Sicily with Sarah Murdoch | Rick Steves Travel Talks

Sicily with Sarah Murdoch | Rick Steves Travel Talks

[music] [applause] Sarah Murdoch: Hello everybody.
My name is Sarah Murdoch. I work for Rick Steves. I’ve been working here
since the year 2000. I am a co-author on the
Rick Steves Sicily guidebook as well as a tour
guide all over Europe. Today I’m going to be talking
about one of my favorite topics which is the
beautiful island of Sicily. Let’s go ahead and get
started and check out what we have to
know about Sicily. First of all, a couple of
things about Rick Steves, check out our website for
more information about all of the topics here, our tours
and also just information about travels in Europe
and Sicily as well. We have a wonderful
team of tour guides who will take you all over Europe. This is my extended
family, 150 of us and we really enjoy showing
you around Europe. So coming on a tour is an awful
lot of fun, and we don’t have any fun actually at all
you can tell from the picture. This is an actual real group, I
didn’t pay them to look that fun. We have a great time, so I
hope you can join us on one of our tours of Sicily or Italy
or somewhere else in Europe. That’s our tour catalog
and that’s got all of our great destinations in it. Let’s go ahead and jump into Sicily. Today what we’re going to
talk about is the island of Sicily and we have so many
wonderful things to see. This is something directly from
our guidebook and we’re going to cover the most important
topics and cities of Sicily. We’re going to start
here at Palermo. We’re going to take a quick visit to
Monreale which is a cathedral nearby. Then we’re going to head out
to the western tip of Sicily, visit Trapani, Mozia and Erice
which are on this western tip. Then head down to Agrigento
the Valley of the Temples. Into the center and in
Central Sicily, we’re going to visit the Villa
Romana del Casale. Then down into Southeastern
Sicily which is a great place to just sort of relax and see the
countryside and we’ll see Ragusa. Then to Syracuse which is the Greek
capital of Sicily from the past. Catania which is the second
largest city in Sicily. Mount Etna and Taormina
which is one of the most beautiful I think
places in all of the world, and then we’ll
finish off in Cefalù which is a fun little typical
Sicilian beach town. Let’s go ahead and jump into things. Sicily is a really
complicated place. It is the largest islands
in the Mediterranean and it’s also the largest
province of Italy. But the thing is it
has its own identity. It’s not the same as Italy and
in fact, the people if you looked at their DNA it’s not
the same DNA as Italians. When you go and you see
a Sicilian person, they’re not going to look
anything like somebody from Rome for example,
because they’re people who are Greek,
Arab, French, Spanish. They are a mixture of
all of the different types of blood that
landed on the island. There has been 18 different
dominations of other foreign cultures on
the island of Sicily. They have a completely
different cultural identity. They have their own
dialect and they’re actually an autonomous
region within Italy. They have their own
parliament as well. This incredibly unique
identity that they have is encapsulated in this image
because this is their symbol. They have their own flag. Did you know they
have their own flag? It’s a crazy thing, they have the
Italian flag, but Italians, in general, have an
interesting thing where they if you say where are you from? They will say, “Oh, I’m Roman.” “Okay, that’s the city you’re
from but where are you from?” “Oh, I’m from Lazio.” “Well, that’s a region,
where are you from?” “Oh, I’m Italian.” Italian is always last because
Italian is sort of a new concept. They’ve only been a country
for a little over 150 years. In Sicily, that kind of idea is
even more important because of the fact that they identify themselves
almost as a different culture. This is a symbol that comes
from quite ancient Sicily. This is something that we
almost don’t know the origins of and you see it on their
flag, that’s their flag. What you see here is
you’ve got two colors, you’ve got yellow,
you’ve got red, and those are colors that
we have a lot of different reasons of where
they may come from. It might come from Spanish colors,
it also may represent sun. There’s a lot of different ideas, but
in the center is always the same symbol, the Gorgon
head with the three legs, they call it the Trinacria. That symbol is important
because it’s a symbol that you see in a lot
of ancient cultures. The three legs possibly
represent the shape of the island because it’s shaped a
little bit like a triangle. The Gorgon in the middle is
a medusa and some people say that she is the
embodiment of Mount Etna. Etna, you’re going to
see a sort of our mama. We think of her as mama
Etna and she makes the fields fertile and
there’s a lot of Greek mythology that goes into
Sicily because they were so closely connected
with the Greeks. That’s what we think
this symbol means. I’ve seen about I don’t
know 500 different interpretations, but
that’s a good one. In Sicily, you’ll find
that everybody’s got their own story their own way
of thinking about things. That’s the symbol of the island. Palermo is our first city that
we’re going to talk about. I absolutely love Palermo
because it’s a city that might be a little hard to love
at first glance, but once you start to see it with more
of a period eye, you can start to understand the beauty
of this beautiful city. Let’s have a look at the map here. In the map here we’ve
got the main drag here Via Roma, we have Via
Maqueda with Teatro Massimo, we have the
water over here and then at the very end
is the Palazzo Reale. That was the palace
of the Norman Kings. This is the main axis
that you want to hang around in your
visit to Palermo. There are wonderful markets. This is Ballaro over here. Over here is the Capo market and
these are the places that you go and see the vegetable sellers that
sing when they try to sell things. It’s sort of like being in a
market in Morocco or something. They kind of chatter and they sing,
and they make it very interesting. As far as museums go,
they have museums, but I would say museums are
maybe not the highlight. I would say the churches are very
interesting, the theater is very interesting, but also just the vibe
of the city, the life of the city. Something to know about Palermo you
may not know, it was one of the most important cities in all of
Europe back in the 19th century. It was as interesting and
powerful and romantic as Paris. Did you know that Wagner
actually lived there for a while and composed some of
his operas in Palermo? It’s because this theater here,
Teatro Massimo, I’ll show you in a second, is one of the largest
theaters in all of Europe. In the 19th century, this was
an elegant, gorgeous city. These days it’s a modern port city. Part of the problem with
Palermo was in World War II it got bombed
almost completely flat. The Americans came through trying to
get rid of the Germans and it really did a lot of damage and the city
was never properly reconstructed. We have tons of these ugly
high rises and things like that encroaching on the
beautiful historical center. But, in these days, Palermo
is really regenerating itself and going back to this
elegant feeling of the past. This is Piazza Pretoria but
it has a very funny name. They call it the area with
the fountain of shame. Do you think that’s a
shameful fountain? What’s shameful about that fountain? It’s naked people. Okay, fine. The renaissance had lots of naked people but the problem
with these naked people is that this fountain was
put right in front of this church. Guess what was inside that
church, cloistered nuns. The only view that those
nuns had from their quarters was of a fountain
with naked people. These poor nuns got so put out
about having this fountain with all these naked people
put in front of their convent that they often went out and
tried to solve the problem by sewing clothes for the
figures and putting them on. There’s even an urban
legend that an industrious nun came out in the
middle of the night with a hammer and
chisel to try and rid them of the male parts
that were offensive. I don’t know that that’s true but that’s a wonderful
little urban legend. It’s a huge fountain though and it
makes almost no sense because it just takes up the entire piazza basically
and it was imported from Tuscany. It’s because in the 1500s
there was a governor that came down who
was from Tuscany and he brought his fountain
with him and just plopped it right in the
middle of the piazza. So this is the thing that’s
fascinating about Sicily is it has such a strange
history and everything’s kind of woven together, but
there’s always a great story to basically everything
you see in Sicily. The other thing about Palermo
as far as this idea of you’ll never know what you’re going to
find, this is their cathedral. Now when you look at their
cathedral I just want to warn you I’m an architect and I love
to talk about architecture. But architecture, in my
opinion, will show you a lot about a culture and
the history of a place. What I find interesting
