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.

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.

Firenze

First glimpse of the Duomo again after years. Exciting!

One of my favorite statues

It’s a griffin, a griffin. Griffin!

Oh Duomo, you are so tall. I accidentally marched in a Catholic midnight mass because it was right before Easter. I held a candle and we followed a priest with a stereo system on wheels, pretending to sing in Italian.

Loving mothering and a missing arm

Across the river, there was a little bar serving 5 euro homemade lasagne. At the counter, they had a basket of free sausage chunks. Also homemade. Afterwards, we found a gelateria with a long line of locals. Beautiful and quiet on that side.

These views were, after all, from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Wouldn’t be right not to have a picture of his statue.

Dante. I’m still meaning to read his Inferno…

Sunsets are better enjoyed with a nice lion

Genova

Pardon, I know these are late, but here are some pictures from my trip to Italy earlier this year. I found this merman when looking for a grocery store. When I finally found the grocery store, I bought a month’s supply of parmesan flavored Cheetos, I kid you not.

It was cold the whole time. Rainy and 4 degrees celsius. I took pictures of buildings while natives in dark colors skirted around me, looking at me like I had gone mad.

Our hotel was so posh, it even had velvet seats in the elevator. Around the corner, there was a bakery with hot chocolate croissants.

The view from the hotel window. If you were to look up, you’d see the time and temperature. Both were sad facts that first morning, waking up jet lagged at 5:17 am to the frigid darkness.

Someone tell me why the Europeans were so obsessed with lions. And how they even knew what lions looked like.

He looked so concerned I wanted to comfort him. “There there, Mr. Lion. The rain won’t ruin your pretty mane. Promise.”

Genova was built half on a mountain, making for dramatic elevation changes.

Now these people know how to live. Their rooftop isn’t large or glamorous, but notice the pool, swing and picnic table.

The city had two levels. I liked that I managed to find the bridge that was outside my hotel window.