This week’s Feature Friday post is from regular contributor Judy Smith. Judy is a good friend, neighbor, and fellow Rotarian of Paul’s.

As submitted by author Judy Smith on July 21, 2019:

My second post to this blog will be focused on my passion for travel – one of the many topics that I had in common with Paul. I had the great good fortune to travel to Sicily this year as part of a small group – 15 travelers plus a leader. It was my third travel experience with this company, OAT – Overseas Adventure Travel. (Prior trips were to Vietnam in 2014 and Spain/Portugal in 2018.) I extended this 15-day trip by arriving in Palermo two days early on April 22, 2019. This gave me the freedom to explore on my own before the rest of the group arrived. From Palermo, we headed west, circumnavigating this large island ending in Catania on the eastern coast.


Traveling to different countries and experiencing different cultures all my life has served to peak my curiosity about people and life beyond our US borders. The more I travel, the more I want to explore – and I take my camera(s) everywhere I go. This was my third trip to Italy. The first in 2004 allowed me two weeks to explore the art of fresco paining in the countryside of Tuscany, Florence and Rome. The second was in 2016 – a week in Venice plus a week in the Italian Dolomite mountains (eastern Alps) with an intrepid group of international photographers. (Worldwide explorers led by Marcus McAdam from the UK)

As a photographer I am able to explore the world through the lens of a camera where my curiosity is peaked at every turn. I ask myself, what makes this place unique and how can I capture that uniqueness in a photo?


Sicily was part of the unification of the city-states in Italy in 1864. Prior to that the people of this island have been ruled by many conquering nations who left a lasting imprint on the culture. Situated in the center of the Mediterranean Sea off the mainland of Italy, it has been one of the most coveted pieces of land for over 3,000 years. Now that I have been there, I now understand why the best place to see Greek temples is in Sicily rather than Greece. Here is a temple at a site called Segesta.

Temple at Segesta


I spent five nights in this capital city at the beginning of my trip. The Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel were on my list of “must see” places. The Byzantine mosaics in the chapel there were spectacular.

Byzantine Mosaics_Palatine Chapel_Sicily
Byzantine Mosaics in the Palatine Chapel
Norman Palace_Sicily
Norman Palace

Puppets and marionettes were a popular form of entertainment in Sicily. Seeing them in person was a treat. The performances were often stories of the crusades with conquering knights and damsels in distress.

Palermo was heavily bombed by Allied forces in World War II. There are still many areas of the city that need reconstruction. This is the view of an interior courtyard next to our hotel near the port of the city.

View of an interior courtyard

Our visit to Palermo included an introduction to the history of Mafia in Sicily. We listened to a presentation by two sons of Cosa Nostra mob bosses and then had time to ask questions and discuss the influence of the Mafia families today. Angelo Provenzano (son of Bernardo) lives near Palermo, but has chosen not to be part of the Mafia today. His shared his stories of growing up with a father who was on the run for 43 years before his capture in 2006. You can read more about his presentation in this 2015 article from the Wall Street Journal.


I like to hike and photograph landscapes as part of my travels. This led me to a day on my own in Cefalu which is one hour by train east of Palermo. While it is a popular tourist destination due to the beautiful beaches there, I was able to avoid most crowds due to my early arrival and hike to the site high above the small coastal town. The views were incredible. The cathedral there has stunning Byzantine mosaics and the Medieval laundry was a delight. My delicious lunch and wonderful view of the sea was a perfect way to conclude my visit prior to taking the train back to Palermo. I had heard the trains
are unreliable in Sicily, but I took a leap of faith and used this means of transportation. They were on time, with clean and comfortable modern rail cars. Venturing off on my own to Cefalu was one of the best decisions of my trip.

View in Cefalu

Itinerary beyond Palermo

On the western side of the island, we stayed in Mazara del Vallo for three nights. Highlights included a trip to the salt flats of Trapani, a boat ride to the island of Mozia (ancient ruins), a  walk through the Kasbah, a cooking lesson at Osteria Scolari with chef Paolo Austero (one Michelin star!) and a home-cooked lunch with a local family whose nephew was there to translate.

The balance of the trip included travels to these sites and cities in Sicily:

  • Agrigento – Valley of the Temples
  • Vecchia Masseria – resort inland (agriturismo)
  • Roman Villa of Piazza Armerina
  • Ragusa and Modica
  • Siracusa and Catania
  • Mt. Etna and Taormina

Because of the major earthquake of 1693, much of southeastern Sicily was rebuilt in the Baroque style of architecture. One such place is Ragusa, my favorite city of the whole trip. We stayed in the lower, older part of this city built high on a hill. Many of the original homes included caves as part of their structure. We had a terrific guide who led us around the streets of this town, where we met local artisans, visited the Duomo (cathedral) on the main plaza and the beautiful park that served as a gathering place for
members of the community. I made several wonderful discoveries on my own beyond the trip itinerary in Ragusa. One was a chamber orchestra performance in one of the town’s beautiful mansions. We also visited the home of a concert pianist who performed
for our small group. Another was a dining experience of a lifetime at a 2 Michelin star restaurant called Ciccio Sultano Duomo. Then I met and talked to the master chef himself the next day. What a delight.


Reliving this travel experience through this blog posting has been wonderful. Thank you, Sarah, for allowing me to share my story here. I took over 1600 photos and am still working on creating a book and little video using my favorite images. There are many
stories bubbling up in my mind and will emerge as time allows.

I will end with one of my favorite travel quotes from Mark Twain 150 years ago:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Read another post from Judy: Introducing Feature Fridays: A Guest Blogging Series