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Two weeks in Wonderland - Sicily trip report

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Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

First I want to apologize for being so late with the report; too many things to do after being absent fro two weeks and a virus that kept me in bed for a week were the reason.

Second I want to thank once again Vagabonda for all the information she provided: without it I would not have been able to include so many things in my trip.

Last but not least, I want to thank all people I have met in Sicily: personnel in hotels and restaurants, people I've meet in buses and trains, museum curators, and all the ones that I've been talking to, sometimes just for asking directions on the street. Everyone was so kind, welcoming and warm to me. One of the best things of my trip was that I did have time to talk to people, to make friends and to find out a little bit about the soul of Sicily and Sicilians.

I am a solo female traveler, and I have to say that I never felt in danger or insecure, even walking through Palermo and Catania late at night.

I will separate the report in different posts for each day, because there is much to tell and it will probably take a lot of time to put all the memories in order, but it was a wonderful trip, exactly as I dreamed it would be, even more. There were many days when I felt like Alice in Wonderland, and for everyone who has doubts I would advice: "go to Sicily, it is a wonderful place!"

And if sometimes I am not able to express all my feelings and to describe all the beauties I've seen, I apologize, but I am not a native English speaker and sometimes I have trouble finding the right words.

Thank you all once again,

Alia

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1. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

Day 1, December 22, 2009

My holiday did start under a lot of snow in a cold Bucharest, at -12 C, and with a little adventure: I asked some friends to take me to the airport, but in the car we began to talk, and I completely forgot to tell them from what airport I am leaving. Bucharest has two airports, Otopeni and Baneasa, the first used for regular flights, the other by low cost airlines. In my case, I flew Blue Air, the Romanian low cost company, because it has a direct flight to Catania (two advantages, I had a direct flight and I paid 85 euros for the return ticket!). My friends did not ask either what airport I need, and they left me in front of Otopeni. I was a bit in advance, therefore I did take time to smoke a cigarette and only after 15 minutes I entered the airport, just to find out that I am on the wrong one. Thankfully the two airports are 10 min drive apart, therefore I did phone my friends; they returned and took me where I needed to go. Good opportunity to exchange once again greetings for Christmas and New Year!

As I was afraid, the flight was late, about 1.5 hours, but finally I found myself in Catania airport at 8 pm. And the weather was perfect, like in spring, with 20 C!

I took the bus no 457 to the train station (about 15 min ride) and then walked the 200 m to Villa Romeo, on via Platamonas.

I did post a separate review on the hotel (still pending for the moment) but I have to say that it was a gem: my single (large enough for my needs and with all amenities) was opening to a patio full of flowers. After all the snow in my hometown, the bougainvillea in flower that covered the walls was such a wonder! And not only bougainvillea, I did count several dozens of different plants, but unfortunately my English is not good enough to name them all!

Since I was planning to return to Catania for the New Year, and I did make a reservation for the same hotel, I asked the reception to give me the same room for the second stay also, which they did. In fact they were extremely nice and welcoming and I recommend this 3*+ hotel for all people traveling to Catania. The price was 55eur/night for a single, and I think it was well worth.

At about 9 pm I left the hotel to discover the city. I walked for about 10-15 min to the City Center (Piazza Duomo); the area was a bit grim, but not dangerous at all, I felt very comfortable even when I returned, around midnight. It was so peaceful; I was pretty much alone in the square, looking at the baroque buildings around, so charming under the yellow light of the street lamps! The Gran Café del Duomo was open, and I had my first cassata looking at the Duomo. A curious thing is that in Romania what we call a Sicilian cassata is an ice-cream, made like a sandwich of various flavors. I was expecting the same, just to find out that in Catania a cassata is something very different! But nevertheless delicious!

I spent about 2 hours in the Piazza Duomo and walking a bit around, enjoying the wonderful weather and I returned to the hotel around midnight. I was charmed by Catania and I could not wait for the next morning, to discover more about the city!

More tomorrow,

Alia

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2. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

Thank you for your report. I look forward to reading the rest. I have to say that your English is great. I would never have thought you were not a native speaker.

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3. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

Welcome Back Alia – Truly my pleasure!!!

I am so glad that your trip was exactly as you dreamed it would be (even more) and that you were able to find out a little bit about the soul of Sicily and Sicilians!

Your hotel reviews will also be helpful to future travelers and very much appreciated.

Sicilian Cassata!! :-)

http://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art203.htm

Thank you for your trip report (and reviews) and I too look forward to reading your daily installments - This will go on for days because I know what we planned!! :-)

XX Vagabonda

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4. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

I'm looking forward to your daily reports as well.

