Today was a day full of changes. From modern to ancient, from parking anxiety to “no problem”, from pampered to “the rock”. The constant throughout? Sicily’s seashore and wonderful cuisine.
The View from Our Hotel Room, Villa Igiea
We leave today for Cefalu with mixed feelings. We would love to stay longer, but it is time to push on. We slept through the night again and awoke refreshed. The “cold” was still in my nasal passages and not too bad. We packed then went to breakfast, this time we took the elevator.
Breakfast is Served under the White Awnings
It was a moderately warm day; the patio was open and bustling. I walked to a table being setup. “No, this table is taken. I’ll set one up for you. Go to the buffet.” , which we did. I chose a croissant, wanting to eat a light breakfast. Ellen made a comment about eating healthy… Back to “our” table in the sun and it was taken. A fellow had placed a book on the table. “Mi dispace” and another table was setup, this time not in the sun. Bummer with an incipient cold. Still my croissant and macchiato doppio were excellent. Ellen had a more healthy breakfast of fruit and a cappuccino.
We took our bags down toward the front desk to ask about Ellen’s flat iron and to check out. She had left it with them to see if it could be resuscitated. The bellboy in the lobby came running to us to take our bags. It seems any time you try to do something for yourself, the staff puts an end to that immediately.
Palermo & Parking
Parking Palermo Style, Our Volvo is 2nd Car on the Right
Ellen’s flat iron was kaput. “Where could we buy a replacement?” “On via Ruggiero Settimo”, which Via della Liberta becomes just past Teatro Massimo. We knew exactly where that street was, we were there yesterday. I planned on getting a SIM card this morning, this time bringing my passport along. We asked about parking again, knowing there were two pay parking areas close to via Liberta. “No, only one is outsize the ZTL, you cannot use the other.” That was a crucial bit of information. Off we drove retracing yesterday’s steps at a rapid pace. Passing the farmacia, Ellen said, “Let’s get more vitamin C.” “Ok”, I said thinking, “crap, finding parking here is not going to be fun”. A right turn and a left and there was a spot on the corner below a parking sign that was open. Wow, we found parking in less than 4 minutes! Ellen was concerned, “Maybe this is not a valid parking spot. We could be towed.” It looked good to me, off we went for our vitamin. The car was there with no ticket on the windshield. One down.
Continuing on we next had to find parking nearer Via della Liberta. We needed to stop to check our map. This time two left turns took us to a cull de sac. Lots of cars were double parked, I pulled in behind one. While I was checking the map, Ellen said, “there’s some guy with a vest coming toward us. He’ll want us to move.” He walked past, motioned that we were ok where we were, and he moved a car so another could get out. We had found the parking area. I paid the attendant two euros, he moved some cars, and we had ourselves a primo parking spot. Ever concerned, Ellen wondered if we could park there until 14:00. “No problem” I said. Often that attitude gets me in trouble. Two down.
TIM, SIM, Torquemada
Valentina, TIM is Very Lucky to Have Her
It turns out we had parked three blocks from the TIM shop that has “my” SIM card. Ii took a number to wait my turn and Ellen went off to purchase the Italian handbag she saw the day before. She completed her purchase long before I was served. “il numero quarantotto,” “Parli Inglese?” “No” But the fellow handed us off to Valentina Cavara who did. It took an interminable time to sort out which of TIM’s special offers was best for us, then have the SIM car programmed and inserted in my iPhone. I had read that the 6 and 6S would work with international SIM cards and did not need to be unlocked. WRONG! The SIM card simply would not work. What to do? “I can purchase a phone. Do you have one that’s not expensive?”. “Yes. You would not want to buy an iPhone they are far to expensive.” We went through the whole SIM card configuration again, but this time for a new smart phone that Valentina sold with her employee discount (!!). Valentina also programmed a second SIM card which she said was a very special deal. For three months we would have unlimited cellular data on this SIM, but no calling. We left with a working local Italian phone number. Even with the new cell phone, our cost was far less than we would pay through ATT for two months. I am not happy with ATT’s pricing. Anyway; Three and Four down.
One of the Piazzas We “Discovered” on our Search
We still have Ellen’s flat iron and comfortable walking shoes for Ellen to go. We walked via Ruggiero Settimo and asked shopkeepers where we might find a flat iron. It was fun and funny, did we want a salon to have Ellen’s hair done? We were directed to Via Roma, Palermo’s third shopping area. We saw outstanding historic fountains, statues, churches, monuments but no flat iron and no sneakers to Ellen’s liking. On the bright side, it was early enough to have lunch at Torquemada. They had been closed yesterday, but they were open now. We ordered an appetizer of Five Diminutive Sicilian Sandwiches, think sliders done Sicilian style without the beef, and a mini pizza. The sandwiches were great, the pizza was just OK. Lunch: Five down.
It was not late enough that we could not possible check-in with Laura in Cefalu. No Problem, I dialed her on my new phone and rescheduled. It worked! Heading back to the car, Ellen stopped into a shop that had sneakers that she liked, that fit, and that were comfortable. In the space of five minutes (literally) she had her sneakers. Six down!
