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Sun, Sea(food) and Spectacular Antiquities: Two Weeks in Sicily (May 2024)

Sun, Sea(food) and Spectacular Antiquities: Two Weeks in Sicily (May 2024)

Old May 29th, 2024, 05:19 PM
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Sun, Sea(food) and Spectacular Antiquities: Two Weeks in Sicily (May 2024)

Sicily has been at the top of our travel wish list for several decades, but it always seemed to get bumped for something else, or put on the back burner for when we had “enough” time. Due to work, pets at home, and other factors, we cannot travel for much more than two weeks at a time—but last year, we decided to make Sicily a priority for 2024.

Our long-standing impression was that spring is a good time to visit—however, we needed to work around a family wedding at the end of April. Mid-May it was!

Settling on an itinerary took some work! Sicily is relatively small, but we quickly saw that we’d need to make big choices. We each had priorities. For mr_go, those included some of the Greek temples and the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale. I wanted to spend time in Palermo and was intrigued by the Baroque towns (Modica, Ragusa, Scicli, Noto).

Where we ended up was very much a “first-timers” trip:
· Palermo: 4 nights
· Agrigento/Valley of the Temples: 1 night
· Piazza Armerina/Villa Romana del Casale: 1 night
· Modica: 3 nights (chosen over other towns for a specific accommodation—more to come)
· Ortigia/Siracusa: 4 nights
· Day trips or stops along the way: Cefalu, Caltagirone, Ragusa and Noto



We rented a car for five days—picking it up as we left Palermo and returning it when we arrived in Ortigia/Siracusa. Otherwise, we used buses and trains.

We began planning in October 2023 and booked some of our accommodations right away, knowing that we’d be traveling in high season and that places we liked might not be available if we waited. We prefer apartments for stays of more than two days for the extra space and conveniences such as a washer.

This report may be a long, slow roll because it is competing with a lot of work. I’ll try to move it along as fast as I can and may skip some details in favor of photos and information that was helpful in executing what was a fairly “logistics-heavy” trip.

In the meantime, a few teaser photos:


We saw some amazing mosaics in Palermo - including these at Palazzo Reale/Palazzo dei Normanni. And we didn't even make it to Monreale (sadly).


No average arancini will do after watching them made by hand and freshly fried at Friggeteria Dainotti da Arianna (Palermo).


Getting away from the Sunday crowds in Cefalu by climbing to the Rocca.


We hung our laundry out to dry, just like the locals.


Evening at the Valley of the Temples - after closing, we had the Temple of Juno all to ourselves.


Artifacts for days in the amazing archaeological museums - this one at Agrigento.


Roman mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale


Some of the 142 steps at Scala Santa Maria del Monte, Caltagirone – at this point, we thought 142 steps was a lot!


Our amazing private terrace with a view over Modica


The bougainvillea were blooming everywhere


Plenty of cats - including this one that looks a lot like one of our own


Fountain of Diana, Ortigia


There were quite a few of these consumed


Infiorata (flower festival) di Noto


Arrival of the Bugatti in Ortigia


Modern art in the ancient quarries, Siracusa


Caponata consumed at many meals and in many forms - one made with apples and olives, one with seafood, and this the most traditional form (Fuori Ortigia Ristorante, Siracusa)


Tuna was in season, and we had it every which way - including this Sicilian style feast (Fuori Ortigia Ristorante, Siracusa)
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Old May 29th, 2024, 08:57 PM
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Off to a great start, ms_go!
Looking forward to the next installment!
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Old May 29th, 2024, 10:20 PM
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Looking forward, very fond memories from our visit in September '22.
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Old May 30th, 2024, 01:58 AM
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Thanks, brings back happy memories of our trip in April 2022!
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Old May 30th, 2024, 02:00 AM
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Thanks, brings back happy memories of our trip in April 2022! We also consumed a lot of Aperol Spritzes 😉
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Old May 30th, 2024, 08:33 AM
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Thank you bon_voyage, ANUJ and geetika!

Palermo
We landed in Palermo in a steady rain—and then carried our bags off the plane in it. By the time the bus deposited us into the terminal, the rain had stopped. We didn’t see more than a few drops for the next 10 days!



The Palermo airport is 20+ miles from the city center. A taxi is about €50 and could take 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. Train and bus are also options. We opted for the Prestia e Comande bus, which leaves every 30 minutes, making various stops before terminating at Palermo Centrale train station. Cost: about €6 each. The penultimate stop was just a short walk from our Airbnb. It’s easy to buy tickets right at the bus, and a comfortable enough ride with luggage underneath.

