Packing was just about right with two larger cases. We normally have one large and one small case, but normally that means washing much more. The dearly beloved is the master packer. He even asked me if I wanted my camera charger, which I declined: bad move ....my battery ran down, when I mistakenly put my camera back in its case without turning it off during a review of pictures taken. So take the camera charger, and take two cameras! I used Hubby's camera a bit, put got the exposure wrong. I am still hoping to get some pictures from fellow travelers. I had a lot of sympathy from new friends and offers to use their chargers, but none of them fitted!
Do not travel to very religious countries during their major religious periods. Many places in Sicily were closed over Easter, and when we had 'free' time just after lunch those shops etc which may have been open were on their siesta close down....
Our first stop was in Noto which really lives up to its name of a 'garden of stone'. Our room and balcony were looking over some hills with orchards of orange and lemon trees sloping down to the hotel right on the outskirts of the town. I was amazed by the wonderful scent during my early morning stretches on the balcony. Right by our hotel a small railway line and interesting railway buildings nearby sparked an interest for D, but there were very few trains, I think we only saw and heard a couple during our stay. The center was only a few minutes walk from the Hotel: Grand Hotel Sofia.
Our first day consisted of a walking guided tour of Noto, where we visited several buildings. We were dropped off by coach by the gardens at the East of Corso Emanuel, and walked past the Porta Reale,
on a hot day this offer of freshly squeezed orange juice would have been lovely except that we had to keep up with the crowd...
We stepped into various churches and the Pretty Decorations in Pink of the Basilica SS Salvatore: feminine and fine caught my eye.
Close up the details on the columns were beguiling..I could have stood and gazed for a long time, but there was a group to keep up with.
The tour guide called these windows with grills jalousies, where women could look out at the world, at their eldest sisters endowed with dowries who were married off, whilst they lived in monasteries.
Along the Via Nicolaci, there were intricate stone corbels holding up balconies on the Palazzo
In the afternoon our tour took us to Scicli. This is a charming small city, and as we had not seen any of the Moltalbano series, we shall look out for the repeats, we did not do any of the buildings some of our group were making for. Instead we wondered around admiring the many baroque facades, then spied a sign for the Museo del Costume/Cucina. It certainly did not disappoint and was a welcome counterbalance to all the churches.
Day 3 saw us on excursions to Ragusa and Modica. After a pleasant walk round the Ibleo Park
we made our way into the town. I wonder who made the elegant gates to the Cattedrale di San Giorgio, with steep steps beyond?
Just before the large square with palm trees, we went into the smaller Chiesa San Giuseppe.
The interior was quite different to the many churches we had been into...white and gold, with the largest biggest red velvet curtain we had even seen.
We plotted our way on our own to a little restaurant we had spotted on our way up for the first taste of Pizza of the holiday. Just when I thought I had been so original in using pumpkin on Pizza instead of tomato, I find the same thing on the menu among a whole list of Pizza Blondes!
This one was covered in pumpkin cream, I think this is their word for pumpkin puree, Mozzarella, ricotta cheese, sausage, and parsley. The restaurant, name not noted was in the basement of a Palazzo in the stables where we sat along the trough.....well lit, clean, slick and chic otherwise!
We then set off for Modica with an 'obligatory' visit to Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, one of the oldest producers of chocolate in Sicily. It was interesting to watch them worked a block of chocolate, as we looked on having donned flimsy white disposable overall and hats. I looked on aghast as they used a small hand sawn piece of old Formica work surface with the rough edge of compressed fibre exposed, on top of their stainless steel worktop. However I was somewhat placated if not disappointed to hear that their chocolate 'factory' is elsewhere! The chocolate was dry and grainy not much to our taste, bit like the chocolate version of Kendal Mint Cake, yes one has to have it once, but again, I doubt it, but it was an interesting visit non the less. My eye was on the patissiers making up cakes with tiny strawberries and pistachio nuts....this time on the pristine stainless steel worktops.
The following day saw us move Hotel from Noto to a City Center Hotel in Palermo. We had several treats in store for us on the way there. One stop was a tour of Caltagirone.
I loved the steps, all 142 of them...I wasn't counting, just looking at the many designs, and capturing just a small number of them, a few only just here!
Our lunch break was taken in the middle of the country, high up in the verdant hills at a Rural Country Estate. We had an extensive antipasti table to start with....
