The Grand Adventure Continues – Palermo

After visiting the cathedrals in Palermo and Monreale, I returned to the port and then sat out to meet Mr. McB for lunch in Palermo.

On my way to our meeting point, I walked past the Teatro Politeama. Initial construction on this theatre was finished in 1874 with the roof being added around 1890. The bronze chariot is driven by characters meant to represent the artistic talents. The building’s ochre exterior is reminiscent of ancient constructions.

teatro politeama
I met Mr. McB outside the Teatro Massimo. This opera house is the largest in Italy and is the third-largest in Europe. Does it look familiar? Yes, this is the site of the opera house scenes in The Godfather III. On the day of our visit, many of the students who participated in the general strike were milling about smoking and talking. There were also a number of vendors trying to sell flowers and umbrellas.

teatro massimoAfter meeting up, we briefly considered our options and decided on a nearby pizzeria. Ristorante al 59 is the kind of place that is popular with tour groups because it is very approachable and has a little personality. It also has free WiFi but McB and I got to talking and totally forgot to take advantage of this. The bathrooms are also quite clean.

2ristorante59We enjoyed pizza bianca or white pizza. It was very tasty with a crispy crust and quality cheese. Just like every other sit-down restaurant in Italy, and most of Europe for that matter, you are not going to hurry through lunch. The service is good but European. If you want to make a quick getaway, you will need to communicate that with your waiter.

2pizzabiancoAfter lunch, Mr. McB decided to go back to the ship while I still had more exploring to do. I made it back by the Quattro Canti for another look.

quattro canti I took a quick left and ended up at Fontana Pretoria. Our pre-trip research warned us that this racy fountain caused quite the stir back in its day thanks to all the nude figures.

2palmafountainbwThe enormous fountain was originally housed at a Medici villa and was later sold to the Senate of Palermo and moved. Buildings were demolished to make way for this installation.

2nakedfountainpalermo2nakedfountain3The “fountain of shame” is located very close to a police station. It’s a bit comical to see those saucy nudes so close the the officers of the law.

2nakedfountain22cherubThis little cherub stands on the outer edge of the fountain. Can you see the trinacria on the disc above his head?

The statue below is the only one in the whole area wearing clothes. He seems a bit disgusted by all the nudists behind him, doesn’t he?

2clothedfountain
The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio or San Nicolò dei Greci, commonly called the Martorana is located near the fountain. The church’s foundation charter is in Greek and Arabic and dates to 1143. Just like Monreale, the church’s architecture shows a strong Islamic influence.

2churchesHaving seen interior photos since our trip, I’m sad that I didn’t take time to go inside. Oh well, there were other things to see.

2palmermobuildingsWhile the rain and fatigue kept me from walking toward the Norman palace and other sites, I did take my own sweet time heading back to the ship. I wanted to get a feel for the city.

2buildingpalermo

2statue2carriageForget a tour bus, this tour carriage seemed to be the way to go.

2gatesFriday afternoon traffic was picking up and my body was ready for a sit so I walked toward the water by the Porta Felice.

2marinaLittle boats

2ourshipMy boat

We were on the port side of the ship which just happened to be facing what looked like grain silos. After relaxing in our cabin, we went out to the sun deck to take some final afternoon shots of Palermo.

2cityWe had reservations for Jacques, the ship’s French restaurant but neither of us was in the mood to have a four-course meal at 8:30 so we went to the other extreme and ordered room service which meant a four-course meal in pajamas on our couch at 6. It was a really nice change of pace. I recommend taking advantage of room service if you are feeling a little “eh” and just need something low key.

2portCiao Palermo!

2screenRome, here we come!

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Grand Journey – A Tale of Two Duomos

palsunriseAfter a short night of cruising, we arrived in Palermo. As you can see from the photo above, we were greeted with a glorious sunrise.

I took an excursion that visited the duomos of Palermo and Monreale while Mr. McB chose to explore the city on his own.

There was a general strike in Palermo and our tour guide was very keen to get us on the bus, to the cathedral in Palermo, and on our way before the inevitable traffic jams clogged up the route to Monreale. She was also very annoyed when people were looking out the windows at the teenagers who were gathering in the streets since she felt that we couldn’t look at them and listen to her at the same time. At one point she told us that she would not speak again until all eyes were on her. I understand that her job isn’t easy but I don’t think any of us deserved to be treated like children. She presented a lot of information but didn’t seem to be terribly personable. She said we were the last tour of the season so maybe her frustration was caused by fatigue and the inconvenience caused by the strike.

