06.02.2015 - 06.02.2015 78 °F
What a beautiful, warm, sunshiny morning. We headed down to breakfast (it’s nice that breakfast is included in all our hotels in Sicily…even if it is just a continental type buffet) in a beautiful dining area next to the pool. There were two outside seating areas and we opted to sit outside. The views over this incredible property down to the sea are indescribable…the photos do not do them justice. We had fresh blood orange juice, little individual egg and pancetta omelets, croissants stuffed with apricots, fresh melon, strawberries and pineapple…and there were fresh meats and cheeses and a variety of pastries and cookies. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I do not believe I have ever had an espresso or a cappuccino until this trip…didn’t know they came in decafe…man, have I ever been missing out.
After breakfast we set out in the Volvo for the sea side village of Cefalu.
Cefalù is a city in the Province of Palermo, located on the northern coast of Sicily on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The town, with its population of just under 14,000, is one of the major tourist attractions in the region. Despite its size, every year it attracts millions of tourists from all parts of Sicily and, also, from all over Italy and Europe. In summer the population can triple, making the main streets and major roads in the country crowded.
Of Greek foundation, the city evidently derived its name from its situation on a lofty and precipitous rock, forming a bold headland projecting into the sea. During the Byzantine domination the settlement was moved to the current location, although the old town was never entirely abandoned. In 858, after a long siege, it was conquered by the Arabs, and rechristened Gafludi. For the following centuries it was part of the Emirate of Sicily. In 1063 the Normans captured it and in 1131, Roger II, king of Sicily, transferred it from its almost inaccessible position to one at the foot of the rock, where there was a small but excellent harbor, and began construction of the present cathedral. Between the 13th century and 1451 it was under different feudal families, and then it became a possession of the Bishops of Cefalù. Cefalù became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
Margaret has been navigating from directions I printed out before we left. Before we started, I turned the radio on for the first time and, miraculously, a map appeared on the dashboard screen. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, and we followed the directions of the concierge into Cefalu. The main attraction in Cefalu is the Duomo, a cathedral built in 1131 that has wonderfully preserved ceramic tiles.
We drove into the town and were trying to find a parking place as close to the town center as possible, which is where the Duomo is located. After one pass through, I spotted a car leaving an ideal spot and I quickly backed up. There was a local cop right there who admonished that this space was reserved for residents, at which point he looked inside our car and, because I was wearing shorts, he saw that I had a disability. I also happened to bring my handicapped placard with me which he looked at warily. In my best broken Italian, I tried to explain that I was from California and he bought into it and allowed me to park there…gratis! However, he insisted that I back up to clear a crosswalk and my rear bumper could not have been more than three inches from the car behind me. Fortunately, when we returned, that car was still there.
Cefalu is a beautiful sea side village with a nice sandy beach that was thoroughly populated with people of all ages, shapes and sizes. We embarked on a walk through the old town, ultimately ending up at the Duomo Cathedral. The cathedral, dating from 1131, was built in the Norman style, the island of Sicily having been conquered by the Normans in 1091. According to tradition, the building was erected after a vow made to the Holy Savior by the King of Sicily, Roger II, after he escaped from a storm to land on the city's beach. The fortress-like character of the building, which, seen from a distance, rises as a huge structure above its medieval town, may in part reflect the vulnerability of the site to attack from the sea. It also made a powerful statement of the Norman presence.
Also of interest in Cefalu, if you've got about three hours, you can take a bracing hike 917 feet up the Rocca, a large rock foundation that served as a town fortress centuries ago. About halfway up, the path splits. Steps to the right lead the long way up to the overgrown foundations of a 13th-century Byzantine fortress at the very top of the mountain. The path to the left leads past ancient cisterns and remnants of medieval houses, to the so-called Temple of Diana, a small, 5th-century BC temple made of huge stones fitted together with a few doorways surviving. A path to the right above the temple then leads steeply to that mountaintop fortress.
There are numerous restaurants that have patios that look out over the Tyrennhian Sea. We then walked back toward the beach and settled into an outdoor café on the beach where we had lunch (I actually had a hot dog and it was pretty good, Panini style) and then headed back to the hotel for some pool time.
We donned our suits and headed for the pool for a couple of hours (only pool I have ever seen with stationary bikes in the shallow end affixed to the bottom of the pool)…then the comic highlight of the trip thus far began. Just off the pool there is a little bar where you can order drinks and snacks. Since we had our own liquor (Jameson and Tanqueray), I wanted some ice for the room. From experience, I have come to know that ice is a much misunderstood commodity in Europe. If you ask for a cocktail, you might be lucky to get two ice cubes in the glass. So…I went to the bar and asked the bartender for a bucket of ice. He looked at me quizzically. I said “molto ghiaccio”, which I believe to be “a lot of ice” in Italian. He said, “Momento”…and he took off in a rather hurried gait. He returned five minutes later with two ice packs in his hand. I said, “No, no…ghiacco…and pointed to the glass on the bar.” It was what happened next that led me to understand what the problem was with “a lot of ice”. He went into the room behind the bar and came out with what I can best describe as two sheets of plastic wrap that had about 20 ice cubes trapped within the wrap. This meant that one would have to work to push an ice cube from its prison within the two sheets where it was trapped. So I said, give me “due” (two)…which he did, and I proceeded to the room, where I patiently spent about 20 minutes freeing these individual cubes from the wrap and into two glasses. Ice makers had apparently not yet made it to this otherwise incredibly modernized 12th century abbey/hotel. But it was not over yet. Having finished our cocktails, and wanting to head outside to enjoy another in the warm, Sicilian sun, I called reception and asked for another bucket of ice. Two minutes later, one of the staff appears at our door with a bowl that is approximately four inches in diameter and an inch tall that contains about six ice cubes. I tried not to laugh…but. So I said, “No, signore, piu grande” (meaning larger). He nodded, knowingly, and turned and walked away. Five minutes later there is a knock at the door and he has returned, this time with a plastic cup about five inches high with perhaps eight ice cubes. At that point I said, “Grazie mille”…gave him 5 euro and that is the best ice story I can give you.
With the ice that we had, we made our way to a very nice outdoor spot with a good domino table…and the sun filtering through the trees. We had a dinner reservation at 8 for the restaurant at the hotel of which we were willingly captive at that point. Dinner was, once again, outstanding. I went with the same salumi and cheese plate as the night before. It was not on the menu, but I asked the waiter if the chef could make spaghetti carbonara, which he did, and it was the best I have ever had. Margaret had an asparagus flan, fettuccine with pesto and tomatoes, and the rack of lamb I had the previous night. For dessert we shared the pistachio and vanilla gelato. Tomorrow is packing/moving day, so the lights were out early.