Category Archives: Italy

Catania, and Arrivederci Sicilia

Today, the last day I am part of this tour and my last full day in Sicily/Italy, brought us to Catania, a city I was clueless about. It’s a gritty, vibrant city of about 300,000 inhabitants; lots of sweets and colorful objects; and a Roman amphitheater that moderns have built atop. The unusual architecture pleased me greatly, but my photos don’t do it justice. Here are my attempts along with lots of other random shots:



Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

A smoking volcano and its wine

This morning, I got up early to watch the sun rise, then we left Syracuse and headed north to mighty, smoking Mt Etna (there, off to the left in one of the sunrise photos). A local and vivacious volcanologist went with us to the top, telling stories of getting bonked the head with flying rocks after a sudden eruption and about his job of trying to keep people who live on the slopes of an active volcano alive. When I told him I can see the glow of Halemaumau Crater from my bed at home, he knew right where I lived. During his talk he referred to Kilauea several times, which was pretty cool. Mt Etna is a different kind of volcano from the one I live on, but I saw lots of similarities, of course. The group was so impressed by what they saw today – everyday life for me back home – and I was reminded of how unusual the place I live is.

After the mountain we visited a winery on Etna’s slopes. The terroir makes for lovely, highly drinkable wine, I can tell you!

Now I am sitting on a terrace listening to live jazz in Taormina, watching the sun set on the Mediterranean, mainland Italy off to my left, Mt. Etna off to my right. Not too shabby. (And, yea, finally some decent wifi to catch up on my posts.)

Fun fact: Taormina was the home Polyphemus, of the cyclops Ulysses vanquished.

Here are some photos:


Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Ortygia, and fabulous puppets!

We started off this morning traipsing through the open market of Ortygia (snails for lunch, anyone?), then casually walking past ancient ruins surrounded by laundry hung out to dry – oh, the wonderful continuity of humanity! More lovely narrow streets; more churches; Greek, Roman, medieval, Baroque, and Fascist architecture; and a wedding about to start. Italians at weddings are gorgeous, let it be said, although the memory of a Sicilian wedding in ‘The Godfather’ did cross my mind. Afterwards, we saw a marionette show! Puppets, or the delightful pupi in ItalianI can’t express how lively and awesome this was; the marionettists were a family, including a seven-year old girl. It was so cool! And action packed with sword fights and battles, dragons, infidelity, and retribution!  Afterwards I strolled the town, got a bottle of local wine and a pizza, and watched the nearly full moon rise as the waves crashed against the sea wall. More awesomeness, more great food and more great wine. I’m feeling pretty darn fortunate these days.

Here are some photos:






Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Villa Romana del Casale and a fabulous lunch with a comtessa

Today we visited the remains of the very large Villa Romana del Casale, rumored to be the home of a wealthy Greek trader. All of the floors throughout the extensive residence are mosaics of phantasmagorical scenes (and athletes in bikinis!). It was discovered by a farmer 60 years ago; can you imagine finding something like this in your backyard? Most likely it had been covered over by landslide in 1300s; this fortunate-for-us event left the place intact for our modern eyes.

After the villa visit, we drove through the middle of Sicily, with its abundant agriculture, Mt. Etna looming ever in the distance. We had a marvelous lunch at the working farm of an extremely gracious, but dispossessed, Italian royal. Writing this hours later in Syracuse, I can’t imagine putting one more morsel of food or one more drop of alcohol in my body.

Lastly, we drove to the next hotel in Ortygia, the historical center of and tiny separate  island off Syracuse.

Here are some photos:




Live all all you can. It’s a mistake not to.


Left Trapani in the morning and drove southeast across the island towards Agrigento, taking in the expansive, beautiful and diverse island scenery, including olive groves and vineyards.

Agrigento is home of the Valley of the Temples, the remnants of a once thriving Greek city of 200,000. I can’t tell you how many times “Ozymandias” popped into my head: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Dinner was excellent: grilled veggies, risotto, spaghetti wrapped with eggplant slices, a vegetable stew, finished off with lemon granita.

HP fans: did you catch the photo of the purple-flowered mandrake plant in the last post?

Here are some photos:


Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Mozia and salt

Today we toured the island of Mozia and its ancient archeological site, and had another fabulous Mediterranean (and vegetarian!) luncheon while sitting on stone chairs at stone tables, cicadas chirping in the background. Wonderful.

Mainland Trapani is famous for its still-used salt flats, and I bought some salt to use at home, as a reminder of this lovely day. I also heard about a Thailand and Cambodia tour in January I’d love to go on . . .

Here are some photos:



live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Segesta and Erice

Left Palermo this morning, driving to the western tip of this triangular island. It’s beautiful and varied geographically, and, again, not what I had imagined. We stopped at the ancient site of Segesta, with its temple and open air theater with a spectacular backdrop. Afterwards we continued west to the town of Erice, where we had an absolutely fabulous lunch at a cooking school. We were also treated to a cooking demonstration by a woman who learned to make Sicilian pastries as an orphan in a nunnery and grew up to be a celebrity chef/entrepreneur. Next we visited the hilltop town of Erice, with its unusual church. Good fun.

Our guide said something today that I found very helpful for understanding ancient architectural styles: according to her (but paraphrased by me), the Romans built with a brute force (with concrete) to get things done and announce their power, while Greek architecture has an ‘elegant intelligence’ (her words), built to enhance the human experience.

Fun fact: Sicily is the biggest producer of grapes in Italy. And every single wine I’ve had here so far has been really, really, really, reagood.

Here are some photos:



Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.




Palermo, Sicily

After a thrilling shared cab ride from Cinisi to Palermo, I met up with the thunderous tour group and we set off on a rambling walk to the home of Sicilian noblewoman, who enthusiastically and entertainingly shares the ancient family palace with tourists for revenue generation. Afterwards we returned to the hotel through a throbbing Gelato Festival (yes, a gelato festival!). Palermo is a gritty, ancient, dense, complex, recovering city, and I’m sure it offers many fabulous photo opportunities, but I’m having a hard time accessing them being a part of a fast moving tour group.

Anyway, here are some photos:














Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.