By contrast our Hotel in Palermo was strictly a City Hotel. Although we had an acceptable evening meal on the first night, this hotel was not geared for evening meals, and as meals for the other two days were not included, we ate out the rest of the time. Palermo is a very busy city, but with maps it is easy to get around, and small enough to walk easily from one side to the other. Our Hotel was just by the Politeama Theatre a grand building crowned with bronzes. Our room however was within earshot of a cinema...I am sorry for the hearing of the punters...however we had good shutters, double glazing and good air conditionning!
Teatro Massimo where I whispered on the sweet spot, and felt the whole world could hear me,
The gardens of Villa Giulia,
Giardino Inglese, The Catacombs of the Cappuccini Convent, the markets with the lovely cheeses and fruits,
the squares with their large banyan trees
and of course the Piazza Pretoria
and the Cathedral.
There was also a little window shopping
Our second full day in Palermo was set aside for a visit to Monreale, I have just doubled checked some of the dates:
Cathedral Bronze Doors from 1185
A beautiful large cloister with fountain built in c 1183
with carvings and patterned columns
and where even simple shapes and clever carving lead to interesting detail well above head height
such a contrast to the internal intricate marble surfaces and large mosaics
This building also certainly has the rear of the millennium
Our next hotel took us to a more rural area to Mazara del Vallo. Our well appointed room at the Mahara Hotel with large balcony looked down into an inner courtyard with fountain and bonze statue, quiet with sea air, and a very short stroll down to a pretty fishing town.
Highlights of the three nights spent there were
The Museo del Satiro where the town displays the finds from the bay including the Bronze Satire.
The sea trip and visit to Mozia must be one the top three. We set off from the salt pans of Stagone where the Phoenicians were making salt nearly three millenium back.
I have this thing for sea salt and was really disappointed that there were non for sale there, but it was Easter, though I did get a little from a Mazara Supermarket.
Mozia/Mothia was built by the Phoenicians on the small island of San Pantaleo.
There was a very good Museum and the archaeological sites which were developed by Whittaker, an English Man whose family were linked to the trade in Marsala. Just great a great article so making a link here.
The walk around the island was peaceful, with loads of wild flowers and birds singing....
We then had a short stop in Marsala, where I could not resist popping in to see the Tapestry Museum, you really have to hunt for it, and there is just a small door, then some steps, and you are in the most wonderful space with 8 large tapestries from the 16th Century which are still vivid and in excellent condition. The person in the Office was really helpful and found me an English Leaflet.
After a delicious lunch at one of the lovely street cafe, we went on to a Marsala Tasting at Florios. This was very slick and very well maintained. We walked among the barrel some huge on beautifully tendered crushed tufa floors which helped to maintain just the right humidity and temperature. We then were taken to a large room where we were taken through a film whilst we tasted the three Marsala wines with appropriate snack. Then we had a few minutes in their very elegant shop with excellent choices of wine and other drinks. We bought a nice bottle in an elegant tin.
Our last few days were spent in Acireale at the foot of Mount Etna. Our hotel Maugeri was nicely situated for a walk straight into the centre, though much was closed for Easter. On Easter Sunday, whilst most of the gang went to Etna, we decided to have our only day off. We ventured down a very steep path down to the coast and on the way back up found a nice restaurant with great views. It was quite a relief as we wondered whether we would find anywhere open. We had tried a restaurant along by the quay but they would only serve the full 4 courses as it was Easter Sunday. We did end up having three courses at the other restaurant...all very good, and within 10 minutes of our arrival the whole place filled up with Sicilians!
We had tours of Acireale and also Catania, both really interesting and after all the baroque architecture D was delighted to spend some time at the Museo Civiso Castello Ursino. I loved the large Basalt Elephant....
We were both a little overwhelmed with the amount we saw. We felt we could not eat any more Pasta, or Pizza, etc., but its strange within days of coming back I have made Pasta Norma, and made my version of the chickpea and fennel soup we had for lunch on a lemon farm...yes we were allowed to pick one each, and when we got back I made home made lemonade. They get four crops of lemons a year!
Would I go back, yes, take me now! What I wish the Sicilians would do...finish their buildings, and find a solution to their rubbish and litter problems...please, then it would be close to Paradise.
Thanks to our fellow travellers, some from as far as Scotland, and Australia for making agreeable holiday companions, and thanks to a great driver and tour leader too.