Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Chihuly Glass and Garden - Seattle

The Undersea Room

This summer the New York Botanical Garden hosted a wonderful exhibit of works by glass artist Dale Chihuly. You can see my review of the show here. On a recent trip to Seattle I had the chance to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass, a long-term exhibit that opened at the Seattle Center in 2012. Sitting at the foot of the Seattle Space Needle, the museum was designed and created by Dale Chihuly at the invitation of the family Howard S. Wright II, who built the needle.

Having the opportunity to create an exhibition space for their own work must be an artists dream. Mr. Chihuly has took full advantage to create rooms that show his work in the best light, sometimes literally. Take for instance his Glass Balls on Canoes. In this room two canoes have been filled with multi-colored balls of blown glass, some of which are several feet in diameter. They are placed on a reflective black surface, which gives them the illusion of floating.

Then there is the Undersea Room. Once again, Chihuly uses a black surface and walls to give the illusion of floating. Here, the center of the room is filled with sculptures that invoke undersea life. Glass plants grow from the floor, surrounded by statues of animals. Walking around this room gave me the feeling of snorkeling in a reef teeming with life.

 My favorite room is the Venetian Room. Here Chihuly has created a clear false ceiling filled with colored glass plates and other shapes. These are back-lit. The effect was that I was walking through a room that feels like one of the psychedelic backgrounds from 60’s concerts, only 3-dimensional. While red is the predominant color, walking through the room has a kaleidoscopic feel as the colors change with every step.

After passing through the interior galleries, I came out to the garden. Here there are many examples of the types of pieces that Chihuly presented at the New York Botanical Garden. He uses the color of the glass, sometimes to blend in with the surroundings, and sometimes to stand out. The organic feel of his pieces fit in with gardens very well.

Chihuly’s work is amazing and beautiful. Having a whole museum dedicated to it makes this a must see when you visit Seattle.

Getting There: The Chihuly Glass and Garden is located in the Seattle Center. You can get there by taking the monorail from downtown. Many bus lines from downtown and from the north stop at Center.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Where to sleep and eat in Sicily

I don’t usually write “listicles.” They are not my favorite type of article. But they do have a place and this one is a great way for me to share my favorite places in Sicily.

Palermo Cathedral

 Palermo –

AirBnB – Cathedral Luxury House

We could not have found a better place to stay in Palermo. This duplex is across Corso Vitorrio Emmanuele from Palermo’s beautiful cathedral. The apartment has two bedrooms and two full baths. On the bottom floor, the bedroom is a queen size sofa bed with an en-suite bathroom. There is also a kitchenette/dining/living room. Upstairs is the main bedroom, a second full bath and a living/work area.

In addition to being a wonderful place to stay, this apartment is located exactly where a visitor to Palermo would want to be, in the center of the old city. The Cathedral is across the street. The Porto Nuovo is two blocks away, and the Quattro Canti (Four Corners) is a short walk down one of the main streets – Corso Vitorrio Emmanuele. This street is home to over a dozen book stores, all of the souvenir stores you could want to visit, and many very good restaurants and cafes.

Restaurant Carlos V – Piazza Bologni


We ate at the Carlos V almost every night that we were in Palermo. There are other good restaurants, but this became our place, and we got to know the staff while they got to know us. The food was always fresh and the service was fast. I recommend the Pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian specialty, the Pasta alla Trapanese and two risotto dishes – with seafood and with vegetables.

Carlos V sits out in the piazza, so it is a great place to enjoy the evening air and people watch. The Piazza Bologni is old and the buildings are beautiful. The chance to enjoy dinner in front of buildings that are hundreds of years old is a wonderful experience.

Caffe Ventimiglia – Corso Vitorrio Emmanuele 434


This little hole in the wall place is a great lunch stop. Walk past the arancine and other fried goods in the front room and take a seat in the dining room. For €10 you get a full lunch – antipasti, main course and a non-alcoholic drink. The antipasti are flavorful, although mostly different eggplant dishes. The main courses, especially the sandwiches, are tasty, if not fancy. I would skip the fried goods in the front of the restaurant. There are better places for those in the markets.

Bar Morocco – Corso Vitorrio Emmanuele 499


This little café, which is right outside the door of our apartment, is a great place to enjoy a coffee, a pastry or granita, and to watch the tour groups amble by, often in a daze. The busses discharge their throngs, and they pass literally through café, as the tables sit across the sidewalk from the café.


Tratoria La Canonica – Via Raddusa 7

This adorable little restaurant, around the corner from the cathedral, is a perfect spot for lunch or dinner. They have an excellent antipasti bar (for €7) and their pasta dishes are excellent. The Sicilian standards were all well prepared, especially the Pasta alla Norma and the Pasta with Clams. The restaurant also has the most interesting décor we saw in Sicily. The room is covered, from floor to ceiling with paintings, prints and tchotchkes. From Madonna and Child to Madonna and Betty Boop, Dagwood to Conquistadors, hundreds of statuettes line the walls and every available surface.

