When Nik and I decided that we would take this extended trip, we petitioned our families to join us for parts of it, and Nik’s mom and sister took us up on it. They were most interested in joining us in Sicily to see where Nik’s maternal great-grandparents met before immigrating to the United States in the early 1900s.
The four of us met up last Monday in Palermo on the northern coast. L&M had already been there for two days, so they took us on a quick tour of downtown on our way up to the Catacombe dei Cappuccini. Nik and I had been to catacombs in Rome, but it was nothing compared to this. No photos are allowed inside, so imagine an underground loop of whitewashed tunnels lined on both sides with vertical recesses where mummified human carcasses are hung and organized by gender and class. It was eery, but also beautiful.
On our way back, we stopped at a family run restaurant with al fresco dining for the best meal we had had so far. It was a little awkward because it was 2:30pm on the Monday after Easter and they were about to close for siesta. But they happily served us alongside five or six large Italian family groups that appeared to have already been there for hours.
The next day, we had breakfast at our B&B and then caught a 1.5 hour train from Palermo to Cefalù for the next leg of the trip.
Cefalù is a town at the foot of a large rock formation on the northern coast of Sicily. In the 8th & 7th centuries BC, an active fort occupied “the rock”, and after several invasions and changes of government, the Normans began building a city at the base of the rock in the 1100’s. Today, the Norman city is mostly complete with tourism as its primary industry which is obvious. Luckily, the town is still beautiful and maintains it’s character as a small coastal town where all of the locals know each other.
During our stay there, we rented a 3 bedroom apartment at the edge of the historic city which placed us just far enough away that we felt like we could have lived there, but close enough to enjoy the city’s charm.
After 2 evenings of home cooked meals, we took another train ride from Cefalù to Catania which we would use as our home base for the final 4 nights in Italy.
On the first evening we set out to explore the neighborhood, chase the sunset, and find dinner. We tried to have dinner before sunset, but the restaurant we wanted to go to didn’t open until 7:45pm.
On the second day, we went to the main vegetable, meat and fish market to explore and collect ingredients for dinner. Then we meandered through town to find the ruins of a Greek theater that had been covered up with apartment buildings during the 1800s and is currently being restored. Then we walked up Via Etnea to the Bellini Gardens.
On Saturday (third day) we walked through a large clothing/housewares/music market and then to the port. Nik and his mom also found the alleged address of a relative and rang the buzzer, but no one answered. They left a note, and someone wrote back via text message a few days later!
I didn’t take my camera because I knew the market would be busy, but the views from the Port were much better than expected and I wish I had had it. From the tanker loading docks, you can see Mt Etna rising above the city without the view being obstructed by buildings. Also, there was a bar/cafe at the port that was attracting a lot of well dressed young people in fancy cars as well as motorcyclists. We didn’t stop for a drink, but I think that if I ever go back to Catania, I will.
For our final full day we rented a car with three goals: see the town Nik’s great grandparents lived in, see the Greek ruins of Taormina, and put our feet into the Mediterranean Sea. We accomplished all three AND we circumnavigated Mt Etna!
On our fifth and final day in Catania, we woke up early and drove to the airport so that we could all begin our transit days. Nik and I had a direct flight to Istanbul, and L&M were making their way to Dallas. For me, our time in Sicily was the perfect conclusion to our Italian adventure. It is always fantastic to spend time with Nik’s side of the family, but to spend time with them away from all of our daily lives and to experience places together for the first time ever is pretty amazing.