Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Monreale and Erice

View from Erice

Tuesday we left Palermo and headed towards Erice with a stop in Monreale. The day would bring some wonderful surprises.

As we came into the town of Monreale, the congested little streets became even more difficult to navigate because, of all things, a marching band! There were other signs that this was a feast day of some sort. As we hunted for a spot to park, we saw some women walking away from the center of town holding candles and decorative grids of little electric lights arching over several streets. We had apparently arrived in Monreale on the Feast of the Holy Crucifix. We had another opportunity to see the band perform, though we missed the procession that would occur later that evening. It was fun, though, to experience a little of the excitement associated with the day.

Monreale Cathedral - interior

The reason we had come to Monreale was to visit its cathedral with its amazing mosaics and beautiful cloister. The interior of the cathedral is absolutely gorgeous. It is very much like the Cappella Palatina in Palermo but on a much grander scale. There are intricate mosaics on just about everything but the ceiling and the seats. The painted wood beamed ceiling is equally beautiful.

Monreale Cathedral - cloister

The cloister is a pleasant escape from the crowds inside the cathedral and beautiful in its own right. The paired columns are each topped with elaborately carved capitals depicting bible stories and other scenes. You could easily spend an hour just taking these in.

Monreale - Tuna

After leaving the cathedral we did a little shopping and then strolled among the stalls that lined the piazza. We came upon a seafood vendor that stood in startling contrast to the neighboring stalls selling refreshments and souvenirs. On their table were displayed a large octopus and parts of a very large tuna. We three landlubbers watched, fascinated, as they hacked away at the tuna.

Lunchtime was approaching and we had a full afternoon planned, so we made our way to our hotel in Valderice, checked in, and then piled back in the car. We zigged and zagged up the mountain to the medieval walled town of Erice. Erice is definitely a tourist destination and is accordingly well supplied with many interesting shops.

Erice - Marzipan

Erice is renowned for its pastries, and one of the shops that I was interested to see was Pasticceria Grammatico. I had read about its owner, Maria Grammatico, in the book she coauthored with Mary Taylor Simeti called Bitter Almonds. The pasticceria did not disappoint. The array of almond pastries and marzipan was stunning. It was hard to pick just a few to try.

Erice is also know for its ceramics and colorful rugs. Bob and Chuck were interested in purchasing at least one rug, so we had been keeping an eye out for them at the various shops we stopped in. We finally came upon Pina Parisi's shop. Her son, who apparently mans the shop while she works in back on the loom, was very helpful and spent quite a bit of time showing us numerous rugs. Pina had heard us laughing and talking (her son speaks English quite well) and emerged from her workshop to greet us. With her son translating, she proudly showed us a scrapbook of articles written about her and her rugs. She also took us back to her workroom and showed us her loom. When we left there were kisses all around!

Erice - Pina Parisi

As evening approached, we enjoyed a glass of wine at a small bar near the town wall. There are spectacular views all around Erice (and that is reason enough to visit this beautiful little town), but the view from here was particularly interesting. We could see the salt flats of Trapani which we would be visiting the next day.

View from Erice - Trapani salt flats

Next time - Segesta, Trapani and Selinunte


Zarah Maria said...

Cathy I love your stories about your trip! I've just been to Palermo - and Monreale and Erice too! - just through your descriptions! But thanks, I'll pass on the spleen-sandwich - you brave woman!

Cathy said...

Hi Zarah! You had me going there for a second as I read the email copy of your comment. I was thinking, gee - I didn't know Zarah had been to Sicily! Thanks, I'm really glad you're enjoying my little travelogue.