Devil is in the Details

I love taking photos of tiny little details. To some, these may seem insignificant but for me, these little facets make my memories rich and clear.

erice italy architectural detailWhat am I talking about? Take a look at this shutterdog or bracket found in Erice. Others might have completely overlooked this architectural detail but for me, it speaks to the charm of this little village. I remember the winding streets, thick fog giving way to stunning vistas, and delightful little touches like this one. Trapani and Erice are relatively close to Tunisia. Do you see an Arabesque look to this bust?

This is the sign that leads visitors the the public bathrooms in Erice. It comes as no surprise that the town is filled with little ceramic stores.

erice_bathroomErice’s many decorative door knockers also captured my attention. I wonder about the discussions that went into selecting these items. Were the chosen to impress the neighbors? Did they cause the owner to smile? Are they leftover from previous owners much to the chagrin of the current occupant?

erice_knockererice_handThe door below is in Trapani. Was this dog intended to keep away unwanted guests or evil spirits? He is decidedly less friendly than the door knockers.

trapani italyThis gargoyle is part of the Fountain of Saturn in Trapani. Long dry, the water pipe takes on the look of a cigar in the grotesque mouth. There is something humorous about the whole scene.

trapani smoking gargoyleOther details are not diminutive but still add to the general feeling that goes along with a place and can bring to mind the similarities. This bright blue door is a stunning contrast to the warm sandy color of the building. Bright doors are common in Mediterranean Europe and also remind me of the bright doors and shutters found in New Orleans, a town marked by European influences.

trapani_brightblueDetails can also show us what is important. Both Erice and Trapani featured many religious details. Clearly faith, in particular the Catholic faith, is important to those who live in this part of Sicily.

a shrine to Mary in Trapanitrapani_anchorNear the fishing port in Trapani

erice_maryMary watches over Erice from this perch near the scientific college.

trapani mary jesusMary and the baby Jesus are found on the duomo or cathedral gates in Trapani. This mirrors the large statue found in the port area.

trapani_jesusAnother image of Jesus from the gates

Next time you are traveling, look around for the little details.
What do they tell you about the place you are visiting and those who live there?

Grand Journey Arriving in Italy – Trapani and Erice

Before the cruise, I reserved a tour of the Greek temples found at Selinunte near Trapani, Sicily. Unfortunately, I was one of the few people who wanted to see Greek ruins in Italy so the excursion was cancelled. Erice (Eh-ree-che) was my second choice and the tour that Mr. McB had booked, so I booked this excursion the day we left Barcelona.

We docked in Trapani, on Sicily’s west coast, around 8 a.m.

trapani_morningsea

Trapani’s original name was Drepanon from the Greek word for sickle because of its shape. There are two mythological stories behind the sickle shape. The first states that Trapani was created when the goddess Demeter dropped a sickle when she was looking for her daughter Persephone who was stolen by Hades and taken to the underworld. The second story states that the city was created when Saturn (or Cronus) castrated his father Uranus and threw his bits and the sickle into the sea.

trapani_shipShortly after arriving, we were on a bus and headed up to Erice. There is an option to take a cable car (or funivia) from Trapani to Erice but that tour was more expensive and Mr. McB isn’t really a big fan of cable cars. It seemed silly to pay more for what might have been a terrifying experience.

Erice sits 750 meters above Trapani. It was settled by the Elymians. It is thought that refugees from the ancient city of Troy may have moved here. It was later controlled by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Arabs, and Normans. The town is very well preserved and offers glimpses of both village life and the Medieval world.

erice_drive

This is a road to Erice; if motion sickness is a problem, you might want to close your eyes and think about that cable car option. As we climbed toward the town, we saw clouds and rain rolling in. Thankfully, our first stop was inside the duomo.

Chiesa MatriceSitting on the site of a former temple to Venus, the duomo or Chiesa Matrice (main church, there are 60 churches in Erice so it’s an important distinction) was created using building materials from the old temple. The church was constructed around 1314.

