Palermo & Rome

Thursday morning we drove from Selinunte to Palermo, a city on the northwest coast and the largest in Sicily.  The city seems lively, but a bit dirty (especially the air at times).  After checking in at our hotel we found some cheap pizza for lunch, then took a long walk into the older part of the city to see the Cathedral.  I spent the afternoon exploring the city, checking out a local garden and walking near the harbor to a park where you can see the cruise ships leaving.  I then headed back in the direction of the hotel via some shopping along the busy main street.  For dinner, we had penne alla parma (obviously this is a Sicilian specialty), chicken with almonds, potatoes, a spinach ball, and chocolate cake.

Friday we flew from Palermo to Rome and checked back in to the Santa Chiara.  You really notice the difference between Palermo & Rome seeing them on back-to-back days!  Derick and I went for lunch at Dar Poeta, then I went on a long walk through the city to Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Piazza Quirinale (where the President’s palace is), and Palazzo Barberini—one of my favorite museums (highlights include Raphael’s La Fornarina and Caravaggio’s Judith, among others).  For dinner, we had gnocchi in white cream sauce and penne pomodoro, a really tasty eggplant lasagna, salad, excellent red wine, and pineapple.  After dinner Derick and I headed back out to see the Campidoglio and Forum at night, then got some gelato at a new location of Gelateria del Theatro (after sampling about 7 flavors, I went with Sicilian Almond and Pure Chocolate).  We walked up to Girabaldi, where I fulfilled a dare to get a picture with a rose-seller, then walked back to the hotel via Piazza Navona.  Excellent night (despite the rain) in Rome—sorry to be leaving tomorrow, but very happy to be heading home!

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Selinunte, Marsala, Segesta

We visited the museum in Agrigento, then drove from Agrigento to Selinunte Tuesday morning (the drive was gorgeous, but it included an odd detour through a random town).  We stopped at a small bar for lunch, where they barely had enough food for all of us (I got an arancini with ham & cheese—it’s basically a big rice ball).  After checking in to the hotel and resting for a while, we headed up to the Acropolis full of temple ruins—the sirocco wind was very strong, but the site was neat and right on the water.  Derick and I watched the rest of “The Godfather, Part II,” then headed down for dinner, which consisted of arancini, various pastas (2 of 3 were seafood-based and not to my taste, the third was pomodoro), fish, salad, oranges, and ricotta-filled puff pastries.  We had to switch rooms because the shower didn’t work (which I discovered first-hand), but then I had the chance to catch a little Champions League soccer on tv.

Wednesday morning we drove to the museum of the Punic ship in Marsala (on the western tip of Sicily), where we saw the remains of a ship wrecked (it is presumed) during a naval battle at the end of the First Punic War in 241 B.C. (Marsala was known as Lilybaeum in Roman times).  Marsala is also famous for being the site of Garibaldi’s landing in 1860.  We had lunch (homemade pomodoro pasta, salad, and the same puff pastries from the night before, but better and warmer) at a nice trattoria on the water and down the street from the museum.  After another drive inland through the beautiful Sicilian countryside, we visited the theater and temple at Segesta, one of the most gorgeous spots I have seen!  My photos do not do it justice—allora….  For dinner at the hotel, we had risotto with vegetables, pasta alla norma (pomodoro with eggplant), chicken & potatoes, fruit salad, and a “semifreddo” cake.  Tomorrow it’s on to Palermo.

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Agrigento

We drove this morning from Syracuse to Agrigento (catching some amazing views of Mount Etna and the Sicilian countryside along the way, as well as grabbing lunch at an AutoGrill).  Our main stop for the day was the Valley of the Temples, a series of Greek temples from the early 5th century B.C.  We actually got to walk (probably not actually allowed) on the Temple of Hercules!  The views are truly stunning at all three temples, and there is a 150 year old olive tree in front of the Temple of Concord.

Our planned hotel was having hot water heater problems, so we spent some time exploring the town of Agrigento (I got a strawberry gelato frappe) before making our way to the hotel for an “aperitivo” and dinner (eggplant salad, cauliflower/broccoli pasta, fried veal & potatoes (come on, surely you guessed that one), and fruit with pistachio gelato), then moved to a different hotel to spend the night.  An interesting day; tomorrow we head to Selinunte.

