Forgive the change of focus but sometimes home is magical too…

Someone pointed out to me that whilst we travel and admire the world that is afar from home we sometimes forget our own backyard and it’s beauty. It’s a wild autumnal day here in Brighton (well Hove) and the sea is glorious and majestic.  I feel tiny in the world but can breathe like a giant here.

A0C5D8CA-291D-4C9B-B935-0C9E83BA4D05

Sometimes home is best

 

Advertisements

Up there with the gods….

Mount Etna.   The forge of Zeus!

Anyone who is anyone went to Etna.  Zeus, Hadrian, me….

Etna is an interesting place.  Not the classic one crater, red molten lava but many craters, slow lava but giant boulders.  And a ski location in winter.  The Romans used ice from Etna as the first form of refrigeration and it is the origin of ice cream   Initially in the form of granita (crushed ice) and then in later years, more in the form we know now.  Grazie Etna.

From below it looked very cloudy and oppressive and for those who stayed at base camp, it remained so.  A cable car journey of about 15 minutes takes you higher where many choose to walk along lower craters.  But the decision to go on up in jeeps to two craters created in an eruption in 2011 was a great decision.  As we arrived the clouds parted above and Etna’s peaks were revealed in all their glory

IMG_3872

We looked down into one of the craters

IMG_3873

And then walked around the ridges between the two.  The lava gives off a gentle heat and you can pick up pieces to warm the hands.  I kept a piece to see how long it stayed warm ( it was cold by the time we got back in the jeep so not ideal for BBQs ).

As quickly as it clears, the clouds return and views in all directions come into view and disappear as fast

IMG_3874

IMG_3875

Its mystical and magical and invigorating!

You are warned not to go if you have medical issues because of the altitude but if you can safely it’s so worth it.

And that’s it.   An afternoon relaxing in the Sicilian sun, dinner outside on the terrace, cannoli for dessert (sorry didn’t take a photo myself but have “borrowed” this one and they looked exactly like this!)

And now packing for an early return to the UK

I’ve loved Sicily and hope to return.  Of course Puglia is where my heart is but I have a renewed desire to explore more of Italy.  I hope you will come with me.  Until the next adventure.  Ci vediamo e baci.

A spring of mythological proportion…and getting lost

Right on the harbour in Siracusa surrounded by salt water there is a pool filled with fresh water.  Full of carp, it’s an extraordinary anomaly.  But it’s been fully explained.  You see there was a nymph who was chased by a god who turned into a human to chase her but she wanted to escape so was turned into a stream. But would you believe it, this was a river god, so he got the girl because he changed back into a river and mixed into her stream!  Cheeky!

From here I went roaming, around the old Jewish quarter and into random side streets.  I love getting lost in these little streets. It’s so atmospheric and feels closer to how things might have been without a touristy shop in sight!

I met up with the others to do a boat trip round the harbour.  Great to get on the water!  A good way to see the castle too.  Every city has a castle!

 

Siracusa…a jewel.

Off we went today to Siracusa, one of the original landing ports for the ancient Greeks and because of its prime location, a real jewel.  Full of history, mythology and churches. Except these churches sometimes began life as a temple, the church, plus mosque and synagogue. A cacophony of religious fervour.

On the way we heard the story of a small town called Bronte where all the pistachios are grown in Sicily. A fascinating story that does link to the literary Brontes!  It includes hero worship of Lord Nelson.  If you’re interested let me know and I’ll tell you the story.

So on arrival I went to the market, a vibrant place, full of spices, cheeses, fish and a fantastic array of fruit and veg

IMG_3810

…..and of course I bought some Bronte pistachios.

From here I passed the Temple of Apollo

IMG_3807

Passed a glorious fountain

IMG_3812

To the outstanding, in the true sense, cathedral.

IMG_3844

It began as a Greek temple and a church was built within its walls so Greek columns just sit randomly abandoned within the walls

IMG_3816

It also contains the elbow of Saint Lucy or Lucia!  Another long story…

Here are a few other pictures from within

From here I went to an adjacent church where there is a Caravaggio on display. Reportedly one of his last, it’s dark and impressive but no photos allowed!

Religious places visited, I move on to mythology…

Taormina…a sunshine getaway for many but…

Everyone told me how pretty Taormina is and to be fair it is.

What isn’t is the huge throng of tourists ( yes I know I’m one!) and the overpriced shops waiting for their prey.  In a time gone by when you could wander up and down the hilly streets it must have been special and stunning. I can’t help feeling sad that this has been lost a bit.

