Italia Due: Sicilia

Buongiorno. Mi chiamo Vix. Piacere! Abito a Londra con mio ragazzo si chiama Paolo. Lavoro in un ufficio. Ho 33 anni. Ho una sorella più si chiama Jennifer e mio nipote si chiama Noah. 

I’m learning Italian. Some of that may not be right. Anyway, on with the blog…

sicily1I have an email saved for posterity that still reduces me to tears of laughter whenever I read it. In the message, my friend Nick lists all the possible places in Europe you can fly to from Edinburgh, going into an incredible amount of detail about times and connections. It’s about two pages long! And this is before we’ve even discussed where we might want to go on holiday. He even suggests – the delirium really taking hold now – that we have the option to pay for a taxi from Edinburgh to Liverpool (an extortionate fare) for a flight in the early hours of the morning…to Liechtenstein, if memory serves. Someone was really in need of a break! After Paul calmly suggested in reply that we might want to pause and compile a short-list of destinations – places, y’know, we might actually want to visit – some semblance of sanity returned.

By way of further explanation, we needed to depart from Scotland because Nick was performing at the comedy festival over August and some of us were visiting him on the final weekend…but I now forget why we couldn’t have just come back to London before flying out. We couldn’t. Just go with it.

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The research fever having subsided, we eventually settled on Sicily, with Laura and Rob finding a great villa in the hills above Taormina, a small town on the east coast of the island. It’s a very well-heeled little place, with plenty of good restaurants and designer shops, a beautiful central piazza, and nice little coves reached by aerial tramway. Tourists tend to visit the town on day trips, primarily to see the Teatro Greco – an impressive ruin with stunning views of the Ionian coastline through crumbling archways – but we found it a great base for a longer stay. The villa was beautiful, with a decent-sized pool, outdoor space for enjoying Laura’s famous aubergine parmigiana, and great views of Mount Etna in the distance. It was a half-hour walk from our villa into town, via a series of steep stone stairways: pleasant but sometimes hard work in the heat. Understandable then, that we tended to need a gelato (or two) at the bottom…and that we invariably hailed a taxi home in the evenings. We did however brave the walk in the opposite direction one evening to Castelmola, a tiny village at the top of the hill. The hamlet has an oversized Duomo and a precipitously perched castle. The walk, I quickly decided, was foolish, as every muscle in my legs protested, but luckily the charming cobbled streets were worth the effort and the bar atop the tower in the main square provided liquid medication.

IMG_4674The weather was fabulous. Hot and sunny every day of the trip. Plenty of opportunity for sunbathing and swimming, at the aforementioned coves in Taormina and at Giardini Naxos, a short bus ride away, and nearby Isola Bella. The unwavering sun also allowed us to eat al fresco every evening, at great places like A’Zammara and Trattoria La Botte, where we had great shellfish and grilled squid (“sea monsters”, according to Nick), delicious arancini and plenty of pasta.

IMG_9784Despite the great setting, we were able – luckily – to pull ourselves away for some amazing sightseeing. The trip up Mount Etna was the highlight for me. And all the more so because our little hire cars survived the journey! Having been forced to unload all of our luggage half way up the hill to our villa on the first night and push the cars, fearful all the while of the increasingly strong smell of burning rubber, we were not at all confident in their ability to make it anywhere, let alone up a 10,890 ft active volcano. But make it they did. Obviously not all the way up…there were cable cars and 4x4s involved too…but we were still quietly proud of them. The mountain itself is breaktaking. In Greek Mythology, the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under it by Zeus, and it certainly looks worthy of the attention of the gods: an imposing, stark, black moonscape with steaming vents and a towering peak that regularly spews forth angry, dark smoke from its depths. Gorgeous!

Another trip saw us kitted out in wetsuits and helmets, body rafting through the frigid waters of the Alcantara Gorge. Many people, having seen the photos on our return, teased that this was no more scary than sitting in a bubble bath, but let me tell you that my bruised butt was testimony otherwise. It was a lot of fun, despite the bumps and panicked submersions. And the cafe at the gorge made the best arancini of the holiday.

gorge4On the final day, Paolo and I took a boat trip to the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The overcrowded boat wasn’t the most relaxing way to travel, but the spectacular scenery quickly made you forget your sweaty companions. First we sailed past Vulcano, the chimney to the Roman god Vulcan’s workshop; a cute little place with less than five-hundred inhabitants and the perfect backdrop for a refreshing swim.

IMG_4611Next was the well-to-do Lipari, the largest of the islands – with a population of around 12,000 – and studded with beautiful villas. According to Greek mythology, it was home of Aeolus, god of winds, who gave Ulysses a bag of winds to assist him during his ten-year odyssey around the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The longest stop was on Panarea, considered the most stunning of the islands. We pulled into a little harbour and, after a giant bowl of prawns, walked up and around the picturesque town taking dozens of photos of the contrasting white-washed houses against the dark black sand and turquoise sea. I could have stayed there for much longer…but wouldn’t have wanted to miss the pièce de résistance: Stromboli. Still active, Stomboli – which takes up most of the surface of the island – is the only volcano in Europe that permanently erupts. After a walk around the island, observing with note the ominous warning signs about tsunamis (basically, you should run up – not down – the mountain!), we re-boarded the boat at sunset to circumnavigate the island, waiting for the lava to flow. Having almost given up hope, we were eventually treated to an exciting firework-burst of orange and a simultaneous lightning storm…nature at it’s most terrifyingly beautiful.

stromboli2Grazie, in Sicilia. Ci ritorneremo!

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