The church is dedicated to the assumption of the Virgin Mary. It’s plain, stone exterior gives way to intricate and beautiful patterns on the ceiling of the church.

erice_ceilingerice_churchceiling

erice_ourladyThe church has some silver pieces, decorative ceremonial robes, and relics. For a brief moment, I was afraid that they might have some of the mummified remains that are popular in other parts of the Sicily. It turned out that there was a large crucifix, and not a body, wrapped in this covering.

erice_bodyAfter touring the church, we walked through the town and toward the Norman castle. Erice’s steep streets are made of well-worn cobblestones. I cannot tell you how important it is to wear comfortable shoes with good tread. You should also watch out for dog droppings. They are plentiful.

erice_dog The rain and fog came and went during the walk. It made the town seem very quiet and isolated. It also made Erice’s maze of streets even more confusing.  One minute a corner was shrouded in fog and the next the sun was shining brightly. You had to look for landmarks and details to make sure you were headed in the right direction. It’s a lovely spot to get a little lost but if you have anxiety about getting turned around, I would recommend sticking to the main streets and making note of their names.

The clouds and mist created some interesting photos. You can see a low hanging cloud covering Monte Cofano in the second shot. You’ll see a clear view of the mountain later.

erice_foggycastleerice_cloudsFrom our perch at the top of the town, we could see Marsala which is home to the famous wine. Marsala is an Arabic name meaning port of god (Mars – Allah). The wine came to fame when Englishman James Ingram brought it in to England as a substitute for the Madeira wine which was popular but unavailable to the English due to troubles with the Spanish. I can only assume they were blocking the trade route since Madeira is a Portuguese wine. 

trapani_marsalaWe could also see Trapani’s salt pans. Salt allowed meat to be cured and was very important in the ancient world. Roman soldiers were paid in salt and thus we have the word “salary” coming from the Latin for salt.

trapani_saltpansSea salt, especially that coming from Trapani, is said to be better for you. It has a stronger flavor allowing you to use less. It is also said to be richer in other minerals.

erice_castleAnother shot of the castle’s tower as the sun chased the fog away.

erice_narrowThis gives you an idea of how narrow the streets of Erice were during Medieval times. This was thought to deter crime. Narrow, winding streets also made it difficult for an invading army to approach the town without being detected.

erice_priest This is San Giuliano or St. Julian who was given credit for the victory over the Muslims who had conquered the citadel. The church here was built in 1076 at the request of Roger the Norman. It was one of the first churches in Erice.

erice_trinaciaErice has many fine ceramic workshops. Here you see the trinacria, the symbol of Sicily. The three legs represent the island’s triangular shape. The face in the center belongs to Medusa and is supposed to keep away evil spirits. It is also said that drops of Medusa’s blood became the red coral that grows off the shores of Sicily. It is considered to protect the wearer.

erice_mcbMr. McB and I split up for independent exploration but met back up in time to enjoy arancini spinaci or a spinach rice ball before walking toward the bus.

erice_arrancini1erice_arrancini2After getting back on the bus, we drove down the winding road and back to Trapani.

erice_windingroadFrom the bus we were able to see Monte Cofano, a limestone mountain that is designated as a nature preserve. This was a stunning view of the mountain jutting out into the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was perfect and surreal.

erice_coffinaerice_coffina2The clouds continued to change positions and create different shadows as we continued our descent from Erice.

We returned to Trapani just before siesta. If we had made it into the cathedral, we would have only had about 15 minutes.I wasn’t interested in rushing so we decided against it. We were able to see the church’s decorative gates.

trapani_cathedralAfter studying the gates, we took a  walk to the other side of the island away from the port. The town is only a few blocks wide at this point.

trapani_coasttrapani_stinkybeachThis side of the island stinks. The beach is full of trash and some matted seaweed or algae and the whole thing reeks of decay. We were there during the off season so I’m sure the whole thing is well maintained during the summer. We turned away from this and headed into the town’s historical center.

corso vittoria emanueleThis is the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. At the end of the street,  you will find the building used as Trapani’s town hall.

trapani_cityhallOn the lower balcony you can see Trapani’s coat of arms on the maroon flag, the trinacria on the Sicilian flag in the center and the EU flag flying at the Palazzo Cavarretta. The Italian flag is displayed at the top of the building.

