Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sicily: Catania

After spending the previous day celebrating Carnevale in Acireale, we headed to nearby Catania the next morning.

Catania is not a touristy city, and it has a bit of a reputation. At first, Antonino was planning on staying with the car while we went sightseeing. He thought it was at risk of getting stolen since it has foreign plates.

When we found a parking spot, we were greeted by a somewhat sketchy man who offered to guard the car for a fee.

This was not the only time that happened in Sicily. I was pretty doubtful of this system, but since Antonino seemed to accept it as normal, we went with it. It all worked out in the end, because the car was safe and no one had to miss out on sightseeing.

Walking through the beautiful streets of Catania, it's hard to imagine that such a place could have a not-so-great reputation.

Our first stop was the Duomo di Catania, the city's main cathedral. It is decorated in the baroque style, like most of the city.

The Piazza Duomo in front of the cathedral is famous for its Fontana dell'Elefante. The fountain dates from the 1700s, but the elephant (carved from lava stone) and obelisk are ancient. The elephant has been known as the symbol of Catania for centuries.

Threatening clouds were starting to appear, so we hurried to get to our next destination before the rain came. 

The Teatro Romano is from the 2nd century and was only recently uncovered and restored. Back when Antonino lived here about 30 years ago, it was not in a state to be open to the public.

My favorite part was this view of the lovely church in the distance! 

The rain was coming down by the time we finished touring the theater, so it was the perfect time to stop for lunch. Sketchy Car Watcher guy suggested a nearby restaurant.

It might have been the best meal I had in Sicily. I wish I had a picture of my pizza, but I was too excited to eat it so that didn't happen.

Our last stop in Catania was the Castello Ursino, home to an art museum. I've seen more impressive art in Italy elsewhere, but walking through a castle on a rainy day wasn't a bad way to spend the afternoon.

More of Sicily:

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Easter in Jerusalem

Every year on Easter, I can't help but think about Jerusalem. It has now been two years since I've stepped foot in Israel, and almost five since I arrived there for the first time.

There are two different places that Christians venerate as being the possible locations of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. 

This is not uncommon. There are holy sites all over the Holy Land. For almost every event in the Bible, there is one (or 2, or 3, or more) sites that commemorate the event. Often, various Christian denominations build their own churches to worship in and have different traditions about what happened where.

I have been lucky enough to visit both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb several times. I have never written an in-depth comparison of the two places and what it's like to visit them. I decided to do it now, before I start to forget the details!

During the time of Jesus, the area where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands was an abandoned stone quarry and cemetery outside the city walls of Jerusalem. In the 4th century, the emperor Constantine's mother Helena identified this place as the location of Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

Today this site is venerated by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and several other sects. It is now inside the city walls and is the heart of the Christian Quarter in the Old City.

A tomb believed to be Christ's was found buried underneath the Roman temple of Venus when it was demolished. Golgotha, the "place of the skull," was thought to be in the nearby stone quarry. The first Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built to include both Golgotha and the tomb in 326-335 AD. The church was destroyed in 614 and again in 1009 by invaders, but rebuilt both times.

Exterior of the church.

Layout of the church- shows that it contains what is believed to be Jesus' tomb and Calvary.
Hard to see, but the rock visible through the window is supposed to be Golgotha.

The church that stands today dates from the Crusader era. Some of the columns inside are still from Constantine's original church. 

The tomb is in the center under the main dome. To go inside, you stand in a long line of pilgrims. A monk with a pointy waist-length beard is in charge of traffic control and lets in a few people at a time.

Inside the tomb- marble covers the original rock.

Visiting this church is unlike any other I've ever visited. It is dark inside. It is a huge space. Some parts are very beautiful, and others are in desperate need of restoration. 

There are people who save money for their entire lives to be able to visit this place. I've seen people fall on their knees and sob as they touch the Stone of Anointing (believed to be where Jesus' body was anointed for burial), or as they take their turn to step inside the small tomb. 

There are so many nooks and crannies. One hidden corner holds remains of other 1st century tombs uncovered by archeologists. There are candles, lamps, and incense. There are forgotten paintings covered in soot from those candles. Thousands of crosses have been carved into the walls by pilgrims over the centuries. 

It really is a fascinating place, and it's definitely one of my favorites in Jerusalem. 

A lot of Protestants and Mormons feel uncomfortable there because it's so different from what they're used to, and it's not what they picture when they think of the resurrection. 

Many visitors prefer the Garden Tomb, which is another possible location of that event. 

The Garden Tomb is about one block away from the Old City, north of Damascus Gate. The history of this place is quite a few centuries shorter than that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1883, the British general Charles Gordon noticed a rocky hill with the shape of a skull near an ancient tomb. He was the first to popularize the idea that this could be an alternative location.

A British organization runs this site, and they maintain a beautiful garden surrounding the tomb. It is among the greenest and most peaceful places in Jerusalem. It's actually right next to the main Arab bus station, but it still manages to be a quiet oasis in the busy city.

Unfortunately, the archeological evidence that either place could actually be Jesus' tomb is pretty weak. 

If you're curious to know more about the particularities, you can read this article written by one of my former BYU professors. He knows just a tad more about archeology than I do. He seems to think that the Garden Tomb's Golgotha is possible or even likely to be the real location, but that it's pretty impossible for either of the tombs to be genuine.

That doesn't mean they're not worthwhile places to visit! I enjoyed coming back again and again to both of them. I slightly prefer visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre- mostly because I love old churches filled with history. I feel like every time I go there, I discover something new.

Even if you can't know the exact location of that miraculous event from over 2000 years ago- if you're in Jerusalem, you know it happened somewhere nearby. In my book, that makes the whole city pretty special.

Happy belated Easter :)

Why I loved living in Israel

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Carnevale in Sicilia

We happened to be in Sicily during Mardi Gras- called 'Carnevale' in Italian.

David's cousin and her family live in Acireale, home to one of the bigger celebrations on the island. We took the opportunity to both visit relatives and experience a Mardi Gras parade- a first for both of us.

After a family lunch of lots of pasta and pressure to "mangia, mangia!", it was time to explore.

On our walk into town, the closer we got to the city center, the more confetti coated the ground. There were bags and bags of confetti for sale to throw at people. I only got hit once. I saw one little girl cry because someone threw green confetti at her and she only wanted to be covered in pink confetti. Rough life.

The main square had music playing, beautiful churches, some small flower-covered floats, and a lot of people standing around waiting for the festivities to start.

A good percentage of both adults and children were dressed up in costumes. 

I remember the life of having to cover up my pretty Halloween costumes with winter coats.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.
A unicorn holding a bag of confetti to throw.
Notice the hair.
Costumes for sale.
Eventually we could see the first big float rounding the corner. It featured a slightly terrifying giant baby and blasting techno music. David was not a big fan of the creepy baby or of the music.

Jessica is David's cousin's daughter, but she is only 26 (right between our ages). She was nice enough to be our tour guide and lead us through her town to see all of the floats.

The lights came on as it started to get dark out, and before we knew it it was time for our colorful day to come to an end and head back to our home base in Bronte.

Everyone was so excited to see the creepy baby again!
Why yes, that is Mr. Bean.