Our accommodation in Palermo was this fabulous Airbnb apartment in the historic center on Piazza Tarzana—very close to La Cala harbor, which we could see from our terrace. It was also just a couple of minutes from La Vucciria market and the Kalsa neighborhood, which is chock full of interesting sites, restaurants, etc. In fact, Palermo is a very walkable city—we did everything on foot (even getting to the Avis office at the end of our stay), and were surprised by how pedestrianized many of the streets are. We had loads of space here, all the conveniences we needed, and very welcoming hosts who assisted with our early arrival. The hosts also provided a lot of useful information, including some self-guided walking tours with personal commentary.


Looking north from our terrace, you can see La Cala and down into Piazza Tarzana


Breakfast on the terrace, looking south

Coming next: the sights, sounds, and tastes of this wonderful city.
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Old May 30th, 2024, 02:50 PM
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Enjoying your report to one of our favorite places!
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Old May 30th, 2024, 04:34 PM
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Sorry you missed Monreale, ms_go, but you saw some beauties in Palermo. Great shots! What is it about hanging laundry?! More soon please.
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Old May 30th, 2024, 04:50 PM
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Thanks HappyTrvlr. I can see why it is a favorite! I know you love Ortigia--we did too.

And thank you, TDudette. Monreale was a hard choice given our short time. If it makes a difference, we had read there is restoration work going on now, with a lot of scaffolding--and a guide we spoke to said that it is hard to get the full experience. We saw amazing mosaics at Cappella Palatina, La Martorana and the Duomo di Cefalu, so we didn't feel cheated (also, we are going to Ravenna later this year). More coming on all of that soon!
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Old May 30th, 2024, 06:31 PM
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I loved the mosaics in Sicily.

And then I went to Ravenna. Wow, mind blown.

I'm enjoying your report and look forward to more. Can't wait to return to Modica via you and your photos. In retrospect, Palermo and Modica were our favorite stays on the island.
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Old May 31st, 2024, 05:46 AM
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Thanks, Leely2. We are really glad we picked Modica.

I’ll start with some of the “tastes” of Palermo. If you’re hungry, beware.

One of the things we did in Palermo was take a tour with Culinary Backstreets. We previously toured with this organization in Porto and enjoyed it very much. The tours take a maximum of seven people. Ours had six. While food is the central feature, the discussion over 5-6 hours is much broader, including culture, architecture, neighborhoods, history, politics and more. This particular tour focuses on the markets, but not exclusively. It started in Palermo’s “new city” and wound through various neighborhoods of the old city and ultimately ended very close to where we were staying. We learned a lot that helped us throughout the trip.


Our tour met at the neoclassical Teatro Politeama Garibald – in Palermo’s “new city” (more like 1800s)


Our first stop: coffee and goodies at Sciampagna Pasticceria, where the offerings are works of art


Mini cannoli for breakfast, why not?


Inside these old, nondescript doors is I cuochini, a local favorite that dates to 1826


kraken brioscine – small stuffed sandwich buns (these with ham cheese)


On to Mercato di Capo, beginning with Sfincionello focaccia


Focaccia with tomatoes


Red prawns, enjoyed raw right from the shell


Swordfish balls


The master cutting tuna (in season) for his customers


We watched the anancini being handmade, then fried


We sampled them right out of the fryer


Panelle – fried bread from chickpea dough


Midway break to digest included a visit to a traditional puppet theater and a chat with a third-generation puppeteer


Back in the markets, this time at Mercato di Ballaro: pork/spring onion (mangia e bevi) and lamb skewers


Yes, those are intestines – some in our group tried and liked (I'll take their word for it)


You need something to wash all of this down


Final stop: Roro for gelato—pistacchio is my favorite. If you thought missing Monreale was bad, consider that this was the only gelato we had on the entire trip.

There are at least a few few things not pictured: Various almond and pistachio products. And a stop at Antica Focacceria San Francesco for Pani ca Meusa (spleen sandwiches), which are a Palermo specialty.

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Old May 31st, 2024, 11:09 AM
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MS_GO (capitalized for respect),
My fave shot was your morning breakfast terrace for its tones and realism - I could smell the street below, the panficio next door, the fishmonger down the way.
Good to see that you booked another tour with CB. When one discovers good ideas, one should keep them going.
Btw, our (repeat) rental in Palermo was not far from yours, located over on Butera. Our landlady informed us that local market vendors get pissed at any customer who'd on any given day suddenly buy products from rivals - no excuses.

