Last year we were privileged to have had some great adventures throughout Italy and Brazil, and it all started with 10 days in Sicily. And I must say, this Italian island has really left me wanting more (or rather, I left it wanting more).
Sicily didn’t have to make any effort to get me hooked. It simply pulled me through its never-ending pastel-coloured city corridors filled with loud Italian conversations (in a new super cool accent I didn’t know yet), colourful sheets hanging from the windows, to dry by the everyday sunshine, smells of amazing home cooked food and kids playing around elders, who sat by the road catching up on the latest gossips of the neighbourhood. The towns we visited, which all had in common this tranquil and happy vibe, were surrounded by incredibly blue beaches where I’ve had some of the best swims of my life. As if that wasn’t enough, Sicily has also conquered me by the stomach (of course, it has!) because of its absolutely incredible seafood, liquors (in which they dip biscuits for dessert!) and almond pastries. The food there was so great that only much later did I realize that I haven’t filmed or photographed almost any of it! Probably because I was too busy sinning in gluttony.
Sicily marked a special time for us because it was our first trip after having finished our Masters dissertations, which we wrote over two months in the summer in Rome. When we came out from our working cave we looked extremely pale and had to learn how to tune out of all that academic talk and re-enter the fun mode of living by the moment. Which Sicily made sure we did properly.
In a period of ten days, we visited Trapani, Erice, San Vito lo Capo, Favignana, Marsala, Mazara del Vallo and Selinunte. So, we got to see quite a bit of the West coast. While there, we travelled between cities by bus and train. The alternative would have been renting a car, boat or flying, but we travel on a student budget (which we prioritize spending on clean bathroom facilities and exaggerated amounts of good food). Anyways, to get an idea of how it was relying on public transport in Sicily, picture this: more often than not, when we asked around for information regarding train and bus schedules, instead of getting an actual answer we got a ‘good luck’ followed by a confused face. But even though it was true that we never knew when (or if) we would arrive at our desired destination, it turns out we did (eventually) and travelling by public transport was worth the effort. Those uncertain moments of waiting by the road or in the train station became our contemplative time, where we got to meet some funny locals and catch our breath and some shade after exploring for hours in the blazing sun. Unplanned events such as those waiting hours by the train station forced us to tune into the local rhythms, and that is how we came to appreciate Sicilian’s stress-free routine (or lack of routine). Once, even when the train did arrive after a long wait, it broke in the middle of the way and we waited another hour to get moving, but this time inside the really hot unventilated train, without understanding why we had stopped. The locals around us did not even look stressed or confused (they did not demand explanations about why the train had stopped, while we were bewildered) as if this was not only normal but, well, not even a problem. It was mostly through these kinds of experiences that we got a picture of Sicilians’ friendliness and laid-back contentment with life. It was quite a refreshing experiment trying to live as they do in these kinds of settings. What made it all more positive rather than an effort was how almost everyone we crossed paths with would take the time to stop whatever they were up to and have a fun proper conversation with anyone willing to do the same, always with a smile. It was the perfect place to lay back and accept whatever came our way with good humour, as the locals seemed to do so well.
Here is a 5 minutes video of some of the highlights of those ten days. This video, like much of what happened during this trip, was completely unplanned, so we put together moments that we happened to have filmed throughout the trip and were happily surprised that it actually manages to transmit the lightness and happiness that we experienced there. Hope you enjoy it!
(If you feel like knowing more details about each place we visited, please scroll down for pictures and more written memories.)
So, it all officially started when we flew from Rome to one of Sicily’s 3 airports, Aeroporto Vicenzo Florio, which is right beside the yellow and blue toned city of Trapani. Arriving there after having been locked in the living room for two months while staring at our computers writing dissertations (and previously to that having lived in busy London for one year), made us feel like we were landing back in time, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. This was the first impression of the scenery: yellow buildings, deep blue sky, chilled locals talking by the road, seagulls and wind blowing, dazzling sun, surrounded by a gorgeous deep blue coloured ocean and some tourists partying around in vacations mode and volume. We felt so out of place, and so wonderful. It felt so good to be in a city that did not feel like a city. I couldn’t have pictured a warmer place to discover, and I mean warm in terms of shades of colours, weather and people’s relaxed enthusiasm for life. Arriving in Trapani we knew this is all we needed at that moment. This would be our ‘home’ for the next 3 nights and 4 days.
(For lovers of seafood, we highly recommend in Trapani: Poseidon restaurant, where we had the best octopus on tomato sauce, and cozze. We discovered this place on our second night there, and went back for many meals after).
SAN VITO LO CAPO
On the second day of waking up in Trapani, we headed on a local bus to San Vito lo Capo, where we had heard rumours about the supposedly even more heavenly blue ocean. But it turned out to be much more crowded too. Still, the little town was adorable and very fun to walk through until we found a place to squeeze in the sand and relax at the beach. The drive there was absolutely stunning, the landscapes of Sicily were just so foreign to me. A mixture of desert-like vegetation (and lack of vegetation), yellowish ground with bits of red earth, mounts, and the stunning blue ocean for a sharp colour contrast.
