MORE ADVENTURES IN SICILY
About Sicily, Italy
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is just off the toe of Italy's boot. It has been a crossroads of cultures for 3,000 years, a history reflected in its diverse architecture, cuisine and ancient ruins. Palermo, the capital, offers colorful street life, bustling markets and Byzantine mosaics at the Cappella Palatina. On Sicily’s eastern edge is Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano.
By mid-week in Ayola, Sicily, we’d been to the airport three times, solved all our problems except lost glasses and were set to explore. Every day, we got in the car to go look at famous sites. “It doesn’t look far on the map” I’d say but that was always before we’d decide to take a side road, and stop here and there to admire the almond trees, the olive trees, the grapes the lemon trees.
The elaborate gates we passed, each more and more ornate fascinated us, and so we have 200 pictures of gates. They’ll go nicely with the hundreds of pictures of doors. Because we were well away from the tourist sites, and restaurants that opened in the daylight, we’d find a little store and put together a picnic. One of my favourite afternoons was in a National park; he had an amazing time on this switchback road. Me? I spent a fair bit of time with my eyes shut. Tom was fascinated to see the WWII bunkers along the route. People who love to drive will enjoy the switchback roadways in the hilltop villages.
In another national park, we came upon a beautiful restaurant on a hill. We followed the cars heading in, only to discover it was a private party, but all was not lost we then spent an interesting hour talking to a family who had been to Toronto to visit relatives. One day we were determined to find a nice place to eat. We hadn’t solved the problem of only having sunglasses to drive with, and Avola restaurants don’t open till after dark. We set out on foot, and wandered the streets to find an open restaurant. After an hour or so, we did find one, had a so-so dinner, but the service was great, and several near by tables struck up a conversation of sorts. Best news was, that we managed to walk straight back home without getting lost. After breakfast the next day, I discovered I’d left my purse in the restaurant. 14,000 Fitbit steps, lots of arguing over the right way, and two hours later, we found the restaurant again. It wasn’t open but the owners were there. “ You looking for this? said the owner with a big smile”. And there was my new Italian purse, with €200 in it and all my credit cards.
That morning we watched a lovely wedding complete with honour guard of police wearing their dress uniforms. The happy couple left in a Phaeton Excalibur convertible. We were tempted to gate crash the reception. Tom thought he had found a renovator’s paradise with all the old homes in state of disrepair until he learned about the inheritance laws and didn't think he could convince the 20 plus owners of the homes to sell. Not in Sicily. Parking never ceased to be an adventure. Those who don't do well parking a car will be in trouble, but many just park beside the car already there. If the car is too long for the spot, no problem, just stick the nose in and angle the rest of it.
Buy Nero d’Avola wine, we were told in Venice. It is the best red wine in the world. We loved it. We bought the plonk at about €1 a bottle on sale, and the good stuff at €10 a bottle. Not being wine snobs and because we didn’t have the advice of fellow columnist Margaret Swaine, we couldn’t taste the €9 difference. One lovely day we took the coastal road to Siracusa. We ended on on Ortigia, the self-contained hub of the old city. We were fascinated by the harbour, but did stop to look at the Temple of Apollo on the way to the market. The market probably wasn’t the best choice for lunch, but we were the only tourists, so got to watch real life. The tourists were all in the tourist restaurants lining the ancient streets. Another day we decided to see Noto, a city built from scratch after an earthquake demolished it in 1693. The town was designed in a Baroque style, using the local white limestone, which has turned a lovely honey colour brown. This is a huge tourist site, coach after coach left off tourists eager to take pictures. We found a free parking spot about four blocks away. “ Don’t forget to lock it” I nagged. Three hours later, we came back to find, yes it was locked, but one of the windows was down far enough to get a hand in. No, nothing was missing.
We took a drive through a newer part of town (maybe just 100 years old) and came across a gorgeous church. There was a wedding about to begin so we stayed. It was easy to tell, we weren’t guests. I was the only one not wearing 5-inch heels and a tight shiny dress. Nevertheless we were greeted with smiles and “buongiornos.” When we weren’t driving, we walked the city of Avola and watched the locals. The woman renovating the house across from ours provided hours of entertainment, as she yelled at the contractors. The big event for evening was watching the locals come to the square and chat with their friends. The pizza shop on the corner that opened at 5pm. was delicious. The last night we were determined to have a great fish dinner. No luck, we ended up at a food shack on the beach.
“Hope you didn’t have anything stolen “ said a tourist at the airport. “They rob you blind in this country. They do have great food though.”