Sicily: Bellísima!

Ever since I watched Il Postino in my 10th grade Spanish class (don’t know why, considering it’s in Italian), I’ve always wanted to go to Sicily. A quick wikipedia search would reveal that it was in fact not filmed in Sicily but on the island of Procida, but whatever, a dream is a dream. The Godfather trilogy further catapulted Sicily’s ethereal imagery with shots of rural Sicilian landscape against the backdrop of a melancholy soundtrack. Anyway, it’s close, it’s cheap, and I had a long weekend.

Sicilians tend to embody the Mediterranean quality of posessing a jolly attitude while moving in the speed of molasses. Sicilian men also seem to have nothing to do all day but to stand on the side of the street and sigh “bellísima!” at every female who is not particularly old or terribly deformed who walks by. I mentioned this excessive catcalling to my Sicilian host in Syracuse, at which time she smiled, nodded, and responded, “I know. Isn’t it nice?”

Given the time frame, I was only able to visit Syracuse, Palermo, and Catania.

Palermo is a little messy, eclectic, with a in-your-face level of poverty. It has a significant population of South Asians and Africans so it appears to be more diverse than the other cities. I could not find a decent looking trattoria for hours, but came across 10 Indian fast food shops and discovered quite a few pockets of young people drinking and hanging around meat grilling stations. The general atmosphere of the city is not glorious, but the architecture certainly is. The Cathedral of Palermo is absolutely breathtaking and easily one of the most magnificent cathedral I had ever seen. Quattro Canti is a fascinating intersection of two major streets with exquisite, curved façades on each side. Chiesa di San Cataldo is an instant attention grabber for its weird red giant nipple-like domes.

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Cathedral of Palermo

Catania, as I have learned, is a survivor which kept getting knocked down by volcano eruptions and earthquakes and kept coming back up. Although locals will tell you that this fact attributes to the city center’s fascinating blend of architectural styles, I saw mostly only baroque buildings, but then again I am no expert in this field. As a rule of thumb, I normally never go into places that charge for entrance, but the Monastero dei Benedettini charges only 2€ for students and who am I to not take a deal. At the monastero is where I saw a blend of architectural styles, since it was built literally on top of the ruins of Roman houses (with original thousands year old tiles still vaguely visible) and lava formations, then partially destroyed and rebuilt a few times throughout the centuries. The guided tour was completely in Italian, with the help of an English handout they gave me and other non-Italian speakers to read, but I had a feeling that she went off script quite a bit, as we stared cluelessly into the air most of the time as she spoke. Every time the guide asked a question, my answer was, “lava?” It worked out pretty well actually.

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Eastern cloister of the Monastero dei Benedettini

Syracuse (Siracusa) is only an hour away from Catania by bus, and the old town is on a scenic little island called Ortigia. There isn’t much to do there but to stroll around, but it is the best place to do so. Ortigia exudes romance, if I weren’t just walking around by myself, stuffing my face with cannoli.

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Ortigia island of Siracusa

Cannoli are extra delicious in Sicily. Many places fill the ricotta cream right in front of you. They are usually 2€ a piece, and I would have taken 20 of them back to Barcelona if I could have gotten them frozen. I looked up the recipe for cannoli and it seems to be a pain in the arse. Sometimes it’s just not worth it to try to reproduce experiences.

Like most of Italy, Sicily is cheap. I spent 100€ (on transportation and food) in four days. A train ticket from Palermo to Catania cost 12.50€ (2 hours and 50 minutes) and shorter distance trips are far cheaper. I ate pasta twice (there are some Sicilian specials with ingredients such as crushed sardines and pistachios, yum), but other times I had street food, like arancino (fried ball of rice and tomato sauce), which could be easily spotted in bars and bakeries and pack a lot of calories for 1.50€.  I enjoy traveling alone immensely, but I don’t really like eating at restaurants alone, especially in countries where doing so is borderline loser’ish, so the abundance of street food made it easy on my pride and purse.

Good weather, amazing food, budget-friendly, nice people, check check check check. I have been to Italy four times already (Rome, Florence, Naples, now Sicily) and I think I will keep going back until I get tired of Italian food which is never.

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