On Sunday November 12 we were driven about an hour to Palermo, where we had a long walking tour of the city, courtesy of our history guide, Viviana. Saw lots of churches, Norman architecture, some old parts of town, Muslim influences, shops, fountains, theaters, families out and about, boats in the harbor and skateboarding kids. Almost everyone wears black. A large lunch in a restaurant. There was a long discussion of the Mafia influence in Sicily; it is still quite prevalent nowadays.
This is John writing now.....
There are more churches in Palermo than can be supported by the local people so the Vatican helps with the upkeep. It seems to me that the land could be put to better use.
We have never explained the system of guides in Italy. There are three types of licensed guides:
General – These guides do all the scheduling, and are generally with the clients all the time. For example, suppose there is an all day hike planned on Monday and a museum visit on Tuesday. If on Sunday it looks like Monday will be rainy, and Tuesday it will be nice, the general guide gets on the phone and tries to see if she can get the other guides to change, get tickets to the museum on Monday, and get the bus to change its schedule. Our guide Irene has done this several times though out our two week trip. she also works with restaurants to make sure our meals are suitable for the group, plus handles the dietary restrictions of the 2 people who have them. And then she's there if emergencies arise, like Lois' dentist visit last week.
History – These guides do all the narration at archeological sites, and walking tours in cities. They have degrees in history and are experts in the local area.
Naturalist – These guides lead hikes in natural areas, and know a lot about geology, botany, and zoology. They have degrees in one or more of the above fields and are experts in the local area.
This means that we almost always have two guides for our group of twelve participants. It also means that the people doing the narration know a lot about their subject and can answer almost any question we have. Their English skills are quite good too. It is great for quality control, and means there are more jobs in the tourist industry.
Back to Lois
This morning (Monday Nov. 13), we headed back to the Palermo area to see the Monreale cathedral. John didn't go along - he's tired of churches, and the forecast was for rain. The original plan was to have a free afternoon in Palermo, but we returned to the hotel shortly after lunch since it was pouring. No-one complained about missing out on a shopping opportunity, and although I was hoping to view the city from the roof of the main cathedral, that would not have been an option today.
Nevertheless, I am glad that I saw the structure at Monreale. It was enormous, and built in only 7 years, from 1176 to 1183. The walls and ceiling (and floors too) are covered with mosaic tiles in a huge variety of designs. Since John wasn't along, I will have to rely on Jocelyn's photos to illustrate some of the details, but let's just say that I wish I had some pictures to show my geometry classes when I was teaching about various regular polygons. Most folks are impressed with the religious pictures on the upper walls and ceiling, but I liked the Arabic and Byzantine motifs of hexagons and octagons in the designs that were closer to my eye level.
When I returned to our room, I hung up my pants, rain hat, Goretex jacket and day pack - things do not dry quickly here, but hopefully the stuff will be usable tomorrow.