Buon Giorno! Buon Sera! Buona Notte!
Well, I am finally home and back to blogging, email, writing and all the rest of the stuff that I do daily. I enjoyed the time away and the welcome break to get recharged and energized. I was not, however, able to post a Father’s Day note during this time. For this, I apologize. I hope all fathers out there had a relaxing day.
I had been away on vacation from June 10th – June 19th traveling all over Sicily with Collette Tours.
We had an excellent Tour Manager, Cristina, who shared the beauty and culture of this wonderful island with us. Cristina was calm, competent, and helpful and she spoke in a melodious tone that made us feel right at home. Thank you, Cristina! She kept us all together and everything running smoothly. The group was a small one – only twelve. Once we got acclimated, we were feeling like a family after a few days. Here’s our group – a couple, Elizabeth and Robert from Australia, Mary from Massachusetts, Kimberly and Mary Ann from Pennsylvania, a couple, David & Kathy, and Margaret, all three from New York, Connie from Illinois, David from Colorado, and John and I from New Hampshire. I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone in the future!
Each place we visited a local guide would be there to take us on tour of the sites. Our first stop was in Palermo which is Sicily’s capital. We discovered the Arab-Norman influence in the historic architecture. This city is earthy and bustling with activity in the evening. These lovely people are warm, friendly and welcoming to tourists. Well, after all, we do like to spend money and eat!
Various churches we visited
I was amazed at all the young children out so late at night. Sicilians go out to dinner after 8:30. I am used to eating early – 6:00 or so. You know what happens when you eat late? You can’t lay down, never mind sleep! We ate plenty of spaghetti ala Norma (pasta with eggplant) and seafood everywhere we went. We captured many of our meals below before we devoured them! Alora!
Cous Cous with seafood Mozzarella & prosciutto sandwich
Spaghetti with whole shrimp (head included)
We stayed in a lovely hotel, Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa. We were fortunate to have only two hotels to stay in during our nine days. This made it more relaxing and comfortable coming home to one place for four nights before we had to move on to the next hotel. We traveled in an air-conditioned coach to our destinations each day driven by a competent and talented driver, Antonio. It takes a special skill to drive all over Sicily the way the Sicilians drive! It was quite an experience as we observed Antonio skirting around all kinds of traffic expertly. Thank you, Antonio!
Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa in Palermo
Here’s a photo of our lovely Tour Manager, Cristina, and handsome driver, Antonio.
Alora! On our first night in Palermo there was a little incident. Of course, after I tell you about it you can see how this episode could be blown up out of proportion all over the city, maybe even the island! Well, almost! Ha! I must tell you that this can happen in your own hometown or anywhere you may travel. Please do not let this frighten you from traveling.
We were walking back, a short distance from our hotel, from our first dinner together. John and I had already gone up to our room and missed out on all the excitement. Mary from Massachusetts and Margaret from New York were heading into the entrance which had a revolving glass doorway when unexpectedly a man came hobbling along on crutches and got between Mary and the door. He reached out and tried to grab her necklace and pocketbook scratching her across her neck and bruising her shoulder. Mary screamed in alarm and stepped back without falling but never let go of her necklace or her pocketbook. The man lost his balance but tried to strike out again. Margaret, seeing this, went into action kicking out at the man and hitting him in an area that incapacitated him and knocked him over. Now, I must mention that Margaret is 81 years old and under five feet tall. She single-handedly felled the man without the help of the hotel staff who came along afterward. The man ran away without his crutches and never looked back! Upon hearing about this heroic deed I gave Margaret the name, Mighty Margaret and Mary became Marvelous Mary. This story followed Margaret all over Palermo and beyond. Needless to say, we all felt safe from then on with Margaret around to cover our backs. We had many laughs over this and thank God Mary did not get seriously hurt except for a scratch on her neck and a bruise on her arm. Alora!
Scene of the incident – that’s me standing in front of the revolving door entrance
Now back to the itinerary: On Monday we toured Palermo and the historic squares of Quattro Canti, Piazza Pretoria and Piazza Bellini with their Moorish, Norman and Spanish Baroque styles. We went to visit the magnificent 12th century cathedral in Monreale. Pictures are above of churches visited.
One of my favorite parts of this trip was the tour of a medieval palace where a countessa welcomed us, shared her home and an aperitif and hors d’oeuvres in one of the palace chambers. Alora! The countess also entertained us with her beautiful soprano voice that gloriously filled the chamber.
We spent a day in the medieval town of Erice, founded by the Phoenicians at 2,400 feet above sea level. We strolled the cobblestone streets and captured photos of the gorgeous countryside all the way to the sea. Everywhere we went we tasted the food of the region, some unusual selections that will stay in my memory such as, pig mouth and veal spleen. I didn’t like either one but did sample them. Alora!
In the evening before we went to dinner we joined a local entrepreneur to discuss the notorious Sicilian Mafia and what the Sicilian population are doing to stand up to them. It was fascinating to hear how the people are fighting back by sticking together.
We visited Cefalu where we strolled the medieval streets, stopped in the magnificent cathedral and stores for a souvenir, two coffee mugs with I Love Sicilia and Cefalu. Afterward, we sat and had a delicious chocolate gelato and bottled water. I drank my share of these bottles of water all over Sicily. The weather was quite warm and we did many thousand steps each day. I’d like to say that I lost weight but alas, I did not. I gained a couple, luckily it wasn’t more! Alora!
