Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring Holidays

This year the Italians celebrate three legal holidays around the same time. Easter Monday, April 21st, is a national holiday when banks and most stores will be closed. A few pastry shops may be open and - in the evening - a few restaurants.

Friday, April 25th is "Liberation Day," the principal national holiday, marking Italy's "liberation" from Fascism, though the Americans and Brits who defeated the Germans and Italians will not be mentioned in the official festivities. (An ironic point is that in 1943-1945 our beloved Italia was, in effect, liberated from itself, but let's not go there...)

Then there's May Day, Thursday, May 1st, the socialist labour day, when there won't even be public bus service. In other words, virtually nobody will be working that day. Except, of course, bakers and others who operate their own small businesses.

The good news is that there won't be any other major holidays until August. June 2nd, Republic Day, isn't taken too seriously by anybody.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reserve your Sicily tour and get a free book!

In connection with a special promotion offered exclusively through Best of Sicily, our friends in the tour department are including the newest book on Sicilian history with tours reserved before June that begin on any date scheduled in 2014. Visit the Golden Sicily tour page for details.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Women of Sicily by Jacqueline Alio

Women of Sicily Jacqueline Alio.
It's the first book on the women of Sicilian history written in English in the original by a Sicilian author based in Sicily.

Historian Jackie Alio's Women of Sicily presents profiles of ten medieval women, including several virtually ignored in the annals of history. Also featured is a brief but useful history of Sicily and a detailed chronology (timeline), along with a chapter on the status of Sicilian women in Italy today.

Though rarely presented in English for an international readership, the information on gender equality is really only a detail to place the role of Sicilian women in perspective. Indeed, a sobering implication here is that Italian women may have enjoyed greater gender equality in the 12th century than in the 20th.

Jacqueline Alio previously authored The Peoples of Sicily: A Multicultural Legacy. She is one of the few Sicilian historians known internationally.

Published by Trinacria Editions (New York), ISBN 9780991588602

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sicilian Dynasty by Daniela Di Benedetto

Coming this Christmas, Sicilian novelist Daniela Di Benedetto's first book to be translated into English will be available from Amazon and (in the United States) from Barnes & Noble in both traditional (paper) and digital (ebook) formats.

Intriguing and passionate, the story of Eva and Antonio captures the essence of the experiences of real Sicilian families. First published in Italian as L'Erede (The Heir), Sicilian Dynasty is the story of a husband and wife in a changing Sicily during the last decades of the twentieth century:

Young Eva marries the much older Antonio, heir to one of Sicily's last large rural estates. Eva prefers the city to country life, while her husband is constantly haunted by personal demons and past jealousies. In view of family squabbles and external influences, with a changing society and even the murderous Mafia encroaching upon their happiness, does the marriage stand a chance? Here, told from the parallel perspectives of husband and wife, is the tale of a modern couple's very traditional challenges over the course of twenty-five years. The old Sicily is vanishing, to be replaced by new realities...

The Author: Bologna native Daniela Di Benedetto has spent most of her life in Palermo, where she studied music and earned a degree in humanities. In Sicilian Dynasty, she combines an outsider's objectivity with an insider's insight into life in Sicily. She is part of the first wave of Sicilian women authors to make its way to distant shores.

Published by Trinacria Editions (New York), ISBN 9780991588619

Monday, March 10, 2014

St Joseph's Day 2014

Wednesday, March 19th is Saint Joseph's Day, when Sicilians celebrate with cream-filled sfinci.

While this seems to be a rather popular "ethnic" holiday among Italian descendants abroad, it really isn't extremely important here in Italy, at least not anymore. It is not a national holiday - banks and schools will be open. Nothing like Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland, two days earlier.

But still a great reason to indulge in delicious pastry!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't ride in rickshaws!

The motorized passenger rickshaw is a three-wheel vehicle common on the streets of Italian cities, especially in the South. In Sicily, you'll see them in Palermo and Siracusa, where the drivers give rides to tourists.

In Siracusa's serene Ortygia district, which is partly closed to traffic and where the courteous drivers guide you at a moderate pace, a leisurely rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of the ancient city is usually enjoyable. That's how it should be.

But in Palermo that is not the case. There have been some serious traffic accidents and injuries involving rickshaws in Palermo, though (thus far) no fatalities as far as we know, and the drivers are less polite than those of Siracusa. In this chaotic city, where the rickshaw drivers speed through the streets, you board one of these vehicles at your own risk. Even if you survive the ride, you stand to be overcharged on the fare.

