Palermo and Monreale

Besides the general splendor…

And the total randomness…

(because, why not?)

(gives new meaning to the nickname “bread van”)

There’s also the food. In particular, arancini!

Not oranges, but deep fried rice balls with various savory fillings. Like bbq ribs (the Americana, of course). In Sicily, they’re really orange-sized, not like the sad meatball-sized ones you see here at Italian restaurants here.

We went to a market in search of street food and found this meat stand. Makes me think of my friend Ben, an avid carnivore.

We tried the intestine. It was shockingly delicious. So good that I kept trying to repeat the experience, looking for it in supermarkets and at roadside stands.

We also tried the octopus. Delicious, but probably even better grilled.

(Here he is before the chopping)

We took a side trip to Monreale, which is perched so high over the sea. And full of sleepy dogs.

It was one of the hottest days on our trip. Which meant dessert for lunch. Sicily is famous for the cannoli, as mentioned in the Godfather movies. With good reason. The filling is like a fluffy cream cheese, and its slight saltiness balances the rest of the sweetness well. Loved the candied orange rind.

This is called a brioche. Basically, it’s an ice cream sandwich. But with real bread.

I’ll leave you here with a nice memory from the beach near the place we stayed. There were a couple of feral dogs who decided they were our guards. They didn’t want food and they didn’t come close enough for pets, but they stayed by us all afternoon, one on either side. Just napping.

That thing back there is a “Singbox” — it’s a karaoke machine that (I think) actually grades you. Someone blasted Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and nailed it.

Here’s the sunset from up in the hills

Palermo, part 1

Let me just whine briefly about the ferry between Sardinia and Sicily. First, it’s a 12 hour overnight trip. Second, they sell tickets that do not include accommodations. Even a seat costs extra. If you don’t pay for a seat — which is like an airplane seat, bolted to the floor and too close to all the other chairs — or a room (which has a narrow cot and barely enough room to turn around), then you have to sit at the “bar”. But they don’t let you get comfortable. We found a closed restaurant and slept for a few hours, but the boat police came around at 6am to wake us up. For no reason. Just to make our lives unpleasant enough that we’d consider spending $80 per person for a cot and freedom from molestation by the overeager boat staff. No thanks.

Did I mention that was my birthday? Well, at least when we got to Palermo, this was the beach

It was nap time! See how beautiful the world is with no other people around? It didn’t last. Within an hour there were too many rowdy others and hawkers of cheap inflatable balls and sunglasses, of ciambelle (donuts) and fruits, all of them hollering and hovering.

Palermo is home to hundreds of Baroque churches. These are just a few:

I might consider being religious just to go to services at this church

In the street, there was trash everywhere. Not just gum wrappers and cans, but enough clothes and trash bags to fill dozens of industrial sized dumpsters. Our host said it’s because the trash collectors are controlled by the mafia, and when the mafia’s unhappy, no one picks up the trash.

To be continued…

Cagliari and the Feast of Saint Efisio

We almost didn’t make it to the Feast of Saint Efisio. But while we were in Sardinia, one ferry line actually failed, so we had to stay an extra day. That extra day was St. Efisio’s day. Now, I know this might not seem like any kind of a big deal to someone who grew up celebrating Catholic saint days in a big way, but to me, this was completely extraordinary.

To begin with, people from all over Sardinia come to Cagliari and march through the streets in traditional dress.

Some carry flags, some carried banners with the name of their town

Some had flowered and ribboned flags

And all the outfits were distinct and interesting

Some were a little nun-like

There were even a few little ones

Then there were parades of horses. They weren’t show ponies though. Some were badly behaved — crashing into each other or wandering off. At the end of the parade, they tossed baskets of rose petals so thick you could barely see the ground. Crowds were gathered as if for a huge celebrity.

There he is! St. Efisio!

Okay, I didn’t get the best picture hanging on to the back of a scaffolding. I tried. I think he starts out at the church he lives in, gets dressed in his ceremonial garb, participates in this parade around town, then goes to a different church to change into traveling clothes before continuing on along the coast for a week or so. There was a moment when one of his guards opened the carriage and let an old woman touch his robes. She was more moved than I think I have ever been.

Religion is an interesting thing. I’m glad to have witnessed this feast day, even if I don’t understand it. I could see how much it meant to others. This horse seems pleased with the day.

Cagliari, Sardinia

We stayed at a b&b in Cagliari that was run by and old woman who, according to the website, speaks English. She spoke almost no English. She recommended restaurants that advertise “tourist menus” — here are three courses for one price and you don’t have to think at all, tourist! We were offered breakfast for a fee, but “breakfast” was knockoff twinkies you could buy at the supermarket, a dozen for a Euro. It was 20 minutes from town on foot. But town had gems like this polka-dotted mini.