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Syracuse (Ortigia)

We left beautiful Taormina Saturday morning and drove down the coast to Syracuse, first stopping at the Archaeological Museum, where we saw some pottery and sculpture and discussed the history of Syracuse—overall a rather dull museum.  We strolled through downtown Syracuse (not particularly attractive) and had lunch at a meat/sandwich shop (I could have gotten horse meat, but went with the ham and cheese) before continuing on to Ortigia (the island, and nicer, portion of the city) and our hotel, Grand Hotel Ortigia.  We had the afternoon free, so I strolled around exploring the island.  The views of the Bay of Syracuse and the Mediterranean are wonderful, and there are some nice squares and shops in the middle.  For dinner at the hotel, we had, you guessed it, pasta pomodoro, veal scallopini with roasted potatoes, and fruit salad (good food, but getting repetitive).  After dinner, we went out for a walk around the island, stopping for gelato (still no arancia rossa, but I did find another place with chocolate cinnamon) and seeing the Duomo and some shops.

Sunday morning we visited the Archaeological park north of the city, where we saw a theater (with stones mined by captive Athenians), the Ear of Dionysius (where the Athenians captured after the failed Sicilian expedition during the Peloponnesian War were forced to work), and a temple from the time of Hieron II (and a glimpse of a Roman amphitheater).  We came back to Ortigia and visited the inside of the Duomo, built over an old temple of Athena and apparently called the “daughter of Peter.”  We had pizza for lunch in the square, and then I came back to the hotel for a needed “riposte.”  I then went out to enjoy the lovely weather and explore and wandered to the end of a huge breakwater with the Mediterranean crashing over it (very cool!) before visiting the mainland city for a bit.  For dinner at the hotel, we had risotto with vegetables (very good), veal rolled with cheese and grilled zucchini & eggplant (very good), and a Sicilian cassata (an overly sweet creamy cake).

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Taormina

We flew from Florence to Catania on Alitalia (a more comfortable airline than US Airways), towards the end of which we could see Mount Etna out our windows!  We then took a bus along the coast to beautiful Taormina, where we visited the Greek theater—an odd theater with a raised seating area and later Roman phases.  What a view from there, including of the mainland toe of Italy!  We also explored the town of Taormina (and I got a cannoli) before checking in to our hotel, which has fabulous views of the Mediterranean.  For dinner we ate at a trattoria in town and had pasta pomodoro (of course :-)), veal scallopini, and ice cream.  Tomorrow we are off for Syracuse.

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Bargello, Santa Croce, & Boboli Gardens

We had a late start to the day with a trip to the Bargello to see Michelangelo’s Bacchus, Donatello’s David, and Donatello’s St. George (no pictures).  We then headed over to the Basilica of Santa Croce, where we saw the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo, along with some noted frescoes of Giotto.

After the group broke for the day, I enjoyed the (finally) warmer, sunny day with a panini (though I was overcharged for water), some gelato (I was once again thwarted in my attempts to find blood orange, as the place recommended to me said they would have it tomorrow), a walk along the river, and then a trip to Boboli Gardens, part of the Palazzo Pitti across the river.  It’s a little expensive to get in (especially considering the seven Euros does not also get you into the Palatine Gallery, where I later found out reside a couple Titian paintings I would have enjoyed seeing), but it’s a beautiful place (like a smaller version of Caserta, perhaps).

I rested at the hotel, and then we took care of some laundry—9 Euros for a small load and it wasn’t even all dry!  Allora…. For dinner, we went to Trattoria Quattro Leoni across the river and had a pomodoro pasta and Florentine steak, followed by tiramisu.  I am thinking early to bed today, as I am a bit under the weather and worn out.  Tomorrow we fly to Catania, Sicily!

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Academy, Uffizi, Duomo

We started the day with a walk to the Accademia to view Michelangelo’s David (the real one; no pictures allowed)—very impressive, of course!  There were also some interesting “unfinished” statues.  We then visited the Opera Duomo and saw Donatello’s Mary Magdalene and the real gold doors of Ghiberti (which I saw once before while they were on tour at the High Museum in Atlanta).  We ended our morning walk with an introduction to a couple of the city’s markets (including the markets of San Lorenzo, which reminded me of all the corner street vendors and the Porta Portese market in Rome, although there is much more emphasis on leather goods here).

I grabbed some quick pizza, then headed to the Uffizi Gallery.  Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed, but highlights included Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera, Da Vinci’s Annunciation, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Artemesia’s Judith Slaying Holofernes (I saw the other very similar version of this in Naples last summer), and Caravaggio’s Medusa.  I also found a good book on the Vatican’s Map Gallery in an impressive museum library/bookstore.

For an afternoon snack, I grabbed an impressive panini with pork, eggplant, and mustard at a little place called Il Cernacchino near Piazza della Signoria, then got some cinnamon hot chocolate at a gelataria.  After further exploring the San Lorenzo markets and some other shops, I made my way back to the hotel for a break before embarking on a climb up to the cupola of Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

For dinner I joined the Lagors’ group at Yellow Bar (it’s their last night with us before heading off to ski in Cortona and visit Venice).  I had an excellent bruschetta, spaghetti alla carbonara, margherita pizza, plenty of wine, and some limoncello.  Good stuff!

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