The Palermo rickshaw drivers don't just park in a convenient area (those in Siracusa prefer the square next to the cathedral), but instead circulate the old part of town in search of prey. They actually drive up alongside pedestrians and try to coax them into boarding - these are desparate times and some drivers may practically insist that you purchase their services! Just ignore them.

You have been warned.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Giant Steps?

It's no surprise that the Italian economy is in extremely bad shape. One in three Italians under 35 is unemployed, and some 20 percent of Italians aged 21 do not have a secondary school diploma. These figures are more extreme in Sicily. It was recently reported by the Italian education journal Orizzonte Scuola that around 25 percent of Sicilians quit school by the age of 16. (The European average is about 15 percent of young adults lacking a high school diploma.)

Recent suggestions by the new government include expanding unemployment benefits to people (such as those outsourced as external consultants) who were not actually employed. Small steps, not giant ones. Italy still has no minimum wage, and only 50 percent of Italian women are wage earners.

Will Italy bounce back? Not completely, at least not like it did after past recessions.

Why not?

This time is different. Companies are leaving in droves, with FIAT leading the herd. They won't be coming back. And there are new players now, in a truly global economy that barely existed 20 years ago. Within Europe, there are new members of the EU like Romania, where Unicredit, Italy's largest bank, has one of its main computer centers. China, of course, is more significant than it was back in 1980, and so is India.

Instead of creating incentives for business, Italy is taxing its citizens like never before.

Italy is still a great place to visit, but as a permanent residence it presents certain challenges.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sicily Tour Savings

Our friends in the tour department have told us that they are offering discounts of 100 euros or more on the popular Golden Sicily tour for Spring, Summer and Autumn start dates. This applies to early reservations, made through April, for places based on double occupancy (two participants traveling together sharing a double room).

This is a one-week tour across Sicily. Groups are limited to just 16 participants, and start dates are every two weeks.

No other company in the world offers comparable tours of Sicily with such frequent departures. In fact, very few guarantee such a small group size.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sicily Tours for University Groups

Our friends over at Sicily Concierge asked us to remind readers that they do tours for university groups. In recent years, most have been from New York, and usually in late Winter or early Spring, rather than the Autumn semester. Having attended a lecture given to one of these groups in Palermo a few years ago, we were impressed.

Classical archeology is just one choice for the focus of such a tour, and the company has consulting/lecture arrangements with more English-speaking historians than any other tour operator in Sicily.

The point is that there are very few companies here in Italy that do such tours very well.

Check out their university student Sicily tour page for details.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sicily's Royal Family Unites

The dynasty of Bourbon Two Sicilies reigned from 1734 until 1861. Like too many - dare we say most - Italian families, they have been divided by a familial dispute for a long time. Over fifty years. It had become quite bitter indeed.

In this case it was a dynastic dispute over a crown unlikely ever to be restored. In 1960 two cousins, grandsons of King Ferdinando I (who was born in Palermo in 1810), emerged to claim to be head of the family. The feud spawned concern because the family administers certain institutions in Italy closely connected to cultural initiatives and the Catholic Church, particularly the Constantinian Order of Saint George. Some people supported one claimant and some the other. Some time ago we published an interview with Carlo de Bourbon, who is planning a visit to Sicily this month.

A week ago the Bourbons signed a family agreement of reconciliation, seeking, in a spirit of Christian brotherhood, to work out their differences over a series of matters that the outside world considers, to say the least, arcane. Carlo, Duke of Castro, and Pedro, Duke of Noto, the princes signing the agreement, are second cousins once removed. Both men had lived with the dispute for an entire lifetime.

In this picture (from left): Pedro's son Jamie, Pedro and his wife Sofia, Carlo's wife Camilla, Carlo and his two daughters Carolina and Chiara.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Winter's Marzipan

Like torrone, almond marzipan is one of those delightful treats you find in Sicily only in the winter. Right now.

Well, almost only in the winter. Maybe until Easter, or sometime in May.

That's because it melts in the summer heat. Yes, it's shaped and colored to resemble real fruit. Read about it in our Sicilian marzipan article.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sea Urchins!

