Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Final Reflections on Sicily

I love Sicily. I love the food, the people, the history and the culture. I wish more Americans would visit there. All of my friends have asked me, in one way or another, about the Mafia in Sicily. Yes, the Mafia exists, but they don't bother tourists. We are much too small potatoes for them, plus they want the tourist dollars to come into the country, so if you are hesitating because of that, put that concern out of your mind.

Sicily has much to teach us about culture and history. One Sicilian told me that he thought Americans were quite similar to the French in that we are very nationalistic. That is not the approach of Sicilians because they have been invaded so many times by so many different rulers that they have learned to assimilate, integrate and respect the differences that other countries bring. They speak often of the Arabs who brought sugar, chocolate, wonderful desserts, language and music. Now, I'm sure at the time of the invasions, the Sicilians were not so accomodating, but it is interesting to see how open they are in spite of the issues with the current refugees, to foreign people.

If you are looking for a vacation a bit off the beaten track, I recommend Sicily to you.  I would not go there in July or August, but the spring and fall would be lovely. These are a people who welcome tourists. Compared to the rest of Italy, it is quite inexpensive. If you want to escape the tourists crowds, this is your place. You will find many French and German tourists but very few Americans.

The food is reason enough to come.

Did I mention wonderful wine and beautiful people?

If you are in Trecastagni, you must stop in and say hello to Mariella. She could not have been nicer to us. Thank you Mariella.

 But there is more than food here. Beautiful cities, ruins, and shopping. Ortigia is an enchanting place to walk around, get lost and explore. You are on an island, so you can never get too lost!

And then there is always the sea to look at......

Until next time...Ciao

Friday, March 11, 2016

Winter in Sicily/ Piazza Amerina

The villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina is another must see on your tour of Sicily. It was built in the first part of the 4th century, so about 800 years after the Greek temples. It contains the richest and largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. It was preserved by a land slide that covered the entire villa in mud in the 12th century. The first major excavation of this site occurred in the 1950's.

We visited this site in 2009 while they were still doing some restoration. They finished all of the work in 2012 and it is a joy to see. This is the site of the "bikini girls" if you have seen pictures of them.
If you want to read more about the specifics of the Villa, check out the history in the link above.

Here are some photos that the Stoic One took.

We were told that the "Nike" shaped dark mosaics under the feet of the animals and people are not indeed trademarks of Nike but are used to denote movement. I wonder if the marketing people saw this before they developed their brand?

As you see the bikini girls are on a floor that was convered by another floor of mosaics, so it was the second floor. Why this was, no one knows. In modern times this mosaic is popular because it shows women participating in sports during Roman times. It is not clear what this room was used for. Interesting to speculate, but no one knows.

Winter in Sicily Agrigento/ Valley of the Temples

This is a place I have been wanting to see for years, but it is not exactly on a major tourist track. When our last guests were here, they also really wanted to see the site, so we hired a driver and a guide and headed out. Our driver, Giovanni, was a trip all to himself. He was so sweet, helpful and knowledgeable. He was part of the Basula tours.  I highly recommend this company if you are wanting to travel within Sicily. Driving is difficult. The roads are VERY narrow, with large pot holes. People park on both sides of these narrow streets, so the 2 way street is in effect a very narrow one way street. None of the streets are marked, and the GPS seems to have lost its mind here in Sicily. Other than that, no problem!

The drive from our house to Agrigento was about 2.5 hours. We went through beautiful agricultural terrain filled with groves of oranges. It reminded me of stories I've hear of what San Jose, Ca. used to be like.

The term "valley" for this site is a misnomer, as the site is up on a ridge not in a valley. It is huge, about 3200 acres, and is the largest archeological site in the world. The site includes the remains of 7 temples all in the Doric style.

A five hundred year old olive tree stands as a welcoming sentinel to the site.

The Temple of Concordia is remarkably preserved and is ranked among the most notable structures from ancient Greek times. It was built in the 5th century BC. This is really hard to imagine when you are standing there looking at it. The temple is simply magnificent. One of the reasons it is so well preserved is that it was turned into a church in the 6th century AD, but later the walls of the church were destroyed and the Greek temple was allowed to remain in all of its splendor.

Temple of Concordia

Off to the right of the picture, you can see the town of Agrigento. The temples are by themselves, without all of the tacky tourist shops that one often finds near these type of sites.

Temple of Juno Lacinia

This to me is one of the most magnificent things I have seen in Italy. We were so lucky to have been able to go and see it. We had a beautiful, if cold, day. The light was pure, there were very few tourists, and we had an archaelogist for a guide. All in all the day could not have gone better. I highly recommend this stop for anyone going to Sicily. The Stoic One and I both said we would return.

Winter in Sicily - Acireale

Acireale is the closest large town to the house we have been staying in. It is about 20 minutes from here, and we have visited several times, mainly with guests. It is a city of ancient Greek and then Roman origins steeped in Greek mythology. Their favorite myth is between Acis, a shephard boy and Galatea a sea nymph who fell in love with the young boy. If you know your Greek mythology, it is never a good thing when one of the gods falls in love with a mortal.

 There is Greek influence everywhere in the town, in the people, in the music and in the food.
I can imagine Galatea falling in love with one of these guys.

Unfortunately for Acis, Galatea was also loved by the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Polyphemus became so jealous of Acis that he threw down a boulder and killed him. Galatea, who was heart broken,  turned Acis's  blood into the River Acis, (the river does apparently originate in a rock) and the spirit of Acis is everywhere in this region.

Acireale is also known for its stunning churches.

The insides are stunning as well.

Just down the hill from the town is a cove with several restauarnts that serve delicious food.

We ate at a lovely place called La Grotta that showed you the fish you were going to eat, and then you paid by the pound. Lovely people and very fresh seafood.