Bellissimo Sicily – from Palermo around to Catania

The beauty of travel is that sometimes you just have to go with the flow and be grateful that you made it to your final destination, safely. And, I did.

I left Dallas on Friday and arrived in Rome and then on to Palermo on Saturday.

I didn’t really get a chance to take in Palermo, when I arrived before the daylight came to a close, but I like what I did get a chance to see, the mountains and the water and the feeling of a gritty city. The last leg of my journey, the flight from Rome to Palermo, was delayed for more than two hours, which left me arriving just as the sun was setting. Took the bus from the airport to the central railway station and walked the few minutes to the hotel. On Sunday, I meet my Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour guide and tour group to begin my two-month Italian exploration and immersion.

And, for now here’s a night view of the Palermo Cathedral in the distance. So much more to come.

I’m Catholic, just not a very good practicing Catholic. But when I come to Europe, I consider the Catholic churches, basilicas and cathedrals to be architectural marvels of historical proportions filled with exquisite and moving religious art. Today, on Easter Sunday, I attended mass with my Catholic companions John and Alice and felt a deeply spiritual connection to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There’s something very bonding when you hear a mass you’ve heard for years, but it is now being said in a different language and yet still be able to relate to it. Add to that, a place like the Palermo Cathedral, with its culturally eclectic and ancient roots, the setting and the meaning of the day could not have been more intertwined. The resurrection of Jesus Christ inside a church that has risen to have many lives from paganism to Catholicism and many other journeys in between.

Buona Pasqua…Happy Easter from Palermo, Sicily.

The exterior of the Palermo Cathedral in Palermo, Sicily, with its long history of additions and alterations since the late 1100’s is a prime example of a unique Arab-Norman architectural style. April 15, 2017
The well-lit interior of the Palermo Cathedral in Palermo, Sicily, is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. April 15, 2017
The exterior of the Palermo Cathedral in Palermo, Sicily, with its long history of additions and alterations since the late 1100’s is a prime example of a unique Arab-Norman architectural style. April 16, 2017

Palermo has a strong, blended history of cultures and religion that make it this eclectic melting pot of diversities.

Although today was our first full day of the Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour, we actually came together as a group last night on the rooftop of our hotel in Palermo.

But we filled today with tours of a Sicilian Baroque church, a summer retreat castle, a mosaic-filled cathedral, a cloister and a world class theatre with ties to a famous movie trilogy all made for a full and gorgeous Sicilian day.
Tomorrow we say “Arrivederci” to Palermo and “Ciao” to Trapani.

The Rick Steves map of “The Best of Sicily” 11 days tour, which began my two month trek through Sicily, Italy and Malta.
Our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group photo on the rooftop of our Palermo hotel was taken by our Rick Steves tour guide, Jamie Blair Gould to help us remember one another’s names. April 16, 2017
Our tour group took a tour of an actual family palace that’s been handed down to its current Conti and Contessa Frederico for generations. And, it is called the Palazzo Conti Frederico. A part of our “get acquainted walk” during our first tour group outing, was touring this palazzo. April 16, 2017
This is a guest room in the Palazzo Conti Frederico in Palermo, Sicily, which can be rented. April 16, 2017
The Palazzo Conti Frederico, the actual home of Conti Frederico and his wife, the Contessa, in Palermo, Sicily. April 16, 2017
Our Rick Steves tour group enjoying a toast at the Palazzo Conti Frederico in Palermo, Sicily, during our first night together as a group. April 16, 2017
One of Conti Frederico’s hobbies is sports car racing and this little red beauty was parked inside the Palazzo Conti Frederico gate when you enter the palazzo. April 16, 2017
Me on the balcony of the Palazzo Conti Frederico in Palermo, Sicily. A part of our “get acquainted walk” during our first tour group outing was the grand opportunity to tour the palace and home of the Conti and Contessa Frederico with the Contessa gracefully taking us through her palatial home. April 16, 2017
During our first evening “get acquainted” stroll, we came to this sumptuous Fontana Pretoria fountain in the Piazza Pretoria. It is located in the heart of Palermo’s historic Centre. The fountain was built by Francesco Camilliani in Florence in 1554, but was brought to Palermo in 1574. In the background is the Palazzo Pretorio and the dome of the Santa Caterina church. April 16, 2017
I’m no foodie or food guru but our “get acquainted” group dinner was a three hour feast. Breaking bread in Sicily and Italy is a social event. Included is an appetizer of salad, cod fish, calamari and curry chicken followed by a first course of this delicious red fish and linguine pasta and a second course of fish. And, did I mention the wine…which was flowing. April 16, 2017
We got an early start this morning with a walk to these two churches next to one another in the Piazza Bellini in Palermo, Sicily. The church to the left is the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio and to the right is the church of San Cataldo. These Catholic churches are notable examples of the Arab-Norman architecture which flourished in Sicily. April 17, 2017
Across the street from the two churches, in the same Piazza Bellini is Santa Caterina in Palermo. The interior, filled with a variety of sculptures and marble inlay, is considered a prime and powerful example of Sicilian Baroque. April 17, 2017
The brilliant interior of the Santa Caterina church dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria was rebuilt between 1566 and 1596 replacing an old palace in Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
Our city tour guide, Jacqueline Alio, a foremost historian on Palermo and Sicily, has published several books and is explaining to our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group the Sicilian Baroque style of the Santa Caterina church in Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
Zisa Castle was built in the 12th century by Arab craftsmen as a summer retreat for King William I of Sicily. April 17, 2017
This beautiful relic, encased in a clear container, housed in an upstairs room in the Zisa Palace in Palermo, Sicily, is the tombstone of Anna who died in 1148. Anna was the mother of a priest who wanted her to be remembered so he had her headstone inscribed in four languages: Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Arabic. April 17, 2017
The remains of the exterior fountain in the main hall at the Zisa Palace in Palermo, Sicily, with its distinctive Arabic-style ceiling. The water flowed from the fountain to the exterior of the castle. April 17, 2017
A close up of the exterior fountain mosaic in the main hall at the Zisa Palace in Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
Zisa Castle was built in the 12th century by Arab craftsmen as a summer retreat for King William I of Sicily. April 17, 2017
The exterior of the The Palatine Chapel, a royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily, is in Monreale, a town in the Palermo, Sicily, province on the slope of Monte Caputo. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily. April 17, 2017
The gorgeous interior of the mosaic-filled Palatine Chapel in Monreale, a town of Palermo, Sicily, was built by William II in 1174 and took 15 years to complete. April 17, 2017
The colossal figure of Christ dominates the central apse of the Palatine Chapel in Monreale, a town of Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
The mosaic of Jesus Christ placing the crown on William II in the mosaic-filled Palatine Chapel in Monreale, a town of Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
Me inside the Palatine Chapel in Monreale, a town of Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
The colorful mosaics inside the Palatine Chapel in Monreale, a town of Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
The Arabic mosaic palm trees adorning the walls of the Palatine Chapel in Monreale, a town in Palermo, Sicily, which means life. April 17, 2017
The cloister of the Benedictine abbey of Monreale, town of Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
The mosaic columns in the cloister of the Benedictine abbey of Monreale, a town of Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
The Teatro Massimo opened its doors to the public in 1897 and can accommodate a little more than 1,300 theatre buffs. It is the largest theatre in Italy and considered to be the third largest opera house in Europe. April 17, 2017
Interior of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily. April 17, 2017
The final scenes of the film, The Godfather, Part III, a 1990 American crime film, written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, and directed by Coppola, was filmed at the theatre. It completes the story of Michael Corleone, a Mafia kingpin living in the U.S., who attempts to legitimize his criminal empire by various characterless acts, travels to Palermo to see how son, Anthony perform in an opera tale of murderous revenge in a Sicilian setting. Meanwhile, during the performance, a sniper kills three members of Michael’s security and attempts to kill him outside the opera house, but unintentionally kills Michael’s daughter, Mary. April 17, 2017

