Palermo to Catania

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(by Alie) Although dated 2003, this is actually written retrospectively in 2012, all from memory – a tough call but here goes…

One thing I do remember, is that it being our first holiday together, I was told that Venice was “too romantic”. So we settled for Sicily – the biggest draw was Mount Etna, but also the historical sites and being a bit more off the beaten track than other Italian tourist hotspots. And what a start to the holiday we had! I had done something to my big toe a few days earlier – even if it was a sprain, it felt broken to me. The night before the flight it had swollen up and was very painful, I was in two minds to get on the plane or go to casualty, but off we went – and in hindsight I’m glad we did.

Not having done much travelling, Palermo was a culture shock – I was expecting cutsey and quaint and was met with tower blocks festooned with laundry and air conditioning units, advertising, tooting and honking and people busily going about their business in the heat of the day. To be honest with my bad toe, I couldn’t wait to leave and go somewhere quieter and prettier. It all ended in tears (literally) in the middle of a busy intersection, and from that moment of brutal mutual honesty we have never looked back! Much as I hate to admit it but, that holiday Martin also learnt that the best way to appease a grumpy wotsit is to find an ice-cream shop…

So we found taxi and sped up the hillside out of Palermo to our first cultural stop. Just glorious – Monreale Cathedral sits in the middle of Monreale, set a few miles on the hillside above the busy capital city of Palermo. The outside of the catherdral does not give much away – the building itself dating from 1174, but the inside is a glittering treasure of floor to ceiling gold mosaic work, depicting various biblical scenes in well preserved and exquisite detail. in the words of Wikipedia “The Cathedral of Monreale is one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.” Just a wonderful place to be.

Following a coffee and a rest, we headed back into Palermo and swiftly left again on a bus heading east to Catania. Apart from the arid and parched landscape that we passed, with the odd oasis of green, I don’t remember much of the journey. But by mid evening we arrived in Catania – the original and far older capital city of Sicily. Faded glory and quieter streets with a warm Mediterranean breeze were a welcome relief. Trusting and admiring Martin’s travel resourcefulness, no accommodation was booked – and at 10.30pm I would have panicked after “no rooms” was the reply once more. But I had to admire Martin’s sudden ability to speak Italian, be friendly and find us accommodation with someone’s brother in law’s hotel down the road. A long first day, full of adventure – I couldn’t wait to get my shoes off and hit the hay.