about this one is it’s almost a crazy
style of architecture. It’s a mix, do you see
the Arab influences? Can you see that? You can see the middle
eastern influence. This almost looks like
something that could be a Roman ruin or something
from Tunisia, for example. That’s because this island of
Sicily was invaded by the Arabs in the 9th century and they stayed
for a long time and they brought a lot of really interesting
things with them, architectural styles, they brought sugar, they
brought almonds and oranges. They added a lot of
interesting things to the island, but they really
affected the architecture. From this perspective you
can look at this and say, okay, there’s the Arab
influence, there’s the norman influence where
it looks like a castle, then there’s the baroque
influence on the top. That’s just sort of
plopped on the top. I like to think of
it as a crazy quilt. You ever have one of those quilts
with all the colors, that’s the way I look at Palermo is
its sort of a crazy quilt. It’s a little bit of all these
different cultures, but it’s very different than what you would
see, first, let’s say, in Rome. You would never find a
church like this in Rome because of the
influence of the cultures. As I was mentioning, this was a
cultural capital in the 19th century. This is Teatro Massimo. You might recognize it
from The Godfather. Have you seen The Godfather? I think you’ve seen The Godfather. The very last one of the big scenes at the end is where
the daughter is murdered on the steps of the opera, and that’s the
theater where she was murdered. Above that though, this was one of
the largest theatres ever built in Europe, and this is where a lot of
incredible operas were performed. That tells you something about how
important the city was at the time the opera was the main
cultural function of the elite. In the 19th century, this was a
real magnet for the cultural elite. There’s also a bit of
historic culture as well, foot culture in Palermo
that you can still find. People still paint carts
in the traditional way. You’ll see carts with
horses going down the streets in the
center of Palermo. In fact, they recently banned motor
traffic from the main streets Via Maqueda and part of Via Vittorio
Emanuele and they’ve put some of these little horse carts that
are going around– the traditional ones– and you can kind of have a
taste of the old world that way. The markets in Palermo
I think are really fun because they show you something different about the local lifestyle,
and people really do shop here. They really do go every day and
they buy all of their different things for their meals, but the
markets in Palermo and in Sicily, in general, are better than any markets
you’ve seen in Italy or probably even comparable to France, which I
think has some of the best markets. These markets go on and
on but the produce is incredible, it’s so inexpensive
and it’s abundant. That’s because Sicily has
this wonderful volcanic soil. You can grow anything in
Sicilian volcanic soil. They have beautiful
tomatoes and peppers, artichokes like you’ve never seen. The artichokes can be this big. Really, as big as
almost a bowling ball. These are broccoli, they’re
kind of a green cauliflower and these, in reality,
are about this big. I’ve never seen one
that size in a grocery store in the United States for sure. And it’s so inexpensive, you
can buy anything you want. So if you go to Palermo or
anywhere in Sicily, getting an apartment with a kitchen would be
a lot of fun if you’re a cook. You can go out and buy
lots of ingredients. If you like fish, in
particular, the island is very famous for
their fish, and at the markets, you can get
anything and there’s lots of things you’ve
never even seen before. There’s lots of tentacles
and scales and all kinds of weird fishy things that you
didn’t know you could eat. It’s a fun thing to go and explore
and see what you can find. This is one of those
mysterious things that I’m never going to love as
much as I love Sicily. This is a local
thing, they’re called fico d’India and they
are a prickly pear. There’s something that I think
only Sicilians can love. Apparently, you have to eat them
when they’re super cold, but if you pick them up with your hands you
get all these little splinters. If you want to try that, it’s a real
Sicilian treat, you have to ask the produce seller though to peel
them and prepare them for you. Otherwise, you’ll be
like me with tweezers for two weeks picking little spines. You can also find a lot
of things to take home. If you’re interested
in shopping at the markets, it’s not just for locals, you can buy things that are preserved
and you can take them home. Sun-dried tomatoes, for
instance, are a thing that a lot of Sicilian
cooks love to prepare. That’s a good reason to
walk through the markets so you can find great
culinary ideas to take home. Street food is one of the
biggest ways to eat in Palermo. Eating in Palermo, in
general, is very inexpensive. The restaurants are
ridiculously cheap compared to American
restaurants, for example. If you want to eat like the locals,
so you go and you eat street food. They consider Palermo’s to have
the best street food scene in all of Europe and it’s been a cultural
capital in the last few years. The street food scene has been a part
of that cultural capital evolution. This is called sfincione
and it’s sort of a big fat thick pizza,
and they just sell it. It’s really greasy and they have it
on this little kind of hot plates. This is just a guy just hanging
out in the market, he’s got his little stall and he
lops off a little piece. One of the best parts of eating at
the street food stalls in the market is talking to the people who are selling it because
they’re interested. There’s not a lot of Americans to be
honest that are traveling in Sicily. You’re a curiosity. People are going to look at you,
they’re going to talk to you, they’re going to wonder who you
are, and they love Americans. This is a great opportunity
if you’re doing a street food tour to talk to the
vendors because they really– Even if you don’t speak
Italian or Sicilian it doesn’t matter, they speak
with their hands anyway. You all speak with your hands. I’m sorry I do this all
the time, I’ve been in Sicily for too long, it’s
part of our language. You can eat in the day
and in the evening. There’s a wonderful market called
Vucciria and that is a place where they have a really old
school food market in the evening. They have barbecues like this. You see this guy here with
his big barbecue, and you go up to the case up
here and you pick out what you would like to
have– a little piece of raw meat– and they slap
it on the grill for you. One little insider
tip I learned is you see that big plume
of smoke coming up. I thought this smells good
and I thought it kind of is theatrical, but I just thought
it was the meat grilling. They go out and they
wipe the grill down with fat so it will create
that smoke because it’s a selling technique,
it’s a way to get people attracted to
what they’re doing. So this is all theater. That’s so Sicilian though to create drama, even in your barbecue
is a little bit of drama. This is what I tried that
particular night, but almost every night they have
interesting street food here. What this is is asparagus
wrapped in bacon and then these little
skewers with meat. I didn’t want to ask what
part of meat it was. I’m assuming it was, I don’t know,
something I don’t typically eat. I’ve had intestines, I’ve
had veal penis, I’ve had– I don’t even want
to know half of it. But you have to try it. They have that real snout to tail
philosophy in Sicily– because it was a poor country in the
past– you eat everything. In fact, one of the street food carts
sells– it looks like a sponge. What they do is they take the bones
and the leftover pieces of meat you can’t make anything out of and they process it into
something you can eat. It’s sort of like a spongy
greasy sort of thing. You can find all kinds of peculiar
street foods and I challenge you. I’m laying down the
challenge right now. If you are a little leery about
eating at the street food stalls because you worry, “Oh, perhaps
I’m going to get food sick or something like this,” there are
restaurants that actually serve the street food and I want to introduce
you to the most typical ones. This one here is called panelle. Panelle is a cheap peak cake and
that is really good because they fry it up in these really big grounds and
then they cut off little pieces. Sometimes you’ll see
it just in strips. So that’s panelle there. You’re going to see the arancini
and those are the fried rice balls, deep-fried rice
balls which are just fantastic. They can have meat inside or cheese. More modern ones that are kind
of hipster arancini have brie and walnuts, so there’s lots of
different types you can find. There’s more of that fat pizza. This is for, let’s say,
the advanced eater. We call it pani ca meusa and
it is a spleen sandwich. If you’ve never eaten
spleen before, you have to try it when
you go to Sicily. It may not sound appetizing,
but it smells so good. You know that smell of a
Christmas roast, the most delicious roast of the year,
