Friday, July 22, 2016

I Heart Sicily


It’s the last night of five weeks away and I’m seeing my first sunset over water. The town of Terrasini outside of Palermo, a place my wife visited with her parents in 1999. On a whim, we decided to see if we could find the villa they rented. We couldn’t, but realized that there is a lovely sand beach here and it’s five minutes from the airport. We were not excited about finding our reserved B&B in the hustle and bustle of downtown Palermo and having to look for parking and then drive 20 miles the next morning to the airport. So when I saw a sign for Palm Beach Hotel, I followed it and arrived at a lovely spot on water’s edge. We asked if they had a room—they did— and if they could call the Palermo place to to see if we could cancel without us being charged—they could. Call, that is.

Such a helpful and friendly desk clerk who called and then hung up shaking her head, “No, they will have to charge you” and added, “He was a strange man.” “Oh, well, “ I said, “it was worth a try.” Before leaving, we used their bathrooms and when we came out, she rushed up and said, “He just called back! They can cancel without charging!” So we booked a room with a  sea view, headed to the perfect beach and took one more refreshing dip in the Mediterranean waters. Lovely.

What to say about Sicily? No signs beyond one Godfather Bus Tour we saw that this was the birthplace of the organization that has caused so much grief and corruption in the world. (Don’t want to name them in case they’re reading this!). On the contrary, it seems to be a place of great peace and tranquility, great beauty, good food, good beaches, monuments of antiguity next to pretty good Wifi. If you are considering a trip, what might you expect?

If Sicily asked, I would recommend more screened windows and ceiling fans, but the Hotels, B & B’s and Air B & B’s were almost all wonderful, clean, tile floors, great showers, air conditioning, firm beds and mostly in the $65 range. Sometimes the food is surprisingly cheap—for example, an excellent Margarita pizza that can feed two for $5 (and this with 10% or less tipping!) Beers for $2.50. The gelatos and granitas are devilishly tantalizing, the caponata appetizers and grilled vegetables both delicious and for those who like fish (I don’t), plenty of it and fresh. Two McDonald's that I saw and no Starbucks. 

The beaches we found first were almost all rocky (bring some water footwear or sturdy flip-flops), but then we found some great sand ones as well. The sun is relentless at all times (at least in July) and rarely a cloud cover. Bring hats, sunscreen and rent umbrellas at the beach (mostly $10 to rent two chairs and an umbrella). Night temperatures are pleasant, not a San Francisco cool and we ate just about every meal outdoors.

Roads and road signs were fine, we found almost everything just following our noses and decent road signs. Italian drivers feel it their duty to try to pass whoever is in front—especially the trucks—so be prepared for some adventurous moments. Distances are manageable—top to bottom of the island in two hours or so, across in three or four at the most.

I wished I had brought at least a Berlitz Italian language book. Most of the English spoken is shopkeeper’s variety and with mime and gesture and a few key words, everything eventually got communicated. But it would be good to get up to “shopkeeper’s Italian” speed to level the playing field.

Our particular itinerary ended up just right. Near Taormina to the beautiful island of Lipari. Down to Siracusa (next trip, I’d stay in Ortygia right next door), the serendipitous find of Ragusa, the remarkable Villa Casalli in the center, the stunning sites of Agrigento and this quaint town of Terrasini. I’m sure we’ve missed lots of other great things, but if you want a possible itinerary, why, here it is.

My time here marred somewhat from the news back home and I hope I don’t forever associate Sicily with the Trump nightmare. But I suspect when we show him that Americans are better than he thinks, it will all be yesterday’s story and Sicily will remain unsullied in my memory.

And if the worst happens, why, maybe I’ll just move here.

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