I saw DEAD People in Palermo! And so much more!

Dead people? YES we did see them, but first we eat and drink café!

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After a busy first day in Sicily, and even though we were exhausted by the time we returned to our room the night before, we still stayed up until almost 2am, so when I awoke after 8am, I felt refreshed, and HUNGRY! We were very happy when we entered the breakfast room to see a spread of Amazing food all set out for us at our own table! The day before, when we checked in,  I had told Rosario that I was “Celiaca” and ate “Senza Glutine”. I could see that he understood, and was MORE than accommodating, as the selection for me to eat was above and beyond my expectations! 20160917_020252In addition to the regular pastries, meat and cheeses, he had gluten free cookies, rice cakes, 2 kinds of GF crackers, and a soy drink that also was labeled as gluten free!

20160917_02124720160917_020602We felt like queens with the delicious and generous spread of breakfast items, and whatever kind of café we desired!

On our agenda for the day were 2 important things plus a couple bonuses: Visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the Cattedrale, revisit Quattro Canti, and the fountains from the night before before we pick up our bags then pick up our rental car at 4pm.

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Our needs are quite simple, but I must say that we are very easily distracted by some shops we were looking forward to seeing in Italy! We did take at least 1 quick pit stop to shop, AND a stop for café and an Affogato, after which we continued to get our sight seeing done.

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From the small amount we had seen so far, we didn’t feel that Sicily was much different from other places we had been in Italy, but then we came across the Cattedrale. It was different from other churches we had seen, including the lofty palm trees. The Normans started to build it in 1185, and also has Gothic, and medieval influences. It is said to be a pantheon for the Normans, and has 6 royal tombs inside the church, a museum, and crypts in the basement.  We paid the full admission price to be able to also climb the stairs to the roof, so that we could experience the breathtaking 360° views.

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The inside of the church was was beautiful and different from any other church we had seen in Italy before- evidence that Sicily absolutely is more of a melting pot of ethnicity than the rest of Italy.

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Cattedrale: √  Now to go and see dead people!

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We used our app City Maps2Go to supplement the signs that we periodically found to direct us to the Catacombes.

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You may be shocked to hear that once again we were distracted! This time by Yummy food!

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One of the Sicilian ‘street foods’ that I was wanting to try were Aracini balls, and as we passed by this nice looking Café with some yummy looking deserts, we went in to see if they had anything gluten free. Just my luck their Arancini balls filled with ragu were senza glutine! YUM! I was hooked! For those of you that do not know what Arancini is, they are rice balls that are filled with a variety of fillings, including cheese, ragu, meat and peas, etc, then deep fried. Another ‘food’ that is from Sicily are granitas, a semi frozen desert made from ice, water, and a variety of flavours, somewhat similar to sorbet, but better because it is Italian….. We each bought one to go, and continued on our way to find the Catacombes.

dsc_0225The Cappucin Catacombs, is the place where the living meet the dead! Not kidding!

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The pictures shown were found on Google Images! I DID NOT take them, as they were very specific about NOT taking any pictures or video once inside. That said, I was very annoyed to see others sneaking pictures.  I am a bit of a rule breaker, but when it comes to showing respect for other cultures, I try my best to observe and follow the rules. Yes, Mom, I would make you proud in this instance!

We paid the admission fee and went down the flights of stairs, and instantly you were in a place very unique and eery. There were rows, and rows, and rooms, and corridors of corpses in wooden caskets, display boxes, but mostly they were hanging! Yes, hanging! Some were all bones, and others you could still see some features! I swear that one was watching me! They were all fully clothed.

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There are several corridors dedicated to specific people including for whom this all began for, the Friars. Also were corridors for priests,  women,  families, and professionals including lawyers, surgeons, etc and a chapel for children.  The last body was that of a 2 year old girl named Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. Her body is remarkably still intact as her body lays in a small casket, which is roped off and displayed on her own.  So, yes we did see dead people in Palermo!

Before we left for Italy, I found very little from Rick Steves on Sicily, but the one thing I did find  was of him visiting Palermo and the Cappucin Catacombes. If you want to see more, please watch his YouTube video.

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On we went to see the other things on our list including Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The octagonal square is the crossing of 2 main streets in Palermo, Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

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The four corners each have a baroque building, each with almost an identical facade, but each has a fountain and a statue to represent each of the 4 seasons, the 4 Spanish Kings, and of the patronesses of Palermo. As this is not a traditional Piazza, to which is pedestrian only, if you are not paying attention to where you are, or know of any history of Palermo, you can walk or drive past this square without realizing where you are.

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Our final stop before collecting our rental car was  Fontana Pretoria, the large fountain that we briefly saw the night before.  The magnificent Fontana Pretoria is a work of art done by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani in 1554. One of the things that I love about Italy are the fountains. It is astonishing to me how 100’s of years ago with none of the technology we have today that they were able to build such beautiful fountains, all with unique statues.

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This square was once known as the “square of shame” because of the naked statues around the fountain. It is located next to Palermo’s Municipal building, which is in the heart of the historic center.

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The Piazza Pretoria, which was not shameless at all, was a wonderful place to end our quick 24 hours in Palermo.  I look forward to visiting Palermo again, and exploring the many beautiful sights!

