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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

08 October 2018

Sicily, 20th Sep to 8th Oct 2018


I was aware of Syracuse in New York, but the Sicilian original is a great deal older. İt was founded almost three millennia ago, passing through numerous hands (Ancient Greeks, Romans, Moors, Normans, Spanish, even Lord Nelson made an appearance) until it became part of Italy about 150 years ago.

That long history means the city is dotted with Roman ruins along with Baroque churches. The main part that excited me was the prospect of a Caravaggio is the Santa Lucia church, though I found it underwhelming.

There wasn't the impressive tenebrism I would have expected from the great man and it looked somewhat unfinished. Then again, the story goes that he was on the run from the Knights of Malta, resulting in something of a rush job. 😉

I also made a point of checking out a fountain with an Artemis connection, pulled from Ovid. You'll see the same extended quote in front of both the 1907 sculpted fountain, as well as the calm waters where that myth was said to have taken place.

Siracusa, or more specifically the historical part in Ortigia, is pleasant to wander around. Lots of attractive little shops and cosy streets, sadly marred by the irritating Italian habit of driving cars and scooters absolutely everywhere. No matter how narrow the alleyway, you always have to be ready to squash yourself against a wall to avoid a speeding Italian motorist. 😔


Agrigento has little to recommend it, but tourists flock here due to the nearby Valley of Temples. A few thousand years ago, the area was known as Akragas, a powerful Ancient Greek city. A series of temples the inhabitants built in the 5th century BCE have remained remarkably well preserved, though a number of them have been partially rebuilt (mostly using the original stone that was lying around the site).

The complex is divided into Eastern and Western sections, with most of the good stuff residing in the east. You can hop on a bus from Agrigento, or a day trip from elsewhere on the island. Entrance is currently €12, with an informative €5 audio guide. This is the most popular attraction in all of Sicily, so while there are toilets, they get very busy. 😉

İf you have time and money, you could pop down to the Turkish Steps (Scala dei Turchi), a white rock formation so called because it rises up from the sea in a series of easily climbable 'steps' that invading Turks could use for access. Be aware that it is likely to be an expensive taxi ride. Prices are upwards of €30 each way from. Agrigento to the Steps.

Also note there is a walk down to reach them, plus you're expected to wade across the water to get there (it's about waist deep). Having said that, the two people in red shirts with whistles left at around 17:00, whereupon everyone just used the fenced off 'No Access' beach to navigate the short distance. 😉


I had time for a few hours in Palermo, so divided that between two galleries. The Regionale contains a jumble of
paintings and sculptures by an assortment of artists from the 13th up to the 17th century, mostly local Sicilians.

There were a few recognisable names, such as Vasari, though he is much better known for his writing than his painting. I think there was a Bronzino too, but the information was only in Italian so I'm not sure. Stylistically it looked plausible.

The best piece here is The Triumph of Death, a large fresco downstairs, possibly Flemish, from the 15th century. I also enjoyed the 14th century drolleries taken from a ceiling, with human/animal merging that put me in mind of the slightly later Bosch.

Upstairs, there is an appealing Madonna from around 1475 by a Sicilian painter, Antonello. Unusually for the Regionale, there is a good chunk of info about this one, presumably because it features in the gallery branding as part of its logo. As that info states, Antonello has learned from Flemish contemporaries, giving this painting that same sophisticated finish more associated with Bruges and Brussels.

After the Regionale, I headed for the Galleria d'Arte Moderne, less than 10 minutes on foot. Fortunately for my narrow tastes, by 'modern' it means 1850 to around 1950. That's as opposed to the horrors of the very different period covered by the Tate Modern, a gallery I'm careful to avoid. 😉

The Moderne was experiencing some difficulties with its electricity, resulting in them giving everybody discounted entrance. İt didn't unduly impact my visit, beyond the lighting being rather dimmer than you would expect.