Our last post suggested that Winter is a perfect time to visit Sicily. One of the seasonal foods, which makes its annual appearance in January, is the humble but delicious sea urchin. Finding restaurants that serve it - usually with pasta - can be tricky. We might suggest Palermo's Cin Cin, though you should check in advance to see if the tasty creature is on the menu for the day you reserve. Restaurants in Taormina, Trapani and Siracusa offering seafood menus may also serve urchin, which has become something of a rarity.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

See Sicily this year!

Regular readers may know that we're great proponents of visiting Sicily during the "low" season before April. The weather is not oppressively hot and the historical sites and sights, like Segesta (shown) are not crowded.

Best of Sicily offers a number of tours of Sicily throughout the year, and various personalized travel services - more than any other company.

This year, we are sponsoring publication of a few books dedicated to Sicily. Peoples of Sicily is a very special tour linked to one of these books. Our partnership with several firms (Trinacria Editions and Sicily Concierge among them) distinguishes us and it's a great advantage for you. This is our 15th year of publication as Sicily's leading destination guide.

Welcome to our world!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Feast of St Thomas Becket 29 December

He is not widely venerated in Sicily, but it is here, at Monreale Abbey, that the first public holy image of Saint Thomas Becket, rendered as a mosaic icon (shown here), can be seen. Also, the cathedral of Marsala is dedicated to him. This was the first major church to be dedicated to the Anglo-Norman saint. Officially, he is "Saint Thomas of Canterbury."

Jackie Alio, one of Sicily's most popular historians, has written about Thomas Becket's Sicilian connection.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in Sicily 2013

Christmas in Sicily? Why not?

What we're really talking about is the entire season, which ends with the Epiphany on Monday, January 6th, a legal holiday in Italy.

The atmosphere is enchanting, the days are cool but not freezing and the sites to visit are not crowded like in April and May. And yes, flights and hotel rates might be cheaper.

Read our article about Christmas in Sicily.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Peoples of Sicily Tour November 2014

In connection with the publication of her most recent book, historian Jacqueline Alio will lead a tour of Sicily in November.

This is the only tour of our island available to the general market led by an internationally-known historian and scholar specialized in Sicilian history. (A few of Jackie's articles have been published on Best of Sicily over the years.)

Offered by our partner Sicily Concierge, this is a 10-day luxury tour that begins in Palermo and ends in Taormina. Being familiar with both Jackie and her work (which includes original research in medieval sources), we are bold enough to suggest that anybody who reads the book and takes this tour will end up knowing more about Sicily than most history professors and tour guides!



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Peoples of Sicily

It's finally been released, soon to be available from Amazon and (in the United States) Barnes & Noble.

The Peoples of Sicily - A Multicultural Legacy is the first "general" history of Sicily written in the original in English by historians based in Sicily. Covering the period from antiquity to around 1500, its focus is the multicultural society of Sicily during the Norman-Swabian period, from circa 1060 to around 1266.

Unlike many histories, this one has a very real, very "current" message, in fact several. This makes it appealing even to readers who normally wouldn't read 300+ pages of medieval history.

But the history alone is fascinating. The book also contains a detailed chronology (timeline) and practical tips on places to visit, including those not listed in most guide books. (Read more >>>)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Holidays Before Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us, but two minor holidays are coming up in the next two weeks. The Immaculate Conception, a national holiday, falls on Sunday the 8th, so no bank closings.

The 13th is St Lucy's Day. This is the patron of Siracusa, but around Sicily rice balls (shown) and cuccìa are consumed while bakeries are closed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saint Martin's Day 2013

What Italians call "Saint Martin's Summer," which is the Americans' "Indian Summer," is a period of warm days around the Feast of Saint Martin. Today.

In Sicily this is marked by a glass of Muscat or Passito with hard biscuits. Looking at past posts, last year it was 79 degrees (26 C) on this date.

None of that today. Following an unseasonably HOT October and early November, Autumn has finally arrived. Today it's only around 68 degrees with wind and a touch of rain. Finally.

Summer is nice, but perhaps a bit tiresome when it drags into the Christmas season.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Visit Sicily in Winter

For most people, Winter is the best time to visit Sicily. Maybe you're one of them, and now is the time to begin planning. Steffi Lanza's article gives plenty of reasons for visiting our island during this delightful season. (Shown is the Platani River in early December - in antiquity it separated Sicily between Greeks and Carthaginians.)

For the do-it-yourself approach, visit our trip planning page, where you can reserve hotels and work out other details. Frequent tours of Sicily offered in the next few months are listed on the 2013 tour page and (for those scheduled beginning in January) our 2014 Sicily tour page.