Palermo, Driving Again
We found the car parked just where we left it and (luckily) not parked in. Driving out of Palermo, heck driving anywhere in Palermo, is a challenge. It can be fun, if you adopt “the right” and rather strange attitude toward driving. It’s a Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde kind of thing. Following the GPS out of the city was no problem. Negotiating the traffic is the problem. It took us the better part of an hour. Again I called Laura and pushed our meet out another hour.
Even the autostrada was packed getting out of town. About an hour into our drive, I noticed the NAV displaying Messina 17km. WHAT? That cannot be right, Messina cannot possibly be 17km away. I pulled off the autostrada to check our location, parked, and verified that we could not possibly have passed Cefalu. Pulling out to turn around, I noticed a car pulling out behind me. No problem, there’s plenty of room, then BEEEEEEEEP. I stopped as a car stopped just to my left then pulled past. The rear passenger, a man, made the typical Italian gesture of “you stupido”: holding his hand, fingers together and pointed up, while raisin and lowering the hand at the wrist. So, around and back on the autostrada we went. We found Cefalu, but the Nav system guided us uphill and away from the town!
Between Sky and Sea & Laura
“This can’t be right,” Ellen said flatly. She was correct. We switched to my new phone and Google maps to save us. And it did to a point. Google maps doesn’t know from pedestrian areas or ZTL’s and repeatedly guided us up streets inaccessible to us. We went round and round a few times until I just parked and we walked.
Laura was waiting for us outside the building when we arrived late; very late. “Where’s your car?” I explained how we went round and round then parked. She was gracious about it. We all agreed GPS can be crazy.
From the Top looking Down
The Living Room is Small and Cozy
I like booking properties with a view when I can. In Italy this often means on the top floor and usually without an elevator. Our Cefalu rental is no exception. There are 64 steep steps from the doorway to the apartment. We get our exercise that way. (aside, I just heard the frutta e verdura monger outside. Every morning in Cefalu he calls out about the wonderful fruit or vegetables he has for sale. He sells to local merchants. We can buy directly from him at his price. It’s quintessential Italy)
Driving Cefalu, a Lighthearted Challenge
I asked Laura about local coffee shops and restaurants that she would recommend, she gave us the keys, and off she went. She had shown us how to drive to the apartment. We decided to schlep our bags and keep the car where it was, a ten minute walk away. We dropped our bags and headed out to find a bite and explore Cefalu.
Duomo Pizzeria & Ristorante
Just around the corner is the Duomo and its piazza. We were famished and settled on Pizzeria Ristorante Duomo Serio not knowing what to expect. Cefalu is very much like Taormina. It has the same feel, though it lacks the open air Greek Amphitheater that is Taormina’s hallmark. Not surprisingly, the Germans like Cefalu almost as much as they like Taormina. German is the third most common language among the restaurants. The maitre D asked if we spoke German, “Ma no”, then were were from. We were seated and as often happens we chose the same entre for dinner, freshly made cheese ravioli with a tomato sauce, fresh basil, and hazel nuts. Our waiter suggested I switch to fresh cheese ravioli with porcini mushrooms. That was fine with me! I don’t know how the Italians do it, but each pasta dish we have had was cooked perfectly with a perfect combination of flavors and seasoning. The ravioli was outstanding.
A Typical Narrow Street and Yes, Locals Drive It
We strolled down the narrow street from the piazza to #9, our “home”, climbed the 64 steps, and figured out how to use the heater. The apartment was cool and with my illness, some warmth was called for. The bedroom heater worked great. I couldn’t figure out how to work the kitchen/dining room heater. (later I found a separate control for that unit = problem solved.) We both slept through the night.
Cefalu is an ancient city located at the base of “the rock”. The rock is a round stone outcropping that stands many meters high with impressive cliffs all the way around. After the fall of the Roman empire, the people relocated to the top of the rock to avoid marauding pirates and Turks (and Turkish pirates too). The fortifications atop The Rock are impressive and include massive walls nearly two meters thick, a crenelated wall atop the rock,, a castle, and huge cisterns. With food and water the rock withstood many sieges. Eventually the population moved back down to the sea and Storico Cefalu was built over time.
A View Past the Duomo to The Rock and Crenelated Wall
Cefalu is isolated on the north shore of Sicily about an hour’s drive from Palermo, perhaps two hours from Messina. It is the only Tourist draw on this stretch of the north shore. It is overlooked as a tourist destination, which saves it. The locals live their lives in and around the tourists, many of whom are Italian too. There are some trinket shops and a few sea side vendors selling their ware, but nobody is pushy. We were only accosted once. A woman carrying a child asked for money, I said, “ma no” (but no) and that was that. Cefalu has maintained Its Italian roots. The endless sea of poorly made souvenir crap so prevalent in Rome or Venice is missing here. You get the sense that people are enjoying living in Cefalu and that tourism, while important, is not what Cefalu is about.
So what is Cefalu “all about”? It depends. Come find out for yourself.