “cash advance” but since it was my debit card, I’m sure it will just withdraw from my chequing account. After that,  I headed back to the Hotel to do some computer work.

One thing I’ve noticed about Sicily is the somewhat “stereotypical” images that I seem to encounter in each town, which remind me of some depictions of Italy in the movies.  Cigar smoking motorcycle riders without a helmet, groups of people sitting in clusters visiting with their friends (something they probably do every day) and vendors yelling unintelligible words to attract attention to the goods on the back of their truck.  In some cases, I’ve almost expected Marlon Brando to step out of a doorway and say in a gravelly voice, “make him an offer he can’t refuse”.  In my perception, this is definitely not the same Italy as Tuscany or other parts in the north of the country and it's an interesting cultural contrast.

At 18:00 the group will be getting together on the rooftop terrace at the Hotel for a wine & cheese party.  I’ve already bought a bottle of wine, so I’m ready for the party.  The “happy hour” got underway at the scheduled time and the Guide or one of the others had brought some food as well.  There were Calzones, Cannoli, cold meats and cheeses as well as lots of wine.  It looked like everyone in the group had brought a bottle of wine, as there were a LOT of bottles on the table.  The party continued until about 23:00 and everyone seemed to have a really good time.  By the time it was over, there was a substantial collection of “empties”, so I’m assuming “a good time was had by all”.

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Teresa in Seattle on

Ken, I'll be anxious to read about your time in Sicily as I'm thinking about taking the RS Sicily tour.

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