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Back Home From Sicily - Part 2

03-01-2013 | By Jeff Day |

I'm jet lagged after returning from Sicily, and still waking up at 1:30 AM to start the day, so I figured I'd make good use of the time and start another blog post. In Part 1 I left off with describing the eruption of nearby Mount Etna and the Old World Elegance of Taormina.

Below is a an early morning photo of the Mount Etna eruption taken by fellow traveler Mike Mahoney that clearly shows the flow of lava down the slope - nice photo Mike!

Mike's Mount Etna eruption photo

It's easy to see why elegant Taormina has been so popular through the ages, and thankfully was spared from the WWII bombing that devastated other parts of Sicily.

15 Taormina from the ruins

Taormina is full of beautiful scenes as you walk the streets, in the 20th century Taormina has been known as a refuge for actors, artists, writers, and intellectuals, like D. H. Lawrence, Truman Capote, Charles Leadbetter, Hallador Laxness, and many more.

7 Taormina street scene

13 Taormina street scene

4 Taormina church door

6 Taormina street scene (1)

They still hold open-air performances in the ancient Greek theater located in Taormina, and Bob Dillon actually played there not that long ago. Rumor had it he kept looking over his shoulder during the performance to get quick looks of Mount Etna, which happened to be erupting during his visit as well.

16 Taormina theater

17 Taormina theater

After spending time in Taorima we moved on to Catania, where we toured the Museo dello Sbarco museum that chronicles the 1943 WW II American and British troop landings in Sicily. It must have been hard for the Sicilians being forced by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to fight against the allies and then in turn to be pounded by allied bombing and invasion. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!

1 WW II museum Catania

2 WW II museum Catania

Right after we left Catania the worst thunderstorm since 1963 came through the area causing flash floods in the city streets, sweeping Vespa scooters and small cars away!

Next we stopped at a local citrus farm to learn about life in rural Sicily ...

1 citrus farm

6 citrus farm

2 citrus farm (1)

... and then after a nice round of wine tasting they fixed us a nice midday feast!

3 citrus farm

4 citrus farm

5 citrus farm

Then we moved on to Siracusa which was considered in ancient times to be the greatest Greek city. I stayed in a convent while in Siracusa, on the island of Ortygia, and my room looked out directly over the water - nice!

1 siracusa
After settling in at the convent we went for a walk through the local market on our way to the Neapolis Archaeological Park.

2 siracusa

3 siracusa

Ancient ruins abound in Sicily. Even when walking from the market to the Neapolis Archaeological Park there's ruins scattered along the way.

4 siracusa

There was a tall ship in the harbor - I love those tall ships!

5 siracusa

The Neapolis Archaeological Park was impressive and a local historian gave us a guided tour of the ruins, which included an ancient Greek theater, a later Roman amphitheater, an ancient rock quarry, a sacrificial site, and many other significant and fascinating ruins on the grounds.

12 siracusa

6 siracusa

7 siracusa

8 siracusa

9 siracusa

10 siracusa

After the archeological park we visited the Paolo Orsi Museum with its delightful artifact collections from antiquity. I had been having a rough day and was a little down due to some events that had transpired. I must have looked like I needed a friend, and the stars in heaven aligned in attempt to cheer me up with a couple of memorable events that day.

The first occurred upon leaving the museum when the lovely historian who led our tour took me by the hand, told me she enjoyed having me on the tour, said I had a nice smile, and told me I was beautiful! When you're a guy that sort of thing doesn't happen every day, so it was a particularly nice gesture! Thank you!

11 siracusa

After touring the museum I headed back to my room at the convent. It turns out that with the events of the day I ended up missing lunch. In most of Sicily if you miss the 1 - 3 PM lunch window you're out of luck because all the restaurants shut down and don't open back up until around 8 PM.

I walked down to the front desk of the convent to ask if they might know where I might find some lunch that was fairly close by, as it was raining hard outside and I didn't want to venture far. It turned out that the nun at the desk was fluent in French and Italian, but spoke no English, so she couldn't answer my question, so she went and got another lady who spoke a little English to help me. "No, everything is shut down until evening" she told me.

Then the two ladies talked back and forth for a moment and the first nun signaled for me to follow her. She led me down a corridor into another part of the convent that opened into a nice little room with a couple of cafe-style tables, beautiful decor, and an espresso machine.

She then proceeded to make me a Sicilian ham & cheese sandwich on nice fresh bread, brought me a carafe of red wine, and a blood orange for dessert! After I finished up my lunch she made an espresso for me to enjoy after my meal! I got the impression that sort of thing doesn't happen too often around the convent, as every now and then a nun would peek in the room while I was eating, smile and giggle, wearing an expression of  surprise that said "Oh! There's a man in here!"