We left Palermo, Sicily, Wednesday morning, April 19, for two nights in Trapani, and while on our large and comfortable tour bus, our Rick Steves tour guide, Jaime Blair Gould, shared some need-to-know Italian words. Thank you…Grazia (and the correct way to pronounce it); Good morning…Buongiorno (which can be said pretty much throughout the day) and Good evening is Buonasera.

The Sicilian weather, at least the few days I’ve been here, has been sunny during the day, but just slightly cool in the shade and cooler (but not really cold) in the evenings. And, the breezes especially with the bright sun bright a peaceful coolness.

Our first stop toward Sicily’s western coast was the town of Segesta with its ancient Greek/Sicilian temple and hilltop theatre. From there, we made our way to the enchanting medieval mountaintop city of Erice where we ate a true Sicilian/Roman luncheon feast, drank wine and were taught the makings of delicious pastries at the shop and cooking school of Maria Grammatico.

With full bellies, we continued scaling the heavens of Erice’s old town where the clouds hover over the rooftops and then took a cable ride back down to earth. We spend tonight and tomorrow night in Trapani.

The Ancient Greek/Sicilian theatre is nestled by the side of Mt. Barbaro in Segesta, Sicily, with a commanding view scape. The theatre, which is said to date back to the 2nd century BC, continues to host theatre events and Greek dramas throughout the summer months. April 18, 2017
John, Alice and I with our group selfie inside the ancient remains of the Greek/Sicilian theatre of Segesta, Sicily. April 18, 2017
The wildflowers of spring added such color and beauty to the expanding hilltop views of the ancient theatre of Segesta, Sicily, which is nestled here on the hillside of Mt. Barbara. April 18, 2017
Just some of flowers of spring blossoming along the trail as we walked from the hilltop theatre down towards the Doric temple of Segesta, Sicily. April 18, 2017
A hilltop view of the ancient and unusually well-preserved Greek/Sicilian Doric temple of Segesta, Sicily, as seen while descending from Segesta’s other ancient Greek/Sicilian site, the theatre. April 18, 2017
Me, catching my breathe after walking down from the theatre to climb up to the well-preserved site of the ancient Greek/Sicilian Doric temple of Segesta, Sicily. The temple of is thought to have been built in the 420s BC, but has remained incomplete possibly due to the occupation of the Carthaginians in 409 BC. April 18, 2017
A grand feast of Sicilian goodies were prepared for our tour group lunch at the cooking school and pastry shop of La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. Some of the region’s specialties, as explained by Maria Pia, included indulgent tasties like sun-dried tomatoes, deep fried artichokes, stuffed peppers, rice balls and Ricota cheese from sheep’s milk. April 18, 2017
Our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group partaking of the Sicilian luncheon feast at the cooking school and pastry shop of La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
I could not get enough of this fresh and flavor packed bruschetta, toasted bread packed with tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. Deliziosi! Just one of the many tasty lunch treats at the cooking school and pastry shop of La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
Oranges, the size of grapefruits, along with Sicilian red and white wines were also served for lunch today at the La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
Various members of our tour group, including Alice, molding pastries with the instruction of the master pastry maker/teacher Maria Grammatico (the woman to the left with the white apron and pink-looking swirl) at the La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
Maria Grammatico (in the center) herself explaining how to make and stuff (with Ricota cheese made from sheep’s milk and chocolate chips) the very typically Sicilian pastry, the canoli, at the La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
I’ve eaten canoli before, but this canoli was exceptional. The shell was made earlier during the day from a variety of ingredients including flower, sugar, Marcella wine, vanilla and cocoa powder. The dough is cut, rounded and placed in a deep fryer for 6 to 7 minutes. The creamy inside is made from a kilo of Ricota cheese from sheep’s milk, 300 grams of white sugar, chocolate chips and vanilla. One of several treats our tour group enjoyed for lunch at the La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
Alice took this photo of her husband, John and I, with our chef aprons on knowing full well that neither of us had any plans to cook but at least we looked the part at the La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico in the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
After a filling lunch of Sicilian food specialities and pastries, our tour group took to walking up into the clouds of the hilltop city of Erice, Sicily. April 18, 2017
Historic Erice, is in the province of Trapani, Sicily, and is located on top of Mount Erice, at around 2,460 ft above sea level, overlooking the city of Trapani. April 18, 2017
The hillside castles of Erice, Sicily, include the Norman Castle, also known as the Castle of Venus, was built on Mount San Giuliano in the 12th century, right on the remains of an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Venus Ericina. And, the castle to the lower left is the Pepoli Castle. April 18, 2017
The hilltop city of Erice, Sicily, as the clouds dip and roll through the tops of the buildings. April 18, 2017
Our group walked up to the hilltop of Erice, Sicily, but we took the cable cars down to our bus. April 18, 2017
Rick Steves tour group members, including Alice and John to the right, ready for the cable ride in Erice, Sicily, down to our awaiting tour bus for our home base of Trapani, Sicily. April 18, 2017
Just a peek at Trapani, Sicily, from the rooftop of our hotel. I didn’t expect to see such gorgeous topography with the sea and the mountains. April 18, 2017
The sun setting from the rooftop of our hotel in Trapani, Sicily. With two nights here, there will be more about Trapani tomorrow. Until then, Buonasera…good evening. April 18, 2017

If the wind performs the way it did on Wednesday then the heat of the summer in Trapani, Sicily, will be greeted to a blowing away party. Although the sun was bright and warm and the blue skies seemed even bluer, the wind is what made its presence known for the day. Trapani, which jets out into the Mediterranean Sea, was founded long ago by the Elymians to serve as the port for the nearby city of Erice.

I’ve enjoyed being by the blue seas and listening to its waves hit the embankment next to my hotel room.

On Wednesday, we got to see the “salt-pans” where sea salt has been harvested in the Trapani province for nearly 3,000 years and then we took a boat ride to the ancient Phoenician island of Mozia to see how one man preserved the island’s ancient legacy.

The highlights of the day were the couscous cooking demonstration and of course the eating of the couscous at the Maree Fresh Fried Fish restaurant; the sacred “Passage of the Christ” sculptures at the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the windswept corner of the world at the Ligny watchtower….all in Trapani. So ends my full and windswept days in Trapani. Next is Agrigento, Sicily.