Catania's Piazza Duomo is so charming and your description brought back memories of it from my trip there last year.

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5. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

Catania's Piazza Duomo is really a very beautiful square!

www.trekearth.com/gallery/photo418419.htm

www.trekearth.com/gallery/photo961618.htm

Vagabonda

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6. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

Day 2, December 23, 2009

I woke up early, and after breakfast and a coffee in "my garden" (that I've discovered later that I was sharing with a Canadian lady) I went out to discover the city. A thing that I like when traveling is to go out very early, a couple of hours before the museums are opening, just to wander around the street at the time when only locals are out, while tourists are still having breakfast or just sleeping late. These hours I use no map, just loose myself on the streets, looking for a nice building, a fountain, a statue or just a nice flower pot, in order to have a first "feeling" of the city.

For those looking for tourist show-cases Catania is not the place to go; however I found the city charming, even if some buildings are a bit dilapidated or some facades would need some restoration work. It is a living city, with an inner rhythm, not the hurried one that you find in business-oriented places, but a slower one, with people taking time to say hello to the neighbors, to help a visitor or just enjoy a bit of sunshine before going to work. The streets I followed were lined with 3-4 storey buildings, most in baroques style, with small fountains at the corners and the palm-trees that give to the place an exotic feeling, at least for me, coming from a temperate climate country.

What seemed special to me in Sicily in general (less in Catania, more in Palermo or Siracusa) was a different time-frame as compared to the northern Italy: while in Rome, Florence or the smaller cities in the area you feel like "bathing" in Renaissance, in Sicily I felt like I was living in a more ancient time, the time of the Crusades. The mixed architecture, with Norman and Arabic influences, the vicinity of the sea and variety of races on the streets made me imagine, if closing the eyes, that I can hear the knights discussing about swords or amour, the trotting of the horses or even seeing the sails and flags of the fleet that should carry them further, to the Holly Land.

I wanted to begin my visit with the Cathedral but since there was a service I entered San Francisco D'Assisi, a baroque church not far away from the Duomo. What I found unusual was that in the four triangles between the main dome and the pillars, where usually the four Evangelists are depicted, there were portraits of four ladies, one looking more or les like Minerva. It was for the first time that I've seen those representations and it was the same in the Church of San Francesco Borgia (now desacralised and host to an exhibition of Egyptian jewels). I was sorry that some other churches, like San Benedetto, San Giuliano and Badia di Sant Agatha were closed; locals told me that they are usually closed, and even the ones living I Catania rarely see them open.

I returned to the Cathedral, another baroque building with some lavish marble side chapels and the monument to Bellini. I was so curious about the four women (not present however in the Cathedral, where the Evangelists were at their usual place) that I entered the sacristy and waited for about 20 min for the priest present there to finish discussing with the members of the Parrish, just to ask him about the meaning of those representation. The priest was a very nice man, friendly, open, smiling and with a lot o knowledge on art and tradition. He told that the four women are the Cardinal Virtues (Prudenza, Fortezza, Giustizia and Temperanza – I think the English translation should be Prudence, Strength, Justice and Temperance, but please correct me if the terms are wrong) and explained that these are different form the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity). May be for many people this is basic knowledge, but coming from a country that is mostly Christian Orthodox, and myself being without religion, for me it was a new thing and I was very glad that I've asked. The priest was so friendly that I stayed some more to discuss, about my country and his, but also about more general religious and philosophical ideas. I found his attitude extremely open, while the (very few, I must admit) orthodox priests to whom I have talked seemed to me extremely stubborn in their ideas and trying to impose the religion as an absolute truth.

Another baroque curch that I visited was the Collegiata di Santa Elemosina, with beautiful ceiling frescoes of Giuseppe Sciuti, dating from 1898.

It was approaching mid-day, time to think about leaving Catania. A short look in the ceramics shops around the Piazza Duomo (noting some pieces that I intended to buy on my second stay), some photos with the two fountains (the one with a lava elephant, not dissimilar to the elefantino in Rome, and the other one – I really never found out the name – at the entrance of the fish market) and back to the hotel on via Etnea (with a quick browsing of the shops – I am a woman after all!). I bought tickets for the bus to Palermo and returned to the hotel to collect my luggage. People at the reception were nice enough to allow me a bit late check-out with no supplementary fee; therefore I had time for another coffee in the garden. This time I was not alone; a Canadian lady was on a bench, smoking a cigarette, and she told me some impressions about Sicily (she was at the end of her trip). I was glad to find out that her opinion matched mine: a charming place to spend a holiday.