On the way to the church, we passed the quattro canti or four corners. This monument features statues representing a season, king of Sicily, and former patron saint of Palermo. There are 12 statues in total. Below you’ll see winter, King Philip III, and St. Agatha. You’ll also see the tiniest delivery truck which is ideal for navigating little Sicilian streets and alleys.

palquattroOur driver had to do some creative motoring just to get to the duomo. We parked around the corner and were greeted by the two corner towers that are part of the church. The towers were built in the 14th and 15th centuries but given a facelift in the late 1700’s.

pal_towersAround the corner, we spotted the church itself. This large cathedral was built in 1184 on the site of a former mosque which was built on the site of a former basilica. Like the towers, the church had a number of renovations and is a mix of architectural styles.

palcathedralThe Duomo of Palermo has a boat parked in the front yard.

palboatThe ship of salvation is used as part of the parade held on Saint Rosalia’s feast day. In life, Rosalia was a beautiful aristocrat who refused a marriage proposal, became a hermit, and devoted her life to serving God. She died in a cave at Mount Pellegrino. Centuries later when the plaque hit Palermo, a soap maker visited Mount Pellegrino, found Rosalia’s remains and had a vision that she would bring an end to the plaque if he would return her remains to Palermo for a proper burial. After some initial resistance, the church agreed. Following the funeral procession and burial, the spread of the plaque ceased. After saving Palermo, Rosalia replaced those four saints that grace the quattro canti as the city’s patron.

palrosaliaRosalia’s remains are housed inside the cathedral in the silver urn. Before the guide told us what was inside, I thought this looked like a massive chaffing dish. Clearly, I’m an American protestant.

The inside of the cathedral of Palermo is very lovely and ornate. The guide discussed some of what we were seeing but everything was hurried a little because we needed to get on the road and she thought that Palermo’s cathedral was rubbish compared to what we would see in Monreale.

pal_insidecathThe painting on the ceiling represents the ascension of the Virgin Mary.

pal_jesusHere’s another shot of the same scene that showcases the royal throne.

pal_cathedralI wish I knew what this blue thing was but again, our guide wasn’t really helpful when it came to talking about things in this church. I tried research this but cannot find an answer. If you know, please leave me a comment.

pal_primemeridanThese zodiac signs are part of the church’s heliometer. There is a tiny hole in the ceiling that allows the sun’s ray to illuminate the appropriate sign at noon. It may seem like an odd thing to see in a church but the purpose was to standardize the measure of time and dates. This was especially important when calculating the dates of Lent and Easter.

palpriestThis tomb belongs to Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi. Father Puglisi ministered in Brancaccio, a rough area of Palermo and was an outspoken opponent of the mafia. In response to his opposition, two powerful mafia bosses ordered a hit on the priest who was gunned down outside his church in 1993. The 56-year-old became a martyr of the Catholic church and was beatified in May 2013. More than 50,000 people attended the ceremony.

This is one part of the cathedral where our guide took more time to talk. She spoke of the good works of this man and the tragedy of his death. On my last visit to Sicily, I took the “Godfather” tour and saw the very romanticized side of the Mafia mystique. This was a stark reminder of what the mob really is.

After walking back to the bus, we started the trip to Monreale located on the slope of Monte Caputo. After reaching the parking area, we walked up the steps to reach the cathedral. There is a taxi option for those who cannot navigate the steps. The cabs cost roughly $5 and can take up to five people.

After ascending the steps, we saw the cathedral from the outside. Our guide was very quick to tell us that we should not judge the church by its exterior.

pal_onetowerThe tower on the left was struck by lightening and has not been restored.

The Muslims took control of Palermo in 831. During this time they built a mosque on the site of the duomo (see above) and banished the Bishop. After reclaiming Palermo about 240 years later, William II thought it would be a good idea to build a church to show how thankful the Normans were to be delivered from occupation. Monreale’s duomo began in 1174 and according to our guide took 17 years to complete. Other sources state that the church was finished in 1182 or 1185. The important take away is that the construction work went very quickly because the church was built by a collaborative of Islamic, Byzantine, and Norman craftsmen. Each group brought their own touch to the church resulting in a very unique blend of architectural styles.

palmoncathoutsideWe gathered under the portico where the guide tried to prepare us for what we were going to see inside the duomo. The church features 68,000 square feet of mosaics featuring more than 400 kilos of gold.

palmonlargeSince most church goers could not read, these mosaics were their Bible. Above the arches, you can see the story of the creation and Noah’s arc.

palmon2More arc scenes

palmonceiling The ceiling in a section of the church closer to the main altar.

pal_monbottomMosques do not include human imagery and do not depict Allah in human form. You can see the contribution of the Islamic artisans in the image above. There are geometric shapes and a row of stylized palm trees which represent paradise.

palmon

New testament stories and Islamic palm trees

palmontallpalmoncandlesThe altar

palmonorganThe duomo’s organ

palmonchristChrist Pantocrator or ruler of all
This is church’s focal point.
Christ’s nose is one meter long.
His head and bust are roughly 25′ tall.
The distance between his hands, better seen below, is 46′.

palmonaltarMonreale was truly amazing. I’ve seen lovely mosaics before but they were nothing like what I saw in this church. The fusion of the styles and the sheer number of scenes was very striking. I admit to a little sensory overload just trying to take it all in. I was able to pick out most of the Bible stories. Some of the other scenes are symbolic and relate more to Catholic saints or the Norman kings.

We were given about 45 minutes to explore Monreale one our own. We were there on a Friday which seemed to be a pretty busy market day.

palmonstreetI ran across this small church, very different from the duomo, with its doors open and altar lit.

palmonotherchurchI continued to follow the winding streets and take in the little village.

palmonbldgpalmon_cityscapeBefore heading back to the bus, I followed the guide’s advice and stopped in at Panifico in the square across from the duomo and picked up a bag of almond cookies that would sustain us during our big Roman adventure the next day.

Before writing about Rome, I still need to cover the rest of the day in Palermo. Look for another post in the days to come.

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.