We don’t know of any other place where the typical breakfast is basically ice cream and cake. OK, not quite ice cream and cake, but granita (flavored sweetened shaved ice) and brioche – which is something our moms certainly would not let us eat for breakfast growing up. But maybe this is what happens in a place where rules are hardly enforced. People in Sicily do what they want, when they want, and this gives the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea an exciting and slightly frenetic vibe. When we arrived, our taxi driver turned onto a one way street, going the wrong way, and waved to the police officer who waved back and smiled! Along the road, we saw people selling fresh veggies out of the trunks of their cars, some of which literally had artichokes falling out of the windows. Everywhere we turned, pedestrians were walking in the middle of busy streets while cars cued up and honked behind them, and and the cars (no better than the pedestrians) were parked pretty much wherever they could fit, even if it meant blocking the sidewalk or another parked car. Although things in Sicily are a bit unconventional, it felt relatively safe and after a while there is even some charm and, dare we say it, poetry to the order that resulted from so much chaos.
We started our Sicily trip in Catania, the largest city in Sicily. Our flight to Catania was delayed 10 minutes due to “ash.” We weren’t sure what this meant until we started our descent and saw plumes of smoke coming out of Mt. Etna. Although it was a really cool site for us, none of the Sicilians seemed fazed…the night before we arrived was the 10th time Mt. Etna has erupted this year! That afternoon, we took a bus to Taormina, a small town an hour north of Catania. In Taormina, we had our first, delicious taste of Sicily’s specialty – granita – and enjoyed the spectacular views of Mt. Etna and her rising smoke.
The next day, we took an Etna excursion in a 4×4, which allowed us to visit past lava flows and nearby towns that were still covered in M&M sized black lava stone that crunched under our feet like rice crispies. Our guide was a geologist, and explained the history of Mt. Etna and why it’s so safe compared to other volcanoes, and also took us to some interesting sites like the Alcantara gorges.
From Catania, we caught a bus to Trapani, a smaller city on the opposite coast of Sicily. Trapani is much more sleepy than Catania, and seems to be struggling economically (which may be because its chief industry is fishing in the already over-fished Mediterranean). The town of Trapani, which juts out into the ocean with crystal blue water on each side, is charming in a un-restored, classic Cadillac kind of way. From Trapani, we took a 15-minute gondola ride up to a medieval town called Erice. The town itself is sleepy and touristy, but the views are unmatched. At this time of year, wildflowers are growing everywhere, and the ancient castle on the hill was stunning against the backdrop of yellow, orange and purple flowers, and crystal blue water.
We spent the past 3.5 weeks in Italy and had a blast. Although we didn’t learn much Italian, we learned a great deal about Italian history, culture, art and people. And while we’ll miss eating pizza and pasta, we’re excited to eat a croissant in Paris tomorrow.