Thursday, July 2, 2009

Under the Sicilian Sun - Part One

Our next adventure was a big one in my mind. SICILY! The only thing I knew about Sicily before our trip was that sit-com Golden Girl Sofia (Dorothy's mom, Estelle Getty) was from there - I am a child of the 80s, what can I say? But for some reason Sicily was on my radar from our first weeks travel planning and we found another budget you know the drill. We were off to discover and explore! Sicily ended up being one of my very favorite places in Europe thus far!

I have had a few folks ask where Sicily is in Italy. It is to the Southwest of Italy. If you think of Italy as a boot, it is "kicking" the island of Sicily. The mafia is supposedly synonymous with Sicily, but luckily they stayed away from us!We arrived on an early morning flight and our first stop was Monreale. We were famished and hot when we got there so we splurged on some frozen lemon drinks, which they call granites in Sicily. I think I ended up slurping a granite every single day! They were heavenly!

We hiked up to see the famous Romanesque cathedral with its dazzling mosaics. I was immediately struck by the golden vision of Old Testament tales on the walls of the nave and aisles. God creating the Earth and Heavens is the subject of the first panel and moving clockwise around the four sides, the history of the Israelites is depicted in gold, blue and red, while the aisles, choir and transepts tell the story of Christ, his miracles, betrayal and crucifixion. It was a sight to behold! We pointed out the story of Noah, which held Connor's attention for a moment. But then she was back to crawling all over the benches and wiggling. I sometimes wonder if she will ever sit still!We drove down the road into the capital city of Palermo. Whoa - hold your horsies! I felt like someone had cut us to the quick as soon as we got into the city. We are pretty adept European drivers and we are used to no driving rules and narrow streets. But nothing could have prepared us for Palermo. It was a 'balls out' grueling city without a parking space to be had and pedestrians who don't seem to mind risking their lives paired with drivers who have the same sentiment. We never did find a spot so we took turns waiting in the car while the other scooted around with the camera. It is ok to skip Palermo if you go. Sicily is so gorgeous and while the city has character and color - Kirk was especially ready to drive on outta there.Even the poor horses in Palermo seemed submissive. Goodness knows why they make them wear hats! To shield from the sunburn factor?!?! We did find an open air market - something Palermo is known for - and we had a fun time absorbing all the crazy mish mash of things offered...there were tiny snails....
produce next to binoculars and other electronics...plump Sicilian raisins.....and best of all for our grumbling bellies...the very best parma ham and cheese sandwiches I have ever eaten made to order!
We beelined it out of Palermo - grateful to have our car and ourselves in tact after the harrowing drive - and to the port town of Milazzo where we caught a ferry to the Aeolian Island of Lipari. It was fun, fun, fun to go to an island. Felt kinda like a tropical honeymoon - or as much like a honeymoon as it could with a toddler tagging along! We stayed at Hotel-Residence Baia Portinenti which was a terrific choice with great service and pretty large rooms. I loved all the artwork hanging throughout the hotel. Here is one in our room...I was definitely in need of a beach day so we packed our sunscreen and walked thru town to the port. We took a day trip on a boat to the island of Vulcano.
Connor was ready for the boat breeze! I love these photos.
On the way to Vulcano we went to see some of the iconic caves of the Aeolian Islands. The water was neon aqua and too enticing for Kirk not to jump right in!
We dipped Connor's toes in too. Don't worry, we were very careful! And we had a good hold of her.As we approached Vulcano the enormous steaming crater and sulphur smell was hard to miss. The Aeolian Islands are all volcanic. You can hike up to the crater, but we opted for renting chairs and umbrella and playing in the waves on the black sand beach instead!It was a grand day. Connor had a blast and could not get enough of the water. She was also a big people-watcher! It is odd because this was the first place we had been where I was certain we were the only Americans there. Or quite possibly the only native English-speakers period. I guess Sicily and the Aeolian Islands are a popular spot for Italians to vacation. I mean even the hotelier and our boat guide barely spoke more than a few key words. But we managed.

We ate a peaceful lunch on the beach at a local hut and had to keep pinching ourselves that we were actually there!

We returned to Lipari for a long nap after all the fun in the sun. And then explored the Lipari village of the scenic island that evening. Had we more time I would have caught the bus to the gleaming white sand beach one town over we saw in postcards. I love checking out the postcard stands for hints on area highlights. You never go wrong that way!

We returned to the quaint marina for a light dinner. It was a great day all around under the Sicilian sun!

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