Friday, April 23, 2010


Day 1

From Naples I will catch a train to the city of Palermo on the island of Sicily. Sicily is a large island therefore I'll be planning on staying in two locations during my four day trip here. Palermo is on the west side of the island, while I'm here I'll see attractions that are relatively close and then I'll head out East, to find another Hotel and check out the sites on that side of the island.

In Palermo I'll check into the Hotel Vecchio Borgo. This hotel is highly rated, number 10 out of 96 Hotels in Palermo according to and is fairly reasonably priced. Reviewers say that the staff is pleasant and amenities good. Also the hotel is located at the three minutes walk from Palermo's main area for shopping.

Since I'll be arriving in Palermo in the late afternoon or early evening, my first day will consist mostly of checking into my hotel, finding a place to eat dinner and exploring my immediate surroundings. One of the sites my first day here I want to make sure to visit is Palazzo dei Normanni & Capella Palatina. The castle is considered on the the most amazing Aram-Norman structures there is and was constructed during the 12th century. The Capella Palatina also dates from around the same time and is one of the best known medieval monuments of Europe.

Palazzo dei Normanni

Capella Palatina

After I'm settled in I'll go eat at the nearby Ristorante La Scuderia. This restaurant is highly recommended by Frommers, saying that dedicated professionals run it and that it has a beautiful atmosphere surrounded by trees at the foot of Monte Pellegrino.

After dinner I will head to my hotel and call it a night.

Day 2

On my first full day in Sicily I will arise and eat breakfast in the hotel. After breakfast I will head out and catch the hydrofoil out to the small island of Ustica off the coast of Palermo. This form or transformation is more expensive than the ferry but takes half the time, about just over an hour as opposed to an hour and a half. Taking a little trip will something to look forward to as I've been on land for most of this tour, it would be a good experience being out on the Mediterranean Sea and spending the day on this quaint little island.

This island was rated number 1 out of 101 Palermo attractions by tourists. The island is small so I can get everywhere I need to go by foot. When I first arrive there it will be about mid morning I think it would be fun to just stroll around the town and check out the shops and take in views of the bay, Baia Santa Maria.

I will eat lunch at restaurant named Schiticchio. This establishment is in the center of the village near the town hall. They prepare their food with the freshest ingredients on the island, their menu features seafood of course among other local dishes.

This modest establishment, near town hall in the center of Ustica village, offers a rustic decor, a staff that seems to try harder than average to please its patrons, and good homemade food prepared with the freshest ingredients on the island. Ask about the fresh fish of the day, which is often grilled to perfection. The pizza oven turns out succulent pies, and we delighted in a homemade pasta with a tangy pesto sauce.

Though there are other attractions on the island and it is difficult to choose which one to pursue what has peaked my interest is the Villaggio Preistorico which is a Bronze Age settlement. Excavation of this site began in 1989, the year I was born! This large prehistoric village dates from the 14th to the 13th century B.C. There are foundations of about 300 stone houses and the settlement boasted some of the strongest fortifications in Italy during any period. The site is always open and best of all it's free!

After I'm done with my blast from the past I will catch the hydrofoil back to Palermo. There I will eat at the Antica Focacceria San Francesco. This is a local favorite and has been a Palermo tradition since 1834. This restaurant's high ceiling along with its marble floors evoke the time when it was founded and the food has remained pretty consistent since.

After dinner I will head back to my hotel and rest up for my next big day.

Day 3

On my second full day I will arise and eat breakfast in the hotel before checking out and heading South to Argigento. The train ride there is about two hours so I'll arrive mid-morning. Once I get there I'll check into my hotel, the Colleverde Park Hotel. The hotel is rated high in customer satisfaction and is a relatively good value at around 130$ a night. One reviewer writes that this four star hotel could be a five.

After checking into my hotel I'll eat lunch at Trattoria Concordia which is nearby. After my train ride I'll be looking for a convenient place to eat and this is in a great location.

After lunch I will head to the Valley of the Temples, which is rated on to be the top attraction in Agigento. This is a Unesco World heritage site and is one af the most important archaeological sites in Sicily. Here I can admire the Temples of Hera, Concordia, Heracles, Zeus, Castor,Pollux and Hephaistos.

After my tour I will eat dinner at the Spizzulio. This is rated #1 out of 17 restaurants in Agigento on One reviewer writes that the food is excellent and innovative with a personal touch and that the attention from the chef/owner is excellent. Looks like a winner!

After dinner I will head back to the hotel for a good nights sleep so I'll be well rested for my aventures the following day.

