Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sicily: Cefalu to Monreale


Bondi was almost exactly as I left him last night at embarkation, sitting in the back of the car, looking quite unpeturbed.

As we disembarked in Palermo at 7am, I immediately drove eastwards along the coast to Cefalu, 50km and just under an hour's travel time. Nothing would be open in Palermo at this time anyway, and I'd just have peak traffic to deal with, so this was a nice early morning escape.

I was surprised by the mountainous terrain around Palermo, with some snow on a few peaks. The coast road revealed new towns on each promontory through to Cefalu with its old town sitting at the end of a long beach. It was squally weather, rain and hail coming in briefly every hour or so, but we were fortunate to have clearer skies when walking through Cefalu (or "C E F aloo" as my satnav calls it).

This little courtyard has washbasins that are the only remnant of Arab buildings in Cefalu

The wave-swept walls of old Cefalu remind me of nothing so much as similar, although much more recent buildings lining Ben Buckler on the northern end of Bondi Beach. Of course, stand back, and you'll see just as much modern construction surrounding Cefalu centro storico, although the pictures in tourist publications tend to crop that out.

After a few hours and some macchiatos in the piazza, I thought we should head back towards Palermo. Following the coast side-road as long as I could, I saw a promontory with a tor rising beyond a lower populated spit. Following my nose down towards the water, I found the very picturesque seaside village of Santa Elia (a subvillage of Porticello) which looked across to that tor.

View of Palermo from carpark of hotel in Monreale.

Snowduomo. I make myself laugh. Sigh.

Monreale is a hilltop suburb of Palermo with one of Sicily's greatest historical monuments, the 800 year old Norman cathedral. It has one of the most magnificent mosaics of the entire medieval period. I'd booked a hotel about 10 minutes' walk from it, so that we could remain on foot for the rest of the day.

Noah and the flood.

Although the guides say the cathedral is open 9-6 every day, there seems to have been a recent change and it's closed for 3-4 hours in the middle of the day. No hours are posted, and in fact you wouldn't even know which of the many entrances to check for. I was not alone in walking around the building, mystified as to what was going on. Tourist and city buses were still depositing people in the Piazza Guglielmo outside, but of course at this time of day, everything other than snackbars are closed for the 3hour lunch. Found a pasticceria with some fantastic glass-fronted freezers full of their pistachio/chocolate/ricotta ice-cream cakes. Definitely raised my spirits, although Bondi just got to stand looking in the doorway, salivating.

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