These are the salt flats of Marsala, about a 30 minute bus drive from our hotel in Trapani, Sicily. Summer days and shallow coastal waters have provided fertile ground for salt-making, since the time of the Phoenicians some 3000 years ago, between Trapani and Marsala.The salt pans of Marsala harvested during the summer months provides organic cooking salt which in ancient times was used for the preservation of food. When the Arabs landed in the 9th century, they innovated the salt collection process and built the first windmill. April 19, 2017
Our Rick Steves tour group and others taking a boat ride from Marsala, home of the salt harvests, to the ancient island of Mozia…also once known as Mothia and Motya…and today known as San Pantaleo. April 19, 2017
The lighthouse and the salt-flats of Marsala, Sicily, as we make our way to the island of San Pantaleo to visit its ancient remains. April 19, 2017
The Giuseppe Whitaker Museum on the island of San Pantaleo, formerly the ancient island of Mothia in Sicily, contains the ancient remants found on the island. Joseph Whitaker was a wealthy English merchant was a passionate archeologist who bought the island of San Pantaleo to preserve its ancient findings. April 19, 2017
He’s called the “Young Man of Mothia” who was found on the ancient island of Mothia, and is housed in the Giuseppe Whitaker Museum on the island of San Pantaleo, formerly known as the ancient city of Mothia. The young man in marble, who could be a rare example of a chariot race victor, was found on the island in 1979 and dates back to about 460-450 BC. April 19, 2017
The remains of this ancient home, now called the Mosaic House on the island of San Pantaleo which was formerly known as the ancient city of Mothia, dates back to the 4th century. April 19, 2017
Joseph Whitaker was a wealthy English merchant was a passionate archeologist who bought the island of San Pantaleo to preserve its ancient findings. He also preferred to be called Giuseppe instead of Joseph. This room, which is now a part of the Giuseppe Whitaker Museum on the island of Pantaleo, was actually Whitaker’s personal collection of antiquities found on the island. April 19, 2017
It takes two to demonstrate the making of the Arab-influenced couscous, Roberto, (left) the chef at the Maree restaurant in the historic area of Trapani, Sicily and Jamie Blair Gould (right), our Rick Steves tour guide. As Roberto explained the ingredients in Italian, Jamie did the interpreting…which includes pouring just a little water into a terra cotta bowl of one kilo of couscous then add grounded almonds, a zest of lemon, salt, garlic, parsley, black pepper, onions, cup up calamari and virgin oil. Then with your hands gently blend the ingredients together. April 19, 2017
The hand blended couscous in a terra cotta bowl at the Maree restaurant in the historic area of Trapani, Sicily, with its blended ingredients. The couscous will need time to settle and to cook so that meant taking a walk around Trapani and returning in a couple of hours for dinner. April 19, 2017
A look down one of the main street’s of Trapani, Sicily’s Corso Victoria Emanuele, an elegant pedestrian area in the historic center. April 19, 2017
The exterior of the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory in Trapani, Sicily’s historic center is home to the Misteri, 20 sculptural groups depicting the Passion of Christ that are carried in an annual day-long procession on Good Friday. April 19, 2017
The interior of the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory in Trapani, Sicily’s historic center home to the Misteria, 20 sculptural groups depicting the Passion of Christ that are carried in an annual day-long procession on Good Friday. April 19, 2017
Three different sculptural groups called the Misteria that depict the Passion of Christ and are carried in an annual day-long procession on Good Friday. These sculptures, of lifelike wood housed at the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory in Trapani, Sicily’s historic center, portray individual scenes of the events of the Passion as part of the Catholic Holy Week in celebration of Easter and the rising of Jesus Christ. April 19, 2017
A close up of one of the 20 sculptures from the Misteria that depict the Passion of Christ. These sculptures, housed at the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory in Trapani, Sicily’s historic center, are carried in an annual day-long procession on Good Friday. April 19, 2017
The sea waves smash upon the shore as I’m standing a top the Ligny Tower in Trapani, Sicily. The tower, built in 1671, was armed with canons and equipped with spotlights. It served as a fortress, lighthouse and gate tower. And, on top of the tower is this great view of the bridge or passageway connecting the tower to the mainland. on a narrow strip of land on Trapani’s western coast, at the tip of the peninsula provided the stunning view of the city and its port. April 19, 2017