Day 4

On this day I will wake up, eat breakfast in the hotel and then check out and be on my way to Catania, on the Eastern coast of the island. I will take a bus, which will take a few hours and get there mid-morning. Once there I will check into the Borgo Verde Hotel.

Customers have written good reviews on this hotel, one said that it was green and quiet. Looks like this hotel is a great deal, at just under $100 a night.

Then I will grab a bite to eat at La Taverna del Grande Albero, which is highly rated, small and not too expensive.

After eating I will head to the the nearby Mt. Etna, which says is the number one attraction of Catania, and not only that but the most popular attraction of the entire island! Mt. Catania is a volcanoe, the tallest active volcanoe in all of Europe.

The tour I want to go on, the South side-Nicolosi tour which will bring me to the summit craters and Bove valley, runs a good five hours so this will occupy me for the rest of the day until I head back to the city for dinner.

After my volcanic adventure I will go back to the city and eat dinner at the Osteria Antica Marina, which is rated as the top restaurant in the city on One reviewer raves that this is THE best restaurant in Catania, boasting not only excelled seafood but a friendly staff and great service.

After dinner I will head back to my hotel and hit the sack. I'm sure I'll sleep well after my hiking today at Mt. Etna.

Day 5

On my last day on the island of Sicily I will wake up, eat breakfast, check out of my hotel and head to Siracusa to the South by bus which is a coastal city as all the other cities I have visited on the island have been. The ride will take a few hours and I will get there mid-morning.

The first thing I will do is hit up the Catacombs of St. John. These catacombs, which have long ago been looted by grave robbers so the some 20,000 early Christian tombs are empty. During Roman times Christians were not allowed to bury thier dead within city limits so they buried thier dead outside the bounderies of the city, underground. While Syracuse has other underground burial grounds, these are the only ones open to the public. The early Chrisitans venerated this spot as holy ground because St. Paul is said to have preached there. The basilica that was constructed there in the 6th century was destroyed and then later reconstructed in the 12th century and served as the Cathedral of Syracuse until it was destroyed by and earthquake in 1693. Another church was build on the spot but was later abandoned in the 17th century and destroyed in an earthquake in 1908.

After touring the catacombs I will eat lunch at Le Vin de L'assassin Bistrot. This restaurant features French and Mediterranean food and is rated very highly. One reviewer says that the prices are right and that they wish they had found this little gem of a restaurant earlier in thier three weeks stay in Syrcacuse.

After my meal I will head to the archaeological zone, Neapolis.

This includes a range of monuments in it's limits, including this Greek theater wich is one of the largest of it's kind and still in use today, during the summer months Greek plays are performed here.

After I'm done vising this site my Italian adventure will be concluded and I will catch my plane home.

Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Day 1

I will depart from Roma Termini, Rome's main station and arrive in Naples' Napoli Centrali. Other travelers have written that train is the way to go, it takes only one hour and twenty minutes for the newer trains, with the older yet cheaper trains taking about three hours. The trips are frequent, inexpensive and usually on time.

I will check in at my hotel, the Doubletree Guest Suites Naples, which was rated number one in customer reviews on The hotel is reasonably priced so it won't break the bank. One reviewer writes that they were treated like royalty. This hotel also has a great restaurant so I'll be able to eat breakfast in the hotel to start out my days hassle-free.

Having already eaten lunch on the train, after I check in I will spend the afternoon beginning to take in the sights. I will take a cab to this historic center of the city, centro storico, and get lost wandering around, as one traveler advises. The old center is special in that it is at the same time historic and alive. The street plan is very ancient. This area has been a bustling residential and shopping area for centuries. Yet it is not a static museum display gathering dust, but is rather very much alive. It is alive yet connected to and a continuation of its rich history.

It has been advised though to carry a map as you wander. That map will come in handy as I wander to find I place to eat dinner. Pizzeria Lombardi A S.Chiara‎ looks like a great place to eat. It is in the heart of historic Naples, and one reviewer raves that they serve the perfect pizza. One thing I have read about Naples is how they are famous for their pizza. The restaurant is easy to get to and has many interesting shop around it.

Now that I have tasted a bit of the flavor of this city, after dinner I will head back to my hotel to get a good nights rest for what lies in store for me tomorrow.

Day 2

On my second day I will arise, prepare for the day and eat breakfast at the hotel.

In the morning I will visit the National Archaeological Museum. The Museum houses one of the most amazing collections of Roman artifacts and art in the world. Also it would be great way to prepare for my anticipated trips to Pompeii and Herculaneum, where from much of the sculpture in this collection is taken. The collection boasts marble and bronze sculpture as well as ancient mosaics and wall paintings.

