Sicily-day one and two

And so, I already told you about the first part of our trip to Sicily. The second part, consisting of our flight from Bergamo to Palermo was with Ryanair, again, and went smoothly until the end of our flight when we witnessed the most peculiar clapping, shouting and excitement about the most normal thing a plane could do – land. This was a firm declaration about the emotions and the culture of the island’s inhabitants we were about to see every day.

Our final stop was the Palermo airport, quite small and the fist task in front of us was to find our rental car. For me, personally, you must have a car in Sicily since the local transport is a bit irregular in the most unexpected ways. I’ve heard a story about a bus with a firm schedule but just not arriving and no one knows why or if there will be another one! Apparently this phenomenon is a normal thing as the locals weren’t even worried or mad!

We had a problem finding a rental car, when I was planning the trip, because our flight back was at 6 AM, meaning that we had to return the car at around 3.30 AM meaning that no rental car office will be working. I searched and searched, but almost no company had left any information what are their policies in such cases and I had no desire to try a rent on spot, because there are thousand of pages of complaints about rental companies in Italy and especially in Sicily. At the end we chose Alamo, who had a specific rule about out of working hours returns – no problem for a certain price.

So, I made a reservation directly through their site with full insurance for seven days. The full insurance is a must , at least for me, maybe not everywhere in the world, but definitely in Sicily. First, because you may be pushed or made to do it, and second – the chance of being scratched or hit by another car is huge, the streets are really narrow and the traffic is a nightmare.

When we landed and it was time to get our car, the Alamo office was the only one without a queue! It was an enormous luck, considering that in front of all the others were at least ten people each, causing a delay and stress at the beginning of everyone’s holiday.

Everything in the process went smoothly and after no more than five minutes we had all of the documents without any additional charge for the out of hours return . Then they showed us the way to parking, where the car was. The parking is for all companies, you just have to find your own. Alamo was at the beginning and we quickly received a Fiat Panda. This turned out to be the most common car in Sicily and perfect for our needs. I strongly recommend to take a small car, otherwise you may find yourself in a situation where you can’t take a turn or pass through a narrow street.

We got in the car and started the 23 km to Mondello, which was our base for the next week. Mondello is a small village, something like a holiday retreat for the people of Palermo and is considered to have one of the best beaches in that part of the island. This was our main reason to choose it, the other was the lovely apartment with free parking we found. Here it is, more than perfect for us and I strongly recommend it.

I should point out that the highway to the airport was the best highway we found in Sicily and left us with the wrong impression the all others are the same 🙂 The views pass the road where impressive, the island has a really interesting nature and I made a million pictures, but unfortunately, most of them are no good. This one is from the airport, but it gives a slight impression.

As early as the first few kilometers on the highway you are reminded of the hard Sicilian life and it’s fight with the mafia – the memorial of the brutally murdered prosecutor Giovanni Falcone.

Few kilometers further we saw this:

I don’t know if you are aware of their story, here’s a link for the most ostentatious and horrifying murders made by the mafia, which scarced the island forever. I won’t get into details since I’m not an expert neither in history or politics, but I’ll just say that the long arm of the mafia was felt in many places…

But let’s get back to our trip. It was time for dinner and our only option was a restaurant nearby. Google said it was only 20 minutes by feet, but there was no warning that we had to go through the Sicilian version of the Dark Hedges in the dark and with huge speeding traffic.

the light from the lamps was almost invisible in dark because of the huge tree crowns

Nevertheless, we made it in one piece, despite the pedestrian crossingс which no one intended to care about (this was everywhere in the island) and managed to marvel at the beautiful villas in Mondello, which I saw better the next day in daylight.

And here’s the restaurant, which I strongly recommend – Bar Pasticceria Alba, where I found out that this trip would be a disaster for my weight and my figure. The dish is fettuccine with sword fish, eggplant and mint.

With this feast our night got to an end so that the next day and our first time on the beach may come sooner 🙂

Since we were too far to go by feet to the beach we had to find a place to park in the town. It is really important to remember one thing about parking in Sicily – the different spots are marked with lines in few colours. The blue ones are paid, the white are free and you better stay away from the yellow ones. They are either for disabled or for the locals. There are enough paid premises, you can buy tickets yourself, one hour – one euro.

They are sold in machines or tobacco shops. In special cases and crowded parkings you can find some men selling tickets, very helpful with just one thing – they take one euro for the service. Our first day parking was in such place, we bought the tickets ourselves the next day and when we came back to pick our car the man made a scandal. So, keep that in mind and be careful.

The parking was just in front of the beach, which had paid and free zones also. The paid one costs 8 euro for umbrella and a sun bed, after 2 PM – 5 euro. We used the paid zone only in the first day since the free one was just as clean but closer to the water.

As you can see, the beach is divine, this was the purest water and the finest sand I’ve ever seen! There were small fish swimming around our legs and if you stay still for a moment they start to bite you! It is very appropriate for children as it’s shallow and during the time of our holiday (the middle of September) there weren’t many people.

We swam and sunbathed for a significant amount of time but we just couldn’t stay in one place for so long… Naturally, I’ve listed so many places to visit, but decided that it’s better to go to the cathedral in the nearest town – Monreale. Here we had a full clash with the real Sicilian way of driving and we just couldn’t believe our eyes!