that’s what it smells like. It smells so good and you
bite into it and you get that wonderful flavor
of the Christmas roast. But then it sort of feels like
slugs in your mouth somehow. I have tried so hard to love the
spleen sandwich because all the [???? 00:16:39] love it and
they all want you to try it. I’ve tried it all the
different ways, with cheese, without cheese,
with sauce, without sauce and it still
has the consistency of slugs even if it
tastes really good. But you should try it. It’s really worth it,
and it’s very local. You can do this at restaurants too. The point is that you can
do the street food, but if you’re intimidated
by that if you sit down in restaurants a lot of
the restaurants will have street food items
on their menus as well. As far as site seeing go
there’s so much to see especially with the churches,
but the architecture again is what really
blows me away in Palermo because we have such
an interesting mix. We have a church that is
a Byzantine, Romanesque church and then we have
another one– This is also a church, doesn’t it
look like a mosque? It has something completely
different it’s a Crusader church. These are people who came
back from Africa and they built churches
based on what they saw. But also the thing is
that Sicily was a mixture of different cultures
it was a melting pot. So artisans and architects that came
from all over the world would come and work in Sicily and they would
build in the style that they knew. The other style of
architecture that is a little overwhelming
is Sicilian Baroque. This is Santa Caterina. I guess the best way to put it
is when civilians do things, they don’t go by half measures,
they go all the way and beyond. Some of these churches when
you get to see this baroque style, it’s a little bit of
an assault on the senses. The first time I saw it I felt a
little nauseous I have to admit. I like the baroque style. I spent a lot of time in Rome and
the baroque style there is kind of effervescent and
dramatic but they kind of go a little further
here in Sicily. What’s interesting though every
single little bit of this church is completely plastered
with marble and decoration. This is that Santa
Caterina church the one with the nuns,
the cloistered nuns. These were wealthy women
who went to this convent. They were the second daughter,
usually, they couldn’t be married off because
they didn’t have a dowry. But the family would
donate money to the church to take care of the daughter. They had so much
money, what are they going to do with that money? They’re going to make
their church like a jewel-encrusted sort of
decorative jewel box. That’s just a panel this big. Look how finally decorated that is. Each of these seams
is three dimensional. It’s a type of mosaic that they
often call Florentine mosaic, where you take semi-precious stones
and you make seams out of them. They’re absolutely glorious
and every single square inch of this church is covered
in these types of mosaics. It’s really a beautiful spot to go. It’s a little bit much but if you can
kind of calm your nervous system. All of the churches in
Sicily are like this so they come from
this Baroque period. They are all really exuberant
in their decoration. A little more restrained
but something I really enjoy is– this
is Monreale that’s that church, the Byzantine
church outside of Palermo. You have to take a bus or a taxi and
takes about 20 minutes to get there. This is a church from the
1200s, 1100s and this is an important church because it was
built by their Norman rulers. The Norman Kings that came
from basically France, they’re relatives of William the Conqueror. Do you realize those
people were in Sicily? Actually, Louis the IX of France was related to the kings that
were here, the Norman Kings. It’s kind of an
interesting connection. They built this beautiful church
for a variety of reasons. Competing with the
Archbishop of Palermo, they wanted to create their
own marvelous church. This is the best cycle of Byzantine mosaics of any place
I know in Europe, I would say, even better than Rivanna
because they’re almost complete. When you go in there and you look
you’ll watch the Bible unfold in comic book-like form, you’ll see
every panel tells a different story. These ones here are so
easy to understand. There’s Adam and Eve,
you can see there’s Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Now they’re being cast out
of the garden of Eden. Now they’re working in the
fields and Eve is really lamenting her dress, you
can tell how sad she is. Just the sort of
emotion in all of the panels, they’re just
beautiful to look at. It’s wallpapered floor to
ceiling, the whole thing. And it’s a mix of Byzantine
art but also Arabic. There’s a lot of Arabic motifs
because the craftsman came from Africa, so it’s a real
fusion art form that’s marvelous. Next story, in the Cloister
at Monreale, they have their own type of masterpiece,
and that is all of these column capitals
in the Cloister. Each individual column capital
is an individual work of art. This particular one I
think you may recognize. Have you had your
coffee this morning? Tourists: Yes, Starbucks. Sarah: Starbucks. It’s Melusine, it’s a myth about a
mermaid and that’s actually where the symbol for Starbucks comes from,
but this was known in the 1200s. These artists came down and
they made a capital, each one was individual depending
on the artist taste. Some of them told other stories
that these are the three wise men, and they’re presenting
gifts to the Christ child. Some are religious,
some are mythical, but every single column capital
has its own story. You can be there for
weeks just looking at each one, and the details
are very, very fine. Monreale is well worth
your time to visit because it has all these beautiful things, but it’s a small site, you
can visit it in about half a day. We’re going to head off
now from Palermo to the West Coast of
Sicily to Trapani and the area around it, there’s a lot
of beautiful things to see there. Our first stop is Segesta. Segesta is one of the many ancient archaeological sites
that you can visit. I have to warn you, if you
go to every one of these archaeological sites, I
suggest you’re going to be a little Greeked out at the end
because it is very Greek and Roman heavy, but
particularly Greek theaters. The theater of Segesta
is absolutely one of my favorites because it has
almost perfect acoustics. The shape of it is so ingenious
it reflects the audio in every direction, so anywhere
you stand, you can hear the person standing in the center. Here I’m demonstrating for my tour
group that I was singing for them. I started off singing really loud so
everybody would stop talking because they could hear me in their ears,
it’s almost like your headphones on. Then I started singing
like this and people in the far corners of that
theater could hear me. It’s ingenious, it really is. It’s the most incredible
audio, better than any theater you’ll find
in the United States. This is one of my favorite places
to stop because it has, in my opinion, the best acoustics of
any of the theaters in Sicily. Also, there you can find this
beautiful temple, which is a bit of a strange story because
this temple is not finished. This temple was designed and built
to impress people from Athens. This city wanted help
from Athens during the Greek period, and the
only way they could make Athens give them
money for a war was by impressing them with how
important they are. So how do you impress
people in the Greek time? You build a temple. They built it as far as they could
build before the emissary from Athens came, and then they dressed it up
and faked it out with decorations. And then the emissary from Athens
came saw, what a beautiful temple. And then they were impressed
and they wanted to send money to the people of Segesta and
then they never finished. It’s just sitting there unfinished
because they didn’t need to. It served its purpose, it was like a
stage set, like a stage dressing. We know that for sure because
it never had any inner temple. [???? 00:23:40] they call
it the seller or the chela on the inside, the room where
the god would have been. They never built it. We know it’s unfinished and
it’s a very strange but very famous story, so we know
that it did happen that way. Continuing past Segesta,
we end up in Erice which is one of my
favorite little villages. It’s just this tiny little fairy
village on top of a mountain. This I thought was
such a sweet little medieval town when I
first visited there but what I didn’t realize,
this was an important place for the call to
Venus in the past. This temple right up
here you’ll see, this was the temple of
Venus in the past and the sailors would go
out there and, let’s say, devote themselves
to the goddess. [laughter] They had priestesses
up there that would perform rituals with the sailors. [laughter] I’m not sure how to be
more delicate about that. [laughter] But it was important because this was
a very high point and the boats from all around could see
the fire burning, so it was almost like a lighthouse. This is where the
sailors would go and they would dedicate
themselves to Venus. Also because they
thought that if they dedicated themselves
