Royalty, Cathedrals, Granite, Mosaics, Wine, Olive Oil, Ancient Ruins, Food and Volcanoes in Sicily

Denise and I visited Sicily with Tauck World Discovery and following is our memories, thoughts, experiences, and facts we learned while touring wonderful Sicily:
  • Seeing that Palermo had a little flavor of Italy and lots of flavor of Sicily.
  • Getting a special private tour by Marcello Arici, one of the owners of Planeta vineyard and olive oil plantations that sloped to the sea and the Planeta olive oil factory in Menfa, Sicily.
  • Learning that the 2,000 landowners in Sicily in the 1700’s were mainly nobles and many of these families still own the land and vineyards, costing much to maintain today causing families to share  their properties with others and tourists for income.
  • Having an incredible lunch with the Baron Pietro di Beneventano in his palace on the main square in Siracusa.  Priceless.
  • Learning that an olive oil factory and a winery have similar characteristics, making them compatible for growing and operating, like smashing of the grapes and olives, harvesting seasons close to each other, storage of the oil/wine in huge steel tanks, and bottling.
  • Learning that the Greeks, Italians, French, Germans, Spanish and Arabs once occupied Sicily.
  • Staying at the opulent Grand Hotel Wagner in Palermo.
  • Learning the palace of Princess Stefania di Raffsdali, hidden behind huge closed doors in a neighborhood in Palermo, Italy, dates to the 13th century with most building occurring in the16th and 17th century. 
  • Being served my lunch by Baron Pietro di Beneventano himself in Siracusa. Priceless.
  • Learning that Planeta only makes extra virgin olive oil.
  • Seeing the hillside village of Ragusa with houses side by side and on top of each other up the hill.

 Having Dinner with a Princess in Sicily,

Part 2

 Learning that Sicily is located right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and therefore, in a very strategic location.
    • Learning that the Planeta olive oil trees can live and produce olives up to 250 years.
    • Learning that the index finger touching the cheek and rotating back and forth fast means “the food is good here” in Sicily
    • Seeing the baroque buildings in Noto, the famous Sicilian city for baroque.
    • Learning that the Baron Pietro  de Beneventano has been on many African safaris after entering his game room and bar and seeing the many animals he had killed mounted on the walls.
    • Seeing how chocolate is made naturally in Modica, Sicily from cocoa seeds from West Africa and having to wear gauze-like see-through gown and cap to watch that delicious chocolate being made.                                                             
    • Learning that almond trees bloom in January and February with beautiful white flowers causing the valley in Agrigento to be all covered in a sea of white.
    • Seeing olive tree after olive tree and grape vine after grape vine in Sicily.
    • Seeing cactus in Sicily
    •  Learning that the vineyards at Planeta total 250 hectares or 864 acres, and olive trees occupy 120 hectares or 296.526 acres.
    • Learning that the reason Noto has so many baroque buildings was due to an earthquake in 1693 that allowed there building to be baroque architecture that was in vogue then in France and Italy. 
    • Having a mandorla and vaniglia (that’s almond and vanilla in Italian) gelato in Noto, Sicily.
    • Watching Marie Grammatico in her pasteria shop in Erica, Sicily decorate her delicious cookies which she had been doing since 21 years old when she was allowed to leave the Convent she was put in by her parents because of poverty.

Learning about Olive Oil and Wineries in

Sicily, Part 3

 Learning from the Baron Pietro di Beneventano that Siracusa was the most inhabited city in the world at a certain time in history while touring his Palace and historical museum. 

