Trieste, Italy: out of the way but worth finding

For the next month I’ll be traveling north and east, through some of the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. My first destination, on my way to points east, is Trieste, a city in northern Italy on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Look on a map of Italy to find Trieste. It’s location has been a blessing and a curse over the centuries. Once part of the Habsburg empire its population is a mix of Catholic Italians, Orthodox Slovenes and Germanic peoples. Its location on the sea and between powerful European states caused the first half of the 20th century to be very troublesome for the people of Trieste. Ultimately, the greater region was divided in 1954 between Italy and Yugoslavia.

I went there on my way east, traveling first by plane from Sicily and then by train from Rome, an adventure that took the better part of two days. On the third day I reached my goal: Zagreb, Croatia. More about that soon.

I had little time to see much of Trieste.  It’s a city that has interested me for a number of years, having been a favorite subject of the writer Jan Morris. Her book, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is being reissued this year. Luckily, I chose a hotel in a perfect location for seeing the center of the city, the part near the “grand canal.” That allowed me to photograph some interesting and/or fun scenes on a Friday in the late afternoon of a beautiful day.  Here’s some of what I saw.

An enormous Serb Orthodox church stands at the head of the canal. Interesting market stalls can be found there.

Another Orthodox church is near by. These churches were closed when I was there. Too bad. I’d love to have seen the interiors.


The “grand canal” (only two or three blocks long) empties into the Adriatic.


James Joyce was living in Trieste while he wrote Ulysses. (His wife was supporting the family with her boarding house.) He’s remembered here with this sculpture.

Friday afternoon after-work fun is the same everywhere, isn’t it?

I’ll be writing about Ljubljana and the Slovenian countryside next, followed by a post or two about Zagreb.



Ortigia in Siracusa: Living History


I walked out of a 14th century palace today (above), into a street lined with houses constructed in the 1600s or earlier, past a church that’s probably older. I felt like I’d been swept back in time 500 years. The island of Ortigia is a living time capsule.


One of many thousand locally-found ancient artifacts in the Archaeology Museum in Siracusa, this one strikes me as a “photograph” of a couple of guys from about 2000 years ago.

People have lived here for 14,000 years (per Wikipedia). The walls of the cathedral began life as a Greek temple to the goddess Diana. The large archaeological museum here is filled with artifacts left behind by residents thousands of years before the time of Christ.


This house may be the most lavishly decorated in Ortigia. This photo shows the top of the entrance and a window above and part of the decor along the roof line. 

The oldest palaces line up along the southern edge of the island. Their facades date them to the 1400s when the Spanish were in control here or the Bourbons in the 1500s. Like Lecce, the 1600s found men making great fortunes here and demonstrating their wealth by building palazzi in the baroque fashion. The 1700s continued that trend, but fancier with roccoco style balconies held up by sculputured heads or leaves and flowers. The doorways communicate the time of a buildings origins: in the 1500s they were plain, in the 1600s they became a bit grander, and in the 1700s they were lavishly decorated.


St. Peter the Apostle Church in Ortigia is one of the oldest existing churches in Europe. A descriptor in the church quotes a source dating it to 326 AD.

Ortigia is an island that is part of the city of Siracusa (Syracuse in English) located on the southeastern coast of Sicily. Siricusa is just over a pair of short bridges. Siracusa holds the modern necessities: homes, offices, and so forth. The archaeological museum is there not far from the large Greek remains: a theatre, some of the coliseum, lots of rocks!

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People live here! It’s a busy place.

I’ve read that fewer than 5000 people actually live on the island. I have also read that 100,000 tourists come to Ortigia each year. I’m here in the off-season but even so on the weekend the piazza by the cathedral was packed with people with cameras, eating gelato and having a great day. The weather has been perfect this week. The people responsible for town government do a great job of maintaining its history while entertaining hordes of people and filling many of the ancient doorways with vendors of pizza and tourist magnets and fashionable clothing and sneakers.


This image of the cathedral in Ortigia shows the Greek temple in the illuminated section at the left.