Time to chow down on the couscous we saw being prepared, a tomato based Pesto with pasta and small, whole cooked fish at the Maree in the historic area of Trapani, Sicily. I’m not sure how we all managed to squeeze into this small, but quaint restaurant, but we did and it was a joy. April 19, 2017
Dinner at the Maree, a cozy restaurant specializing in fresh fish in Trapani, Sicily, consisted of couscous, which we saw preparation of being demonstrated earlier today, with fried squid; a tomato based Pesto on pasta that included basil, garlic (a lot of it) extra virgin olive oil, crushed almonds and of course tomatos accompanied by three small, whole cooked fish. April 19, 2017
Me at the Maree restaurant in Trapani, Sicily, with other members of my tour group, Michele to my left and Alice holding up the fish to my right. The couscous was quite good and the fried squid…my first time eating it…was delicious. April 19, 2017

If you’re looking for dazzling Greek temples, then look no further than Agrigento, Sicily, for the most divine terra cotta colored temples to appear against the clear blue skies. I was in awe. We were back on the bus Thursday morning from Trapani to Agrigento continuing our journey through Sicily during this 11-day Rick Steves tour of the “Best of Sicily.” And, what an outstanding day it turned out to be. I munched on a gelato brioche, scoped out ancient artifacts at the Archaeological Museum and gazed at the most exquisite temples at the Valley of the Temples. And, we capped off our day in Agrigento with a group dinner of four courses at the Caico…a Sicilian feast to fill the senses.

Alice and I enjoying our gelato. I’m having the coconut gelato on a brioche…very sweet and very yum…and Alice is having a pistachio gelato on a cone. A good gelato day in Sicily. April 20, 2017
The Greek Bouleuterion, a council or assembly house is located within the Archeological Museum complex in Agrigento, Sicily, and dates from the 4th century BC. April 20, 2017
The ancient remains of the Temple of Juno at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, was built around the 5th century BC. April 20, 2017
Remnants of the city walls at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily. April 20, 2017
My travel mates on this Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour standing by the Temple of Concordia in Agrigento, Sicily. The temple is ranked among the most notable edifices of the Greek civilization existing today. April 20, 2017
Me at the Temple of Concordia, in Agrigento, Sicily, whose name comes from a Latin inscription found on a stone about a peace treaty and can be seen at the nearby Archaeological Museum, was built in the 5th century BC. It was turned into a church in the 6th century AD and is now one of the best preserved temples in the Valley of Temples. April 20, 2017
The remains of the Temple of Heracles in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, which dates back to the 5th century BC. April 20, 2017
A model at the Archaeological Museum in Agrigento, Sicily, of what the Temple of Olympian Zeus could have looked like. Although the temple presently lays in ruins, it was considered to be the largest Doric temple ever constructed even though it was never completed. April 20, 2017
A close-up model at the Archaeological Museum in Agrigento, Sicily, of what the Temple of Olympian Zeus could have looked like. Although the temple presently lays in ruins, it was considered to be the largest Doric temple ever constructed even though it was never completed. April 20, 2017
Me at the remains of this giant atlas from the Temple of Zeus, one of the temples of the Valley of Temples, is on display at the Archeological Museum in Agrigento, Sicily. April 20, 2017
A close up of another atlas remains from the Temple of Zeus, one of the temples of the Valley of Temples, is on display at the Archeological Museum in Agrigento, Sicily. April 20, 2017
My Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group sitting down to our dinner feast at Caico in Agrigento, Sicily. April 20, 2017
Our first course was a fish appetizer of Swordfish, Tuna Capanata with eggplant and tomato (the tuna was very meaty tasting) and a fish called scabbard. Notice the four forks next to the plate for the number of courses. April 20, 2017
The second course was Spaghetti a la Norma…spaghetti rolled into eggplant.April 20, 2017
The third course was this very large piece of fish and roasted potatoes. We were all served a portion of the large fish and the potatoes, which was all quite delicious. April 20, 2017
And, for dessert, it was Tiramisu made with sheep cheese ricotta, lady fingers and a cinnamon topping. It was light, sweet and tasty. April 20, 2017
The view of the courtyard from outside my hotel window in Agrigento, Sicily. April 20, 2017