We also strolled through the park and gardens at the Villa Regina Margherita.

trapani_villamarg2There were crews cutting the palms in the park.
This shot shows a before-and-after comparison.

trapani_villamargtrapani_fountainTriton’s Fountain near the park

trapani_catsThese little cats were waiting to be fed. There was a little lady in the home who lowered the trays of cat food and water down to her hungry customers.

fountain of saturn trapaniThis is the Fountain of Saturn, the city’s mythical protector and candidate for worst son of all time. It is located near the Church of Saint Augustine.

trapani_churchThis is the Chiesa del Purgatorio and is dedicated to the holy souls in purgatory. Inside there are large figures representing the Passion of Christ. These are part of a parade on Good Friday. Again, we arrived during siesta so we missed the chance to see these figures.

We returned to the ship and enjoyed some time on our veranda. Small ferries and other vessels came and went while we were docked. It was surprising to see row boats mixed in to this traffic. The larger crafts left a wake so I was quite impressed by the rowers’ ability to keep their tiny boats upright.

trapani_rower That is some outstanding rowing.

trapani_rower2As was our custom, we watched the tug and pilot boats lead us out to sea. This pilot boat reminded me of a bathtub toy that I had as a little girl.

trapani_pilotboatThis evening we had a reservation at Toscana, the Italian restaurant. I got this shot of sparks flying out into the dark night sky as we walked to dinner.

trapani_sparksWe were both pretty hungry since that rice ball was very good but not the most substantial of meals and by now, our bellies were used to cruise eating. Look at this bread basket. My favorite roll there is a type of brioche with a cherry tomato and onion baked right into the bottom. They also serve these rolls at the buffet restaurant so they were there to tempt me all the time.

trapani_breadbaskettrapani_pastaM’s angel hair pasta appetizer
The handmade pasta is accompanied by a delicate sauce that adds flavor without overwhelming the pasta’s texture or taste.

trapani_calamariMy delightful calamari

trapani_tortM’s spinach and ricotta tortellini
This was also a starter. His main course was the Alfredo chicken.

trapani_gorgonzolaI had the filet with Gorgonzola, grilled polenta and red wine sauce.

trapani_lasagnaThis was my chocolate lasagna in a pistachio sauce. See the shiny layer of chocolate just under the crunchy decorative chocolate? That was very rich chocolate with the consistency of pudding skin or fruit roll-up. I did not love this dessert but I am glad I tried it. M continued his exploration of the various creme brulee options and declared this to be the best thus far.

Before I post about my time in Palermo and Monreale, look for a post about some of the tiny details that didn’t make it into this description of our stop.

Traveling Thursday -Tipping Take Two

Last year, I wrote a post about tipping those in the travel industry. I’m adding to that advice today with a note about tipping while abroad. In the past, many travel companies and guides said that it was acceptable to tip in US dollars as long as you were using bills and not coins; this is no longer the case due to rising bank fees.

A guide explained that shopkeepers could no longer accept US dollars because  they were easily paying 25-30 percent in fees to convert the dollars to euros. While she never mentioned tipping or the travel industry, I immediately thought of it and was thankful that we had been tipping in euros.

If at all possible, tip in the local currency. If it isn’t feasible remember that in addition to the exchange rate, you should consider the large fees that the bank will charge when your guide or driver changes money.

Traveling Thursday – Random Christmas Travel Tips

The TSA blog offers up a great list of travel tips for the 2013 Christmas season. There is a lot of interesting information there including the fact that Christmas crackers (the popping kind, not the salted ones) are not allowed on airplanes.