to Venus, she could intercede with the god
of the sea to keep the seas calm, that’s their
excuse at least. [laughter] Erice I think is a lovely place to
visit because it’s of a beautiful medieval village, but it has this
real strange mysterious vibe. Before I even knew about all of the
legends about the cults surrounding Erice, I got this strange feeling
when I stay there overnight. It has the most magical
atmosphere at night, the fog rolls in, and there’s
just a very strange vibe. If you want to get a really different
sort of intimate experience sleeping in Erice, I think
is a really fun thing to do. The other thing I love to do is to
visit my friend Maria Grammatico. She is a famous pastry chef,
she’s famous all over Italy for making some of
the most delicious sweets. I visit her with my groups and
she makes a beautiful lunch. She reminds me so much
of my grandmother. That actually is to scale, but I’m
6 foot 2, she’s not that short. [laughter] She’s a lovely person, she
teaches us how to make pastries, so we make the
almond pastries just using ground almonds, egg
whites, and sugar. These ones, I love the names, these
are called the boobies of nuns. [laughter] That’s not a joke. [laughs] That’s absolutely true. The other cookie she’s making right
now are called ugly but delicious. They all have these funny names. But she’s an incredible
pastry chef and she has written her own cookbook,
so she’s very well known. Leaving Erice we head down into the
town of Trapani, and you can take a cable car, and that’s a fun way
to kind of get an introduction. Every single one of the cities has
their own myth of how they were born. This myth of how
this one was born is that, the myth of
Demeter and Persephone comes from this island,
and if you don’t know that I’ll just
tell you quickly. Demeter was the goddess,
a mother goddess, her daughter Persephone was
wandering around the fields one day, and she was
kidnapped by Hades the god of the underworld because
she was very beautiful. When she went to the
underworld and she was stuck down there, her mother tried
desperately to find her. Because her mother was the
goddess of the earth, she was the one who promoted
growth and she dropped her sickle and ran off to try
and find her daughter. When she found her daughter,
she had to negotiate with Hades to figure out when she
could be with her mother and when she had to be
with her eventual husband. And that is the reason
that they have seasons. Because when Demeter or does
not have Persephone she gets very sad, and everything turns
brown and dies in the winter. When Persephone returns
to her mother’s care, her mother’s pleased and happy
and all the flowers bloom. The town of Trapani has really
nothing to see, I have to be honest. There’s no museum, there’s
nothing cool to go and do, it’s just pleasant,
it’s a beautiful town. It was recently restored and
almost everything is just beautifully white and restored,
and have wonderful restaurants. This is a great home base to stay
in for exploring the area around. It’s very comfortable, the hotels are
inexpensive and typically quite nice. You can also get one of their
wonderful specialties. As I said, Sicilian
cuisine I think reflects that mix of cultures,
that cultural fusion. In this case, the cultural
fusion has a lot to do with the Arabic cultures, and
couscous is on the menu. Couscous is very famous
in Trapani, and not only do they serve the
couscous, but you have to have along with
the couscous– you see the little silver
boat, the gravy boat. When I ordered this
couscous– I have to tell you because I don’t look
Sicilian, I get this a lot even if I speak Italian–
the owner has to come out of the kitchen and teach
me how to eat the food. They don’t trust me because
I’m obviously not Sicilian. So they come out with the
little bowl and it’s a bowl of broth, and it’s
usually a fish broth. They pour it over the
top of the couscous, and you don’t pour it all at once. You pour a little bit on
and then you eat, and you pour a little bit more of
the broth on then you eat. That’s how you eat the couscous
in Sicily, and typically the best kind to have is
the seafood couscous. That’s what we’ve got going on
here, and of course, the owner, as usual, came out had to teach
me how to do it so, that’s nice. Nearby you can jump in a car
you can drive down south to Mozia, to the islands
around the salt pans. This area in the past was very well
off because salt was so valuable. They didn’t have
refrigeration in the past, and salt was the way
to preserve food. So being able to create a way
to get salt was important. This area of Sicily
has been cultivating the salt beds for generations. I know that this looks
like the Man of La Mancha of course, but
it’s not, it’s Sicily. We have here all of the
different salts being collected, and salt comes
in multiple qualities. The floor of the salt is the very
first kind of a take off of the top. This is when I was just
recently there, they were finishing up for the
season of harvesting the salt, and they were
starting if you can see, to cover up the
salt with roof tiles. They have these funny
little roof tiles and every day they cover a little
bit more because if you leave it out in the
open it’s going to get wet and it’s going to
go back into the sea. They have to cover it and
then they take it away a little bit like by a little
bit as they need it. They’re very fortunate
because this was a dying industry until fancy
salt became a thing. [laughs] You know the fancy sell
you get from Jamie Oliver or whatever that cost $20 for a little
jar, this is the fancy salt. But that’s great for
them because it’s a local industry that’s
been traditional for generations that
they haven’t been able to really support
until recently. Nearby we take a boat
from there out to a little island in
that harbor– very, very close, only about a five-minute ride– and this is
the island of Mozia. This island is so interesting because
it’s something you wouldn’t expect. It’s one of the few places
to see Carthaginian ruins. If you know the
Carthaginians, these are people who were the
Phoenicians in the past. They floated across over to Northern
Africa, and they established a city at Carthage, which was a competitor
to Rome before Rome became an empire. Carthage had outposts, and this
was one of their many outposts. There’s not really much of Carthage
left, because the Romans erase them almost completely from history,
which was their method of getting rid of their adversaries, but
they found here, not really that long ago, the Carthaginian ruins
of the city that used to be here. It’s something very special
and unusual because you don’t see this really
anywhere else in Italy. It’s a really special Island. There was a family that
was related to the Marsala wine producing
trade that purchased the island and built
a villa there, and then eventually found
all these artifacts. They have turned their
villa into a museum, and it’s a privately owned Island. It’s owned by the
people– That family still, it’s called the
Whitaker Foundation. Inside you can see all kinds
of interest artifacts. This one I think is fun because
this is a display on how they got the purple die out of these little
shells to make purple cloth. The reason that’s important
is, you know the word Phoenician, but where
does that come from? It comes from the word
for purple in the past. They were people that
wore purple clothing. Purple was a really important and
valuable color for clothing because it usually symbolized royalty or
importance, something like this. Those are the little
shells that created that. Then you can go out on the island and
look at all the different ruins. You can walk through, and a lot
of them don’t make much sense. Here I like to have a local
guide walk me through and show me because it’s a culture we
maybe don’t know a lot about. They get to explain what
the different parts of the island work, and then you
also get to be accompanied. There are two dogs that live
there, Luna and Matziah, and they will accompany you, and they
follow you around the island. It’s very sweet. Not a lot of people
go here actually, so this is a great place
to go and get in touch with a mysterious
piece of history that you can’t see anywhere
else in Europe. Another thing I’ve just discovered recently that I invite
you to do is nearby to Trapani, a half hour boat ride you
can get out to the Egadi islands. This is an island called
Favignana, and it really is a stunning Island,
crystal clear blue waters. These are old tuna factories. This is where they would bring in
the tuna fleets, and they would process that because that was
the real industry of Sicily. Let’s say 100 years ago,
was producing canned tuna. Canned and packed in oil. They sort of were the
ones who invented that idea, but then,
of course, the tuna industry collapsed,
and they have these buildings that are left
without any purpose. They repurposed the buildings
now to be museums. This whole complex out
here’s a beautiful museum on Sicilian life, which
is lovely, and the island itself is just
beautiful, and there’s hardly anybody there because
again, it’s Sicily. It’s a little bit unknown, and
