Our 2017 will live on in our family as one of our most epic travel years. We did so much, and it was wonderful. Condensing it into one photo book is impossible! I’ve come to recognize how much I rely on my Instagram archives and even this blog to support (or even stand in for) my memories of our adventures. And so I intend to reflect on our travels here before we head out of Italy this summer. Ready?
In a year with a very full highlight reel, two places keep coming to me as favorites: Sicily and the Isle of Elba. These Italian islands offer a rich, diverse landscape and plenty that our whole family enjoyed.
We visited Sicily in late October, when it was turning just a bit cold for beach weather but fine enough for sightseeing. In other words, it wasn’t peak season, which is exactly how we like to be tourists.
Catania served as our base, where we rented a two-bedroom apartment for our stay. It’s a memorable city, paved with volcanic stone. The city has a certain human vibrance, with people out and about making a living as they see fit. The man at the gas canister store across the street. The man who watches over an alley to protect out-of-towners’ rental cars from thieves. The man with the tuk-tuk piled high with pomegranates and navel oranges. The man in the garish three-piece suit at the coffee shop in the piazza, smoking and talking louder than everyone else. (But not so many women?)
The sensory splendor of the fish market is not to be missed, with raspy shouts of familiarity to “LORENZO” and vendors offering samples and barking their deals.
With saturated colors of the piles of produce, the glistening seafood, the baskets of pistachios, the hanging pig carcasses. It was stunning to be there.
We took a day trip to Ortygia, a beautiful medieval island by Siracusa. Ancient architecture, churches, monuments, they have it all. Even an ancient mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) was uncovered there beneath a hotel and is available to tour. Cars aren’t permitted in much of the center and wandering the narrow streets transports you to Vacation Mode.
The kids will tell you their favorite part was the complimentary granita after lunch (buonissimo!) and watching the waves crash on the rocks.
Sicily has been dominated by many empires, and the influences of each have mixed to give Sicily its own flavor. Norman meets Roman meets Greek meets Ottoman. We visited ancient Greek ruins of an ampitheater in Siracusa…
and marveled at the acoustics inside the Ear of Dionysius.
However, by far one of my all-time my favorite experiences (even with screaming children in tow!), was visiting Mount Etna. I had forgotten that I’ve always wanted to visit an active volcano, and there we were! On the tallest volcano in Europe, at that! Its other-worldly, volcanic barrenness is stunning. And, you guys. We stood in a crater where the volcano erupted 20 years ago, looking at washing machine-sized boulders that were thrown hundreds of meters in the air. We looked out across the island over lava floes (they say on a clear day you can see Tunisia!) AND we got to ride in a rugged, off-road transport vehicle. It was SO COOL! The kids HATED it. It was cold and so windy they could barely stand.
We sought to make it up to the kids at the shores of Aci Castello where volcanic formations jutted from the beach. There was climbing and playing, and a seagull nearly took down our drone.
And the food! Mamma mia! So fresh, so delicious. We were in flavor heaven at this charming Trattoria Giglio Rosso.
It was a short trip to Sicily. I’d be happy to go back and explore more should the chance arise. I’d also be happy to go back for fresh cannoli from Dolci di Nonna Vicenza!
Have you been to Sicily? Is there a place I should be to visit next time?