Salt Pans near Marsala.
The old market and duomo square in Ortygia with the Santa Lucia alla Badia, Syracuse.
San Domenico square in Palermo, Italy.
View of the canal and Umbertino bridge between Syracuse and Ortygia.
CONNECTING WITH HISTORY We left Taormina for Syracuse, taking the coastal road, which took us through Catarina. Our location here was very central with views over the city. Its old, mellow, baroque architecture is shabby-chic but inside, sophisticated and elegant. It echoes with the feel of ancient civilizations — the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, and Aragones have all left their mark. The finest area today is Ortygia — Greek for “quail” — the tiny island on which the first Corinthians settled in 733 BC. It is an absolute gem, dense with a gorgeously crumbly feel but also beautifully restored Baroque buildings, boutique shops, and super restaurants, The following day it rained, but luckily, we were able to tour the great archaeological Park Neapolis before the heavens opened. The Roman Amphitheatre was enormous, and the Orecchio di Dionisio, a limestone cave shaped like a human ear into which we wandered, was also great. It twists like the inner ear, and the further we went the darker it became. BUZZING PALERMO A long early morning drive ensured we were on the steps of the opera house in Palermo at 10:30, where several tour groups were acting out a scene from the Godfather trilogy and dogs lay sleeping — they had seen it all before! You may have seen Marco with Rick Stein or Paul Hollywood, if you watch too many cooking shows. He was our guide on a five-hour street tour of Palermo. It is the best way to get a real feel for a place. We walked through old narrow walkways, where washing hung out to dry overhead and the bread boy delivered loaves by placing them in
baskets so that the women could haul them up to their balconies. Men pushed carts with chimneys, in which they roasted chestnuts, and the lottery man sold tickets for a box of fresh fish. All the while, we were stopping to try Palermo’s street food: entrails in buns, veal lungs in bread, fried chickpea paste, potato balls, and more. It sounds a little off-putting, but it was all served by Sicilians passionate about their food and was an experience not to be missed. The stop for masala wine was most welcome, and I enjoyed the fact that the tour included several of Palermo’s major sights. THE CATACOMBS After our day with Marco and an early morning visit to the city’s famous catacombs, we opted for the less-crowded road to Marsala and Trapani. An early morning start meant that we were at the catacombs before the full lighting was switched on! Very spooky, very interesting, with hundreds of dead bodies — no, make that 8,000 dead bodies. Within a short space of time, the lighting was fully switched on, but it still remained an eerie place. Arranged in categories, the bodies were surprisingly interesting. SALT FLATS AND FLAMINGOS The bright light reflected by the vast salt pans creates a feeling of space and a kind of serene quietness. The sun shone, and the crystals sparkled in the sun light. Standing proud from the flat white landscape, old windmills and mountains of salt reared up. We climbed one of these windmills to get another perspective. In the afternoon we took a boat out onto the shallow lagoon to visit the ancient remains on a number of off-shore islands. There were flamingos, spoonbills, and black heron. A great way to relax before our journey home.
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