it’s an island that just hasn’t really been discovered by tourism
too much, but so charming. The Little Town Square
is so adorable. You can have a lovely lunch. It’s very inexpensive. You can rent bicycles and
ride all around the island. This is a really
pleasant thing to do only a half an hour
away from Trapani. There’s lots of choices. Trapani has an excellent
home base to do a lot of little excursions
into Western Sicily. We’re going to head now
down south to Agrigento. Agrigento is home to the
famous Valley of the Temples. This is one of the
great experiences in travel if you’re interested
in architecture. These temples are Greek temples. They are not Italian temples. They are not temples
from any other culture. This is from when Sicily was
Magna Graecia, Greater Greece. This is the temple of Concordia. It’s one of the most
well-preserved temples, and it’s the same thing
as the Pantheon. The reason we have the Pantheon in
Rome is because it was always used. It was turned into a church. This is the same thing. This temple was used as a church
for a long time, and they put in a lot of other elements to
prop it up, to turn it into a proper church, but because
of that, we have the original temple and it’s never fallen,
and that’s incredibly unusual. If you’ve been to Greece,
it’s really hard to find a temple that is
this well preserved. The difference, however,
between the Greek temples and the ones at
Agrigento is the stone. These are not made of marble. These are made of a local sandstone,
and so they’re golden in color. But you have to change
the way you look at them if you think about it
from a historical perspective because temples were never
white, to begin with. You may know this, but they
painted their temples. They painted their statues. As you walk around the
temples in Agrigento, occasionally you can
find small patches of white plaster, and
that’s because all of them were plastered
and brightly painted. Change the way you look at them. They would not have looked
like this in the past. They look like a skeleton
to people who are Greek. This was a huge city. Agrigento was one of
the most impressive cities in all of Greece, and it fell just like Persia, or just like
the angels going up to the heavens. They got too close
to the sun– Icarus. I’m sorry, it was
Icarus that got too close to the sun, and
his wings melted. Agrigento was almost the same way. It was such a grand and incredibly
large city and then fell once Greece lost importance and the
island was dominated by the Romans. There’s very little of the ancient
city left other than the temples. They’re just starting
to discover it now. You have beautiful views, and
one of the things I love about the walk through the valley of
the temples is the vegetation. You can see, of course, those
beautiful cactuses, and those are the fico d-India,
You’ll see almond trees. You’ll see all kinds of
beautiful flowers, Jasmine, it smells heavenly as
you walk through there. That’s something to enjoy as
well as the flora and fauna. The temples themselves
are kind of fun. This particular one was purchased
by an English nobleman, and he came and built a
little house next to it. You can go and visit the
house, and this is the one column that was original still
standing from Greek times. Then this gentleman, his name
was Alexander Hardcastle. He reconstructed part of the
temples with his own money because back in the 19th century, you could
buy a temple if you wanted to. It was okay. Too bad you can’t do it now. My favorite part though
of the whole valley of the temples is
something strange though. This looks like the Michelin
Man, don’t you think? These huge giants,
they’re called Telemann. There were hundreds of
them, and they went all the way around a temple
that was enormous. Something that’s almost impossible
to understand the scale. This is a model that’s in
the museum of Agrigento. If you can start to get
a sense of the size. It was perhaps the largest
Greek temple ever built. There is none of it
left, and the reason is that it fell apart a
little bit during an earthquake, and then they
decided to recycle it and make a pier at a
nearby town to Agrigento. That tells you something
about why ruins are gone. It’s not necessarily that it was
earthquakes, or wind, or whatever. It was recycling. People didn’t care about
these temples, but that’s a really great source of material
to build something else. They took this away and
built a breakwater in a town called Porto
Empedocle nearby. That’s the scale though. Isn’t that fun? That’s how big they are, and this is the
most complete one. Imagine this guy completely painted,
covered with plaster and painted, and all of the features of the
faces were a little bit different. I love to have people pose by them. [laughter] It’s kind of fun for scale. My scale models. The museum is wonderful too. It has a lot of wonderful
artifacts from the past. From Greek times. These, in fact, are all votives. People would buy these at
the entrance to temples. They were mass produced, and
if you wanted to go and bring something and leave it on the
altar, you could do that. It’s similar thing in Asia, where
you go and you buy [???? 00:37:13] before you enter a temple, and
you leave them at the temples. It’s the same thing in Greek times. They would buy these votives
depending on the deity that they were worshiping, and they’d
leave them at the temple. Moving on, we’re going to head
to the center of Italy or Sicily, and we’re going to see
the Villa Romana del Casale. This is not a Greek ruin. This is a Roman ruin. Roman times came and didn’t
really treat Sicily very well. They subjugated the population,
and they didn’t really take care of the Greek ruins, but they
built some of their own things. Most of the people
who live there who were Roman were wealthy
landowners, and they created these big tracts of land
where they would grow mostly grain. This became one of the ways
that Rome grew to a million people during Roman times, because
they grew grain in Sicily. When you have bread
and water, that’s how you maintain that
size population. This incredibly big strange
palace is in the middle of nowhere, and we think
it’s because it was the palace of a wealthy nobleman
who had a lot of land, that grew a lot of grain
and things like that. The other idea we have about
him is a little strange. We think maybe he was
an animal importer, and I’ll show you why in a second. The way they’ve
restored these, you can see where the land was in the past. Before they found them
the land had covered up here because there
was a landslide, and it filled it up, and you can see exactly where the
land was in the past. They excavated. They found the floors,
and in the past 10 or 15 years,
they’ve reconstructed the shelters to look like the
building probably looked in the past. When you walk through, and
you see these strange wooden ceilings, and domes
and things, that’s because they’re trying to reconstruct
it to look like the ancient Roman house that it would
have been in the past. The floors are magnificent. They’re a little hard to see because
they’re very pastel in color, but they have these wonderful
catwalks that go all the way around it so you can stand over the top
and you can look down, and they have nice little plaques in front
of each to explain the topics. Typically, there’s an
animal theme though. You can see in each of these
ribs that there are animals. This is one of my favorites. There’s a whole
hallway full of these animal themes, and this
one is an elephant. They’re loading elephants
onto a boat to transport, which makes
us believe that perhaps this is
somebody who imported animals to Rome for
the games in Rome. It’s very possible. That’s one of the ideas. This entire hallway
is full of these, but one thing that a person
on a tour pointed out to me and I thought
was interesting, is the outfits that
people are wearing. They’re all dressed in
such incredible detail. You can see the details of all
of their different costumes, and they come from all over
the known world at that time. You see different
outfits of different kinds of people from
the Roman world. All the little day to day details. Those are the fine things to
look at in these mosaics. This is a hunting scene. You’ve got the hunters in the center
and they’re roasting a turkey. Can you see the turkey? They’ve got a hunting down here,
and the scene up here above is of them dedicating
themselves to the Goddess Diana, who’s the
goddess of the hunt. Lovely little details
about Roman life and everyone’s favorite,
the bikini girls. [laughter] Nothing changes in
the world, I think. These are young ladies
wearing bikinis and they’re competing
in athletic games. Just like the Olympics. It’s like the Olympics
of the past and the winner gets a crown
and a palm frond. We kind of know who the winner was. Bikinis, you didn’t invent them
in the 1960s, the Romans did. Ragusa in southeastern Sicily
are our next topic and that’s moving on from the
village of Casale area. You can leave Agrigento,
hit the village of Casale. Then you can head and sleep in
the Ragusa area as an easy day. There’s again not a whole
lot to see in this town. It’s just a very pleasant hill