  • Being served a salad with 30 cherry tomatoes without lettuce in Siracusa, all delicious and grown in Sicily.
  • Learning that the same Planeta family has owned the 1161 acres of vineyards and trees for centuries and that the original house was built in the 16th century in Sicily.
  • Learning that the reason Antica Dolceria Bonajuto Chocolatier obtains cocoa beans from West Africa near Gabon because they take better care of the chocolate seeds. 
  • Being allowed to photograph our visit of the Baron Pietro di Beneventano’s private palace full of engravings that look like paintings, antiques and animals from Africa.  
  • Learning that Planeta produces 100, 000 liters of olive oil per year. 
  • Sitting next to Marquese Otto di Raffadali, second son of Princess Stefania di Raffadali, at the formal dinner in her palace and learning about his life growing up in the palace. 
  • Learning that the total family members of Planeta total 60 members.
  • Learning that Maria Grammatico learned to decorate cookies and pastries from secretly watching nuns in a convent where she and her sister had been sent because their parents were too poor to provide for them. 
  • Learning that a chocolate fruit contains approximately 40 large one-inch seeds with a gel-like substance around each one. 
  • Learning that there are 3 different types of olive oil. 
  • Having the Mediterranean Sea next to our room in Sciacca, Sicily.
  • Seeing that Planeta has won several awards for its outstanding olive oil.
  • Learning that chocolate bars can have 100% pure chocolate and has a grainy texture to it because it is pure chocolate and natural.

Having Lunch with The Baron in His Palace in Siracusa, Part 4

 Seeing the 21 huge steel tanks that store Planeta’s olive oil at a cool temperature until it is needed.

  • Learning that chocolate seeds are removed by hand from its fruit in West Africa, then fermented and roasted before shipping to Antica Dolceria Bonajunto Chocolatier.
  • Seeing the depressing, gruesome death photos of the results of the mafia in the Anti-Mafia Museum in Corleone, Sicily.
  • Learning that Modica, Sicily, is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wealth of Sicilian Baroque architecture
  • Seeing the bottling machine that can bottle 1,000 bottles of olive oil per hour.
  • Seeing the beautiful and perfectly straight dry-stacked white limestone fences in Ragusa, Italy, that was built by master brick layers over generations.
  • Learning that villages built on hills were for their defense and fortification against enemies.
  • Seeing 6 huge steel tanks that can hold 16,700 liters of olive oil each.
  • Learning that the Ragusa-Modica area is mainly an agricultural area that produces most of Sicily’s delicious, home-grown food.
  • Visiting the Anti-Mafia Museum in Corleone, Sicily.
  • Learning the ceiling and wall in the Cathedral in Noto, Sicily, collapsed in 1996 due to an earthquake in 1990 and now, after 11 years of restoration, is back in operation.
  • Learning that only the juice of the olive is used in the extra virgin olive oil and that it is not mixed or blended with any other olives except its own.
  • Learning that the Cathedral of Monreale has a pipe organ with 10, 400 pipes. Priceless.

 Visiting Planeta’s Vineyards and  Olive Oil Processing Plant in Sicily,

 Part 5

 Getting on the coach at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento only to recognize no one and to see that the steps into the bus were filthy, causing me to realize I was on the wrong coach because Tauck World Discovery’s coach steps are always clean and in top shape.
  • Learning that Antica Dolceria Bonajuto Chocolatier is the oldest in Sicily and that it is family owned.
  • Learning that Planeta has 5 winery plants and one olive oil plant.
  • Learning that the families of Planeta and di Raffadali are friends.
  • Learning that the people came to the Cathedral of Monreale to learn the New Testament by seeing it in the mosaics.
  • Visiting the 16th Century 360 degrees round Pretoria Fountain, once called the “fountain of shame” because of its many nude statues.
  • Seeing the gold, silver, green, blue, and red mosaics in the Cathedral of Monreale.
  • Learning to flush the toilet and turn on water in a sink by pushing a pedal on the floor.
  • Learning that the time for harvest of grapes is August to November and October to December for olives.
  • Learning that the mosaics in the Cathedral of Monreale were laid out in the workroom then put on the walls in the Cathedral in perfect order.
  • Visiting the ancient Greek Theatre in Taormina and seeing Mt. Etna from our seats with a column of smoke rising from it.
  • Having an absolutely fabulous dinner and tour of the palace of Princess Stefania di Raffadali in Palermo, Sicily

 Seeing the Magnificent Cathedrals

 in Sicily, Part 6

 Seeing the absolutely fabulous 7,000square meters of mosaics in the Cathedral of Monreale and then the Cloisters that tell the story of the new and Old Testament. Priceless.

