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In Smithsonian, a Sicilian Slice

Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page P04

WORTH A TRIP: The February Smithsonian makes you an offer you can't refuse: Visit Sicily. Yes, the Mafia continues to be "venal and pervasive," Richard Covington writes, but "the majority of the island's five million citizens reject it" and signs of "cultural revival are everywhere." Thanks to waves of ancient invaders, you'll see "Greek and Roman temples, Saracen citrus groves and gardens, Norman churches with glittering Byzantine mosaics, 17th- and 18th-century cathedrals erected by Spanish and Bourbon rulers" -- stirred into an "exotic cultural identity that has one foot in Europe and the other in North Africa."

WORTH A FLIP: You thought the last family road trip was rough? Try the $1,500 one-hour Royal Jordanian flight from Amman to Baghdad, Atlantic says. "Dozens" do every day, "lugging duffels heavy with booze and body armor" and risking surface-to-air missiles. On arrival, a South African flight attendant chirps " 'Welcome to Baghdad,' but has the grace at least not to wish the passengers a pleasant stay" . . . Or fork over $2,950 and get weightless on the ZERO-G "Vomit Comet" aircraft, Travel Savvy suggests. We doubt there's meal service . . . So he wants to slam beers on the beach, while you prefer to soak up fine art. If you still insist on marrying the guy, check out the honeymoon finder in Modern Bride Washington, which will clue you that "culture vulture + beach buff" = Greece . . . "Tuscan Sun" diva Frances Mayes gives her stamp of approval to the restored medieval Italian hamlet Borgo di Vagli in Architectural Digest. The "severely beautiful" stone dwellings are now vacation rental properties -- including a pool, where you can bask under the you-know-what . . .



Prithee, if thou prefers to spell it "faire" rather than "fair," hie thee to Renaissance magazine, for a compleat list of "Renaissance Faires & Festivals" in 2005 . . . Chutney soca: food or music? Discuss. Conde Nast Traveler does, in a tasty tour of Caribbean rhythms that grooves through jing ping, dancehall, zouk and more . . . American Archeology touts the USDA Forest Service's "Passport in Time" program, where you, too, can volunteer to "intently" screen a "bucket of dirt" for artifacts while digging with the pros -- or transcribe oral histories and help restore historic structures . . .

Sea Kayaker takes you to Belize, where the paddling is easy, the reef is studded with tiny uninhabited islands and you may spot "a stingray as wide as a car." Bonus: The story includes a top-notch trip planner . . . Our nominee for most delectable new restaurant name: FoodBall, in Barcelona, which serves, uh, balls of food that you eat while hanging out on an "enormous indoor stoop," according to Food & Wine . . . Bogey (think golf-meets-Wired) takes you to the Hans Merensky Club, a wild course next to South Africa's Kruger National Park, where "baboons love playing with the flagsticks." Beware, it's "difficult to play through when an elephant is up ahead," and at the "17th you'll need to try hard not to be distracted by the snorts and splashing as you tee off over a family of hippos" . . . Caribbean Travel & Life names "eight beaches that will leave you speechless." 'Nuff said.

WORTH A CLIP: Outside has scoped the "Best Trips of 2005." Can't cough up $19,950 for the "Safari by Air" in South America or $10,000 to ride with Lance Armstrong? Try mountain biking in Croatia ($1,325) or galloping a deserted coastline in Uruguay ($1,850).

WORTH A GAWK: A Budget Travel reader toasts a Tasmanian pub where you're invited to buy the pig-in-residence, Slops, a pint. Think he starts to look more attractive near closing time? . . . Speaking of which, bet you didn't know "rhinoceros foreplay can last a full month." One of many things you'll learn at the San Francisco Zoo's Valentine's Day Sex Tour, Outside claims . . . Practice catching snakeheads in Thailand before they take over the Potomac. Men's Journal has the scoop on an expedition that lets you reel in fish weighing "as much as 30 pounds" that "fight like Mike Tyson on a case of Red Bull." Then you get to eat them . . . Minot, N.D., hosts the Frozen Finger Festival next weekend, Midwest Living says, where folks doff their mittens to play bluegrass -- with blue fingers, no doubt. And then there's Mardi Gras in Deadwood, S.D. Laissez les bon temps roulez, Deadwood!

-- Gayle Keck


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