My friend Nikki wrote to me yesterday about a visit here that she and her husband made a few year ago. She wrote this: “We walked in the amphitheater of the Greeks!!  Don’t forget to try the blood oranges and the lemons unlike any you have ever tasted in America. We visited the grave of Archimedes and the church dedicated to St. Lucy, [the patron saint of Siracusa.]” As Nikki demonstrated, a visit here is one you’ll not soon forget.



Palermo: enjoying its history and its future

Four hundred year ago Palermo was a very rich city. From the 1600s to the 1800s enormous palaces and churches were built to the highest standard here. Relics of that era are found everywhere. It sometime seems that there’s a baroque church and a rococo palace or two in every block. Those huge buildings are often used now as hotels, museums, offices and, more often, apartment buildings. Many of the churches have been re-purposed or closed permanently.

This is one a pair of grand portals opening onto a building that’s being restored (apparently). A pizza place is there now but it seems better days are ahead.

The many ancient palaces (called “palazzi” in Italian) seem to be faring better than the churches. Often the main door to the street is a two-story tall confection of carved stone, sometimes with the coat of arms of the family that built it at the top. Inside the door there’s usually a courtyard open to the sky, often made into a garden with tall palm trees and other Mediterranean plants.

Here’s my new friend Emanuele in front of the eastern end of the Palermo cathedral which I had completely missed seeing.

I’ve been fortunate here to have met a very knowledgeable guide, Emanuele DeGaetano. He has introduced me to some most interesting places in Palermo and has shared with me the history of each place. On two occasions we walked for hours, once in the city center and once in the marina district. Emanuele has shown me churches and museums but he’s also shown me giant murals and explained the murders of men who opposed the mafia. He is completely knowledgeable about his city.

The church tower at the end of this block is wrapped in scaffolding while being repaired. It’s one of two towers and the facade of a huge church that is now being restored. Note the narrow street in the historic center of Palermo and all the balconies. This street is typical of the center of Palermo.

Today Palermo is alive with the energy of young people, with the noise and confusion of a city where everybody seems to be in the street. Swarms of tourists from every part of the world add to the chaos. This is the most alive town I’ve ever been in. People sleep in ancient small apartments in the original city center but they live in the street. Sidewalk cafés are everywhere. Late Sunday afternoon I was surprised when I went to one of the main streets, Via Maqueda, and found it totally packed with people, reminding me of a state fair on opening day.

This picture wasn’t taken when the street was packed but it’s the same street, a pedestrian only zone lined with shops and restaurants, all of them locally owned. No McDonald’s or Starbucks here!

I’ve been to all the famous cities of Italy (some of them several times) and to other wonderful Italian cities that are less famous. Considering all of them, I’ve found Palermo to be the most fascinating and enjoyable. It is alive!


Postscript: March 21, 2019: This morning when I left the place where I stayed this week I found hundreds of young people marching up the main street nearby. When I asked a someone what it was about she said it’s an annual event in which students remember those who have been murdered by the mafia. It happens all over Italy on this day each year.The signs being carried also seemed to express a desire to rid Sicily of the mafia.

Emanuele DeGaetano is a professional guide. He has a thorough knowledge of his city and country. He speaks English fluently. If you will be in Palermo I recommend you arrange a tour with him. Reach Emanuele at His website is under construction and is missing the English translation now but still provides many ideas for time in Palermo. Find it at

The photo at the top of this post is of one of the very elaborately decorated Baroque churches in Palermo. The dopey little computer I brought on this trip has a terrible monitor. Pictures on it look awful to me. I hope they look better on your screen.

Tomorrow I’m off to Siracusa, an ancient Greek city in Sicily. Stay tuned!

Loving Palermo!

My AirBnB apartment in Palermo is the best I’ve had. It’s been converted from the ground floor barn of a centuries-old building into a 21st century apartment with everything anyone needs for comfort. It’s located near the foot of Via Victor Emanuele, the principal north/south street, near the point where that street ends at the edge of the Mediterranean. This area is called Piazza Marina – it’s where the city’s pleasure craft marina is located. (The photo above shows the corner near my apartment: the church was built in the 1500s and the masts of sailboats in the marina are seen in the background along with one of the small mountains that protect the harbour.)

