There are two types of eccentrics: those you feel sorry for, and those you're secretly envious of. The first kind are poor and fill their house with cats. They have crazy, stringy hair and scream obscenities at malicious neighbor kids. The second kind have the good fortune of being royalty and are able to indulge their every screwy whim. "Bring in that funny peasant boy. Now do your silly dance! I need more cats, a leopard perhaps. And build me a palace... a Chinese palace!" If you're going to be an eccentric, it's a lot better to be the rich kind.
After centuries of foreign occupation, Sicily enthusiastically joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Finally free of the hated Bourbons, Palermo celebrated its allegiance to the new King Vittorio Emanuele by ordering a theater built in his honor. After thirty years of construction, the Teatro Massimo ("Maximum Theater") opened to great fanfare in 1897. It's the largest opera house in Italy, and the third largest in all Europe.
Cefalù numbers just 13,000, but its population balloons in the summer. The town is one of Sicily's finest beach resorts and attracts sunbathers from all over Italy and Europe. From what we've heard, it's unbearable when crowded. And although we found the streets empty in December, the emphasis on tourism was abundantly clear. €3 cappuccinos and stores hawking magnets and postcards to phantoms.
For those of us born and raised in northern climes, celebrating Christmas without a thick layer of snow on the ground is a bit disheartening. Santa and his reindeer, sleigh and poofy red costume would look ridiculous cruising around Palermo. But there's no doubt that Christmas in Sicily is every bit the festive season that we enjoy back home.
One of the finest palaces in Palermo is the Palazzo Abatellis, found on Via Alloro in the neighborhood of La Kalsa. The massive building is host to the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, which displays Sicilian art dating as far back as the 12th century.
Hidden coves. Crystal clear water. Prehistoric caves. Utter solitude. If all that sounds good after the noise and muck of Palermo, hop in a car and head out to Sicily's first national park: the Riserve Naturale dello Zingaro.
Fans of ancient painting, sculpture and architecture have no shortage of opportunities to indulge their passion in Palermo, a city whose artistic tradition stretches back centuries. But for those looking for something a bit more modern, we recommend heading out to the Centro d'Arte Piana dei Colli, in a marvelous villa just north of the city.
Three red domes immediately call attention to the tiny church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini, near the center of Palermo. A pristine example of Arab-Norman architecture, San Cataldo dates from 1160 and has survived into the present-day in a mostly original state.
If you're an adult human living in the 21st century, you have at some point in your life suffered a catastrophic computer crash. You've been faced with the choice of whether to try and recover your system, or just start fresh with a clean install. And you've probably learned that, almost always, the best option is to start clean and reinstall from scratch. Restorations rarely work and, even if you're able to cobble your computer back to a semi-functional state, there are usually problems. No, it's best to bite the bullet, lose some work, and start over. For metaphorical proof from history, just look at the Sicilian city of Noto.
The city of Syracuse is packed with beautiful baroque churches and stunning Greek monuments, still standing in defiance of the centuries. But the building which dominates the city's skyline was built just seventeen years ago. Say hello to the Santuario della Madonna delle Lácrime. Sigh. They just don't build them like they used to.