Friday, September 11, 2015

Hidden Sicily ~ Forza d'Agro

Traveling with Go Ahead Tours has real upsides! Usually when I tell someone that we went with a "tour group" I get the "Oh, well, I know what that means" look. What they think is that I am up at dawn and being dragged around from place to place, hardly stopping to enjoy it before being moved onto another place with only breaks inside a hot, stuffy tour bus as we make our way from place to place. That is not how I travel. That in not how anyone should travel.

The reason we keep traveling with Go Ahead is because they don't travel that way either. Yes, there is a tour bus. A wonderful, air conditioned, plush tour bus with these amazing drivers that make you very happy you do not have to be behind the wheel because driving in Europe is a totally different experience compared to driving here in the US! And, yes, there are guided tours but not the rush here rush there type. There are private guides at each place and usually only a couple of places in a morning. Leisurely strolls through these gorgeous spots are how we travel, not footraces. Tours take from 2 to 4 hours and then the rest of the day is yours to explore. In fact, there are several "free" days while you are on tour where you can go and do whatever you wish in the area. If you are not an independent explorer, or you want to go and see even more, there are always extra excursions you can take for those "free" days where you pay a little extra and get to see a lot extra.

"Hidden Sicily" was just one of those excursions. I think we paid about $100 extra for it and it was simply amazing! We went to Forza d'Agro, where the Godfather was filmed, and to Castlemola. Both of these locations were totally unknown to us so it was fun to explore somewhere new and not be sure what was waiting around every corner. In today's blog I'll just cover Forza d'Agro.
 We started out in Forza d'Agro. This charming little hilltop town was the setting for the marriage of Michael Corleone in The Godfather and it is very proud of being part of film making history. And while I found this tidbit to be fun, being a movie buff myself, the charm of this town had nothing to do with Hollywood and everything to do with the simply amazingly gorgeous architecture and the wonderful people who live there.
There is a "look" to Italy that lets you know it's Italian immediately and this part of Sicily is no different. It's the details.
Down every street or alleyway you will see the details, like the lamps or the wrought iron balconies or the color of the walls, that pop out at you and just add SO much to the view.
 One of our first stops was at the Cathedral of Maria S. Annunziata e Assunta. This is the same church that was used for the back drop of the wedding of Michael Corleone. And everyone there will tell you all about it.
 The inside of the church was not used but I wanted to go explore inside and was rewarded by a very beautiful church.
 You can find amazing embellishments at every turn here. It is worth taking a nice long walk around the entire church so you can take in all of the details.
 Of course the main altar is the centerpiece and filled with really beautiful artifacts and architectural details.
 When I first saw this on the ceiling I saw a skull. Then I realized that it is actually a dove! SO unusual but so pretty. I still see "skull" first before "dove" but I think that's one of the reasons I love it.
 I did find the skull and crossbones in a anteroom. But what strikes me isn't the skull but rather all of the different types of materials that were used to make up this small part of the cathedral.
Coming out of the church found me this view. This is one of my favorite photographs from Sicily. It's just SO Italian to me. The lamps, rounded doorways and windows, the iron railings, even a castle on the hill above. This makes me long for Italy.
We were told that you could, if you had an afternoon, hike up to the top of the castle and explore. The view is supposed to be one of the best around. We didn't have the time but I'll share the view a bit later in this blog.
From the Cathedral we could see the next church on our route. We were told that there was a service going on and we could enter carefully if we wished but I chose to lag behind the group to give myself the opportunity to take photos like this I had the town to myself!
To get to the church you have to walk down the street in the photo before this one and then squeeze down this narrow alleyway! I'm not a little person but even the smallest of our group was almost too big for the space. It was only about 2 feet most of us turned sideways to negotiate it!
The lovely view of the church was worth it. I can only imagine how beautiful a wedding recessional would be on this stairway!
I would imagine that lots of couples have a portrait of themselves framed by this entryway at the top of the steps.  
 Our rather circuitous path led us back around to this fountain in the courtyard. Koi swim in the base and the nice sunny courtyard would be lovely to spend time in on a cold but sunny day. Unfortunately for us it wasn't cold so we headed inside a shop to grab some drinks.
 There were some gentlemen, sitting at a back table near the restrooms, that were playing a card game. One of our companions explained that this is a very old and very fun game that they had been taught how to play as a child. I love the patterns and bright colors!
 This very large frame was hanging on the wall with photos from the actual filming of The Godfather. It was really fascinating to talk to one of the locals about it. They didn't need the Oscar this film earned, they were happy to be an actual part of it!
We went back out to the fountain to wait for the bus to arrive and that gave me more time to really look at the top of the fountain. If you click on this photo it will pop up a bigger version and you will be able to see that the corners are actually heads spitting the water out and the center is two dancing lions!
 The view from the bus on the ride back down was breathtaking! 
 We could even see part of Mt. Etna on our way down from Forza d'Agro.
 There are homes all the way down the hillside and many of them have embellishments like this stone lion.
However this was, by far, the most unusual embellishment I saw the entire time we were in Sicily. This very colorful and oddly lifelike statue sat, as the lion did, on the entry post to a Villa like a freshly beheaded woman. I still find it creepy and beautiful at the same time!

Next week I'll take you to Castlemola so you can see some of the gorgeous views there as well as one very unusual cafe!


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