If there’s a mosaic wonder of the world then the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily, should be the winner. Built around the first quarter of 300 AD, this villa has 3,500 square meters (more than 37,000 square feet) of mosaic surface covering the floors. It is considered as the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world. As background, a mosaic is a piece of art or image made from assembling small pieced of colored glass, stone or other material in a decorative fashion. The first professional excavation of the village was done in 1929, followed by more extensive work Giuseppe Cultrera from 1935 to 1939.

Our Rick Steves tour group, from our stay in Agrigento, stopped at the Roman Villa Del Casale on our way to Ragusa, Sicily, for two nights. Saturday is our group’s off day where we get to wonder at our own pace through the streets of Ragusa.

It’s called the Corridor of the Great Hunt at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. The mosaic depicts the great scenes of hunting, capture and transport of animals for the games destined to the amphitheater. It covers 377 square feet and mosaics cover it from one end to the other. April 21, 2017
A close up of one of the mosaic scenes in the Corridor of the Great Hall at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. The mosaic depicts the great scenes of hunting, capture and transport of animals for the games destined to the amphitheater. April 21, 2017
The Vestibule of Polyphemus illustrates the Homeric scene of Odysseus, the Greek hero offering wine to the Cyclops Polyphemus at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. April 21, 2017
A close up of the three-eyed Cyclops at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. April 21, 2017
The “bikini girls” mosaic, showing girls playing sports at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. The young women perform sports including weight-lifting, discus throwing, running and ball-games. I’ve seen photos of this mosaic and now I’ve seen in in person. Wow! April 21, 2017
Closeup of the Bikini girls mosaic of a girl wearing a crown and hold a victor’s palm at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. April 21, 2017
A very sexy mosaic from a bedroom at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. April 21, 2017
My feet on ancient mosaics at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. These mosaics are outside of the villa and I’m not sure why they are not roped off but it was quite a thrill for me to stand so close to these historical and painstakingly artistic works. April 21, 2017
This floor mosaic is from the “Room of the Four Seasons,” at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. The young man, with his crowned ears of wheat, represents summer.
This mosaic is part of a larger mosaic called the “Mosaic of the Small Hunt,” at the Roman Villa Del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. This is one of the most significant of the mosaic floors of the villa. April 21, 2017
Our Rick Steves tour group enjoying another feast, this time for lunch at the Torre di Renda, a farm house or agriturismo in the Piazza Armerina, Sicily, with countryside views galore. April 21, 2017
This little feast of ham, eggplant, zucchini, salami and smoked mozzarella for lunch at the Torre di Renda in Piazza Armerina, Sicily. I’m not supposedly a cheese person but I loved the smoked mozzarella. April 21, 2017
The next course was this incredibly tasty Sicilian style Pesto pasta of nuts herbs and tomatoes at the Torre di Renda in Piazza Armerina, Sicily. April 21, 2017
Then came the salad with this tasty veal with mushroom and gravy at the Torre di Renda in Piazza Armerina, Sicily. As I was enjoying this meal, a platter of pork sausage was also being passed around for our consumption. April 21, 2017
And, to top of this incredible lunch was apples, oranges, pineapples and strawberries fruit delight with a heavenly scoop of creamy, delicious coconut gelato at the Torre di Renda in Piazza Armerina, Sicily. April 21, 2017
The evening view from my hotel window in Ragusa, Sicily, for the next two nights. April 21, 2017

The very best and only way to explore Ragusa, Sicily, is to keep on steppin’ as high as you can because Ragusa gets more and more magical and beautiful with each step you take. This hilltown is a photogenic wonder that lies below the Hyblaean Mountains and is historically divided into Ragusa Ibla (the older version dubbed Lower Ragusa) and Ragusa Superiore, the newer version. In 1693 Ragusa was devastated by a huge earthquake, which killed some 5,000 inhabitants. Following this catastrophe the city was largely rebuilt. Most of the population moved to the new settlement in the former district of Patro, calling this new municipality “Ragusa Superiore” or Upper Ragusa. I found that both Upper and Lower Ragusa are breathtaking in their beauty and worth exploring.

Saturday was our free day to do our “thing”. My thing included exploring Ragusa with an enjoyable group of explorers!

On Sunday, we move on to Siracusa, Sicily.