After I have taken in the collection of the museum I will eat lunch at a restaurant in the immediate vicinity called the Pizzeria Starita A Materdei. The rankings that customers have given this restaurant are impressive. It is ranked number 3 out of 297 restaurants in Naples. One reviewer wrote the the food was superb and that their service was excellent even when they were very busy. This looks like the real thing.

After lunch I will head to the section of the city called Spaccanapoli where the Duomo Resides.

The Cathedral is dedicated to San Gennaro (St. Januarius), who is the city's patron. The Church has a vial of the saint's blood which is brought out two times during the year, on the first Saturday of May and September 19th. When the blood is taken out it usually liquefies, there is a legend that something bad will happen to the city if the blood fails to liquefy. The Church houses precious pieces of art which I'd be very much interested in seeing. The main attraction of the interior is the Chapel of the Treasure of St. Januarius.

After spending the afternoon at the Cathedral I will head off for dinner at a restaurant close by it, the Pizzeria La Bufala.

A reviewer wrote that this restaurant is of high quality, is professional, and has family restaurant. Looks to me like a great way to unwind and conclude a great day. After dinner I will head back to my hotel and get rested up for my last full day in the area.

Day 3

My last day after preparing myself for the day and eating breakfast in the hotel I will head out to the nearby sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. I plan for the touring of these two sites to occupy me for the entire day. Visiting these two locations will be a journey to the past, taking me to ancient Roman times. I will be able to see the original context of many of the works I already have viewed in the National Archaeological Museum.

These two towns almost two thousand years ago were buried in volcanic debree. The sites have been excavated. I will spend the morning in Pompeii, the larger of the two sites, heading to Herculaneum after lunch.


After checking out the ruins of Pompeii I will take break for lunch. I will eat at the moderately priced Ristorante Lucullus. This restaurant has a large outdoor dining area which is just lovely during the summer. Frommer's review of the place raves about their large buffet of antipasti and delicious grilled meats.

After being refreshed and reinvigorated from my meal I will head the the smaller, more intimate ruins of Herculaneum. Unlike the city of Pompeii where most of it's residents, 90% 20,000 people escaped and therefore survived, all living beings of Herculeums (which had significantly smaller population)died instantly.

It will be fascinating to ponder the immediate wiping out of an entire village.

After my excursion to these two sites of Ruins I will head back to Naples for dinner. I will dine at a restaurant near my hotel, the Fire Pit City Grill. After eating all that pizza, delicious as it was, it may be nice to have some American food. The website says that "The Firepit is the product of old world flavors brilliantly clashing with new-world attitude". Sounds like a hoppin' place!

After having dinner I will head back to my hotel and rest up well after my long day.

Day 4

After eating breakfast at the hotel I will spend my last day in the area soaking up the sun at the nearby Amalfi Coast. After all my walking during my travels I will kick back, relax, and take a dip in the sea.

Homer imagined this area as the home of the alluring Sirens in “The Odyssey,” which is reflective of it's captivating beauty.

For lunch I will eat at the Ristorante Da Vincenzo in Positano. Reviewers say that the food here is fist rate. I'm looking forward to eating some seafood.

After lunch I will head back to the beach to relax some more. In the mid-afternoon I will head back to Naples to check out of my hotel and be on my way to my next destination, Sicily.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rome Side Trip: Etruscan Tombs

For my side trip to Rome I will head to the town of Cerveteri which is located in the province of Rome to explore the ancient Etruscan Tombs. The town is famous for a number of Etruscan necropoleis. A necropoleis is a large cemetary or burial ground. The most famous necropoleis in Cerveteri that is the town's largest tourist attraction is the Necropolis of the Banditaccia. This Necropolis boasts 1,000 tombs and is the largest necropolis in the Meditteranean area. The tombs date from the 9th century BC at the earliest to the the 3rd centure BC at the newest. Our modern knowledge of ancient Etruscan life is largely dependent on the finds and decorative details of these tombs which are numerous. It will be exciting taking a step back in time and being in the presence of such ancient structures. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in history.

For lunch I will eat at La Taverna Ceretana right in town. This restaraunt is unique in that it is inside a grotto. It's dishes include homemade pasta, the food served is local. I believe that eating local food is a good way to immerse yourself in the experience of a place. A reviewer of this restaruant suggested the fettuccini, I may have to take them up on thier suggestion!

Saint Gemma

Italy is a country of many saints, my presentation will cover briefly one modern one.

St. Gemma (Italian for "gem") was born March 12th 1878 in Camigliano, a village near Lucca, Italy into a devout and prosperous Catholic family.