My apartment in Palermo is very comfortable.

The walk to the center of the city from the apartment is less than a kilometer. The city’s free circular-route bus is just outside the door. The wide street around the corner runs between ancient city walls and the Mediterranean Sea. Good, affordable restaurants are there and all over town. Sunday morning I found a large flea market outside my door. Less than 24 hours after I arrived I asked to stay another week and cancelled my plans for next week.

This photo of the cathedral of Palermo doesn’t include the entire exterior. The building is a full block long.

This city that has known may rulers over the centuries. There are layers of history to explore. Just one example — the cathedral. Quoting from the tourist brochure: “The cathedral was erected in 1185 by the Archbishop … on an ancient basilica, which had been transformed into a mosque by Muslims and was later reconsecrated to the Christian faith by the Normans.”  The façade dates from the 1300s – 1400s and the dome dates from 1781.

One of the many beautiful parks in Palermo.

The city of Palermo is alive with busy people, young and old. It’s filled with beautiful old churches. Many of them don’t get much use these days. There is an enormous opera house and many theaters as well as art galleries and museums. Parks are dotted all over town. The one across the street from my apartment is said to be the location of the largest tree in Europe. Another is a playground running for blocks along the edge of the sea. A well-regarded botanical garden and a neighboring park are near it. Small mountains (or big hills) overlook the city.

The wide walking area along the Mediterranean Sea in Palermo, showing a restaurant that specializes in pizza and gelato!

Yesterday I boarded the free bus that runs through the old part of town just for the free city tour it provides. I got on at the first stop about 9:00 in the morning. The bus took me to a part of town with modern apartment buildings, large stores (including one of those big German groceries that are covering the world), and past the hospital. Soon it was packed with people, most of them pensioners. The noise level was surprising. The lady sitting next to me was so insistent that another woman using a walker take her seat that she argued loudly when her offer was declined. At each stop the noise level increased as people pushed their way on and off the bus. It was all a new experience!

An out-of-focus photo of a family enjoying a day out in Palermo. Don’t miss the horse’s hat!

The people here are genuinely helpful and friendly. I got really lost a couple of days ago and asked a number of people for directions back to the cathedral, which is my major landmark. Invariably they smiled and struggled to understand what I needed and pointed me in the right direction. One woman actually interrupted her conversation with a friend to walk me part way “home.” I have found Italians to be this kind and helpful everywhere I’ve been.

Stay tuned for the further adventures in Palermo!


PS: Here’s AirBnB’s site for the apartment I’m loving.

Catania: Living Dangerously

Catania is Sicily’s second largest city. Home to more than a million people in the metropolitan area, it is located 24 miles from Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano.

Snowy Mount Etna looms over Catania. Here you see the main street, lined with 18th century buildings and leading directly to the volcano which is still very active. I stayed just two blocks from the yellow building in the background of this picture.

The city was destroyed by an eruption of Etna in 1669 and by an earthquake in 1693. Little remains of pre-1700 Catania. I have read that one-third of the city population died. There was so much lava that the city’s port was partially filled and the city’s area became much larger.

Much of Catania is built on the lava rock that was left in the late 1600s, The owners of this large building just left it there and built on top of it several centuries ago.

Today much of the city is comprised of large buildings lining the streets densely, most of them dating from the 18th century. Grand palaces are scattered throughout the city but today many of them are broken up into small apartments where laundry flies from the windows. Catania seemed to me to be smaller Naples. Like Napoli, there are no traffic lights in the busiest area of the city. I thought I was going to die in the taxi that took me from the railroad station to my apartment.

Beautiful old churches seem to be found in nearly every block. I thought this one was especially fine. Can you spot the angel?

Crossing streets is really a challenge!

Catania has two famous market areas: the fish market located just outside the cathedral  where I found the man with the swordfish head shown at the top of this post, and a larger market that stretches through the center of the city beginning within a couple of blocks of my AirBnB rental. That one not only sells food of all kinds but also shoes and clothing, household gadgets – just about anything you can imagine. If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know I love taking photographs of markets. Here’s some of my favorites from Catania.