The entryway to the Cathedral dedicated to San Giovannia Batista in the center of the new area in Ragusa, Sicily, which was built after the earthquake of 1693. Its baroque style construction began in 1718 and was finished in 1778. April 22, 2017
The interior of the Cathedral dedicated to San Giovannia Batista in the center of the new area in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
Our splinter Rick Steves tour group as we begin our ascent to the Upper Ragusa, Sicily, area in our quest to find the best views. From front to back: Alice, Michelle, Monica, Jim, Teri, John and Karina. April 22, 2017
The stunning views of old town Ragusa, Sicily, from the newer, upper portion that required quite the climb up but was so worth the effort for this view. April 22, 2017
A Rick Steves group selfie overlooking the old town portion of Ragusa, Sicily. A great group of people to hang out and explore Ragusa with. (From left, Michelle, Teri, Jim Monica, John, me, Alice and Karina.) April 22, 2017
Our trek took us to a number of gorgeous churches including this one, Ragusa Cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral in Ragusa, Sicily, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The present church (to the left) dates from the early 18th century. April 22, 2017
Saint John the Baptist statue inside the Ragusa Cathedral in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
Saint John the Baptist statue inside the Ragusa Cathedral in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
A baptismal fresco inside the Ragusa Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Church in Ragusa, Sicily, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. April 22, 2017
Ragusa Cathedral in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
The fascist architecture of the post office in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
A close-up of the female statues a top the fascist architecture of the post office in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
Another look at the beautiful old town of Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
During our exploration of Ragusa, Sicily, we ventured into a number of stunning churches including this one, Santa Maria Delle Scale. It is the most ancient church in Ragusa and was built in the 13th century. April 22, 2017
The main altar inside one of the most ancient churches in Ragusa, Sicily…Santa Maria Delle Scale, built in the 13th century. April 22, 2017
A fresco wall and altar inside one of the most ancient churches in Ragusa, Sicily…Santa Maria Delle Scale, built in the 13th century. April 22, 2017
A close-up of the fresco wall inside one of the most ancient churches in Ragusa, Sicily…Santa Maria Delle Scale, built in the 13th century. April 22, 2017
A side chapel shows the Dormition of the Virgin in terra-cotta in one of the most ancient churches in Ragusa, Sicily…Santa Maria Delle Scale, built in the 13th century. April 22, 2017
The monumental church of San Giorgio is characterized by the fascinating tower facade in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
The Giardino Ibleo public gardens at the eastern end Ragusa, Sicily’s old town. April 22, 2017
The stunning Judas Tree at the Giardino Ibleo public garden in Ragusa, Sicily. April 22, 2017
Our waiter, in the center, reminds our tour guide, Jamie…to the left…of the artist Caravaggio…at the tour group dinner at La Terrazza Dell Orologio restaurant in Ragusa, Sicily, which happened to be just a few steps from my hotel room. And, to the right is our very calm, collected and capable luxury bus driver Salvatore. April 22, 2017
Although it was a free day, the tour group did gather for dinner at La Terrazza Dell Orologio restaurant in Ragusa, Sicily, which happened to be just a few steps from my hotel room. The appetizer course included this traditional Sicilian dish of Arancini. These are rice balls stuffed with a number of regional variants then deep fried. April 22, 2017
The Arancini rice ball we were served for dinner at La Terrazza Dell Orologio restaurant in Ragusa, Sicily, was stuffed Italian rice, cheese, boiled egg, peas and tomato sauce with ground meat. April 22, 2017
Our main course for dinner at La Terrazza Dell Orologio restaurant in Ragusa, Sicily, consisted of Ravioli stuffed with sheep ricotta with a tender piece of pork and a piece of sausage covered in a delicious ragu sauce. April 22, 2017
A night cap of Lemoncello, a very yummy Italian liquor. April 22, 2017

There were no climbing miles of stairs, instead it was a leisurely Sunday in the small, but quaint cities of Modica and Noto, in the Ragusa Province as we made our way to Siracusa, Sicily, for the next two nights at the old town with a seaside view in Ortigia.

The chocolate of Modica has become a Sicilian specialty as evidenced by a chocolate making demonstration our group got to see at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Modica, Sicily. Although it was the Spaniards who introduced chocolate to Sicily, the first to partake of chocolate were the Mayans and Aztecs. But in present-day Modica chocolate is still characterized by an ancient and original recipe that gives it a grainy texture. April 23, 2017
My Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group wearing our protective gear for the chocolate making demonstration at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Modica, Sicily. April 23, 2017
The San Pietro (Saint Peter) church in Modica, Sicily, was built in the mid-14th century, then damaged by the earthquake of 1613 and finally destroyed by the earthquake of 1693. The facade of the rebuilt church is in the late Baroque style and the staircase is marked by statues of the apostles. April 23, 2017
The beautiful city of Modica, Sicily. April 23, 2017
I’ve seen these death notices in several locations during my visit to Sicily. Instead of printing obituaries in the newspapers, death notices, like these are placed on a board on the main thoroughfare in Modica, Sicily. April 23, 2017
For lunch, as we made our way to Siracusa, we stopped in Noto, Sicily. This commemorative arch, erected in 1838 for the visit of the Bourbon King, Ferdinand II, marks the entrance to the city and leads into the main street, now called Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Noto is famous for its fine early 18th century buildings, many of which are considered to be among the finest examples of the Sicilian baroque style. April 23, 2017
Our tour group, standing in front of the church of St. Charles Borromeo in Noto, Sicily, is getting instructions from our Rick Steves tour guide Jamie Blair Gould on places to go for lunch during our stopover in Noto. April 23, 2017
Pizza, in Sicily, and my choice for lunch in Noto. It was hot, fresh and delicious. The toppings were simple, Italian sausage, peppers, tomato sauce and two different kinds of cheese. And, the crust was like eating a deliciously baked piece of bread. April 23, 2017
The town hall in Noto, Sicily, with its front porch archways is another gorgeous piece of architecture in the city. Although we only stopped in Noto to have lunch, I enjoyed getting an opportunity to checkout this little gem of a city. April 23, 2017
I’m loving the views from my hotel windows. This is my view from my hotel in Ortigia, Sicily, for the next two nights. Ortigia is a small island which is the historical centre of the city of Siracusa (Syracuse). April 23, 2017
After checking into our hotel in Ortigia, Sicily, our tour group took an orientation walk of the small island which is the historical centre of the city of Siracusa. Again, what’s so prominent and notable is the island’s gorgeous architecture. April 23, 2017
Just another gorgeous piece of architecture in Ortigia, Sicily. April 23, 2017
Just another gorgeous piece of architecture in Ortigia, Sicily. April 23, 2017
Ortigia, Sicily, and the gorgeous sea views. April 23, 2017