I expected to recognise none of the artists here, which turned out to be mostly true. There was one old friend, the Symbolist from München, Franz von Stuck. The gallery has a version of his Die Sünde, which apparently prices influential. I couldn't see much evidence of that, though I did like the surreal tinge to Boldoni's portrait of an impossibly pinched and pointed woman.

The short-lived Totò Gregorietti produced my favourite painting in the gallery, an art nouveau piece from 1924 inspired by a popular operetta of the time. The female figures look suitably alien that the middle woman in particular would fit right in to a Star Trek episode, or perhaps a Conan comic book.


After a relatively uneventful few days in Trapani and then the beaches of Favignana, it was on to the attractive medieval streets of Cefalu. There is a popular beach here, but what really puts Cefalu on the map is its massive 12th century cathedral.

That imposing building is an intriguing combination of styles, ranging from Norman to Moorish. Inside, there is an exceptionally well preserved Byzantine mosaic, flanked by Baroque sculptural flourishes.

Refreshingly, the cathedral is free to enter, but to climb the hill that dominates Cefalu's skyline will set you back €4. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, as the climb gets treacherous the higher you go. I would strongly advise against making the trek if it's raining.


Before you leave the train station, be sure to look up at the ceiling. According to the plaque outside, it's from 1928. Quite late for the art nouveau style, but regardless of when it was made, enjoyably mock medieval scenes curl through the design.

The town itself is a 30 minute climb up a steep hill, or a short bus journey (buses depart from outside the station). The quaint historic streets of this hill town is the biggest tourist spot in Sicily (though I also read the Valley of the Temples was the biggest: which is it, guidebook? 😉), with prices to match (though not as insane as long term tourist Meccas like Venice).

There's an appealing 17th century fountain with some bizarre centaur child on the top and a strangely groin focused cherub on the bottom (off to the side, tugging on an unfortunate larger statue's genitals).

That square has some great views, an appealing if small duomo, plus there is a well regarded Greek theatre a walk away (which I didn't bother with, I guess I've been spoiled by the magnificently well preserved examples in Turkey and Spain).

Another bus ride even further up the mountain is Castelmora, where the views get truly spectacular. You can walk up, but it's rather easier to leave that 50 minute trek for the way down. İt's a gorgeous walk. Essentially, walk until you can see the small Chiesa San Bishop a little way down the hill from Castelmora, then continue down the path nearby (across from the church: can't miss it, as the church itself has no path next to it 👍)


Given it was nearby, I headed on a tour of Europe's most active volcano (IIRC), Etna. The guide was a geologist, making for a particularly informative few hours. The tour group was driven out to the volcano, initially walking up one of the enormous piles of volcanic ash that surrounds the main volcano. Heading back through some of the volcanic rock fields (I'm sure there's a more technical term, but I can't remember: in other words, a load of big rocks strewn around a landscape). We also got to check out some lava tunnels, left behind by how lavaflows cooled. Interesting stuff, and safe: there are always at least a few hours warning before an eruption, so you're not going to get buried in lava. Especially as lava is not fast flowing. ;)


My Sicily holiday finished where it began, in Catania. Arriving late at the b&b, it didn't look promising: piles of rubbish strewn liberally around the streets, a sea on which a flotilla of cheap stalls selling low quality detritus floated along. The guidebook's doom-laden warnings about high crime rates heightened the dystopian atmosphere.

However, first impressions can be deceptive. Catania can boast of #UNESCO status, thanks largely to a wealth of baroque architecture sailing around the centre. İt also has some weightier history: there is a Roman amphitheatre buried under the city, a corner of which has been exposed.

To finish, I have to mention the delicious food. I especially liked the arancini (rice ball with stuff in it, ranging from ham and cheese to Nutella. The Arancineria Espresso Serafino in Catania is especially amazing) and granita, a sort of ice cream sorbet slush puppy.

And then there's reliable pasta, though I mostly went with arancini. I got another monsoon rain #downpour on my last night too, must be how Catania says goodbye. 😉

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