Roberta, our local guide in Cefalu Cathedral there
Local workers in Cefalu
Another favorite part of this magnificent tour was the visit to a local farm. This farm had a beautiful building that contained a dining area, kitchen, bathrooms, and other rooms for the family. Cinzia, the farmer’s wife, welcomed us with open arms to her home. I was quite taken by her warmth, charming and fun personality along with her presentation of what it is like to live on a farm. It was an entertaining experience seeing the goats being milked, and all the tools that the farmer had to use at one time in order to work the land. Of course food was the highlight of this day! The chef prepared pasta Bolognese, veal, local dishes such as Arancini and a ricotta dessert. Cinzia set up a table for four of us to prepare Arancini, rice balls filled with cheese and meat and rolled in bread crumbs. Here is her recipe below. They were absolutely delicious. John and Dave formed the balls, Connie dipped them in the liquid and Mary rolled them in the bread crumbs. Here are a few photos of them in action. It was a fun and memorable experience for all! We drank local wine and tasted some sweet, fragrant and pungent Lemoncello. We had a marvelous time here and hated to leave. Cinzia and her wonderful family waved goodbye to us as we reluctantly drove away. What a lovely and gracious host she was! There are rooms on the farm for twelve guests and a swimming pool if you ever want to visit her! Alora! You will fall in love with her too!
Cinzia and her brother John and fellow travelers making Arancini
Milking sheep Cinzia and her husband & children
Views of the countryside as we traveled around Sicily.
Next, we went to Agrigento to walk around the Valley of the Temples on a guided tour and learn about the history of the temples of Juno, Concordia, Hercules and Jupiter. We traveled along the Ionian coast and captured more memories of its beauty.
We traveled to Catania, explored a stunning cathedral and other sites. We observed the daily bartering by Sicilians as they shop for fresh fish in the outdoor market. As we walked through this wet and fishy area voices were raised loudly as each seller competed for buyers’ attention. Alora! John snapped many photos of the incredible selection of seafood and the extensive produce and meat markets here.
Produce Market and Meat Market
We took an optional tour of a crater of Mount Etna. It was thrilling to stand there and look out on many other craters all in a row. Our Tour Manager told us that there are 300 such craters in the area of the main one. We actually saw smoke coming out of two of the largest craters. Evidently Mount Etna erupts quite often and is said to be spectacular! People watch from theirs home in the valley below like we watch fireworks. I was a little relieved that it didn’t act up while we were there! Alora! Here are some rocks from the crater that I brought home to share with my grandkids.
Lava rocks from Mt. Etna
Views of Mt. Etna and craters
Further south we ventured to Siracusa for an excursion to historical sites with archaeological Greek treasures. We explored green and glorious gardens on a rural estate and their use of an ancient system of irrigation still in use today.
Cacti and Palm trees and grapes and fruit trees reside side by side at this estate
Sicily is very dry as you can see by the many cacti on the island. We only had one day of rain in the nine days we were there. There were beautiful flowers everywhere though – jacaranda trees with gorgeous purple flowers, bougainvillea and oleander.
Two nights before we left, six of us ventured out to find a restaurant that Mighty Margaret’s daughter had told her about. Unfortunately we were told by a waitress at a café we passed by that it was now closed. This kind young lady suggested another seafood restaurant to us that she said was excellent. We thanked her and went on our way to find it. Once we arrived we were the only patrons in the place. The staff welcomed us and set up a table immediately. While we looked over the menu we noticed the waiters rushing around with platters of appetizers, much to our surprise, that they began to place all over our table. There was so much to choose from that we couldn’t contain our surprise and delight and giggled with enthusiasm as we sampled all the delicious selections. There wasn’t much room for our second course of pasta but we did out best not to insult the staff. Evidently we gave our waiter quite a healthy tip because he stood by the door and kissed us all on both cheeks in appreciation! Alora! What a memorable night this was! We laughed about it all the way back to the hotel.
Food, fun, vino and new friends
Last stop on our tour was Taormina, the Jewel of Sicily, perched above the Ionian Sea. On a guided tour we were amazed by the Greek Theatre, the Duomo, and the gorgeous public gardens. The views from this theatre were spectacular. All around this area were dozens of shops of local artisans and their wares, sidewalk cafes and boutiques.
Greek Theatre, caverns and spring
Visit to a winery
We didn’t purchase many souvenirs, only these bowls and the two mugs! We will use them daily and treasure the memories. I looked in vain for a white lacy scarf but didn’t find what I wanted. Alora! Maybe another time I will find it!
Our last night was spent at a local restaurant outside setting with a musical trio, three men with a tambourine, accordion and a guitar, singing Italian favorites including We Marie, Deliah, O Sole Mio, Volare, and Lazy Mary. Here are some photos of the trio and my fellow travelers having a grand old time saying goodbye to Sicily.
These incredible memories that we take with us from this fabulous trip will forever be forged in our minds and in our photos. I would highly recommend Collette Tours for your next vacation. They even picked us up at our door and drove us to the airport and home on our return. Alora! What a fantastic service! Thank you, Collette, Cristina and Antonio for making our trip so special and unforgettable!
I don’t know if you noticed the word Alora was repeated throughout this post. Well, Alora means umm or a pause in thinking. I thought it would be interesting to add. Hope you don’t mind its overuse. Here are some more Italian words for you to try out! Italian is such a musical language. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the extra vowels on the end of every word. I was using Alora, Grazie (thank you), Prego (welcome), Arrivederci/Ciao (goodbye), Buon giorno (good morning), Scusi (excuse me) daily. It was fun to use another language.
A special ‘thank you’ to our travel agent extraordinaire, Faye Sell of Martinelli Travel in Londonderry, New Hampshire for coordinating this wonderful trip!
I love to travel and look forward to the next adventure but wherever we may travel, near or far, it is always good to get home safely! For, there is no place like home!
I hope you enjoyed this post and my photos. We took over 700 photos but alas, I could not share them all with you. Feel free to share the post.
Thank you for stopping by! I hope all my fellow travelers enjoy reliving our trip. Please drop me a line, my friends!
Blessings and hugs! Arrivederci!