A trip to Sicily promises many rewarding experiences; it has several UNESCO heritage sites, historically interesting architecture, fabulous food, beautiful scenery, and warm, friendly people. These are expected; you can read about them in any travel guide and I can testify that they are all wonderful, often better than anticipated. But, on our recent trip, we came across three unexpected delights, all sweet little surprises.
Ubiquitous table linens
Every place we ate — inflight meals, hotel breakfast rooms, small trattorias, or fine restaurants — had lovely, cloth table linens with matching napkins. These ranged from fine damask to humble broadcloth, and every one was neatly pressed. We did not encounter a plastic table cover or a paper napkin in all of our 10 days.
On early morning walks, you can see laundry bags on the sidewalk in front of restaurant doors.
A cloud of lavender
Our hotel in Taormina, San Domenico Palace, had a large private garden. We wandered down one morning after breakfast and found ourselves in olfactory heaven. Every flower bed is edged in low shrubbery and a gardener was trimming them into neat, boxy hedgerows.
The heady scent was strong and familiar — lavender! — we were walking on piles of freshly cut lavender! I had to remind myself I was in Sicily and not Provence.
An elliptical sundial
While in Modica, a city in the southeast corner, we visited the St. George Cathedral, deservedly their most famous building. We were told that it had an indoor sundial near the altar, the work of mathematician Herman Perini, dating from 1895. What we found was fascinating. It is a solar calendar made of inlaid mosaics. Rather than round as we expected, it is an elliptical meridian line that crosses the entire transept. Instead of the hours of the day, its markings are for the months and astrological signs.
A small hole in the ceiling, called a gnomon, lets in a ray of sunlight that indicates the time of year by where the sun is in the zodiac.