town and it’s really lovely. Sicily and this entire
corner of the island were rocked in the 1600s
by an earthquake. That destroyed a lot of these
towns in southeastern Sicily. That’s a good thing in a sense
because that meant at the beginning of the 1700s, most of
these towns were reconstructing. They all did in that
crazy Baroque style. That’s one of the reasons
people love to go to southeastern Sicily, to
visit Noto, and Ragusa, and Scicli because you
see these wonderful architectural masterpieces
from the Baroque period. This is the one in Ragusa. This is their cathedral. The old town is called Ibla. This is Ragusa Ibla. I think this is the most
pleasant part of Ragusa. This is where I like to stay. There’s gardens you can walk around. It’s got a lovely pace to it. It’s quiet but lovely. Then you can take the staircase. There’s a crazy staircase
you can go up. It’ll take you probably about a
half hour, 40 minutes to walk. You could walk from
Ibla down below to the new city which is called
Ragusa Superiore. It’s above the old city and
that’s the Baroque City. Just the staircase itself is a lot of
fun because there’s masterpieces of architecture all along
the way and you get beautiful views down
into the valley. At the top, you’ll
find the cathedral. This cathedral is funny because they
built it after a big earthquake. You can tell, look how funny it is. It’s squat and the walls
are really thick because they were very afraid
of another earthquake. They have this base
underneath it with the shops. This is old-fashioned
earthquake-proofing. This was what they
thought they could do with seismic
retrofitting in a way. Brand new cathedral and they built it
as squat and strong as they could. There’s a really strange
little site there that I want to draw
your attention to. It’s a museum in the town hall that’s
probably no bigger than this room. It’s a very small museum. It’s a museum dedicated to Italy
and Africa when Italy had colonies in Africa, which you may
not even know that they did. It’s just a local
person from Ragusa who has collected all of these costumes over his lifetime and he got a space
in the City Hall to display them. Sometimes it’s not opening. You knock on the door
and somebody comes. The custodian comes and lets you in. They’ll walk you around and show
you the different artifacts. This is one of the
things I love doing when I’m researching
guidebooks especially, is to find these funny little things
you wouldn’t know about otherwise. What a lovely treat to go
in and learn about a piece of Italian history that I
actually knew nothing about. Moving on from Ragusa, you
can do a lot of day trips. You can head on to Noto. Noto is the one Baroque gem. I think most people love
coming here because it’s sort of Baroque Disneyland,
I guess you could say. Everybody goes there, especially
times on the weekends. You park and you walk down the main
street and every single building is Baroque and they’re all really
exuberant and beautifully done. This is a popular
destination if you’re interested in that
style of architecture. Then you can head over to Modica. Modica is nearby and
it’s another hill town. It also has that style but
there’s a more interesting thing than the architecture in Modica
and that’s the chocolate. Modican chocolate is different than
any chocolate you’ve ever had. It’s one of the first
chocolates ever made in Europe and they make
it in a strange way. They create a chocolate outside
that looks choccy and on the inside it’s granular. It’s got grains of sugar
and grains of cocoa bean. It’s, I think, the best
chocolate I’ve ever had. I try all of them and I bring
all of them home with me. I absolutely encourage
you to go here and try all of them to figure
out which is best. You have to do the experimentation. While we’re on the topic of
food, I just want to tell you a little bit about the highlight
of Sicily which is the food. I think what I do more than
anything there is eat. When I start talking to Sicilians,
we’ll talk about politics or religion, or the weather
and eventually, we end up talking about food. I guarantee you, if you sit
on a park bench in Sicily and you listen, everybody around
you is talking about food. There’s a good reason. The food is fabulous, from
the fish to those arancini. You can take cooking
classes when you’re there. This is my group doing a cooking
class on how to make the rice balls. You have this wonderful
pasta dishes but it’s not the kind of pasta dishes
that you might be used to. This is a pasta dish with an octopus sauce, which I’d never
heard of before. They use everything they have. They use the ingredients
from their farms and the ingredients
from the sea as well. This is a wonderful lunch, too. Nice, simple lunch. Fresh vegetables, cheese,
salami, things like these. You can eat so well in Sicily. The weird thing is that
you don’t gain weight because the food has no
calories in it, right? [laughter] The pizza is different, too. This is a Trapanese pizza. I love Trapanese pizza. It’s really thick and
crispy but it’s cut into tiny little pieces, for
reasons I have yet to discover. I don’t know why, but this is the
style of the City of Trapani. They cut their pizza
and I love eating it in these tiny little squares. That’s how you eat it. The wine is a highlight. I highly recommend
going to a winery. There’s lots of wonderful
wineries around Etna. There’s also some in the western
side of Sicily but the wines there are becoming very popular. It’s chic now to drink
Sicilian wines. I encourage you to
have wine with every meal because it’s good for
your heart. Isn’t it? It’s healthy. I’m not joking when I
say their food has no calories and the
wine is good for you. Sicilians live to be older than any
other race of people on the earth. I think there’s a town in Japan
that can compete with Sicily but they have some of the longest
living humans on the planet. They know what they’re doing. Eat the sweets too,
because they know what they’re doing, right? No calories in the sweets either. These are those almond
pastries I was talking about. There’s Cassata, Pasta Reale,
there’s all these beautiful things you can have that are
sweets, that are so famous. If you don’t like Italian
sweets, which I find bland. Frankly, I like
French sweets better. You’ve never had Sicilian sweets
because remember those Arabs brought the sugar, and
the almonds, and the citrus and they make
fantastic things with them. This is a real highlight. Your dentist will not
thank you for going to Sicily or maybe
they will, because you’ll enrich them a
little bit when you get back, but yes, it’s good stuff. My favorite thing about Sicily
as far as sweets go is this. This is breakfast. I’m serious. This is breakfast. [laughter] This is what Sicilians
eat for breakfast. This is granita and brioche. A granita is like a slushy and they
make it out of almond milk, or they make it out of coffee, or
they make it out of fruit juices. You can have it with whipped
cream and a warm egg bread bun. I know that sounds weird,
but you take it and you dip the warm egg bread into the
granita and you eat that. That’s what you have for breakfast,
especially in the summertime. When I took my son here, that’s
what we had for every meal. It was wonderful because
it’s really good. It’s healthy too because it’s
fruit, it’s fresh fruit. I love the granitas and I highly
recommend you find a good place to do that because that’s a real,
specifically Sicilian treat. This, however, I cannot abide. I have to tell you. My Sicilian friends for years
have tried to convince me that this is good and
I do not believe it. This is gelato on a bun. [laughter] This is an abomination
in my opinion. I have tried it. I have attempted to like it
and I think it’s just wrong. If you really want to be Sicilian
about it, go and you’ll see every gelato shop, they’ll have a
pile of buns on the countertop. You can just ask for the buns and they’ll think you’re
an amazing local. Even if you don’t speak Italian,
if you’re eating gelato on a bun they’ll be like, “Ciao”‘
and think you’re Italian. You should try it. I don’t like it but
you should try it. We’re going to move on now
to Syracuse on the coast. We’re heading to the
eastern coast of Sicily. Syracuse is one of the
highlights in terms of Greek ruins and
Greek architecture because this was at
a certain point in Greek history more
important than Athens. The city rivaled Athens in its
scale with the number of people and with all of the architectural
treasures that they had. This was a very powerful
place in the past. This little island here
is called Ortygia. This was the capital, the main
center of Syracuse in the past. These days, this little
island of Ortygia has become a tourist hotspot because it was a little scary
in the past and they put a lot of
money renovating it. During the 1600s, this
was also destroyed and rebuilt in this Baroque style. In the past 10 years, they’ve
restored all of these beautiful Baroque churches,
and buildings, and so on. This one is deceiving though. This is a church. You’ll find the remnants of Santa
Lucia inside and that’s interesting. You’d think it’s a Baroque
church from the front, right? You walk around the