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Bellas in Sicilia- Palermo in 24 hours

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It has been 4 long years  and I am back in Italy!  We have 7 days to explore 1/2 of Sicily, and we are starting in Palermo, Sicily’s capital.  From the airport we take a bus to the downtown bus station, and walk to our B&B. Kathy used this Amazing app that I had never heard about and am fascinated by it! It is called CityMaps2Go by Ulmon In advance of going somewhere, for example Palermo, you download the city map and when you are there it uses GPS- NO Data to help you to get to where you want to go. It was most useful when walking as there are no voice directions, which is needed when driving.  It is crazy how it works, and I honestly don’t understand it, but it works great!

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Our first accomodations are at a B&B called Liberty Teatro Santa Cecilia. It is run by a lovely man named Rosario. He happily greeted us and showed us our room. It is lovely!  It has no view, and we had a private bathroom, but it was down the hall. That said, the breakfast in the morning was AMAZING! I will tell you more about it later….

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We hit the ground running as we knew we only had 24 hours to explore this large city and it is already late afternoon.  We discovered immediately that there was a sense of community here. Every Piazza we came across there were locals gathered, and children playing.

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Soon it was time for Aperol Spritz! We decided to stop at a spot where a lot of locals were gathered and fresh seafood was being grilled. OMG, it was AMAZING! I had some fresh octopus, that had been boiled, then grilled and seasoned with olive oil, salt, chilis and lime. So simple, yet SO GOOD!dsc_0045 dsc_0043

dsc_0048I honestly had not done a tonne of research on Palermo before we left, and what I had read was not terribly positive, so I was not expecting much.  That said, we soon discovered that 24 hours would not be enough to explore this intriguing city. I honestly had ndsc_0057othing bad to say about anything that we saw and experienced in Palermo! The food was All yummy, and CHEAP, which once we had finished our trip we realized. The first night we ate at an Osteria called Pane e Alivi, and it was a wonderful start to our Italian adventure. I had a seafood risotto, which had mussels, clams, octopus, and sword fish, Kathy had a swordfish dish, we shared a liter of the house red wine (which the waiter didn’t think I should be ordering this much; silly boy), a caprese salad to start, and we finished off with desert- Kathy a canoli, and I had a dish of the canoli filling. The bill was only €31 total!

dsc_0065As we only had 24 hours we decided to stay up as late as we could and walk as much as our feet would allow us.  As we walked through different neighborhoods, we discovered that there was a celebration happening. We were unsure of what it was, but there were many decorations, including beautiful lights everywhere.  After seeing a couple of posters, and researching once I got home I found out what Festeggiamenti in onore di Maria SS. die sette Delori was.  It was a liturgical feast for Maria Addolorata Lady of Sorrows and is a celebration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the cult of the seven sorrows of Mary.

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Everywhere we turned we came across something of interest, and not by coincidence, and a lot of what we had read about, we stumbled upon. First was the Quattro Canti, which is the historical center of Palermo, and where 2 principal streets intersect, Via Maqueda and Corso VittorioEmanuele, which we actually did not realize at first as we were distracted by the rickshaw looking vehicles.  As we kept on walking, now starting to feel tired, we then stumbled upon a large fountain in another square. We didn’t know where we were, and after looking at our watches, we realized it was almost 11:30pm and we had been up for over 40 hours! Too tired to find out what we were looking at meant, we needed to get some sleep and start fresh in the morning! Buona Notte Bellas! dsc_0076

 

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My “New Skin” in the Heart of Firenze!

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It is amazing how Karma works, and you would not believe it until you are not only a witness to its wonders, but can actually touch it when it comes full circle.

On September 24, 2016 my Karma came full circle in the heart of Firenze in a store; Benheart! It has been just over 5 years since I had my bad experience in Florence when buying a leather jacket from a store at the San Lorenzo market and I am now the owner of my “new skin”, the most beautiful leather jacket courtesy of Benheart!

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Only 11 days prior to my Sicily, Florence trip, I received an email from Tommaso Barletta,  a manager for BENHEART, an Italian Brand which designs, produces and sells Leather clothing and accessories, all artisanally hand-made Made in Florence. He wanted to share the story of Benheart, including of the story of Ben, stylist, and owner of Benheart. They were intrigued by my story and wanted to be able to collaborate in some way as my blog has been well received not only in Florence but around the world.  After checking out their website and social media, we set a date to meet when I was going to be in Florence. This day literally changed my life!

It was our first morning in Firenze, and the skies were blue and the air was crisp. In anticipation of re-discovering Florence, and my meeting at Benheart, I was too excited to sleep in our beautiful apartment overlooking the Piazza Della Republica. The walk along the river was wonderful and exciting, as I kept recognizing places from shots from Benheart’s Instagram posts. A turn at Piazza Carlo Goldoni, then a slight right onto Via Della Vigna Nuova, and we immediately saw BENHEART.