  • Seeing wild yellow chrysanthemums, red clover, and mauve wild fennel growing on the side of the road all along the tour route for 10 days.
  • Learning the problem with the mosaics in the Church of Monreale is keeping them clean and dust free.
  • Getting to watch the wedding reception of a young couple just married in Taormina at a restaurant on the main street. Enjoyable.
  • Learning that Sicily had 400 sulfur mines in the area of Agrigento. But having no industry, the sulfur was just sold to Britain and France for refining and production of sulfur-related products.
  • Learning that olive oil is kept cool at 27 centigrade because it is delicate and at 16 centigrade when it is in storage at the factor
  • Learning that Sicily has 10 million visitors each year.
  • Eating a fabulous dinner with the 5 members of the family of Princess Stefania di Raffadali in her palace.
  • Learning that Planeta’s separating machine separates the olive paste and the olive oil.
  • Learning that in Sicily, school and English begins at age 3 for the children.
  • Seeing the beautiful green, perfect fields and crops all over Sicily.
  • Having a surprise treat in Taormina of granite (gra-knee-tee) which is flavored shaved ice with ripe fruits or flavorings blended in. Delicious.
  • Eating absolutely fabulous and delicious salads with olive oil everyday made of the home grown vegetables of Sicily.

 Eating a Granité in Taormina,

Part 7

 Eating absolutely fabulous and delicious salads with olive oil vinagrette everyday made of the home grown vegetables of Sicily.

  •  Learning that the olives are hand-picked and processed in the factory within 6 hours of picking.
  •  Seeing how Sicilians are good drivers and very courteous to each other.
  •  Learning that special wheat is grown in Sicily especially for the pasta.
  •  Experiencing hairpin turns going up and down the mountain to Erice, Sicily.
  •  Learning how to speak enough Italian to get the waiters to understand what we wanted to eat. Priceless.
  •  Learning that the Temple of Segesta is in honor of Venus.
  • Learning that the trinacria, a face with 3 legs coming from it, is the symbol of Sicily that is in the shape of a triangle.
  • Seeing how craftsmen make beautiful ceramics and decorate them at Caltagirone’s Maiolica Ceramics shop. 
  • Walking among the Valley of the Temple sin Agrigento and seeing the ancient relics: the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Juno, the Temple of Hercules and the Temple of Zeus. 
  • Learning that the Italian island of Sicily receives funds from Rome for education and health care.
  • Seeing graffiti everywhere in Sicily.
  • Learning that the Italian island of Sicily receives funds from Rome for education and health care.  

 Seeing the Trinacria, the Symbol of Sicily,

Part 8

  •  Eating outstandingly delicious meals with wine, with all components of the meal grown in Sicily.
  •  Learning that 5,500,000 million people live in Sicily and most of them live on the southern part of the island.
  •  Learning that school children in Sicily are given homework on the weekend only.
  •  Learning that school is compulsory through the 8th grade only.
  • Watching the 6 waiters in tux and white gloves serving us at the formal dinner given by Princess Stefania di Raffadali in her palace in Palermo.
  • Visiting with Baron Pietro di Beneventano about his many visits to Africa for safaris and learning his favorite safari is in Botswana.
  • Drinking the wine from the private vineyards of the Baron and the Princess. Delicious.
  • Seeing the outstanding Sanctuary of  the Madonna of Tears in Siracusa. One of a kind.
  • Touring Mt.Etna near Taormina and seeing the lava flows from previous destructive eruptions and seeing a steady stream of steam coming from one of the 4 active craters that smoke all the time.
  • Having unexpected treats provided by Tauck World Discovery as we travelled around Sicily. FUN.
  • Having an excellent coach driver and new coach taking us on our tour of Sicily. Incredible.
  • Enjoying the excellent fresh foods in various restaurants and hotels.
  • Having an A+ outstanding tour director, Birgit Unsslin, a dedicated longtime Tauck TD, who provided for our every need so that the first tour of Sicily for Tauck was perfect.