corner and you see this. Is that a Baroque church? No. It’s a Baroque church on the
front, you go here and you see that it was a Norman cathedral
fort during the Norman times. Here you can see it was a temple. They took a Greek temple,
they filled it in during the Norman times, turned
it into a cathedral fort. It was a defensive and
religious building. I know that doesn’t make
sense but it did back then. Then they pasted a Baroque
facade on the front. This is Sicily, right
here, in a nutshell. If you can look at one
building and understand the island, this is the
building to look at. You’ll find these Greek ruins
all throughout Syracuse. This is against Ortygia,
right in the center of town. When you first crossed that
bridge and you go to the market, this is in the middle,
it’s a Temple to Apollos. You see these wonderful ruins of
ancient Greece everywhere you walk. I love how beautiful
the sea is there. Just sitting along the banks
and looking at the sunset. It’s a beautiful place
and it’s floating out there in the middle
of the Mediterranean. It’s very peaceful. You can swim there during
the summertime, too. They have catwalks,
where you can jump off and you can swim if it’s warm. The environment of
Ortygia is lovely. I like to eat at the market. The market has a
famous sandwich guy. His name is Andrea and he
will make you a sandwich while dishing out all
kinds of life advice. Usually, love advice,
if you’re a man. If you’re a woman, kind of
flirting with you a little bit. I go there and enjoy talking to him. This is a sandwich right
here, do you see that? In real life size, it’s this big. That sandwich for two halves is
€5, so that gives you a sense. That’s an unusually
inexpensive place, but that gives you a sense of how inexpensive the food
in Sicily is because food is part of their life there. It’s not for rich people. Food is important and having hearty
good food is all about the culture. They also have though a wonderful archeological park on
the actual main lands. You have to go to the mainland
and this is called the Neapolis. In the Neapolis, this is unusual,
I know I’ve shown you a bunch of Greek theatres, this one
here is a solid piece of stone. This is carved into
the side of a cliff. At the time that Syracuse was
the most important city, they made the most
important theater. They still use it. They do Greek tragedies
here during the summertime. It’s incredible that 2,000 years
later, something is still in use. In that same area, they have
a really strange thing. There were quarries that they
use during Greek times to build all of their temples, and
theaters, and things like that. Inside of those
quarries is the strange thing, we call the Ear of Dionysius. It’s just a fun geological feature. You go inside, you
can stand and sing there and the acoustics
are marvelous. They say it’s called the
Ear of Dionysius because Dionysius was like a
king almost of Syracuse. They say he would sit on top of this
cave and listen, to try and listen in on people’s conversations because
the acoustics were so good. That’s why they call it that. Also, in Syracuse, I highly
recommend visiting the puppet museum and getting to know the
culture of Sicilian puppets. These knights that they had, these
are the Knights of Charlemagne. They are folk tales
that came from French troubadours and they stuck around. This is still a story cycle
they teach their children. They do these wonderful
puppet shows. This is one of the best
ones in all of Sicily that you can visit and
they’re fantastic. The puppets, they
growl and they fight, and they’re always
fighting, of course. There’s always sword fights. They have dramatic scenes,
but everybody’s waiting for the fight because the
sword fights are amazing. They behead people and there’s
sound effects and lights. They really have taken
it to the next level. This is great even for adults. Even if you don’t
have a kid with you, everybody’s a kid on
the inside, I know. You want to see this. This is a lot of fun. They even bring the puppets out
and they show you how they work. If you take a look here, you can
see there’s only two wires. There’s one for the head
and one for the arm, and that’s how they gesture
and do all the fighting. What they can do with those
gestures is incredible. They seem like they’re alive and real
people when they’re up on stage. I really recommend doing that
when you’re in Syracuse. It’s by far the best puppet theater. Catania is our next stop. Catania is just a main city a
lot of people need to know well because it is a connection city
a lot of people fly out of. There’s a wonderful
airport there, only 10 minutes by car to get
to, it’s very easy. I like the city, it’s
a little gritty. I think of it as Naples
younger brother. It’s tiny, but it’s
a lot like Naples. It’s crazy and it’s real. There’s nothing touristic about it. In fact, the tourist office, when
I talk to them about writing this Sicily book, they had no
idea what I was talking about. [laughter] They don’t know who Rick Steves is. They don’t understand tourism. They handed me a DVD that said,
“Understanding Tourism.” I was like, “Okay,
this is what you give people who try to
get tourism going.” This is not a touristic city. It’s a real Sicilian city. It’s the second largest on the
island and it’s made of black stone. Do you see their cathedral? If you look closely, it’s made of lava stone because this is
at the foot of Mount Etna. I’ll just go back quickly. This is from the top of one of their churches, that’s how
close Mount Etna is. It’s on the slopes. That mountain has flowed lava
over the top of the city on multiple occasions but when Etna
erupts, it erupts really slowly. Nobody ever gets killed by this. They often have to
redirect their streets and cities and things like that. The fish market there is
one of the highlights because it’s loud, noisy, and real. People come out there
with just chests of fish directly from their boat, and they scream and saying, “I
stayed at a hotel nearby here once. I didn’t know what was
going on at five o’clock in the morning when there
was such a cacophony. I thought there was a
street fight going on.” It wasn’t, it was this market. This is the real deal. Walking around their
market, you get an absolutely true sense
of what Sicily is. The shoppers and the
daily life is wonderful. The tentacles. Oh, the tentacles. Nearby, you can go to a museum. That’s one of the few museums in
Italy that talks about World War II. This is Museo dello
Sbarco, the museum of the landing of World War II. This is where Operation
Husky landed when the Americans and the
Brits landed on the southern shores of
Sicily and started the movement up to send the
Germans away from Italy. This is a wonderful museum. You can go and see all
the different uniforms. You can see maps and things that will
help explain to you how important that particular operation was in the
scope of the history of World War II. I really recommend it. Nobody goes there. Locals don’t even know where it is. I asked a taxi driver
to take me there and he had no clue what I
was talking about. This is a great site
to go too because it is something important
to learn about. Especially, teaching the
lessons of the rise of fascism, that’s an
important lesson to learn. This is something good to go and do
for everybody to see what that means. The city of Catania,
I would say sticking to the main street is a good idea. It’s a little reality-based if
you get off the Main Street. This is Via Etnea, it’s lovely and
I would stick to that street. It’s really an enjoyable
place to have your passage out or
your evening stroll. They also have a castle nearby
that has art exhibitions. I’ve seen a Raphael
exhibition there. They had an exhibition
on Van Gogh there once. You can go there and you can see
these wonderful art exhibitions. It’s just outside of the city gate. Not the best neighborhood,
but a really cool castle to visit to see art. As we are moving on, now, we’re
going to go to Taormina. This is really nearby to Catania. It’s only about a 30-minute,
40-minute drive from Catania. I think it’s one of the most
beautiful places I have ever been. My son has sworn that
he’s going to move here and buy a palace for
us when he grows up. We’ll see. I’m hoping so. The center of town is like something
right out of a fairy tale. This is the Grand Tour. Actually, the Grand Tour was very popular
to come and stay here. A lot of writers came here and stayed
here, Englishmen that sort of thing. It has an old-time
feel because of it. This is a place to relax. This is where you unplug,
you go shopping, you eat food, you just enjoy
the pace of life. There’s always music in the streets. There’s a lot of tourists. This is the only place
in Sicily, I would say, you will find other tourists. There’s a reason, it’s
really wonderful. I don’t know anybody who
doesn’t like Taormina. It’s just such a nice relaxing
place, just beautiful. Look at all the details
on the architecture. This was under Spanish occupation and
these balconies have this kind of big wire edges to them because of the
women coming out with their skirts. You can walk around and imagine the
women out with their big hoop skirts standing and waving with their