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We were greeted by Tommaso, and the store manager, the beautiful Letizia. I was immediately blown away by the store- the fragrance of fresh, quality leather was intoxicating, and the variety of colors of jackets, shoes, bags and belts were beautifully and artistically displayed.  I immediately wanted to start touching everything, which can be taboo in many places in Italy, however I was encouraged to explore which I did with a Huge smile on my face!

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Trying on my new shoes!

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It is important to the ‘family’ of Benheart to educate those that walk in the doors about their leather, and the quality and uniqueness of their goods. You are not just buying a leather jacket; you are buying a second skin. Their shoes are also just as unique- hand sewn, and garment died, and OH SO Comfortable! Please watch this video as Tommaso explains more about their shoes.

 

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When I say family of Benheart, I use this word as a verb, as the actions of all that I met acted extremely proud to be a part of this special family. It was quite moving to witness. A great example was when Ben arrived at the store;  You could see the love and affection and respect that they have for each other.  Ben is a dynamic personality and one of passion and purpose and wears an aura of love that is inspiring.

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Meeting Ben

As I was already pawing at the many jackets, but urged to wait for Ben to introduce the jackets to me and size me, he quickly got me in one of his creations. I was immediately struck by the comfort and workmanship. There was NO way that this was going to wrip, tear or do anything that a San Lorenzo market jacket will do. It literally felt like a second skin!

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The unique placement of his Benheart zippers are fashionable and flattering. I also appreciated his use of different textures on each jacket- again keeping each piece unique in design.

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This is THE ONE!

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Once my craving was filled to try on and pick out a leather jacket, Ben and I had a conversation about his touching story, and why he and friend Matteo created Benheart.

Ben is the mind of our company, and his story is totally unique. Muslim and of Moroccan origin, Ben came to Italy when he was seven years old, and worked in the leather business, in Scandicci, the epicenter of leather in Italy for many famous brands including Gucci, Prada, and Ferragamo to name a few.  His developed a love of working with leather over the more than 12 years that he was then designing jackets and purses. One day, during a soccer match, he suffered a massive heart attack and went into coma. After 7 months in the hospital, his life was saved thanks to the donation of the Christian heart of a young man. When Ben recovered, he decided to start his own dream, together with the friend of a lifetime, Matteo, and founded Benheart – which literally means “Son of the Heart”.

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The selection of Made in Italy belt buckles

Everything is singularly, hand made in Scandicci, through the hands of experienced Italian artisans, according to traditional methods, handed down over generations.  All of Benheart’s creations (that is really what they are) and all raw materials, leather and accessories, are 100% Made In Italy. Their creations are sewn by hand and specially garment-dyed in traditional tanneries, so every product becomes one-of-a-kind. Everything we sell comes Certified and with a Lifetime Guarantee.

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Ben sharing his story

Our conversation flowed with ease, and even with the successes that Ben has created in the 4 years since starting Benheart he was humble. If anything he was excited to get a jacket on me and share with me his story, which he did.  As I listened I looked over at Letizia and I could see the emotion on her face as well. She had heard his story 100’s of times, but as she said you can not help but be moved no matter how many times you hear Ben share it. Another sign of the love and respect they have for each other.  You see, Letizia used to be a customer of Benheart, and her love of not just their creations, but their story she then became a part of the Benheart family; Brilliant!

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Then a bombshell was unexpectedly dropped on me. The Beautiful, Unique and one of a kind red jacket that I could not keep touching as I was wearing it, just as a pregnant woman can not keep from touching her baby filled belly,  was gifted to me. As Ben was telling me that he would like to give me this creation, I had tears in my eyes, as well as Kathy. We had come full circle together.  I was in total and complete shock to think that one moment I was going to be making an investment, then the next it was being stamped with my initials, and handed to me with love! As I write this article, I am still in disbelief that my beautiful red leather, 100% Made in Italy jacket is mine! But it is!!!dsc_0381Then what is a girl to do? Keep shopping! I was already eyeing the custom belts, and had picked out a pair of shoes, which I happily bought. My shoes were of course a compliment to my new skin, and my belt was fit to my waist for size, the buckle was classic and perfect for my, and then it was stamped with my initals.

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The work bench at Benheart where creations are made!

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Letizia fitting me for my custom belt

The saying, time flies when you are having is fun rang true, as we looked at our watches and we discovered we had been at Benheart for 3 hours!  During those 3 hours, the store was buzzing with old customers, and of course new ones also. It was wonderful to feel that I was now a part of this wonderful community! Everyone we spoke with was genuine and of course happy with their Benheart creations.

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My new friends- Ben, Letizia and Tommaso at Benheart

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Grazie Mille Letizia!

What I have take away from the hours spent at BENHEART is something that I knew in my heart when I started my blog almost 6 years ago, to share my story and experience with buying leather in Florence; there is so much good in the world and specifically in Florence.  I made sure to say to buy leather in Florence, but to be aware of what you are buying.  I am happy and honoured to have met Ben, Tommaso and Letizia with Benheart, and just as I spread the bad news, I will spread the good news, which is called BENHEART!

One day I hope to celebrate your store opening in Canada- a goal that Ben shared with me!

Should your travels take you to Firenze, Roma, Milano, Verona, or San Francisco (store opening soon), make sure you stop by Benheart! You will be happy you did!