I continue to be incredibly impressed by the beauty and history of Sicily. And, that continued on Monday when we spent time at the Neapolis Archaeological Park in Siracusa, Sicily’s famous mouments of the Greek and Roman eras, which included a Greek theater plus a Roman quarry and amphitheater.

Ruins before the birth of Jesus Christ co-exist with modern life as is the case of the Temple of Apollo situated in the middle of a street market, apartment complex and all the trappings of today’s world. Even the magnificent Cathedral of Siracusa bares the columns of the pagan way from its origins as the Temple of Athena built some 2400 years ago.

The historic ruins of Greek, Byzantine, Norman and Arab are infused in Sicily’s history and make the country a historic melting pot of cultures and religions.

Next stop, Catania, Sicily…which is the last stop of the Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour.

Had a taste test of the goodies from this booth at the morning market in Ortigia, Sicily. It was a tomato-like seasoned paste on a slice of Italian bread. It was just so delicious that I had to go back for more. April 24, 2017
The morning market in Ortigia, Sicily, with all kinds of fresh fish. Ortigia is a small island which is the historical centre of the city of Siracusa (Syracuse). April 24, 2017
The morning market in Ortigia, Sicily, with its colorful vegetable. Ortigia is a small island which is the historical centre of the city of Siracusa (Syracuse). April 24, 2017
The Greek Theater in Siracusa, Sicily, is part of the Neapolis Archaeological Park and was built in the 5th century BC and later expanded. Unfortunately this Ancient Greek Theater is being turned into a modern day outdoor summer play area which takes away from its ancient features. April 24, 2017
Workers placing wood stakes and wood seats over these ancient seats of the Greek Theater, part of the Neapolis Archaeological Park in Siracusa, Sicily, in preparation of two outdoor Classical Greek summer plays. April 24, 2017
Neapolis Archaeological Park in Siracusa, Sicily. April 24, 2017
The Latomia del Paradios, the ancient Roman quarry in Siracusa, Sicily, is part of the Neapolis Archeological Park. This ancient quarry is where the Romans extracted the limestone and captors of wars as slaves to build the various structures in Siracusa. The bizarrely shaped site where thousands of slaves worked and died is now overgrown with lush vegetation. April 24, 2017
This giant opening in the Latomia del Paradios, part of the ancient Roman quarry in Siracusa, Sicily’s Neapolis Archaeological Park was dubbed by the painter, Caravaggio as the “Ear of Dionysius”—either due to its pointy shape or its remarkable acoustics which allow you to stand at one end and hear a whisper spoken at the other. According to a legend, Dionysius imprisoned his captives in the cave and could overhear their conversations. April 24, 2017
The overgrown Roman Amphitheatre at Siracusa, Sicily’s Neapolis Archeological Park was in its prime in the 1st century AD when Roman Siracusans held their bloody gladiator fights. April 24, 2017
It may look like a badminton birdie or a giant upside down ice cream cone but this is actually a huge concrete domed Catholic Church in Siracusa, Sicily, called the Chiesa Santuario Madonna Delle Lacrime or the “Sanctuary of the Mary of the Tears.” The sanctuary is supposed to resemble a teardrop intended to house a mass-produced Madonna statue that miraculously wept on the wall of a Siracusa family home for three days in 1953. Construction on the church began in 1966 but its extreme modernity caused controversy and delayed its completion until 1994. April 24, 2017
Inside the “Sanctuary of the Mary of the Tears,” concrete domed Catholic Church in Siracusa, Sicily. April 24, 2017
The weeping Mary statue at the altar of the “Sanctuary of the Mary of the Tears” domed Catholic Church in Siracusa, Sicily. April 24, 2017
Crossing over by foot on one of the bridges and narrow channels that connects the island of Ortigia to the mainland of Siracusa in Sicily. April 24, 2017
A come as you are or come if you want to as our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group enjoyed a smorgasbord of cheese, salami and whatever anyone wanted to bring. And yes, that always includes wine, here on the roof top of our hotel on the island of Ortigia, Sicily. April 24, 2017
This exquisite fountain at the center of the Piazza Archimede in Ortigia, Sicily, is goddess of the hunt, Diana. April 24, 2017
The Cathedral of Siracusa (Syracuse) with some 2400 years of history infused in it from pagan to Christian and stands in the city’s historic core on the island of Ortigia. The cathedral is a layered blend of Greek, Byzantine, Norman and Baroque art. April 24, 2017
The interior of the Cathedral of Siracusa (Syracuse), looking towards the central nave, stands in the city’s historic core on the island of Ortigia. The cathedral was founded on the ruins of the great Temple of Athena, built by the tyrant Gelone of Syracuse to commemorate the victory at Himera against the Carthaginians in 480 BC. April 24, 2017
A close up of the central nave of the Cathedral of Siracusa (Syracuse). April 24, 2017
Although the present version of the Cathedral of Siracusa in Sicily was constructed by Saint Bishop Zosimo in the 7th century, its exterior Doric columns (which are also visible from inside the cathedral) are from the Greek Temple of Athena built more than 2400 years ago. of the original temple were incorporated in the walls of the current church. April 24, 2017
Me inside the Cathedral of Siracusa (Syracuse) standing by the oldest part of the cathedral, the Doric columns from the 5th century Temple of Athena. April 24, 2017
The exterior of the Cathedral of Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily, shows the Doric columns of the original Greek Temple to Athena built some 2400 years ago. These same historical columns can be seen in the cathedral interior. April 24, 2017
Me standing by the Doric capital ruins of theTemple of Apollo on the island of Ortigia, considered the historical centre of the city of Siracusa (Syracuse). April 24, 2017