gloves at you back, 300 years ago. It’s really just an elegant
place to go and enjoy. They also have their
own Greek theater but it’s the most stunning location. If you’ve Greek theater
doubt, there is a reason to go to
this one because look at that view with Mount Etna, that’s
Etna simmering in the distance there. A lot of famous people
come and play here. Andrea Bocelli, I
think, has sung there before, of course, but
even American bands. If you go during the
summertime, famous American singers are usually
having concerts at that theater. My favorite thing to do there? Go to the beach. The beaches in Sicily are great. This one’s called Isola
Bella and Mazzarò beach. You can walk down or take a little
cable car down to the beach. Just lay around and
float in the sea. The sea is so clear and beautiful. They have boats you can jump on and
they’ll take you to see little coves. Just an enjoyable way to spend time. This is where I recommend
you take a little vacation from your
vacation in Taormina. Our next stop is Mount Etna,
because both of these two towns, Catania and Taormina
are on the slopes of Etna. Etna is a great thing to do
to get up close and personal, whether you have no interest
in geology or volcanoes. It doesn’t matter because
she is compelling. She puts on a show all the time. If you’re there, she’s going to be
hissing, and simmering, and smoking. You don’t know if she’s
going to send up fire. I was sitting in a restaurant
in Taormina once and I thought it was raining, I went outside
and it was an ash fall. You just never know
what she’s going to do. She’s incredibly unpredictable but
she’s harmless, generally speaking. She’s not really a volcano that
will cause a lot of issues. You can walk up and walk
around these craters. When I talk about visiting Mount
Etna though, I’m not talking about looking down into a
crater like you do at Vesuvius. She has many, many, many craters. Finding an actual crater
to look down into, you’ll find extinct ones from
hundreds of years ago. There is no top really
to Mount Etna because there are multiple craters
open at any one time. You can go out there. I bring a volcanologist
with me, this is my friend Boris, who’s the head
volcanologist for Etna. He likes to show us
the geological aspect of it but anybody can
go up there, too. It’s called Rifugio Sapienza. You can walk around and check
out the Silvestri crater and just check out a little bit
of the stone and all of that. Nearby, I prefer to
have a different way of exploring Mount Etna, which
is to explore the wine. They have a wonderful wine
industry, because of the fact that we are on volcanic soil and vines
grow best on volcanic soil. Etna wines have
become very famous in the last few years
for a great reason. I love this particular one because
this estate is in between two lava flows from Etna and they can’t grow
anything on those two lava flows. I asked the owner,
“Aren’t you worried that one day lava is going to
flow on top of your fields?” He’s like, “If it
happens, it happens.” That’s a very Sicilian attitude. It’s like, “Well, I can’t
do anything about that, so I’m just going to
keep living my life.” This north phase of Etna is
like the Napa Valley of Sicily. You can spend days there going to
the wineries and enjoying the food. Nearby, you can stay at agriturismi. I love staying at farmhouses. If you’ve done that ever,
you know how enjoyable that is to go and stay
at an old farmhouse. Get to know the owner and they cook
you breakfast and sometimes dinner. This is a great spot for it, right
on the north phase of that. Now, you can do it in the
center of Sicily as well, but you I would say this is my
favorite place to do it. Especially, because of the wine. You have to be near the wine. The countryside around
there is lovely. It’s something unexpected
too because it’s a different ecosystem than
any other place in Sicily. It’s a little bit more
fertile, different landscape. It’s close to some
high mountains on the opposite side called
the Madonie as well. This whole valley
on the northeast of Etna is worth visiting
if you have time. Our final stop is Cefalù. Cefalù is a great place to finish
your trip because it is a beach town. It’s a great place to
go and enjoy the beach. Most people think that it’s probably
one of the best beaches in Sicily. Great beaches on the southern
coast, but on the northern coast, this is probably the
best place to go and enjoy. It’s a very charming little
village as well, a fishing town. Also, they have this strange Norman
Cathedral, if you can see that. That’s another one of those
Norman cathedral forts there. It was a Norman bastion in the past. This could have been
the heart, the capital of Sicily, had the
Norman stayed in Sicily. Of course, they were defeated
and sent away, but if they stayed, Cefalù might have been
more important in the past. There’s that cathedral, on the
inside, just as you might be expecting, you’ll find more
of those beautiful mosaics. This tiny little beach town,
little fishing village, has an enormous cathedral
with this works of arts. It’s a funny little contrast. Most people love to going to Cefalù though just to enjoy
the easy-going vibe. It’s just lovely. Just walk around, have something
to eat, enjoy the sunset and relax after a crazy vacation of really
intensely seeing all these ruins. It’s a great place to
soak it all in and think about it, or sit around
and admire the Speedos. You can also do that. [laughter] Yes, that’s the bathing suit
culture there, but that’s okay. What I love about the beach
culture in Sicily and Italy, in general, is that there’s no shame
in wearing a Speedo or a bikini. Everybody is doing
it, even if you’re 90. It’s okay to go out there. Everybody is out there
just to have fun. Italian families love to
have fun together and so they’ll come out on the
beach and spend the day. It’s just a really
joyful atmosphere. They even have ladies
that come along and offer to give you a
back massage for €10. Guys with the pails,
selling coconut. They’ll walk around going, “Coco.
Coco.” They’ll sell you a
little size of coconut. Definitely, a different
experience if you’ve never been to an
Italian beach before. I love the Italian beaches, though. It’s very festive, as
everything in Italy. As we finish up our
tour of Sicily, we, of course, need to finish
by having a toast with some lovely Italian
wine, wonderful Sicilian wine, from
the slopes of Etna. Then we can continue our
thanks and our celebration for visiting Sicily by having
cannolo, because you know that famous line, “Take
the cannolo” right? My son decided to take the cannolo
and he is dying to go back. I hope that when you
go, you take a cannolo also, and you enjoy it
and return to Sicily. Thank you so much for
joining me today. [applause]

29 thoughts on “Sicily with Sarah Murdoch | Rick Steves Travel Talks

  1. Vado in Sicilia un paio di volte all'anno, perché mia moglie è di parlermo, ha una vita notturna così bella.

  2. What a wonderful informative experience.i know why you work for Rick Steven's the best I've had the pleasure of enjoying. You are Rich are the best.

  3. Most diverse part of Italy, See silly……..Sicily, in a more serious note has a famous cathedral where Christians, Greeks and Muslims build together…and that's the great thing about Sicilians, they are very broad minded people…and there DNA is the most diverse in the world yet most unique at the same time….

  4. Great video! We went to Sicily three times (a month each time) and had an apartment just above il mercado di Capo. It is il paese del mío cuore (the country of my heart) even though I am Canadian. In Palermo, you didn't mention the Capella Palatina, which is as beautiful as Monreale and closer as well as the amazing Oratorios sculpted in plaster by Serpotta. Also, on the east coast, the wonderful Giardini-Naxos, at the feet of Taormina, is well-worth the visit for its beaches, young vibe, and affordable restaurants.

  5. This was good to watch as I am going to Sicily in June. Milazzo and Savoca which I understand, are also great places to visit in Sicily.

  6. Few more suggestions: winery and vineyard spots to go: Marsala area (Cantine Montalto owner is super friendly) Ragusa (Cantine Gulfi bit expensive anyhow there are tons of winery places… ) and also bring them to DonnaFugata Castle south of Ragusa. ??

  7. Great presentation, though I wouldn't agree that Taormina is the one place where you will see tourists! Noto and Ortigia are also very touristy. Even central Catania is full of them (just to name some examples on the East coast.)

  8. Hello, I really liked your presentation, I am a Sicilian and I live in France so I miss Sicily so much!
    The atmosphere is Sicily is one of a kind and people are so nice 🙂

  9. Sarah, your tour of Sicily was marvelous. Having been there recently to visit the home towns of my father's family, Agrigento and Porto Empedocle, you have given me many more reasons to return. I recommend on your next trip to Sicily, that you also visit the Turkish Steps (Lido Scala dei Turchi) and beach, just outside Porto Empedocle, in Realmonte.


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