Lecce: Things I’ll Remember

Wandering the narrow streets of Lecce (and always getting lost) over several days was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had. Although the city has a population of about 100,000 and a very active and successful business community, the ancient city at the center is protected, authentic, delightful. I thought it might be fun for you to read about and see some of the bits of Lecce that made it very special.

Roman around
On my first night in town, taking a walk without any idea where I was going or how to find my way back… stumbled upon the remains of the Roman amphitheater. Just behind it was a recently restored  14th century building that’s served as the center of town forever. The next day I found the stage and remaining seats of the Roman theatre. Everywhere I found late renaissance churches and palaces and ordinary homes. A block from the theatre stand the pair of ancient olive trees I’ve shown above. I wonder if the Romans planted them?  I think I slept in a renaissance barn. It was all enchanting.

Some of the extant Roman coliseum with the 13th century building at the upper left. Hidden somewhere in this picture is the symbol of a famous 20th century American institution. Can you find it?

Getting lost
No matter how hard I  tried, how much attention I paid, how much I planned ahead, how many maps I used, I got lost every day at least once.  This is a really small area! I got the most lost on the last morning lugging my bags to the train station. I had been there at least three times but I got so twisted up near my apartment! I came upon a group of men chatting on a Sunday morning and asked “which way to the stazione?” Two of them immediately disengaged from their friends and began leading me to the station, taking my luggage in hand. On the way there one of them had to head off in another direction but the other stayed with me all the way.  He was so nice, dragging my stuff, testing his English with me. I have found the young people everywhere I’ve gone in Italy to be very good to old ladies!

This lovely young woman allowed me to take her picture because I told her she looks like someone I know.

Hard-headed carvings
As reported in my last post, the soft stone of Lecce is said to be easy to carve. Saints and angels peer down at pedestrians all over town. The palaces (palazzi) have lushly carved window and door surrounds but my favorite thing about them were the balconies outside every window. Balconies held up for centuries by carved heads and shoulders of men and women and animals.

An example of frequently seen carvings holding up an 18th century balcony.

Another tradition in Lecce is papier maché. Our guide pointed out to us in one 17th century church that the ceiling was entirely made of the original papier maché.  But the most fun use of it appears as small souvenirs for tourists to take home and small street sculptures. Here’s one example.

A very old elephant made of papier mache and his rider.

Pastries, pasta and prosciutto
Of course food!  Good homemade (bakery and restaurant made) traditional food. Every day begins with a “cornetto” – a croissant filled with vanilla custard or Nutella or something equally good and a tiny cup of espresso used to transport several teaspoons of sugar into a body.  Cheese: I ordered a caprese salad and got an entire mozzarella the size of a baseball. Pizza everywhere! Naples style. Pasta with an unending variety of toppings.  Sandwiches and salads topped with ham, usually thin slices of prosciutto. My favorite restaurant was called Nonna Tetti (correct me if I’m wrong but I believe “nonna” means grandmother). A charming small trattoria with a varied menu and low prices.

Charming Nonna Tetti, a good restaurant near “my house.”

I must share with my friends this work of art I found in the town’s modern art museum.

This man has few admirers in Europe. I’m told the two-finger salute is the Italian version of the American one-finger salute!

Next: surprising Catania!  Come back soon.


In the Heel of the Boot!

If you look at a map of Italy you will see that it’s shaped like a high-heeled boot. This week I’ve been in Lecce, an ancient city in the center of the heel. There was an organized society living here 4000 years before the Romans came. The Appian Way, the most famous Roman road, ended here. In the next 1000 years or so following the demise of Rome a highly successful agricultural economy based on olive oil and wine developed here with Lecce the financial capitol. Some of the merchants and financiers became extraordinarily wealthy. They built massive, ornate homes that continue to exist today. They financed the building of a great many baroque and rococo churches.