Flying into LaGuardia with a checked bag? Have your claim tag ready because the luggage supervisors will not let you leave baggage claim until they match the bag tag against your claim ticket. It’s a great idea but you might have to dig for the claim tickets if you’re not prepared.

Looking for a last-minute hotel while you’re on the road? Try the Hotel Tonight app to find great day-of deals on hotel rooms.

Wishing you safe travels, warm memories and a very Merry Christmas!!

 

 

 

Grand Journey – Our Day at Sea

With 483 nautical miles between Palma and our next stop in Trapani (Sicily), we spent the fourth day of our cruise on the high seas.

While I wouldn’t want too many sea days on a cruise, they do provide a chance to explore the ship and rest. The shore excursions can be grueling and a day on the ship means setting your own pace.

We slept in a little and woke to see gray skies. Later, there were low clouds with an odd yellowy tinge. Soon we were sailing in the middle of a rain storm. Mr. McB and I stood out on the veranda and watched it for quite some time. It was very interesting and we’re easily entertained. As the rain slowed a bit, we spotted the rainbow that appeared just outside.

sea_rainbowI will admit to boosting the color in Photoshop but this is pretty close to what we saw with the naked eye.

We spent the morning hanging out in the lounge chairs by the pool. It was a little cool to be in the pool but lounging around and reading was definitely in order.

sea_pooldeckBy lunch, the sun was shining so we found a spot on the Terrace Cafe’s outdoor dining area on the stern of the ship and enjoyed the view of the sparkling blue Mediterranean.

We took afternoon tea at 4 p.m. Sadly, I had the zoom lens on my camera so there are no shots of the white-glove service or the delicious praline cakes. There will be some high tea shots from later in the trip just not from this particular day. The whole experience was lovely and very civilized. A string quartet plays as you relax with tea and enjoy countless treats. We had scones with clotted cream and felt very proper.

oceania tea service at seaThis server is taking away some of the many used tea pots and plates. You can’t see it but he has just descended a spiral staircase carrying all that china. I admire his poise and balance.

sea_mjmMr. McB is enjoying the sunset and waiting to snap a few shots.

As you’ll see, the clouds and rain did lead to a gorgeous sunset.

sun set on the med

sea_sunset2

sea_sunset3After watching the sunset, we enjoyed dinner in the Grand Dining Room. Mr. McB had Jacques Pepin’s steak frites (steak and fries) and thought it was delicious. He finished his meal with the Canyon Ranch creme brulee and decreed that it was very tasty despite the fact that it was a diet version of the classic dessert. I had escargot; it was so delicious, someone could have easily lost a finger had they tried to sneak one of my snails. I also had the eggplant rolls and a gorgeous fruit tart with shortbread crust. The meal was lovely and I’m sorry that there are no photos to share. My taste buds are sorry I can’t easily whip up something like this right now.

I leave you with this sneak peek of Trapani. My post about the stop is going to be delayed but you can read Mr. McB’s recap of our excursion to Erice and time in Trapani.

sea_sneak

 

Traveling Thursday – The Grateful Traveler

Last week, a lot of attention was given to stores that were open on Thanksgiving and the employees who had to work on the holiday. Since my father retired from a long career in retail last year, I understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by these folks, and their families. I can also tell you that even when stores were closed to the public, people were working on Thanksgiving in preparation for Black Friday.

All of these discussions made me think of others who work on Thanksgiving and other holidays. As I rattled off the list in my mind, I started to think about the wonderful people who work in the travel/tourism and hospitality industries. Just like retail, these industries hit their peak during holidays and require employees to work while many others are enjoying days off and time spent with family.

I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge those who work in tourism and hospitality. Whether its bringing families together around a big Thanksgiving buffet at a restaurant, managing group tour headed for some famous holiday attraction, or making sure we have a comfortable hotel room after our big journey over the river and through the woods, you are here to make sure we can enjoy our holidays year-round.

Thank you for taking time away from your friends and family to take care of us.