I think we’ve all heard about this special feature in the Italian character, but it was our first time to witness it in person. Well, everything you’ve heard is true 🙂 There are no rules, no traffic markings, supposedly so that the drivers find it easy to do what they want and where they want it! It was especially interesting to witness when a car wants to get out of a small alley – it was without any precaution, no looking around and in full speed… It was no surprise that we decided to use a bus for our trip to Palermo on the next day instead of the car…

This time we drove through a small part of Palermo to get to Monreale, a tiny town just out of the outskirts of the Sicilian capital, tucked on a hill overlooking the Palermo bay. It is best known for it’s incredible Norman cathedral, I’ll write about it in a while. You can get here by bus from Palermo and there are few nice places to eat and rest after the exhausting visit of it’s biggest attraction.

This is the view from the car park, made especially for the visitors. Here are the working hours, the price was two euro per hour. You can pay on the premises, there are few boys working there, siting in the shadows and writing down the time each car enters the park 🙂

As the parking is on a lower level than the street leading to the cathedral there is a lift with a great view. Here’s a short video:

After getting on the right level you have no more than five minutes walking to the impressive architectural masterpiece with these views along the way:

Here’s the cathedral and the cosy square in front:

One of Sicily’s top tourist attractions, the cathedral at Monreale was conceived as a political statement, as well as an artistic one. The result is the most important monument to the artistic tastes of the Normans in all of Sicily.

The entire concept of the Norman kingdom as the highest secular and religious authority is represented here in incomparable fashion. With its cycle of mosaics on a gold ground and its extraordinary cloister, the cathedral can rightly claim a place in the highest ranks of Europe’s art history.

The cathedral was built by William II after the English archbishop of Palermo sought, with the solid backing of the Pope, to assert his authority over the king by refusing to honor his father’s wishes to be buried at Cefalù, instead interring him at Palermo Cathedral. William II immediately set about building a bigger and more artistically inspired cathedral, appointing his own archbishop, and making his cathedral the royal pantheon. The results survive today almost exactly as built in the 1100s.

Although Monreale Cathedral moves away from Eastern Byzantine concepts of space with a basilica floor plan, the spirit of Byzantine culture is very much present in the superb mosaics that cover every available surface.

That the artists from Constantinople and local mosaicists were able to cover all the walls – 6,340 square meters – in the short time between 1179 and 1182 is nothing short of amazing, but that they achieved such artistic quality in the process is simply overwhelming.

To follow both the Old and New Testaments, begin in the nave on the south wall of the central aisle, at the left (east) end, with the upper row of pictures, and move clockwise. You’ll begin the story of the Creation here, continued on the shorter west wall with the creation of Eve, and on the north side, the Fall of Man, expulsion, and Cain and Noah’s orders to build the ark. Continuing on the south side, you’ll find Noah’s ark and continue through Abraham and Jacob.

Breathtaking as the mosaics are, some would argue that the artistry in the cloister is every bit as spectacular. It is the most significant remnant of the former Benedictine abbey, which was also built on William’s instruction. The 26 arches on each of the four sides open on to the luxuriant garden, and are supported by 228 double columns with double capitals.

These columns are either smooth or inlaid with colored stones, no two pairs alike, and in the corners, you’ll find four smaller columns with relief work. The detail in the stone carving of the capitals is not only exceptional, but the subjects are engaging— whimsical animals, human figures, mythical beasts, and other motifs are executed in infinite detail.

In one corner there is a fountain with ornamented columns of even more exceptional work, and in the center, water pours from a pillar with a zigzag pattern and sculptured decoration at the top.

The strongest impression presented by the exterior is on the east side, with its three apses that retain their original appearance. Overlapping false arches and its varied decorations formed by bright tuffa and black lava epitomize the liturgical dignity that’s evident inside.

The entrance façade is less impressive and relatively plain, with one of its two towers unfinished. But the two bronze portals are noteworthy. The west portal, the work of Bonanno Pisano in 1186, is the largest bronze door of its age at 7.8 meters by 3.7 meters, with 42 square panels each depicting a biblical scene. The four reliefs that make up the base show fantastic animals symbolizing man’s foolishness. The smaller north portal by Barisano da Trani, from the same era, has 28 panels depicting saints and evangelists.

At the west end of the aisle, on the south side, look carefully for the access to the steps that lead up to the cathedral roof. Although some of the passageways are narrow and cramped, so not advisable for those suffering from claustrophobia, this gives visitors the opportunity to walk along the upper walls around the church. From this vantage point and from the tower are excellent views across the cathedral, the cloister, the town, and to the city of Palermo.

If you want to visit only the cathedral, the entry is free, but if you want to see the whole complex it’s 16 euro. Another important thing is the clothing! Don’t forget – it is forbidden to enter with shorts or short skirts and bare shoulders, no matter if you are a woman or a man. Nevertheless, don’t worry if you forget about it – you can buy something like a raincoat made of fabric, just before you enter, for 1 euro. It covers you from head to toes.

In front of the cathedral is a small square called Vittorio Emanuelle and a lovely small pasticeria, where you can rest and eat a big range of pastries. Here’s a small part of them:

And the square:

There is nothing else interesting in the town so you can continue with your planed sites to visit in Sicily. In our case, they were a short break and finding a place to have dinner.

I won’t write much more, the post is long as it is, but this time we decided to go to the center of Mondello, where besides the many restaurants we were greeted by gorgeous views at dusk.

We swiftly found a place to eat, firstly because of the menu and secondly because of the many people already eating there. We never eat in empty restaurants 🙂

Here it is – Poldo 2 Mondello. I ate the most delicious risotto with sea food I’ve ever tasted, there were more sea creatures in it than rice and the amount of the dish was huge. The rest of our dinner was sword fish steak and pizza Margherita, both of them really tasty. I strongly recommend the place, we ate there a few more times.

I’ll leave you with these lovely dishes to start preparing my next diary for the day I made a special surprise for my husband, who just love the East 🙂

Stay tuned and don’t stop traveling!

Author: marinelapetrunova

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