Caffe Bellini – Corso Sicilia 14

Sitting on the corner of a modern building along the main drag of this part of town, this little café is a great place to stop in for a quick breakfast or snack. The coffee is excellent and the pastries are delightful.

Prestipino – Via Etnea 30


This Café is a dessert lover’s heaven. Located at the Piazza Università. They serve plates of food ordered at the counter. There are pasta, meat and vegetable choices, and you are charged by the size of your order. The main reason to come to Prestipino are the pastries and gelato. The choices are myriad. Cannoli, baba rum, and cookies were our choices, but there are many more, and all were excellent.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Visiting Siracusa, One of Sicily's Oldest Cities

Siracusa Waterfront

There are many old towns in Sicily, but few are as old as Siracusa. Like Agrigento, on Sicily’s southern coast, Siracusa dates back to the times of ancient Greece. It was one of the most important trading towns of that era. So, a trip to Siracusa is something that I highly recommend if you are visiting Catania.

There are many tours to Siracusa available, we used Lemon Tours.  Since we were the only ones interested in going on that day, they arranged for us to have a private tour guide – Ana. Ana picked us up at 8:30 and we began our trip south. Ana was an excellent guide. She was friendly, outgoing and very knowledgeable. We had a great time during the drive, talking about culture, life in Italy, families and just about everything in between.

The Amazing Ms. D at the theater

Our first stop in Siracusa was at the Greek Theater. This amphitheater dates to the 5th century BCE, although it was renovated in the 3rd century BCE and again during Roman times. It is 136 m in diameter, and has 67 rows carved out of the limestone hillside. While the wear and tear of over 2500 years is plain to see, this is still an amazing place to visit. We entered at a path that divides the upper and lower halves of the theater, and you could almost feel what it was like to be here to see a play or other performance. The only downside was that it was 95 degrees the day we visited, and the heat really took its toll on us. After a quick walk around the theater, we went down to the orchestra, where the only shade trees were to be found. Even though we were awed by this space, we were quickly ready to move on to find someplace cooler.

Next on our tour was the Isola di Ortigia – the old city of Siracusa, which sits on a small island just off the coast, well like 10 feet off the coast. This section of town is among the oldest areas that are still around, especially on the east coast of Sicily (thanks, Mt. Etna). Our walk started with a trip through the market. 4 blocks of fruit, vegetables and fresh fish. One thing that we found here that we had not seen before were fresh oysters. For €2.5 I had an oyster and small cup of wine.

The southern end of the market opened on to Apollo’s Temple. Built in the 6th century BCE, it is the one of the oldest temples on Sicily. It became a Byzantine Church, a mosque and even served as barracks for Spanish Troops. Today it is mostly in ruins, but there is a park in front of it and local guides to show you around.

Apollo's Temple

From the temple we walked south (and uphill) to the Fontana di Diana in Piazza Archemede. The fountain was built in 1907 and is a wonderful centerpiece to the juxtaposition of the baroque and fascist era architecture that surround the piazza. This piazza is named for Archemedes of Syracuse, the scientist/philosopher who is most famous realizing that the purity of a metal can be determined by finding it density by the displacement of water.

By JC Collet (www.flickr.com) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Out tour continued to the Cathedral di Siracusa. This Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built and incorporates the Temple of Athena that dates back to the 5th century BCE. Next, it was on to the southern end of the island, to the waterfront, and back. We walked through the small winding old streets of Ortigia. The buildings with their beautiful balconies sometime closed in on us, but the bright sun and light color of the walls made them feel light filled and airy.

The Temple pilars are visible in the walls of the Cathedral

The nave and altar of the cathedral

Streets of Siracusa

Our time in Siracusa finished with a wonderful lunch at a restaurant called Il Clandestino, courtesy of Lemon Tours. We had two wonderful charcuterie plates, meat and cheese. Our guide, Ana, joined us, and we continued the wonderful conversations that surrounded our day.

Now, don’t be fooled, this wasn’t the end of our tour. After lunch, it was on to the town of Noto. Here, after dealing with some young pre-teens, who promised to guard Ana’s car – for a price, we walked through the town to see more beautiful baroque architecture. The Basilica Minore di San Nicoló and the Palazzo Ducazio sit across the street from each other in a baroque face-off. They stare each other down for the title of most beautiful building in Noto. Behind the Palazzo we took one last break at Caffé Costanzo for the best granita we had on this trip. Granita is like a slightly watery Italian ice, but so much better. When done right, it is full of flavor without being super sweet. Caffé Costanzo does it right.

Palazzo Ducazo

Basilica Minore di Santo Nicoló

Our day in Siracusa was fantastic. Once again, having a private tour guide made it really special. Ana gave us the individual attention that a large group would have been unable to provide. She also gave us insight to the life of Sicilians that we would never have received on our own.