March 13, 2022
As the title of the blog indicates, I'm going to write about a recent trip to Sicily I had in December. Yep, you read that month correctly, traveling to Italy during winter not only provides you with a more authentic experience but one can also find airplane/hotel deals that cost only a fraction of those of the summer.
Winter in the Mediterranean is something special because you find yourself among the locals and not the hordes of tourists you will most likely see during the warmer months. It makes interacting with locals way easier than the bustle of the summer. That alone contributes to making an experience like no other, a real cultural exchange experience that I feel is what traveling should be about.
This trip starts with me landing in Catania, Catania is the second largest metropolitan city of Sicily and it lies on the Ionian Sea, under the shadow of Mount Etna, or “A Muntagna” as the locals refer to it.
Catania is not my main destination this time as I have been there before but it certainly deserves 1-2 days of exploring and a visit to the currently active Etna is always a must. (unless it’s a bit too active then you should probably avoid it and drink negroni in a bar instead)
When in Catania I always find myself lost around its loud fish Market where you feel like Bourdain on his “Part’s Unknown Sicily” episode.
As I landed I took the train straight to Syracuse which would be the place I was going to stay for a few days and a little bit more than 2 hours later (don’t have much faith in the trains of the South and their timetable..) there I was in Syracuse, the southeastern Sicilian city that Cicero called “the greatest and most beautiful of all Grecian cities” which was founded by Greeks around 734 B.C.
I was going to stay in Ortigia Island, the historical center of Syracuse, which is everything Sicily has to offer concentrated in 45 hectares of land…
Narrow streets, Baroque churches, markets with local ingredients, hidden bars, a charming piazza where scenes of the film “Malena” were filmed, and a promenade with a sunset not to be missed as the sailboats go by... This island is so tiny that I walked all around it 3 times while I was there without even noticing.
Being in Sicily means having an espresso combined with a pistachio croissant (which I had in the lovely bar Condorelli in the piazza duomo), then off for a winter swim in the small beach called Spiaggia di Cala Rossa, that feeling you get after you have “endured” the cold waters of December is something that can’t be described with words, it makes you feel like a Gladiator that is ready for a battle in Colosseum…(until you realize you had too many pistachio croissants that morning)
Getting hungry in Italy means carbohydrates so lots of pasta was consumed during my time there...and how can one resist when it's so damn good? I also found myself on Caseificio Borderi for a sandwich that included pretty much everything the Mediterranean has to offer made by Andrea. Andrea and his son are creating an experience that you shouldn’t miss even If you have to wait in a row to simply have a sandwich, a really really good sandwich by the way. (No wonder why there are videos on youtube with millions of views simply with Andrea making them).
What I loved the most during this trip is simply the fact that one can feel at home the moment he arrives. Waking up in the morning with the sun and the sound of waves, brewing a quick espresso with a Moka pot, saying two words of Italian you learned on google and making your neighbor laugh, enjoying every bit of the sun in the few hours it shines with the locals on the piazza, hearing conversations in a language that sounds so strange and so familiar at the same time.
Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish found some way of reaping benefit from the wealth of the island, and each left their mark in the Sicily we know today, in its towns and villages, its language, and cuisine. Sicily is a real melting pot of cultures unlike anywhere else in Europe making this place so rich and unique in all the aspects of life…
So what should one do on this Island (within the Island of Sicily)? The answer is what one should do pretty much everywhere, which is to experience life as it is happening.
Embrace the slow living patterns of the locals, sip your espresso and watch the people as they go by, delve into the history, try that local dish that doesn't look so Instagramable and don’t be afraid to use your own hands to eat it... delete your google maps and ask locals for directions, wander and get lost so once you fly back home you have more memories and experiences than souvenirs…
As I found myself back at the airport of Catania I felt enriched and grateful for having experienced a little slice of that heaven myself…Arrivederci Sicilia!
PS. Here's a playlist to make you daydream about Sicily...
If you have any questions or would like to know more about this trip and Sicily send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the spirit. It is in Sicily that is the key to everything"[...] "The purity of the contours, the softness of everything, the exchange of soft colors, the harmonious unity of the sky with the sea and the sea to the land... who saw them once, shall possess them for a lifetime"
(J.W.Goethe, "Journey to Italy", 1817)