You have to realize that I'm not a particularly religious man, and I am not a Catholic, and I had somewhat of a bad impression of nuns in general because of the stories I had heard about them: how they were grumpy and severe, and how they would smack kids on the knuckles with rulers in class, and such.

However, this sweet, smiling, thoughtful nun favorably changed my impression of nuns forever by the kindness she showed me that day. I was having a pretty down day and her kindness cheered me up. Now I think nuns are pretty cool! Thanks Sister - you're awesome!

Ah, the kindness of strangers can be a sweet song on a blue day!

13 siracusa

After leaving Siracusa we visited the pottery-famous hill town of Caltagirone where they make the Maiolica pottery.

1 Caltagirone

It was an interesting time to visit Caltagirone, with students lining the hilly streets, protesting the government austerity cuts to education from the technocrat administration of Mario Monti. Italy is in crisis economically and politically. Kids can't find jobs when they get out of school, and unemployment is at a 21-year high. Italians are worried that this generation of youth will become a "lost" generation due to the current economic troubles in Italy. My heart goes out to them.

2 Caltagirone

3 Caltagirone

The national elections were in full swing while I was there, and parties were out campaigning in the streets. Just like in the USA, when times are tough the political kooks come out of the closet with extremist views. Unlike in the USA with its two major parties, Italy has many parties competing. In one place I even saw a booth for a Nazi party! The police presence was significant where campaigning was occurring to help keep the peace. In an effort to stay out of prison former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi is running again in the elections, because that will give him amnesty if he wins. If he loses it is likely he'll spend the rest of his life in prison or he will have to flee to a safe haven to live out his years. Word is that a team of 70 lawyers are working around the clock to defer pending charges agains him. Like Americans, Italians too are disgusted with the political situation in their country.

4 Caltagirone

I hope the political and economic situation improves for the Italian people, they certainly deserve better. In spite of the unrest evident in the streets due to political and economic turmoil in Italy, the beauty of Caltagirone shines through.

5 Caltagirone

7 Caltagirone

Even the stairs in the city streets of Caltagirone are resplendent with colorful ceramics!

8 Caltagirone

Impressive vistas abound in hilly Caltagirone.

6 Caltagirone

Notice the beautiful ceramic tiles embedded in walls of the streets of Caltagirone.

9 Caltagirone

And here's a whimsical bit of sculpture along a city street of Caltagirone.

10 Caltagirone

A garden for your enjoyment while in Caltagirone.

11 Caltagirone

12 Caltagirone

13 Caltagirone

One last look at Caltagirone through the bus window as we depart for the Villa Romana del Casale to view one of the world's richest collection of Roman mosaics.

15 Caltagirone

The Roman mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale are impressive with colorful imagery and dramatic scenes.

1 Villa Romana del Casale

2 Villa Romana del Casale

3 Villa Romana del Casale

4 Villa Romana del Casale

5 Villa Romana del Casale

6 Villa Romana del Casale

8 Villa Romana del Casale

9 Villa Romana del Casale

Below is "bikini girls" mosaic which was discovered in the 1950s.

10 Villa Romana del Casale

After spending the night near Piazza Armerina (below) we traveled on to Agrigento's "Valley of the Temples" to see the ruins of Greek temples, where a university Professor taught us about the Greek temples.

1 Piazza Armerina

1 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

In the photo below to the right is an ancient olive tree dating back to the temple period (if I remember correctly).

2 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

5 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

The Temple of Juno was an impressive ruin.

6 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

3 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

4 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

7 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

8 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

This is the location that legend says Icarus fell to earth. A giant bronze Icarus sculpture marks the spot of his legendary fall.

11 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

12 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

13 Agrigento’s valley of the temples

After our visit to the Valley of the Temples we moved on to see the Greek Doric temple and hilltop theater in the countryside of Segesta.

3 Segesta

2 Segesta

4 Segesta

5 Segesta

After finishing up our visit to Sicily it was time to go back to Palermo for a flight back to the US. Sicily is a unique and interesting place to visit. Friendly people, fantastic food and wine, great villages to visit, superb archeological sites, and a unique cultural history make Sicily a winner!

As a little note for my Hi-Fi pals, a trip like this costs more than a stack of records, but less than a new piece of kit. Mix a few cool trips into your life and you'll be glad you did, the music will seem that much sweeter when you return! That's my Hi-Fi tip for the day!

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