Travel writer Tim Cahill wrote, “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group has definitely logged some walking and bus riding miles but its all been in the pursuit of uncovering the Sicilian splendor while cultivating new friendships. Its such a pleasure to connect with like-minded travelers who have a passion and a respect for the histories and cultures of others, which is why parting is bittersweet. Our journey together is coming to a close.

But…before we said our good-byes Tuesday evening….there was still more to see and do in Catania, Sicily, with a stop at a World War II museum, the Piazze del Duomo’s lava and limestone architectural showpieces, a vineyard tour with a wine tasting and sumptuous meal in surroundings fit for royalty. Yes, all that before toasting the end of our time together in Sicily.

On Wednesday morning, Alice, John and I head to Venice, Italy.

The view of sea Tuesday morning from my hotel window on the island of Ortigia, Sicily, just as our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour is ready to ready to make our way to Catania, Sicily, where we say our good-byes after 11 days of traveling through Sicily together. April 25, 2017
This is a reproduction of a Sicilian town before the bombing occurred as we learned more about the ravages of World War II and the history of the allies…from the USA, Great Britain, French North Africa, Libya and the Middle East…converged on Sicily’s coast in 1943. The elaborate displays and exhibits, including a bomb shelter, maps, photographs, wax figures of the noted leaders can be seen at the Museo Della Sbarco in Catania, Sicily. April 25, 2017
The reproduction of part of a Sicilian town destroyed by bombing and the ravages of war are displayed at the Museo Della Sbarco in Catania, Sicily. April 25, 2017
At the end of the Museo Della Sbarco in Catania, Sicily, was a memorial to all the fallen shoulders, some 14,864. The photo shows the British cemetery in Catania. April 25, 2017
Because Catania, Sicily, lies at the foot of Mount Etna, the city has seen destruction from the volcano, while at the same time the volcanic ashes have yielded fertile lands. And, its buildings, like this one, have that black-lava limestone local baroque style to them that I’ve quite frankly have never seen before. April 25, 2017
The grand Catania Cathedral dedicated to Saint Agatha in Catania, Sicily’s is located in the Piazza del Duomo. The cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt several times because of earthquakes and eruptions of the nearby Mount Etna. It was originally constructed in 1078-1093, on the ruins of an ancient Roman bath. April 25, 2017
We only had a few minutes to visit the interior of the grand Catania Cathedral in Catania, Sicily, but I loved its simplicity and beauty. April 25, 2017
Another Sicilian Baroque building with the Catania, Sicily, lava-limestone facade. April 25, 2017
Taking centre stage is another showpiece in Catania’s Piazza del Duomo, the smiling Fontana dell’Elefante is made of lava stone and was assembled in 1736. April 25, 2017
Castello Ursino in Catania, Sicily, was built in the 13th century as a royal castle. April 25, 2017
The Benanti Winery in Viagrande, Sicily, just outside of Catania, where our Rick Steves tour group were given a tour of the winery with a wine tasting and a sumptuous late afternoon meal. Notice again how this grand home takes on the color of the ash from nearby Mount Etna. April 25, 2017
The grand room at the Benanti Winery in Viagrande, Sicily, all set up for a late afternoon group lunch. April 25, 2017
The Benanti Winery vineyards in Viagrande, Sicily, just outside of Catania and at the foot of Mount Etna. April 25, 2017
A close up of one of the vines in the Benanti Winery just outside of Catania, Sicily in Viagrande with at the foot of Mount Etna. Those little buds will eventually be grapes. April 25, 2017
Several members of my Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour group ready to begin the eat fest. From left, Alice, John, Carolyn, Dan, Lilian and me. April 25, 2017
Our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour guide, Jamie Blair Gould getting us together to toast the wonders of Sicily we’ve experienced as a group. Salute! April 25, 2017
Here I am just before our last group get together trying to finish up my Facebook Posts on my iPad Pro. Thank you Lilian Xu, a fellow photographer and tour mate, for taking this photo of me in the beautiful reception setting of our hotel in Catania, Sicily, as we end our stay and end our Rick Steves “Best of Sicily” tour. Next stop for Alice, John and me…Venice, Italy. April 25, 2017