Her mother infused in little Gemma a love for God and a special love for Christ Crucified. While she was very young she developed and irresistible attraction to prayer and was very devout, reading at the age of five prayers from the Breviary as easily as a grown person.

When Gemma was still a child her mother fell gravely ill. While praying for her mother's recovery she heard in her heart a voice say, “Wilt thou give Me Mamma?"

“Yes," Gemma answered, "but provided Thou takest me also.”

“No," replied the voice, "give Me unreservedly thy mother. For the present thou hast to wait with thy father. I will take thee to Heaven later.”

Gemma simply replied, “Yes.”

This yes to God was to be repeated throughout her short life.

Following her beloved mother’s death, Gemma was sent by her father to a Catholic half-boarding school in Lucca run by the Sisters of St. Zita where she excelled in her studies.

Gemma longed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist sinch she was young. She was permitted at the age of nine to receive her first Holy Communion, which was earlier than was customary. She described this experience as thus:

“It is impossible to explain what then passed between Jesus and me. He made Himself felt, oh so strongly, in my soul.”

Gemma's father died in 1897. As a result of his over generousness, unscrupulous business contacts, and creditors, his children were left without anything and had not even the means of supporting life. Gemma was nineteen years old.

Soon after Gemma became very ill. Also, meningitis set in and left her deaf. Large abscesses formed on her head, her hair fell off, and finally her limbs became paralyzed. A doctor was called in and tried many remedies which all failed. She only grew worse. At the age of 20 she was seemingly on her deathbed.

She began a devotion to Venerable Gabriel, now St. Gabriel who was a member of the Passionist order, a religious order with a special devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ.

At midnight on February 23rd, 1899, she heard the rattling of a rosary and realized that Venerable Gabriel was appearing to her. He spoke to Gemma:

“Do you wish to recover? Pray with faith every evening to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I will come to you until the Novena is ended, and will pray together to this Most Sacred Heart.”

On the first Friday of March the Novena ended. The grace was granted; Gemma was cured.
As she got up, those around her cried with joy. A miracle had taken place! Gemma had always aspired to be a nun but found that this wasn't God's will for her.

On the 8th of June 1899, at the age of 21, God let His servant know after receiving Holy Communion that the same evening He would give her a very great grace.

Gemma went home and prayed. She went into ecstasy and felt a great remorse for sin. The Virgin Mary appeared to her and told her that her Son desired to give her a great grace.

Here is how St. Gemma relates how she received the stigmata:

“At that moment Jesus appeared with all his wounds open, but from these wounds there no longer came forth blood, but flames of fire. In an instant these flames came to touch my hands, my feet and my heart. I felt as if I were dying, and should have fallen to the ground had not my mother held me up, while all the time I remained beneath her mantle. I had to remain several hours in that position. Finally she kissed my forehead, all vanished, and I found myself kneeling. But I still felt great pain in my hands, feet and heart. I rose to go to bed, and became aware that blood was flowing from those parts where I felt pain. I covered them as well as I could, and then helped by my Angel, I was able to go to bed …”

Gemma was chosen to share in the Passion of Jesus Christ in this particular way and suffer for the salvation of souls.

Like St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, and her contemporary St. Padre Pio (also Italian),who were also stigmatists, Gemma could say "Let no man harm me, for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body." (Galatians 6:17)

At the age of 21 Gemma was taken in by the Giannini’s, a generous Italian family with eleven children.

Cecilia Giannini, "adopted" mother of St. Gemma
and her closest confidant.

Gemma's gaurdian angel would reportedly appear to her often and pray with her.

In 1902, at the age of 24, being in perfect health since her miraculous cure, Gemma offered herself to God as a victim for the salvation of souls. She then fell dangerously ill. She also experienced aridity in prayer, recieving no consolation- a type of spiritual martyrdom. In addition the devil multiplied his attacks on her, trying to convince her that God abandoned her and even resorting to physical blows on her body which was weak from her illness.

Through all these trials she never complained. At the end she was skeletal but still beautiful in spite of her illness.

Her last words were:

“I seek for nothing more; I have made the sacrifice of everything and of everyone to God; now I prepare to die.” She gasped, “Now it is indeed true that nothing more remains to me, Jesus. I recommend my poor soul to Thee … Jesus!"

She smiled peacefully and let her head drop on one side, ceased to live.

A religious sister who was present at her death clothed her body in the Passionist habit, which was the order she always aspired to.

She died on Holy Saturday April 11th, 1903. She was 25 years old.

Gemma Galgani was canonized on May 2nd, 1940 by Pope Pius XII, only thirty-seven years after her death.

She's a patron saint of:

Students, pharmacists, tuberculosis patients, love, hope, spinal injury