What’s Not on the Sicily Travel Itinerary
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What's Not on the Sicily Travel Itinerary
It happens all the time when I travel with Overseas Adventure Travel. I start out expecting to write about the trip itself — in this case, “Sicily's Ancient Landscapes and Timeless Traditions” — and I end up writing about all the things that are not on the itinerary – what OAT refers to as “learning and discovery.”
Sure, I wanted to focus on the extensive ruins of the Greeks and Romans from the eighth century B.C.; the city market initiated by the Arabs in 900 that still operates today; the Norman church built in 1174, which was proclaimed by acclimation of the trip participants as “the most magnificent cathedral ever”; and a boat ride to a Phoenician island dating back 2,700 years. And that barely brushes the surface of the extensive itinerary that brought new adventures to our group of 16 day after day. But that's where the story veered into trouble.
I found myself being equally surprised and delighted by all the little extra things we were seeing and doing — and yes, often eating — that were NOT on the itinerary, the L&D moments that reflect the culture and deepen the immersive experience already embodied within the OAT itinerary.
While exploring the capital city of Palermo we stopped at a tiny, nondescript storefront with antique-looking sewing machines and irons, but okay, the owner is a tailor. How then to explain all the old instruments strewn everywhere? The tailor is also a musician. He sang along as he played a 50-year-old mandolin. Come for repairs; stay for the repertory.
As soon as we arrived in Castelbuono, a 14th-century medieval village whose history dates back to the Arab influence of the 800s, it was time for another discovery: a variety of Sicilian pastries washed down with samples of liqueurs ranging from lemon and cinnamon to tangerine and prickly pear. By this time it was hard for me to work up an interest in the surrounding history, usually a passion of mine. Stopping for a “taste” can translate into a marathon multicourse mini meal. So yes, often L&D has to do with food – which is understandable: Aside from the Mafia, food is what Sicily is known for.
Because another OAT philosophy is its emphasis on controversial topics, a discussion of the Mafia was not unexpected. Meeting with Angelo Provenzano, the son of one of the most notorious Mafia bosses in Sicilian history from 1993-2006, was. Kept in hiding for the first 16 years of his life, he recounted the difficulty of separating his feelings FOR his father from his feelings ABOUT his father – and the impossibility of leading a normal life, despite his having no connection with the Mafia himself.
It should come as no surprise that the Cosa Nostra is still alive and well in Sicily, but not to the level that a “Godfather IV” is anywhere in production. In response to a question as to the accuracy of those films, Provenzano replied: “Except for certain Hollywood effects, the films are basically realistic.” His birthplace? The city of Corleone, of course. A name everyone in the room knew well.
In a local museum in the Arab village of Mazara del Vallo we viewed the “Dancing Satyr,” a Greek bronze statue from the third century B.C. that was pulled from the sea in 1998 in the nets of some fishermen. As fascinating as the story was — an archaeological event that captured the attention of the world — it didn't compare with the unexpected meeting with the boat captain who made the discovery. His story was even more enthralling.
Admittedly, exploring the old medieval city of Modica was fascinating, but it couldn't compare with the unexpected joy rides in vintage Fiat 500 sports cars over hilly, curvy, windy, narrow cobblestone streets.
First made popular in 1957 as a readily affordable automobile, these refurbished convertibles – smaller than a smart car – still barely fit on alleyways that were unfathomably two-way. Warning: “Do not put your hand outside the car or you'll end up losing it.” The fact that we were driving through a former 12th- century Norman city was just a bonus.
And then there's Mount Etna – at more than 10,000 feet, the largest active volcano in Europe. Although the last eruption was in May 2017, we were repeatedly assured we were in no danger of a repeat. I'm a hiker. I'm used to climbing over rocks and roots. But this was my first experience with lava stones and fields – a topography I had never seen before. As we climbed the almost two miles, we passed two centuries' worth of vegetation, from tiny tufts of green still recovering from earlier eruptions to huge, long-standing pine trees of old. As a writer I'm supposed to be able to bring such experiences to life, but this was so surreal, otherworldly, so without comparison to anything I've seen before that I feel inadequate to capture it in mere words. A stop afterward for a shot of Etna Fire – a 70-proof concoction — shook me out of my volcanic reverie.
After our farewell dinner, I assumed our L&D moments were over. After all, it was late and we all had early planes the next day. But indeed we headed into town to a small, stand-alone outdoor shack where the vendor/bartender was a mixologist and a creator of drinkable art. Tamarind syrup, fresh-squeezed lemon, soda water and then the piece de resistance – baking soda, all shaken up with gusto. The whole point? To make you burp – a lot.
A Sicilian tradition – a very successful Sicilian tradition. Who wouldn't want to go on such a tour?
WHEN YOU GO
For more information on this and other tours: www.oattravel.com
Read more about Sicily tours, here.
Fyllis Hockman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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