At 2 pm I was in the SAIS Autolinee bus to Palermo (about 15 eur). My first view of Etna, with the top covered in snow, (for which I have to return someday, but in spring or summer, for longer days and higher temperatures) and the beautiful landscape: I had the impression that large sand dunes have been petrified and then covered in greenery. A lot of orange orchards (another exotic view for me) and beautiful views of the coast, with large rocks sliding in the sea, giving a kind of "alien planet" feeling. And fortified cities on top of the hills, once again making me remember the old times, of Arab invasions.

The bus leaved in time (3 pm) but was delayed for more than 1 hour because of the traffic in Palermo. When reaching the bus station on Via Balsamo, near the train station, it was already dark. I took my suitcase and walked the 300 m on Via Roma to the Nobila Casa Roma B&B. At the second floor the Nobila Casa Roma is a very affordable accommodation (39 eur/night for a single) conveniently located within walking distance from the train and bus station (even carrying luggage) and very close to the city center (5 min to Quatro Quanti, 15 min to Capella Palatina, 15 min to Palazzo Abatelis). And, of course, for the shopalcoholics, via Roma is one of the main commercial streets of Palermo. The room was very spacious (it would have been so even with a double bed). Furniture was simple, but not hotel standard but various old pieces that gave the room an air of 1900 glamour. It has heating, which was convenient for the winter. Also, as a nice touch, a bath-robe was provided. I did not have breakfast there, but coffee, water and a basket of fruits were available always in the lobby, which served also as breakfast room. A refrigerator was also available in the lobby for all guests. There was someone at the reception desk every morning, but after lunch guests have to use the keys to enter the building and the guesthouse. Maps are available in the lobby in case there is no one to give information. It was not luxury but it was comfortable, quite cheap and the location was excellent. I did post a separate review, but it seems that it takes some time for it to appear in the reviews section of TA, that's why I copied here most of it.

After unpacking (it was worth to do it since I stayed there for 6 nights) I went out to explore a bit; Quatro Quanti was at 5 minutes walk, and nearby the Fontana Pretoria and the two beautiful churches that will remain for me the "image" of Palermo, La Martorana and San Cataldo.

That evening I realized that I spent 24 hours in Sicily without tasting the food (the first night I was not hungry and for lunch I took some pastries from a bar to eat in the bus). I wanted to find a restaurant with tables outside, because I am a heavy smoker (and the weather was so nice…); this is a bit of a problem in Palermo, at least around the main sights, but I had the surprise to find one just near my "house", on via Roma, La Vecchia Locanda. I asked for caponata (a local specialty that I become instantly in love with) and some mozzarella di buffala. Both were on the appetizers list, but what I was offered were 2 large plates with an incredible amount of food. Well, I am quite tiny (1.55m, 45 kilos) and I felt "too little for a so large war". I managed to eat probably less than a third of what was on the plate and from this moment on I took care to ask every time the waiters to give me smaller portions. With water and tip the dinner was something about 20 eur.

That was the end of my second day. Thanks everyone for the messages posted on my thread; as in Sicily, on the Sicily forum I feel like being between good friends. And thank you Vagabonda for the photos with Catania's Piazza Duomo, I think that my description did not match the charm of the place.

Edited: 9:10 am, February 02, 2010
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7. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

Six nights in Palermo?? Now I'm really looking forward to your reports. I have a 10-night stay there planned over Easter.

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8. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

"What lovely reports, really makes one want to go back to Sicily, such a lot to see and do, truly a beautiful Island,

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9. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

For jjkdk:

Palermo itself can be covered easily in two days, but the city is a perfect base for exploring the surrounding area, especially for those like me, that do not drive and have to rely on public transport. Which I did, and it was wonderful, but it will take some time to write it all.

However I think that you should divide your time, choosing another city for half of the time, or at least 3-4 days. My suggestion is Siracusa, which gives the opportunity to explore also the baroque cities of Noto, Modica and Ragusa. And evenings in Siracusa are more romantic and atmospheric as compared with the vibrant but full of noise Palermo. And I can recommend a very special accomodation in Siracusa, that I consider as one of the surprises that Sicily had offered me.

Alia

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10. Re: Two weeks in Wonderland – Sicily trip report

You are so sweet Alia and your way of traveling and learning about Sicily and Sicilians is refreshing and wonderful.

Catania is a very ‘real’ city for sure - And Sicily is ‘old’ and historic, very different from the feel in Northern Italy, and much less developed than the North.

Palermo is an excellent base for exploring and public transport connections are very good.

jjkdc has already visited Siracusa, Ragusa and the southeast – His next trip is Western Sicily!

Vagabonda

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