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Trip Report Sicily: Fascinating and Frustrating

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My husband and I spent two weeks in Sicily in late Sept/early Oct. 2011 (sorry for the late report!). Our self-drive itinerary included: Palermo- 2 nights at Palazzo Pantaleo; Menfi area near Selinunte - 1 nt at La Foresteria Planeta Estate; Agrigento - 2 nts at Villa Diana B&B; Modica - 3 nts at Palazzo Failla; Siracusa - 2 nts at L’Approdoro della Sirene; Taormina - 3 nts at Villa Schuler followed by a flight to Rome and 3 nights there at Casa Howard. Prior to arriving in Sicily, we’d spent 2 weeks in Corsica (see earlier trip report Corsica: One giant rock ) and 1 week in Sardinia (see earlier trip report Sardinia: Glorious beaches & mountains too.

After an uneventful flight on Meridiana Airlines from Cagliari, Sardinia we arrived on a drizzly Sunday morning at Palermo’s airport, found the city bus easily (5.8 Euro), which dumped us 30 minutes later at Politeama Square, a block away from our B&B, Palazzo Pantaleo, which was on the second floor of an old apartment building in an alley just off the main shopping street, Via Messina. It wasn’t obvious how to enter, but we finally figured out how to buzz Giuseppe, the owner, who came down and showed us how to go upyhe two flights in the elevator. Despite the glowing reviews on TA, we didn’t find him particularly friendly or charming...maybe we caught him on an off-day. However, our room was lovely...huge room with apricot walls and patterned marble floors, a blue & white Murano glass chandelier, large tapestry wall hanging of sunflowers and French doors to a small balcony overlooking an inner courtyard parking area...no view, really. The bathroom had another small shower, a bidet, a decent sink and good storage. We enjoyed the best bed linens and pillows we’ve experienced so far on our three week trip. The room had a flat screen TV, minibar, but no safe. The breakfast sunroom had black and white marble tile floor, marble bistro tables and windows all around. There wasn’t really a public sitting area, but you could sit in there if you wanted to.
One curious thing happened when my husband turned on a box below the TV and a porn channel came on. He immediately shut it off, but later we picked up an email message on his I-phone thanking us for subscribing to Porn of the Month club and we would be charged $39/month with automatic renewals. We thought that was extremely strange that they could access his I-phone, but thought they wouldn’t be able to charge our credit card....but they did! So, when we mentioned this to Giuseppe, he kind of shrugged it off...but we think somehow his site was compromised. Months before, I had used my credit card when planning the trip to book our rooms on all the islands and the card had been compromised. Now, I wonder if this is where it happened. Needless to say, we paid cash when we checked out.

On Sundays, Via Messina is closed to car traffic, so we joined the locals in window shopping and had lunch at the nearby Antico Bar Spinnati, which was crowded. We grabbed an outside table, which was a mistake, because they only served a limited menu outside and we should’ve gone inside for lunch. Great gelato and pastries, though. Later, we walked to the Opera House for a 5:30 performance of Tosca. The theatre was magnificent and we enjoyed the performance. Afterwards, we walked nearby and had great pizza, but I had to inquire about one ingredient because on the English menu, it said “grated horse”. When asked, the waiter said “No...no...it’s cheese!) The incorrect translation was actually for Caciocavallo, which is a local sheep or cow milk cheese specialty.

The morning breakfast included good pastries and fresh fruit, and Giuseppe asked if we’d also like eggs so we had scrambled ones, which really weren’t cooked enough.

We started off in a light rain and first walked through the dilapidated Vucciria neighborhood to visit two chapels, the Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico and the Oratorio di Santa Cita, both which house the lavish baroque stuccoes of Giacomo Serpotta. They were pricey to tour, but a feast for the eyes. We skipped the morning market which covered blocks of the area. Then, we continued walking down to the Four Corners where we saw the Fountain of Shame, with it’s nude statues, at Piazza Pretoria. Then had to check out the over- the- top baroque marble and stucco decor of the church of Santa Caterina next door. By then, we were concerned about getting to Capella Palatina before it closed at noon and walked quickly to the Norman Palace. It would be helpful if the Sicilians posted a sign at the road that directed you to the back, where the entrance is, but no...everyone walks way out of their way up the steps to the front of the building, where then there’s a sign to tell you to go to the back. We didn’t have to wait long to see this jewel box of mosaics that cover every inch of this chapel....truly lovely and the star of Palermo. The Arabian carved wood ceiling was also impressive. We also toured the Royal Apartments and saw where Parliament meets. We had planned to get the city bus out to Monreale, but it wasn’t running today so scrapped those plans.

Walked around the Kalsa area and had great gelato from Antica San Francisco. Checked out La Rinascente, the Italian department store, which is very nice. That night, we walked to Cucina Papoff and had a lovely dinner and especially enjoyed our first taste of Cerasuola di Vittoria, a Sicilian red wine. The restaurant was very atmospheric with vaulted stone celings, and the food was delicious.

Originally, we had planned to stay three nights in Palermo, but I was glad we’d cut a night out to add a night in a country winery inn. The city didn’t seem as “dangerous” as I expected, but it wasn’t particularly appealing to us either.

Next: La Foresteria Planeta Estate & Selinunte

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