We picked Sicily on a whim. I’m an indecisive person and always have been. When going out to eat I always like to look up the menu beforehand. I know the time I’ll need to make my decision is a lot longer than any server would find acceptable. There are 44 countries in Europe, and no country or city is exactly like another. Choosing which countries to visit out of those 44 felt absolutely impossible. Surely any decision I made would lead to regret. Justin chose our first two stops. He left the rest of it up to me, and boy did I hate him for it. I made countless lists of nearly every country in Europe, narrowing it down to just one or two was heart wrenching. I put it off until the trip was a mere few weeks away. Justin was frantic. He begged me to just pick one. I begged him to pick for me. I finally told him Sicily because it was the first place I thought of. I’d recently seen it on a list of best beach vacation spots in Europe. Justin found an Airbnb for fairly cheap in the town of Ortigia, a small island only about one kilometer wide and connected to the mainland by three bridges. He booked it and bought two non-refundable plane tickets to Catania, Sicily. My impulse decision was now set in stone, regret was sure to follow. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean sea. It’s an autonomous region of Italy, but according to many it’s not really that Italian. CNN Travel describes it like this,
“Much of Italy retains a strong regional identity. Calabrians, Apulians and Tuscans often feel at least as strong an affiliation with their home regions as they do with the Italian state, formed only around 150 years ago. However, Sicily’s island status makes this ambivalence even stronger. That sense of separateness explains a lot, from the persistence of the island’s notorious criminal underworld to the strength of the Sicilian dialect — which some linguists have argued constitutes a separate language. Sicilians also often have a darker complexion, with stronger facial features, than many mainland Italians, reflecting the presence of Phoenician and Arab ancestry among the island’s population.”
A few other random facts about Sicily:
- It’s the birthplace of the mafia.
- The sonnet, Shakespeare’s favorite form of poetry, was created there.
- Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe is located on the eastern part of Sicily.
- It’s known for having some of the best street food in the world.
Sicily is also a very dry island. In Roman times, it was rich with lush forests and greenery. Thanks to man-made deforestation, modern day Sicily is almost unrecognizable from that ancient island paradise. This fact depressed me at first. In all honesty, I didn’t just regret my decision, I hated it. I immediately thought of all the other lush tropical European cities I could’ve chosen. I even texted Justin multiple times asking if we could cancel.Maybe spend a week in Greece, Ibiza, Malta, Tenerife, anywhere but what I had chosen. It really wasn’t until we first stepped off the airplane in the Catania airport that I finally came around to it. By the time our bus arrived in Syracuse, I’d fallen in love. The Sicily I was seeing was nothing like the desert island I’d expected. Ortigia especially, proved to be better than I could have ever imagined. It’s a gorgeous small island, often referred to as the jewel of Sicily. During our visit I kept marveling at how lucky we were to have chosen it, basically on accident. I felt so embarrassed at how much I’d regretted it. It turns out Ortigia is not only one of the top sights in Sicily, it may just be the best. The streets are cobblestone. The buildings are all pastel pink, orange and tan. Hundreds of wild cats roam the city. Every alleyway and side street is so quaint, it’s worthy of its own postcard. We stayed nine days in Sicily and only left the island once. The rest of Syracuse paled in comparison. For one thing, the water here is crystal clear and absolutely gorgeous. One of the women living in the Airbnb we rented grew up in Catania. According to her the beaches there have “nothing” on the beaches of Ortigia. Even the locals know it’s something special. There’s two swimming beaches in Ortigia. I wrote part of this blog post while sitting by the shore on the rockier of the two. This beach is only a five minute walk from our Airbnb, as compared to a seven minute walk to the other. The shore here is covered in multicolored stones, pebbles and sea glass. To get to the open water suitable for swimming, you must first climb around a short wall of rocks. The other beach is more user-friendly. The sand is soft and typical, the same type I might find on a lakeside in Minnesota. There’s no stone barrier blocking the path to the ocean. A seafood restaurant sits on stilts right next to it. They have their own lounge chairs and lifeguards for any tourist unwilling to sunbathe on the sand with the rest of us. I often wondered if the lifeguards were only contracted to watch out for the restaurant patrons. I tried testing it once by swimming slightly past the far buoy. They didn’t even notice. We spent most of our days at this beach. It felt so great to swim again. I’d wake up everyday around 9 a.m. Justin typically wouldn’t rise until noon. Those early hours were perfect for wandering the island, visiting the daily market or taking a morning swim. Schools of fish always gathered by the docks. On rare occasions larger, brightly colored tropical fish would venture up by the shore. We came to the rockier beach on our first day. It was a brutally hot walk on the scalding pavement to the beach. I broke the strap on my only pair of sandals in Rome, so I went barefoot and it was painful. I bought a cheap pair of flip flops the next day. We found the other beach that night and spent most of our trip there. I didn’t intend to come to that first beach again on my last day in Sicily, but I’m glad that I did. It feels fitting, to begin and end the trip in the same place. Strange to think now how much I regretted choosing Sicily, and how perfect it ended up being. I imagine myself returning one day, when I’m older and have the money for it. I’d like to try all the restaurants we couldn’t afford.Sicily is known for their food, especially their fish. At the market, open every day except Sunday, stalls with all types of freshly caught fish were sold between spices and local fruit. They were the strangest fish I’d ever seen up close. Long swordfish, big bluefin tuna and something resembling a grayish blob all eyed me as I walked past. Ortigia is a dream and it’s one I’ll come back to in my mind countless times when classes start. I can’t believe how lucky I am to spend the summer traveling Europe with the boy I love.