After living in Serbia for 8 months, my husband Dragan, our 11 year old son Aleks and I spent some time in Sicily. With great food, beautiful beaches, hot but not scorching weather and surprising history, Sicily is an intriguing destination. And not forgetting Mount Etna of course!
Palermo’s old city centre is packed with historical buildings reflecting the myriad occupiers of this strategically placed island in the central Mediterranean. The rich interiors of the churches display the hotch potch of styles, Norman, Byzantine, Arabic and European all muddled up together. I particularly liked the inlaid rose-coloured, black and white volcanic stone decoration and the Byzantine paintings in the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio.
Teatro Massimo  in central Palermo, one of the biggest opera houses in Europe, was the location for the final shocking scene of Copolla’s film, ‘The Godfather III’. There are various film locations around Sicily for the Godfather films and in Taormina you can take a ‘Godfather Tour!’ The interior of Teatro Massimo is spectacular and guided tours are available.
Just near the theatre, in one of the side streets, we discovered an eclectic mix of street entertainers and busking musicians.
The Palace & Cathedral
We also visited the Norman Palace  and the Cathedral, both stunning but exhausting in the heat. It is possible to visit the roof of the Cathedral at night and there is also a fascinating solar clock that lights up a meridian on the floor of the cathedral at a certain time of the day. After all that culture, we felt we deserved a Granita, a Sicilian sorbet-type dessert to cool off.
Aleks and I took the Hop-on Hop-off Bus to the Botanical Gardens, which is owned by the University. It has a huge collection of plants and is refreshingly wild and unkempt. We loved the Mimosa, commonly known as the ‘Sensitive Plant’, because it folds up its leaves when it is touched and the big, jungly ‘Strangler Fig’ (below). Insect repellent would have been a good idea here!
Spotting parakeets and cats in the Botanical Gardens
Dragan was busy at his conference in Palermo, so Aleks and I jumped on the bus to the beautiful seaside town of Mondello for the day. Once a small fishing village, it is now a thriving resort with a sandy beach and warm clear water. Aleks loved the sea and the sand.
We had a lift partway to Taormina, a medieval hillside town, which is a good stopping off point for trips to Sicily’s active volcano, Mount Etna. A favourite of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, Taormina has a gorgeous pedestrianised centre with boutiques, ceramic shops and restaurants. I enjoyed the car journey along the coast-road from Palermo. The building of the road was an expensive project, as the road has many tunnels and flyovers traversing dry rocky river-beds. Sicily often has flash floods in the winter and I could see debris scattered across the channels possibly from previous floods.
The Ancient Theatre
I was determined not to miss the ancient theatre (see above), which has Mount Etna as its backdrop and I wasn’t disappointed. Performances are held here during the summer and the set was being prepared as I looked around.
Sicily is great for pizza, (‘the best ever’ according to Aleks) and risotto (‘the best ever’, according to me) The pasta is wonderful too, but I was a bit surprised by the interesting mix of raisins and sardines in a Sicilian/Arabic dish called, ‘Pasta con le Sarde’. The seafood ain’t bad neither, it’s delizioso!
Specialities to try are Arancini,  deep fried rice balls with savoury fillings and Cannoli, ‘tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta’ . Oh and the ice-cream, I would recommend Gelateria Brioscia on Via M. Stabile, Palermo.
Next stop Minnesota and Canada! New blog posts coming soon.