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Breathtaking! Monreal Cathedral, Sicily

06 Montreal Cathedral (5b)

Situated a few miles from the coastal city of Palermo is a beautiful mosaic-filled  cathedral in the Sicilian hill town of Monreal.  This church and the other Arab-Norman cathedrals of Palermo recently received recognition as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Monreal cathedral and its adjoining abbey are often cited as Sicily’s best examples of its unique Arab-Norman architecture.  The cathedral dates to the 12th century when Norman ruler William II (William the Good) founded a monastery here and then added the Duomo (cathedral).  William wanted this to be an important royal church and he is buried here (although none of his successors are).

Outside the Duomo is a relatively plain church, with the exception of the beautifully designed apses.   As you …

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“Pic of the Week”, December 11, 2015: Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk, Rome


My wife and I love to visit Rome!  While walking to the Pantheon from the Forum, we passed a curious and playful sculpture of an elephant and above it, an obelisk.  These were in a square very near the Pantheon, just outside a church.

After our visit, we did a little research and discovered this sculpture, named Elephant and Obelisk. was designed by the great artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, arguably the greatest sculpture since Michelangelo.  The elephant was probably executed by Bernini’s assistant, but it’s clear Bernini had a hand in its design.  The Egyptian obelisk was uncovered during nearby excavations — the ancient Romans were fond of bring obelisks back from Egypt.  The completed composite work of art was unveiled in …

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Cappella Palatina, Palermo

02 Palermo’s Cappella Palantina

I’ve visited dozens of wonderful churches in my life, some vaste and grand like St. Peter’s in Rome, or Westminister Abbey in London, others smaller and with a more intimate feel.  As a rule, I’m partially to smaller chapels and churches, and there are two at the top of my list of favorites.  The most beautiful church I’ve ever been in, and because of the nature of it also the most beautiful painting of the Renaissance, is the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.  Seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time actually made me gasp in awe — a travel first for me!  But another smaller church that caught my eye and amazed me with its beauty is the Palatine …

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An Introductory Perspective of Sicily

01 Palermo

Travel guru Rick Steves likes to say (and I’m paraphrasing) that Italy either gets better or worse as you head south from Rome, depending on what you like.  If you like a quieter people, trains running almost on time, etc. head north towards Milan.  If you enjoy a lively chaotic experience, perhaps a little rough around the edges, then head to the bottom of the boot.  Sicily, the three cornered island just a few miles from the mainland is about as far south as you can go.  It’s part of Italy, but really has its own unique history and heritage.

I’d wanted to go to Sicily to meet its people, enjoy its food, and experience its antiquities and heritage.  I knew …

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A Day in Fiumicino, Italy

22 FCO February 2015.  Tiber River

Many people travel through the small city of Fiumicino, but few people stop to visit.  Rome’s main airport, Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino (FCO) is situated a few kilometers from downtown Fiumicino.  It’s about a half hour cab ride to historic Rome and about a half hour on the Leonardo Express train from FCO to Rome’s main terminal.

Fiumicino offers a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the big city life you’ll find in Rome or Milan.  A small fishing village built on one of the branches of the Tiber River as it flows into the sea, fishing is still an important part of it’s economy.

We enjoyed watching the fishing boats return to harbor from the Tyrrhenian Sea, followed …

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Mercato di Ballaro, Palermo, Sicily

05 Palermo Mercato di Ballaro

There are four big street markets in Palermo, one in each of the 4 historic quarters of the city.  We had chance to visit two of these during our visit to Sicily and the Mercato di Ballaro was the one we liked most.

While I’d read about the market in my trip preparation, we stumbled on it by accident as we were heading back to our hotel from a visit to the Capella Palatina.  The market winds down a small street for a number of blocks, with wall-to-wall vendors on both sides of the road.  The market caters to the workers and families who live in the area; while it runs all day, it’s busiest in the morning, slows …

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“Pic of the Week”, April 17, 2015: Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome


During a recent (and all too short) visit to Rome, my wife and I spent a day strolling the Baroque section of town.  Just as the sun was setting, we found ourselves along the historic and beautiful Tiber River.  In the distance, silhouetted by the setting sun, was the dome of St. Peter’s basilica  Near us was Castel Sant’Angelo.

Castel Sant’Angelo is a castle-like building that houses the remains of Emperor Hadrian, he of Hadrian’s Wall fame (which still stands in Britain).   Castel Sant’Angelo was built around 140 AD and over the years has served as a place of refuge and a military fortress.  Baroque statues of angels holding elements of the Passion of Christ line its approach.  It …

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“Pic of the Week”, January 17, 2014. The “back streets” of Venice, Italy

2014 002 Jan 10a

As much as possible I like to take some time on my travels to explore the less-touristed regions of the popular cities I visit.  In some cities you need to be very aware of your own personal safety when leaving major areas, so be cautious in doing so.  In other cities, like Venice, it’s very easy to explore on your own.  Being an island, you can wander at will and even if you’re lost, it won’t take you but a few minutes to get somewhere that will be familiar to you.

While we think of Venice as an island, it really is an amalgamation of hundreds of smaller islands into a larger island community, with lots of canals and bridges connecting …

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