I am done. the Modican Porupine Tree fans
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Old May 31st, 2024, 11:28 AM
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The mosaics at Cappella Palatina are exquisite. It will be interesting to read your comparison with Ravenna.More wonderful pix!
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Old May 31st, 2024, 03:51 PM
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Thanks, zebec! I would love to be back on that terrace now--and hope to be a repeat renter at some point. And speaking of that fishmonger just down the way...



And thank you, TDudette. We'll be visiting Ravenna in September and are looking forward to it. I'm sure the mosaics will knock our socks off--but yes, these were spectacular. And on that note, Palazzo dei Normanni is coming next in the report.
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Old May 31st, 2024, 04:33 PM
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Palermo

Palazzo dei Normanni/Palazzo Reale is the oldest royal residence in Europe. The current building dates to the 1130s, but the foundations are much older—from Phoenician/Punic settlements from 5th-8th Centuries BC. A visit includes access to the chapel (Cappella Palatina), the royal apartments, the royal gardens, and the basement museum with Punic-era ruins. As was a theme for this trip, we timed our visit to arrive within an hour of the last admission and then stay until they began shooing people out. This way, we avoided peak crowds and tour groups. This is an amazing site—worthy of several hours.


The Cappella Palatina, the royal chapel of the Palazzo di Normanni, is a mix of Byzantine, Norman and Fatimid architectural styles from the 12th Century. Enjoy these photos of the mosaics.






Also notable: the carved and painted ceilings


The sculptures


And the walls and floors


The amazing mosaics aren’t limited to the Cappella Palatina. The royal apartments have some stunners – like these Arab-Norman lions from the chambers of Roger II. These date to the mid 12th Century.


More art in the royal apartments


In the royal garden


Many artifacts in the basement museum - this is a hundreds-of-years-old manuscript


The ancient foundations


A 9th Century map of Palermo


We happened on a road race just outside of the palace, with lots of sporty cars to look at


Just to the south of the palace is Porta Nuova. The original gate was built in the 15th Century, rebuilt in a grander style a century later, and then reconstructed in the 1600s after it was destroyed by a fire


Detail on the Porta Nuova

Next up, more striking mosaics.
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Old Jun 1st, 2024, 04:44 AM
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Palermo

I should note that I’m not reporting in sequence for Palermo—just capturing groups of photos/activities from our 3.5 days in the city.

The area around Piazza Bellini—less than 10 minutes walking from our apartment—is home to some of Palermo’s most notable attractions. What a way to wake up on our first full morning in Palermo!


Church of St. Mary of the Admiral (La Martorana)—foundations date to the mid-1100s


Mosaics similar to those in Cappella Palatina and the cathedrals at Monreale and Cefalu.


In fact, La Martorana is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes Cappella Palatina, Monreale and the Cefalu Cathedral (and others).


Norman Church of San Cataldo, seen from the doorway of La Martorana.


Norman Church of San Cataldo—1150s, typical of Arab/Norman architecture


Inside San Cataldo. It is also part of the same UNESCO group of sites.


Floors inside San Cataldo


A relic of the past in Piazza Bellini. I wonder if they work?


A few blocks to the southwest is Fontana Pretoria. It was originally created in Florence in the 1500s and moved to Palermo in 1574.


Because of the nudity of the statues, the square became known as Piazza della Vergogna (Square of Shame).


Close up of the fountain statues.


Chiesa di Santa Caterina d'Alessandria, facing the Pretoria fountain (it was closed at the time).


Just around the corner from Piazza Pretoria is Piazza Vigliena, a Baroque square and main intersection, also known as Quattro Canti (four corners) because it is the intersection of the four ancient quarters of Palermo.


One of the four corners.


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Old Jun 1st, 2024, 05:13 AM
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Palermo

I'll take a break in the historical sites for a walk around the waterfront--mostly La Cala and adjacent areas. We did not go to Spiaggia di Mondello, which is a popular waterfront area to the north of central Palermo.






People have built shelters for the feral cats


La Cala harbor, which we can see a bit of from our terrace


La Cala harbor


La Cala harbor


There's a modern development on the north/west side of La Cala with terraces, restaurants and walkways that ring the ruins of the Castello a Mare. This is adjacent to the cruise ship terminal.
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Old Jun 1st, 2024, 05:52 AM
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We didn't get to La Cala harbor so really enjoyed the pictures. All your pix are really beautiful.
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Old Jun 1st, 2024, 06:43 AM
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Really stunning photos. Thanks.
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Old Jun 1st, 2024, 07:49 AM
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Thank you for showing us many places in Palermo that we’d missed!
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