Monday, March 13

Today was our day to explore Palermo. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we set out walking to the Vucciria Market. The markets here have had very Arabic flavor due to the immigration of large number of Arabs starting during the 12th century, and we were again reminded of the markets that we frequented during our time in Morocco. They are colorful and full of local produce and seafood, and this morning we enjoyed eating proscuitto, cheese, Sicilian bread and locally grown olives as we meandered our way through the streets.

The busier streets in Palermo are lined with stores of all kinds, and the network of small, narrow side streets are home to multitudes of outdoor vendors displaying their wares. It's fun to explore these backstreets and alleys, although it's safe to do so only during the daylight hours.

We eventually made our way to the Palermo's Cathedral, which was built in the 12th century by the Normans in a hodgepodge of styles. Then we walked to the Palazzo dei Normanni and took an interesting guided tour of the Cappella Palatina (the royal palace of rulers including King Rogers II) and the Silcilian Regional Assembly. The Cappella Palatina was especially remarkable for its beautiful mosaics, considered a jewel of Arab-Norman art.

We had hoped to have a fresh pizza for lunch but discovered that pizzas are only made during the evening meal because restaurants don't fire up their ovens until later in the day (although pieces by the slice are available all day). But it wasn't too much of a concession to settle for homemade pasta with wonderful pomodoro sauce, grilled vegetables and bruschetta in a small trattoria especially while the clouds thickened and it began to rain.

After lunch, decided to drive to one of the most famous cathedrals in Sicily, the Monreale Cathedral. The cathedral is best known for its wonderful mosaics. We had been told that the drive was only 20 minutes and not difficult but found that it was actually quite a challenge given the aggressiveness of the drivers. At one point, we were lost among narrow streets in the middle of Monreale and stopped to ask directions to the cathedral. The driver waved his hands all around and yelled at us in Italian which wasn't very helpful. Eventually he pointed us in one direction and we headed out still uncertain where to go. We expected to find the church clearly visible on a hill but in fact it was tucked into the center of Monreale crowded by narrow streets and cars.

Once in the church, we encountered our first real tourists (we really hadn't seen many visitors up until this point) and even hung around an English-speaking tour group to learn a bit more. The duomo was built over about 80 years in the 12th century during a time of unprecedented tolerance. Arabs completed the geometric mosaics of the walls, visiting Greek Orthodox artists completed the amazing bible scenes in gold mosaics in the ceiling and Catholics had another role.

The day ended with a wonderful dinner at a fantastic restaurant called San Andrea. Katie enjoyed stuffed calamari, David had a wonderful steak, Paula ordered stuffed ravioli and Steve had fresh fish. We also tried a platter of traditional Sicilian appetizers, and of course wonderful desserts. It was also fun to again share a wonderful bottle of Sicilian red wine, and this brought back great memories of enjoying wine (as a family!) during our time in Tuscany.












Next Day
Prior Day