Here’s the cathedral

In the crypt there’s a naked angel

(Forgive. I have a thing for intricate ceilings)

Cagliari has a beach called “Poetto” and it’s empty during the weekdays and supercrowded during the weekend. I had a nap and N went for a run.

After a day or so of Cagliari, we went further, to a different beach, where the fuzzy sea buddies were with us again.

Here, we found ourselves a mission: there was a pond of stagnant runoff water blocking the path.

We dug a canal. Using only sticks and other trash found on the beach

(Our public works project from another angle)

But most of the day looked like this. I think I managed to get sunburned for the first time in ten years.

Okay, I’m leaving you here for today with this picture of fries wrapped in pizza dough. It was probably called the “Americana”. I eventually asked a local about this obsession with putting fries in things and blaming it on America (I had seen it several times throughout Sardinia: in sandwiches, on pizzas, even inside kebabs!) Did they think Americans put fries everywhere? She said “No, no. We LOVE fries. It’s a Sardinian thing to put them everywhere.” Good to know.

Sassari and Alghero, Sardinia

Obviously, there has to be a beach stop along the way.

We stayed at a b&b that was in an old building on the main square. This was the ceiling in our room

And the entry hall

View from the room, before (or maybe during) a rainstorm

This is one of the largest cities on the island, but there isn’t much of anything there. There’s evidence that this was once a wealthy city, but things have been left to ruin. Not entire neighborhoods — just a random building here and there, between well-maintained others. Who owns them? What happened?

But there were also interesting modern touches. Like an overgrown planter, a Buddhist fountain, a door perch for cats, various important men…

There was a dramatic cathedral. This is when we started seeing poor people (usually women) begging at the church door, often using a baby or young child as a prop to get more sympathy.

We took a day trip to Alghero, which has a long history of different rulers (Arab, Spanish, etc) reflected in its architecture.

This may have been the famous rice sand beach. It’s covered with tiny, rubbed-smooth pebbles of quartz.

Or maybe this is the rice sand beach. In retrospect, I should’ve taken a closeup of the sand. Maybe next time…

Next, on to Cagliari!

Porto Pollo and La Maddelena, Sardinia

The ferry from Corsica was quick and painless. We arrived at our residence with enough sunlight left to visit their private beach. It was protected by gates and signs warning of security cameras, but no actual cameras. The receptionist told us, apologetically, that there would have been lounge chairs and umbrellas and lots of people during the season but we were early. We found the completely empty beach quite all right.

Here’s a view of the sunset from our porch

The next day we took a little ferry to the island of La Maddelena. I think it’s a tourist island, but mostly for Italian or Sardinian tourists.

We spent the first part of the day exploring the island. It has tiny beaches everywhere — so many that chances are great you’ll find a private one. We did.

One of the first Italian words we learned on the trip was spiaggio (beach).

This white-sand beach was just for us

But eventually, we felt obligated to see other things, so we drove around more

The island has a bridge to an even smaller island, on which there was a botanical garden or archeology museum. But it was closed. As we would soon learn, everything in these Italian islands is closed during the hours of 1pm-5pm. Everything except maybe a cafe or tourist trinket shop. Even the gelaterias!

So obviously, there was nothing left to do but find another beach to lounge on. One without other people, of course.

We stayed until dinnertime. Yes, hours of beaching. Dinner was pizza, of course. The Italians make perfect crusts — thin and crispy. But the sauce is plain tomato paste with no seasonings. No garlic, no basil or other herbs, not even salt or pepper. And they skimp on cheese. Oh well, not every pizzeria can be Delfina.

Out the window, we watched the owner of the “ethnic store” scrub the flagstones in front of his store while his little daughter danced around. If only everyone were so civic minded.

Sardinia wants to be the next big tourist destination. Our free guides (provided by the residence) included a book written in flowery language about the beauty and cultural richness of Sardinia. It was over the top and sort of cute. I think it will be hard to maintain much character when everything is driven by tourism. They don’t know what they’re wishing for.

Road to Bonifacio

Did I mention this was a road trip? Corsica has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen. And hardly anyone visits in the off season — that is, anytime other than August, when the French have the entire month off and flock to Corsica.

Well, there may have been a beach stop along the way…

This was across from the town of Bonifacio, which is, itself, perched on a big cliff.

The sea is so calm

And these are views from the ferry, departing. Yeah, we didn’t spend much time actually in town — there is almost nowhere to stay! We did learn something useful though — don’t settle for the first gelato stand you see. In Bonifacio, if you park near the docks, you’ll have to go up about 100 steps to get to the town and you’ll see vendors selling supermarket ice cream out of tubs. Turn left and go up the street a bit — you’ll find artisan gelato made from local fruit. It’s worth the 30 extra steps, I promise.

Goodbye, Bonifacio

And the ferry took us onward to… Sardinia!