Sicily's Grand Designs

Sicily's Grand Designs

It is midday and we are all squeezed onto a very full bus. I am sitting on a ledge between Youn’s legs and with Greg’s rucksack under my knees. Steve sees this as an opportune moment: “Hey, now’s the time to tell you that joke.” But the bus is so busy and so noisy that his words disappear into the chaos.

This was an adventure in a very well organised sight seeing holiday. We were on the bus from Palermo up to Monreale. Monreale Cathedral is out of this world. Built in 1172 there are structural similarities to my local Cathedral in Durham and decorative similarities to Mosques in Iran and Istanbul, but the whole effect is dazzling.

Each mosaic has been carefully placed to impress, with artistry and faith. It was worth the bus journey and the ride back was far less hassled.

Sicily is a showcase for Europe’s best architecture. Various civilisations used its fertile volcanic soil to feed their own countrymen, and they built big on the island on the proceeds.

The Valley of the Temples near Agrigento is a long parade of Greek Temples, each bigger and better than the next until one reaches the remains of the magnificent Temple of Olympian Zeus, once held up by magnificent telemanns. We saw a model of it in the nearby museum.

There is a huge Roman villa near Piazza Armerina, and lots of blingy Baroque. We visited Noto which was rebuilt in the Baroque style after an earthquake in the 18th century.

The climb up the very narrow staircase of St Chiara church was well worth it to see this whole town as it was originally planned.

But a holiday isn’t just about the sights. This was a really good holiday and I think it was because everything worked. Our leader, Brian, was efficient, helpful, knowledgeable and a great person to be with.

There were twenty of us on the holiday and we all got on together well. The group was enhanced by eight Americans, who brought their humour, wisdom, and differences in lexicon with them.

The hotels were good: the first one at Selinunte had a fabulous outdoor pool.

The food was good. On our last evening in Syracuse, which is a lovely town, we ate out in Ortygia. We were presented with a banquet of Mediterranean food. And everywhere the ice cream was to die for. Brian also arranged a lunch at a local Bistro near the Valley of the Temples.

This is a sightseeing holiday, with four hotels so lots of packing and repacking. We travelled all across the island but the coaches were comfortable and the coach drivers knew whereabouts they were going. I loved listening to the Tomtom scolding the coach driver in Italian when he missed a turning.

Brian led us capably around the sites, and also took us on a few walks. Was it him who arranged for us to be scared by two entwined black snakes that shot out of the boulders on top of a hill? Another adventure.