I’ve been wandering through a maze of narrow streets that wind around those palaces (palazzi in Italian) for several days, getting lost every time I venture out, feeling grateful that the historic district of the town is too small to become permanently lost in. Google maps led me home most days. Let me show you a bit of what I’ve been seeing:

This church is my landmark, the nearest one to where I’m staying. It’s dedicated to Saint Matthew. Inside and out it is beautiful

Here’s another example of an ornate church. The map I’ve been using lists 25 churches like this within the old town walls. My guess is that the town is about 1 mile on each side.

An early evening view of the street behind one of the most decorative palaces — in pink and white stripes and with a tower.

This doorway surround is typical of many found on the old palaces. Huge doors insured the privacy of the inhabitants.

This town is a mixture of ancient beauty and the 21st century ugliness.

Here’s the street my tiny apartment is on. Too narrow for automobiles but ok for bikes. It’s quiet.

Merry Christmas from Venice!

blog venice frari

Buon Natale as I said to people who passed me on the street early this morning. I got a mixed bag of responses that led me to understand that people in Venice don’t do that!  The lady whose job is to sweep the streets was out working – she was delighted by my wish and responded with a long string of words I didn’t understand and a big smile. The reactions of men on the street varied from a startled look to a grunt to a buon giorno.

For the past week I’ve been searching for Christmas in Venice. This city is filled with churches, sometimes two or three in one block. St. Mark’s Basilica offered a number of times and languages for late night mass last night. Stores have displays ranging from a simple string of lights to extravagant, expensive window displays in the shops of world famous designers. But the old way of celebrating Christmas with one’s family with dinner and mass last night and small gifts and a Christmas lunch today seem to still be the way most Venetians celebrate Christianity’s day of joy.

The best thing I found in Venice at Christmas time was a concert in the only gothic church in Venice, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (shown above). A small orchestra, a choir of 30 or so, and five soloists performed some Bach and Mozart and Bing Crosby (yes, they sang “White Christmas.”)  It was lovely.

Here are a few photos of Venetian Christmas scenes.


IMG_1081 St Lucia

The first thing most people see in Venice: Santa Lucia rail station, now dressed for Christmas.


Agi and Blaine on the high water walkways outside St. Mark’s Basilica.


A little high water made a nice reflection outside the upscale shops near St. Marks.


Somehow a Walmart Santa made its way to Venice, where it stands guard over an ancient well.


A window display of Venetian Christmas glassware.

Verona, Italy

A medieval/renaissance city filled with history and beauty and lively people, Verona should be on every tourist-to-Italy’s bucket list.  Wander through one square after another, finding marvels everywhere.

One of three ancient sculptures in Verona’s ancient mark.etplace

The market place has fulfilled that role for 2000 years, and has a Roman statue in the middle in a fountain to prove it.  The square where the court has been held for hundreds of years is next, with a magnificent stairway of carved pink marble.


Go through an opening in the wall, and come into a beautiful square surrounded by renaissance palaces.

Here stands Dante, pondering the scene all around him. The building in the background is considered to be one of the most perfect renaissance structures in Europe.

A statue of Dante, the Italian writer/philosopher, stands proudly in the center of the square.

I envy the people who live in Verona.

My favorite restaurant in Italy, Ristorante Dante, is in that square. On a good day you can sit for hours, enjoying fine wine, delicious food, the beauty of the surroundings and delighting in people-watching.

Lovely Juliet, standing and waiting for the return of Romeo.

A popular place with tourists is “Juliet’s House.” Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet are supposed to have lived in Verona. It’s a small stone house completely covered in graffiti, the old fashioned kind with names written in a heart “4-ever.” A lovely “Juliet” sculpture stands near the entrance.

We found a gladiator outside the Verona coliseum.

Verona has an intact Roman coliseum.  In summer a series of some of the best-loved operas are performed there: LaTraviata, Aida, La Boheme, Romeo & Juliet among them. The coliseum seems to be the centerpiece of the city. A wide street lined on one side with sidewalk cafés runs along one side of it and a park filled with greenery is on another.

A perfect example of the residences found in central Verona.

The city streets of Verona are lined with upscale shops and lovely old buildings. It’s all spotlessly clean with pots of flowers everywhere. The entire city flaunts its age proudly!

Memorial to a tired tourist!