 Enjoying Unexpected Sicilian Treats as we Toured the Island, Part 9 

 Seeing the handmade ceramics and pottery in hilltown of Caltagirone.
  • Learning that the island of Ortygia connecting to Siracusa used to be much bigger than it is today.
  • Attending the Pupi Puppet Theatre performance in Siracusa that was like a soap opera containing chivalry and knights who fought for Charlemagne in the 8th Century.
  • Learning that Sicilan land is very fertile, explaining why agriculture is one of the main industries.
  • Sampling wine thoughout the tour. Of, it was so good.
  • Meeting the family that owns the marionette puppet show and learning that one of the owners makes the 3-foot tall puppets by hand and each one takes 1 month to make from scratch.
  • Eating almond pistacio gelato in Nicolosi at the base of Mt. Etna. Delicioso.
  • Learning that the Pupi Marionette Puppet Show has 20 different plays.
  • Learning that Mt.Etna has been active for 500,000 years, is the highest mountain south of the Alps, and that Etna is sitting on a hot spot where 2 plates meet causing the instability.
  • Experiencing the Ear of Dionysius Cave in the Greek and Roman Ampitheatre complex of the Archeological Park in Sirscusa and its great acoustical qualities of the choir singing as we entered.
  • Seeing the marionette puppet show owner-actors wearing wooded soles on their shoes to make noise like walking as the puppets walk.Learning that the 5 puppet owners-actors perform the puppet show live every day in Italian and that the audio is not a tape recording.
  •  Purchasing souvenirs made of lava from Mt. Etna.
  • Seeing a Puppet Show on the Island of Ortygia,
  • Part 10
 Learning that the Pupi Puppet Show was opened in 1991 by one of the brother owners but the marionette puppet show had been in business for 35 years.
  • Staying at the San Domenico Palace Hotel in Taormina, a converted Dominican Monastary where friars lived in the hotel rooms and then it was a convent for women. Fabulous.
  • Getting to experience the fabulous little Ortygia island part of Siracusa and its restaurants, gelato shops, coffee shops, churches, main square and shopping.
  • Learning that the Pupi Marionette Puppet Show has 100 new puppets and 65 antique puppets.
  • Seeing a house almost buried in the lava flow of Mt. Etna. Only the roof remained visible.
  • Seeing other buildings where the Mt. Etna lava came up to the back door and then stopped.
  • Touring the Teatro Greco-Greek Theater-in Taormina, built in the third century B.C. by the Greeks and remodeled by the Romans.
  • Touring the Mungo Winery where hot days and cool nights make for fabulous grapes and 200,000 bottles of wine per year, with 60% being shipped.
  • Learning that ETNA is a Greek word for “to burn.”
  • Many of the women on the tour buying triangular-shaped scarves with crocheted fringe on them.
  • Getting to watch and enjoy one of the many daily weddings in Taormina and experiencing one reception at a local restaurant.
  • Learning in the Greek threatre, men played women and had to dress and change their voise to be like a women.
  • Learning that a typical summer breakfast in sicily among the locales is granité (gra-knee-tee) flavored ice shavings of all kinds, brioche and cream. Delicioso.

Learning that Taomina now is considered a summer resort, but it used to be a winter resort where visitors came to escape the cold climates.

  • Seeing fruit trees with colorful fruit hanging all over them as we toured Sicily.
  •  Seeing a Stream of Smoke Coming

  • From Mt. Etna, Part 11 

  •  Learning why the Greeks built theatres while sitting in an ancient Greek theatre was to honor Dionysis, goddess of theatre. The 4-day celebration for religious reasons was held in the winter when no one worked much, so different regions came to compete against each other with plays.
  • Learning that in Sicily, making the prayer gesture and shaking it back and forth, mean “mamma mia, how could people do this.”

  • Learning that most people in Sicily own their homes.
  • Learning that Sicily was used by the Allied Forces in World War II.
  • Visiting the Principe di Corleone Winery, sampling their wines and then having lunch with their wine. Delicioso.
  • Learning that cedar was used a lot in making tombs and in buildings to prevent destruction by termites.

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