Un Dolce Benvenuto a Sicilia (A sweet welcome to Sicily)

Are you dreaming of a trip to Sicily? Talk to us! Please write us here, or phone us at 800-498-8915.

A Dream Fulfilled!

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Bay Giardini Naxos, Taormina

Bay of Giardini Naxos
Taormina, Sicily

A wave of immigrants from Italy, mostly from Southern Italy and Sicily, landed on the shores of the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My father and his family arrived on that wave and brought with them a rich heritage of Sicilian culture. I had a lifelong dream of seeing Sicily, this land of my ancestors. In March of 2007, I was at last able to make the trip with my spouse, along with a group of other travel agents. Of course I kept a journal. Below are some excerpts.

A Temple, Castles, and Wine: Day 3 in Sicily

March 6, 2007: Segesta, Erice, Marsala

Temple at Segesta

Temple at Segesta

Today we explore the western side of the island of Sicily, climbing a mountainside at Segesta to see a wonderful Doric temple dating from the 5th century B.C. The limestone columns are incredibly well-preserved, built at a time when both Greeks and the inidgenous Elymians occupied this area. No ropes or gates keep us out, so we climb the steps and walk around the interior. Then I back up a little and take a photo of Larry inside the massive space.

Climbing to Erice

Back in our motor coach, we follow hairpin turns up another mountain, pressing our faces against the windows to see spectacular views of the land and sea below. The coach stops beneath the hilltop town of Erice where medieval castles seem to spring mystically out of the earth. From Erice Castle, we look down on Pepoli Castle, dating from the Saracen era, seeming almost inaccessible. As we stroll over to the edge of the town, the sky is suddenly gray. A chill wind whips us as we look out over the salt pans of Trapani, far below; square ponds of salt extracted from the sea.

Castle at Erice

Castle at Erice

Lunch is fresh and amazing at an Agriturismo between Trappani and Marsala. (An agriturismo is a farm that offers lodging and meals.) The dining room is rustic and we sit at large tables where we are served fresh, crusty bread that we dip into different kinds of olive oil. The tastes are distinctive and I am surprised by the different flavors. The oils are produced at this farm from olives that are grown here. Wine is also made here.  More tasting. Platters of food are brought to the tables. Since I am a vegetarian, the chef prepares a special, delicious ricotta omelette for me. When we are served fresh cannoli for desert, I feel totally indulged. I tuck a fresh-picked orange in my bag and carry it back to our hotel for a late night snack.

Later, driving along the coast, we see limestone mountains, hillside olive orchards, and often, long stretches of the sea. Ahhh…. I curl up in my seat and doze off for a time..

Rain is coming down steadily as arrive at the Pellegrino winery in Marsala. As the others tour the inner workings of the place, I decide to rest my aching knees and sit in the open doorway. Another member of our group is perched on a bright red motorcycle in the sheltered entry. We chat and watch the rain.

Autographed wine barrel at Marsala.

Autographed wine barrel at Marsala.

Soon we are shown to a room with large wine barrels covered with signatures of famous visitors like Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio. Then everyone is treated to a wine tasting. I munch on little sesame cookies and biscotti, quite content to just smell the marsala.

By evening, we are back in our hotel room in Palermo. I pull the orange from my bag, noticing the bright green leaves still attached. I spread a white hand towel on the little marble table and ceremoniously peel and eat the orange. The juice runs down my fingers. It is sweet, wonderful.

Cathedrals and Markets: Day Two in Sicily: March 5, 2007

The mountains and the sea surround us. The sky is intensely blue, the breeze warm and the food fantastic. After breakfast we travel up to Monreale on the edge of Palermo to see the stunning 12th century cathedral. We take photos of wonderful mosaics, and statues, and then pause for a moment in a small chapel. When we descend back to the parking lot, there is a concession stand offering fresh squeezed orange juice, pulpy and rich. I down a glass and think how Nana would have loved it. I think how she must have missed this wonderful fresh fruit.

Mosaics, Monreale Cathedral

Mosaics, Monreale Cathedral

Our tour bus takes us back into the city to tour the Cathedral of Palermo with its fascinating fusion of Norman and Arabic styles. And then my favorite part, we stroll around an enormous outdoor market with abundant displays of fresh fruits, vegetables, peppers, fish, meats, cheeses, as well as shirts, shoes, kitchen goods and anything I could imagine. I posed for a photo with a giant lemon in memory of Nana.

At the Capo Market, Palermo

At the Capo Market, Palermo

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral

That night we dine at a small local restaurant. Wonderful Sicilian food. Lunetta with Porcini mushrooms, beautiful cassata. At our table, we share tastes with each other. Wine bottles line the walls, a fine cotton cloth covers the table, and a beautiful damask napkin lies in my lap. I hold the moment, hoping to save it in a bubble.

Un Dolce Benvenuto: First Day in Sicily

March 4, 2007

As we were approaching our landing at Palermo airport, we looked out our window and suddenly a sharp, steep, white rock face ascended out of the crystalline blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Sunlight has a special quality in late afternoon and the light on the Mediterranean looked as I had always dreamt it would. I have never seen such a shade of blue anywhere else. My eyes followed the craggy rock face down to the sea where a small village appeared on the narrow strip of flat land . . . where men go down to the sea in ships . . . where they continue to fish as they have for centuries. Then the limestone rock gave way to darker shades of jagged ridges that continued along the shore in majestic succession. We had not expected this. The view was spectacular.

At the door to the airport, our driver met us with a sign that said “Welcome Mrs. Geromina Courtney.” I finally stepped out on the soil of the homeland.

Our car took us along the sea to Palermo and everywhere I looked I saw beautiful, tall, leafy palms. Then Larry pointed out the desert vegetation, aloe and cactus. My eye caught a lemon tree and then rooftop garden terraces. I heard the music of the language again, the rhythmic rise and fall of the words.

I thought, no wonder Nana didn’t want to leave and come to America. No wonder my family moved to places like Florida, California, and Arizona, looking for a similar environment.

The people on the street looked like all of my relatives.

Trattoria Primavera Crew
Trattoria Primavera Crew

After a short nap at the hotel, we met our group at the usual cocktail reception. We all boarded a bus and rode through the city, passing ancient buildings and many Sicilians who were out for their evening passeggiata. I thought, what a lovely custom, this evening stroll. Soon we were all eating dinner at a small restaurant called Trattoria Primavera. The traditional courses were served: plate after plate of antipasti—olives, artichoke hearts, pumpkin slices, fried cheese, and most interesting, tiny whole octopi. Next the pasta, then spiedini—my favorite as a child—and salad and a wonderful sweet dessert. I was engulfed in the familiar smells of Nana’s kitchen.

After dinner, Larry and I passed on the bus ride and walked back to our hotel, stopping first to buy water, pastry, and gelato. My husband believes that, when in Italy, one is required to have at least one gelato per day.

We would love to hear your stories about your visits to Italy! If you want to share a story or photo, please write us here.

Are you dreaming of a trip to Sicily? Talk to us! Please write us here, or phone us at 800-498-8915.

About Custom Italy Tours

We Love Italy! My husband Larry and I, assisted by our family, operate Travel All Over, a full-service travel agency, as well as Custom Italy Tours which is focused on providing fully customized tours of Italy for individuals, families, and groups. I'm the Italian (born Geromina Ferrara), and Larry is the Italian wanna-be. We are both Italy Specialists and Larry is a CTC (Certified Travel Counselor).
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