Having said that, the magnificent Greek Theatre steals the show and the best views.  Cue for some artistic shots………

IMG_3781

Views of Etna are incredible  she’s very irritable at the moment  black smoke is coming from one of her craters

IMG_3787

So still it’s touch and go as to whether we will get to go up on Saturday and if we do, how far

In the meantime, more view shots

 

 

 

 

 

A carpet of mosaics….except for the facilities!

What an amazing morning.  We left Agrigento and drove east and then inland to the Villa Romana del Casale.  This early Roman villa was saved for us because of a landslide that covered it entirely and preserved it in its entirety..well almost. Even the part of the floor damaged by a flood about 50 years after it was first constructed is still evident by the dip in the floor. But the mosaic was replaced as was so it’s extraordinary that they lived with this big dip…I bet they moaned about it on a daily basis.  But I’m jumping ahead..

You first see the bath houses with the wall insulation still evident.

Then you get to the public toilets.  Up to 30 bottoms side by side could fit in here with running water to flush it all away. Mind you I wouldn’t have liked to live down stream!

IMG_3743

You then enter the villa and the start of the mosaics. It’s incredible.  The photos don’t do it justice but here are some

Each room had a unique floor and it just got better and more impressive and then you reach the back where the mosaic runs from one side to the other including that dip!

Not forgetting the bikini girls!

IMG_3759

IMG_3760

And then you come round to the other side of the long carpet to the back rooms and more and more mosaics

 

And of course where do we end, why the private toilets of course…Roman not modern.

An incredible place not to be missed!

And so on we went to Taormina.  Our base for the rest of the week. An advance sneak preview of Etna on the way

IMG_3774

She’s been smoking so I hope we will get to go but that’s in a couple of days.  Taormina and free time tomorrow!

We are staying in a fairly old hotel.  I have a safe in my room, hidden behind a painting!!  I love that. Old solid keys and furniture I can imagine was in use by those doing the Grand Tour.  Perfect!!

Palermo…where arancini are everywhere.

Ok so a bit of artistic licence here but I did finally get to have arancini. It’s not the same as you get elsewhere. Firstly authentic arancini are huge!  A meal in a ball. It’s basically rice and a filling, often meat but I had a veggie version so mine was filled with spinach and cheese.  Don’t be deceived by how it looks. Delicious and I’m still full!

IMG_3719

The Cathedral in Palermo is definitely not as impressive inside when you start with Monreale’s Cathedral. But the exterior wins hands down

I went off and did my usual thing of wandering the back streets. I always think the best way to discover a new place is to get lost in the small back streets.

Of course there are also impressive crossroads

And churches tucked away around corners

And another local delicacy to finish the day..green buns!!!!!  Yup. Green.  It’s because they use pistachio. Looks vibrant…..tastes scrumptious.

IMG_3735

Then back to the hotel and after another 3 hour drive…straight to the pool to chill.

IMG_3734

We leave here tomorrow. A roman villa enroute to Taormina.

Ci vediamo.

When a king sleeps and dreams… magnificent cathedrals will follow…

The legend goes that the king went hunting and fell asleep in the woods. Naturally as he slept he was visited by the divine and as a result the Cathedral on the hilltops of Monreale was built. It’s stunning. And impressive. Still in its original state it’s walls are covered in mosaics many pieces of which are 24 carat gold.  How it’s survived wars and avoided theft is remarkable.

IMG_3691

The walls tell the stories of the bible in chronological order.

IMG_3696

And at the far end the images are huge. Jesus’ index finger is 1 metre long to give a sense of scale.

The ceiling is designed to look like a ship’s hull. It’s in the nave.  Nave in Italian means ship!

IMG_3692

Of course the king had a royal seat built to ensure he was sat higher than anyone else..

IMG_3699

And a final interesting fact. The artist/designer of the grand doors also designed the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  At least these are still upright..

 

IMG_3701

Next door to any good Cathedral is a monastery as anyone who’s anyone would know… it has a beautiful cloisters with stunning pillars ..a little garden of Eden

And this was just the morning….next stop Palermo.  Andiamo…..

All that and its only just lunchtime.. so into Agrigento

We moved on into Agrigento centro storico-old centre- for a roam and lunch. I went wandering off.  It was definitely time for a break from the group so a stroll was in order. It’s built on a hill so a lot of steep up and down but I wound my way through the back streets

IMG_3686

Until I got to the monastery just as the doors were shutting  my best Italian and loads of charm and they let me in to take a photo

 

This place is famous for the nuns (even though it’s a monastery not a convent?) making biscuits  so I was very disappointed- not a biscuit in sight!

So off back down the hill to find some lunch then back to the hotel for some well needed RnR by the pool.

Monreale and it’s cathedral and Palermo tomorrow.  It’ll be a long day !!