My sister texted me, “What was your favorite place in Sicily?” I visited the isle for Spring Break in college when I studied in Florence. She expected a short text back instead she got the following overlong e-mail.
Your trip to Sicily would be very different than mine. Keep in mind I was a college student whose skinflint ways made the modern version of me look like a big spender. I also went by myself so there were no compromises, but also no regular conversations. To save money on hotels I slept on trains when possible and many of my meals consisted of bread and olives. It was a time before Euros and Smartphones, so Sicily could easily no longer be a cheapskate’s nirvana. It was also in March when I went so perhaps it seemed untouched by tourists simply because of the time of year. Regardless, here are my memories of the island that you can take with a grain of salt.
After taking the overnight train from Florence where I slept in the middle seat of a passenger train surrounded by swarthy Italians I arrived in Taormina. This is perhaps the most touristy place I went to in Sicily where British tourists walk around like they own the place. But it is really beautiful. Overlooking the Mediterranean which sparkles blue when the sun hits it you have a view of Mt. Etna that reminded me of drawings in mythology books. There are the ruins of a Greek Theater that look like actual ruins, but I might have learned later that the theater was not genuine and simply built to appear like the actual theater that was at that site. Either way it still impressed me.
Next I went to Siracusa, also known as Syracuse. I wandered around the town all day and didn’t see much expecting to catch a night train to Agrigento. When I learned there was no night train I was forced to get a hotel room. I started talking to the night clerk whose buddy came over. They brought out wine from a box which wasn’t half bad and the buddy drove me around giving me a tour of all the ruins and historic sites.
Knowing Italian will do you no good in Sicily. If they don’t know English communication is hopeless. Their dialect involves such a thick accent you won’t know if they’re complimenting you or asking if you are as stupid as you look. One Sicilian I met on a train when he learned I was from America started asking me if I knew “Babillion”. He started making weird noises and finally I realized he was singing “Like A Rolling Stone” and was asking if I liked Bob Dylan.
Agrigento was crazy. I went there in the middle of a weekday and took a bus to some Greek ruins. The ruins were on an elevated mesa segregated from the modern city. There were the remnants of old temples and statues from two thousand years ago that in 1997 had no security or rope cordoning you off from them. You could climb on them, have a picnic lunch on them or desecrate them with bodily fluids and no one would bother you.
That afternoon I took the train to Palermo. I was there two nights. I must have done something, but I have no memory of what I did. In my head it was just a generic city. I do remember there were a lot of American sailors walking around, so there must have been a naval base.
Then came the best part of the trip. I took a boat to the Aeolian Islands. Lipari was the island to stay on because boats to the other islands embark from Lipari. I met two Americans on the boat. It was the first English I had spoken in a few days. When we got off the boat a woman offered a room to rent for a crazy low price. I think it was like 20,000 lira a night each which was 15 bucks. We had our own kitchen and were right across the street from a beach. The beaches were rocky, but not boring stones. It was green sea glass so it looked like a beach of emeralds.
The next day I took a ferry with the Americans to Stromboli which had a giant volcano on it and beaches with black sand from the volcano. Supposedly if you got to the top you could see lava spewing. We didn’t make it that far. We got halfway up when the path was almost 180 degrees vertical. We climbed as far as our lazy teenaged legs would take us and then jumped down the slope. You see this volcano and you will believe the moon landing was fake. Your movements and the terrain look exactly how NASA portrayed the moon.
The next morning I took a ferry to the island of Vulcano. This island had lower lying volcanoes so it wasn’t too tough to get to the top. I saw no lava, but plenty of smoke fuming. Most exciting about the island of Vulcano are hot muddy springs. You will smell of sulphur, but the temperature is great and spreading the mud on your skin solves all your problems.
I might have glamorized the place with nostalgia, but I have fond memories of Sicily and no problems with mobsters.