I’ve lived on a relatively small island for 14 months now, with my main goal here being to travel and see new things. You’d think in that amount of time that I would have seen most of it, and seen everything in the places I’ve visited may times, but I’m always surprised to find how untrue that is. Since we do have a lot of guests, I find myself going to some of the same places over and over. I don’t really mind, because the places I tend to repeat are the places that I really like (Taormina, Syracuse, Catania’s market, Caltagirone, Cefalu, the Aeolian islands etc.), but I also try to add new things. It’s easy to do the same stuff over and over, but my goal with the people we have visiting this summer is to keep doing things that are new to me. We don’t have a lot of time left here, and there is about 50% of this island that I still haven’t seen. So, summer guests, get prepared to spend some time over on the west side of Sicily. I think people have a better experience that way anyway, since it keeps me interested.
Sean’s sister Jenny spent the past couple weeks here, and her visit was a really good example of the things I have looked over since I tend to go on auto-pilot to the things I know about. Jenny’s visit was really nice. We had some good weather, Sean had a decent amount of time off work, and Jenny and I got to spend a lot of time together exploring, buying the island out of Haribos, Tic-Tacs, and ceramics, and eating as many cannoli as we could.
We did some of my favorites of Taormina, Catania, Syracuse, and Cefalu, but I was surprised at the new things we discovered. In Catania, we went to the big castle that I’ve driven or walked by a few dozen times but never actually gone in to. It’s surprising well preserved and maintained, and houses an art museum with changing exhibits. Currently, a lot of Picasso’s works are featured.
We also spent the day down in Syracuse, where I discovered a few new things. First, the huge futuristic looking building that towers over the city is NOT, as I thought, some sort of odd, government building, it’s actually a church! I had no idea. It’s a rather odd looking church, I think. Very industrial and dark and plain, but kind of an interesting change from the other typical Italian churches. It also houses a statue of The Virgin Mary that supposedly wept for 4 days in 1953.
Also, there are catacombs in Syracuse! Right in the middle of the city. We visited them this time, and they’re really interesting. They’re built into the underground aqueducts and cisterns used by the Greeks, so they’re really quite spacious and nice. The catacombs contain about 20,000 tombs of early Christians, along with some carvings and frescoes that are still intact.
For a little side trip, we spent a couple nights in Cefalu and spent a day in Palermo, which, despite being the capital of this island I live on, I’d never spent any time in. Palermo is beautiful, and I really enjoyed our day there. The two most interesting things we saw were the Capuchin catacombs and the Palatine Chapel.
The catacombs there are one of the most unusual things I’ve ever seen, and definitely not for anyone easily spooked. The Capuchin monks believe that death should not be feared, and appear to have a much more open (honest?) relationship with death and the deceased than most do these days. Most catacombs you visit are empty, and I imagine there are some with bones still in them, but these catacombs are full of whole skeletons, fully dressed, many of which still have their hair and mummified skin. They were placed either in clear coffins, or in niches along the wall, so they hang on the wall next to you – so close that you could touch them if you wanted. The bodies were dehydrated and sometimes embalmed before being placed in the catacombs. Some are better preserved than others. Relatives of the deceased would return to the catacombs to visit their loved ones, or even join hands with the deceased in prayer. Can you imagine? The smell! No photos were allowed, but here is a link to some images from Google, or a slightly unsettling description, (remember what I said about being easily spooked).
On a lighter note, the other highlight in Palermo was the Cappella Palatina. The chapel is located in the Royal palace, and was built under the Norman King Roger II. It is covered in gold sparkling mosaics, and honestly takes your breath away.
A few other photos from Jenny’s trip…