Sicily: Mafia, What Mafia? – Sicily, Italy

Let’s play a word game. I’ll say Sicily; you’ll probably say the word “mafia”. Our guide reassured us the mafia has been exported.

After having spent a day in Palermo, my tour of Sicily started the next day.

The tour guide said “Before you visit Greece, you must visit Sicily”. Oops, I visited Greece 21 years ago. Once you see the archaeology, you’ll feel like you are stepping on Greek soil.

Our first stop was the temple at Segesta. The walk up is magical with the view surrounding the unfinished Doric temple (entrance fee Euro 4.50) on this hot, cloudless day. Yes, this reminded me of Greece.

Don’t forget the bottled water. A shop sells water, food, souvenirs before you start the climb. You have to order at the cashier first before retrieving your purchase at the food area.

Erice: a beautiful medieval town

A medieval town of myths and history, a twist and turn 800 metres high, Erice is said to be the oldest in Sicily. At the Temple of Venus, on a clear day, you can see Tunisia. Unfortunately, the hot and hazy weather blocked our view. I relished the two hours meandering the cobbled streets and alleys admiring the baroque balconies and flowering vines before lunch. No, I don’t want to leave yet.

Cefalu is a beautiful fishing village. After a quick introduction to the Duomo, the Arab-Norman Cathedral overlooking the wide square Piazza Garibaldi, the tour guide set us free to explore. As I passed along the narrow streets, like most towns and cities, the washing hung out over balconies and of course I couldn’t resist snapping a couple of pictures. I sat at the Old Marina admiring the sea view of hills, houses, and people fishing. I could have sat there for hours. The time slipped too quickly. I had to meet the tour group soon.

Despite the heavy fog blocking our view, I still enjoyed walking among the black lava of Mt. Etna, one of the world’s largest volcanoes. Rather than shopping, I used the typical souvenir shops as a cover from the rain waiting for my bus driver to open the door.

In Messina, we stopped at noon hour for a free show at the 60m bell tower at the Duomo (cathedral) to hear the rooster crow, lion roar, Dina and Clarenza heroins of Messina take turns ringing the bell and Jesus pops out of a tomb as a quick resurrection. Of course, no video camera with me. The show lasted about five minutes.

One afternoon in Taormina, Sicily’s best known resort town, was not enough. The flowers on balconies, around cafes and restaurants brightened the gloomy, rainy day. The fog kept us from seeing the view of Mt. Etna from Teatro Greco (Euro 4.50) founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century B.C. Once a theatre for dramatic performances, the Romans turned it into a gladiator contest spectacle.

Spell it Siracusa or Syracuse this is the place to see many ancient ruins. As we stood at the Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre), my mind focused on the big, dark clouds making their way towards us as the tour guide was mumbling something about the theatre. I heard thunder. Around the theatre are several caves, one of which has a waterfall. The rain began to fall. Up came the umbrellas. We made our way to a cave called Dionysius Ear (entrance shaped like an ear) used for shelter during WWII. Our local tour guide clapped his hands and we heard the sharp echo surrounding us. However the kids found it more amusing screaming inside this cave, it was our luck we just left.

Five kilometers southwest of Piazza Armenian we visited Villa Romania de Castle to see beautiful well-preserved mosaics protected by a plastic roof and walls. The walkways lead us from one room to another. Hard to believe all this was under mud for 700 years. Someone noticed a swastika on one of the many mosaics depicting mythological beasts and hunting scenes.

Valley of the Temples is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1998 and the main reason to visit Agrigento. We saw the temples of Hera (Juno), Concordia, Hercules, Zeus.

The blue sky provided a beautiful backdrop visiting the temples. Hercules’ temple is the oldest (510 B.C.) with nine columns erected and the others scattered about. Zeus once was the largest Doric temple known, only to be ruined by an earthquake. We climbed the block of Juno (450-44 B.C.). Then there’s my favourite, Concordia with 13 columns on the each side and six on the front and back is the best preserved Greek temple outside of Greece.

Sicilian scenery

The highlight of Sicily. With the lights off in the bus, the tour guide slipped in the CD with classical music, the driver slowed the bus around the Valley of Temples at night; the temples lit in their glory. I had goose bumps watching this magnificent scenery.

The drive back from Agrigento was two hours too fast with the beauty of Sicily passing by. I was not ready to leave. I wanted to go back. Go back to Erice. Go back to Taormina. I needed another week.

Sicily had not really been my first choice to visit. But I was not disappointed by its historical architectures and beautiful scenery that entertained me during the bus ride, not to mention spectacular coastline.

I won’t forget the charming old towns walking along the cobbled narrow streets. Oh, if time could only stand still.