Next destination for a day-tour leaving from Trapani was Marsala, where we spent one day strolling around the main piazza and the nice avenue along the ocean. One of the greatest discoveries was to see the main gate to Marsala’s historical centre, where Garibaldi first landed in Southern Italy and in the beginning of his quest to unite the country. We went there and back from Trapani by train this time, which proved to be the beginning of our long list of episodes of sitting on train stations confused about the schedules – it was actually funny how laid back people were there, and we were still trying to cope with that and just starting to see the fun in it. (Schedule? There is no such thing..why worry about time or if you will ever make it to your hotel tonight?) I must admit that after a year of living in London this was a harsh culture shock! Especially because we were exhausted from the heat and really hoping for a shower after the whole day of walking around. But we were quick to adjust and see the lack of structure as an opportunity for adventure and good stories.
Well, we did eventually manage to get back from Marsala’s train station to our hotel in Trapani. On our last full day in Trapani, we walked across the whole historical city and up to the cableway that took us to the top of the hill, where the millenary town of Erice awaited with its imposing Castello di Venere (Venus’ castle). Erice just hooked us immediately. It is so charming, middle-age looking, cozy, and so full of history in every corner. We walked around all day and started off by visiting the ruins of the millenary castle of Venus (beautiful view from up there!), where some 3 thousand years ago the priestesses of Venus performed ritualistic sacred prostitution to honour the Goddess of love. Since then, the castle has been taken by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Arabs and Normans. It was so special to walk around its pretty cobbled streets imagining the diversity of people they have seen throughout history.
FAVIGNANA, Egadi Islands
When Trapani was starting to feel like home (we weren’t even getting lost on the yellow corridors anymore to find our hotel at night!), on our 4th day there, we left right after breakfast and took a boat to the island of Favignana. We only had two days and one night in Favignana, but it was enough to get a great taste of the transparent waters that surround this island. We spent basically all of our time there either in bikes (which we rented from the hotel to move around the island and explore less crowded beaches) or in the sea, which was superb for swimming. Favignana is an island of an island! It is small and doesn’t support as many tourists as the rest of the places we had been to, so this time we had to schedule a hotel in advance to make sure we could spend at least on night there and see most of the island’s beaches in two days. What we forgot to do, though, was reserve a restaurant where to have dinner. So we ended up in a tourist trap with expensive and not very good food. Lesson learned. Even though we are major lovers of good food, that did not spoil the Favignana experience at all. We fell in love with the island’s nature, and in particular with the beach of Bue Marino.
MAZARA DEL VALLO
At the end of our second day of biking and swimming in Favignana, we boarded on the same passengers-only ferry boat that we had taken to get there from Trapani, this time to land back in the already explored town of Marsala. After a quick stop to get something to eat (at an unpretentious bakery which happened to have an amazing to go lasagna!), we took a train (in the same train station we had been sitting for hours days earlier) and finally arrived in our last Sicilian layover: Mazara del Vallo. We arrived by night, tired and considerably sunburnt from the amazing Favignana experience. After taking a boat and a train, we practically crossed the whole town by foot from the train station to the hotel. We arrived and practically fainted in bed. Mazara del Vallo on the next day revealed itself as one of the prettiest and most interesting syncretic cities I’ve ever seen. We would often find highly decorated streets full of hand-painted tiles distributed along its walls and floors, with Arabic-looking motifs. The houses practically compete for the most intricate gates and windows, and the city itself is composed of narrow pedestrian roads with houses all painted in shades of pastel-beige. Thank goodness Michele has a good sense of direction or I would probably still be in the city centre wandering around and getting lost in its little corners, Arabic decorations and mini-piazzas between blocks of houses. We had one full day to explore this interesting place and try its delicious mixture of typical foods which are, very broadly speaking, a combination of north-African and Italian cuisines.
On our second day of waking up in Mazara del Vallo, we ended up taking a day-tour to another fascinating place that was just an hour away by bus: the archaeological park of Selinunte and its imposing ancient greek ruins. The ancient greek city of Selinunte was dated approximately 628 a. C. and has some of the biggest religious temples still preserved from ancient Greece outside of Greece.
Mazara del Vallo/ Our Goodbye to Sicily
Waking up in Mazara del Vallo on our last day, we walked past a street bar filled with old fishermen sharing stories and playing domino (on of my favourite scenes in this trip’s movie). We said our goodbye to Sicily with a great meal at a typical restaurant of Mazara (where the cook spoke only Arabic) where we had delicious seafood and the typical cuscus. We finished it off with a cold beer to gather the courage to get to the airport by train, wondering if we would indeed get there by the time of our flight. There was a bit of waiting in the train station, as usual, but eventually -unfortunately- we did get on board of that same old train and leave towards the airport.
And so it happened that, like everything in life eventually comes to an end, so did this vacations extravaganza of Yellow and Blue. We left rejuvenated, sunburnt, exhausted and filled with treasurable memories of great food, wonderful sea swims, interesting history, beautiful city corners and relaxed (and relaxing) people (perfect combo for vacations). Sicily has taught us a few great lessons about living la dolce vita.