I had just taken a new job and had two weeks before I was to start. I decided to go to Sicily, the ancestral home of my Mother’s family. Fortuitously I mentioned this trip to my Uncle Mike and he volunteered to come along. He would leave his home in the UK and meet me in Palermo. For both of us it was an impulse trip, one that we would cherish.
I arrived late in the evening into Palermo, and thankfully Uncle Mike was waiting for me at the gate. It was great to see him, as it is often years between visits. He had arrived earlier in the day without incident, our biggest possible head ache had been avoided, that one of us would be delayed. He had already secured the car and hotel. We made the short drive to the hotel where I promptly showered and went to sleep.
The next day we awoke and went to see Palermo. The weather was perfect. It was early April and it was warm and sunny, as Sicily is wont to be. The city really hums, there is a grittiness here that you don’t see in other parts of Italy. Not to say that it is rough or unsafe, it just runs at a faster pace, people are more direct here. The city is beautiful, it abuts the Mediterranean and the vistas are superb. The architecture here is a confluence of Norman, Ottoman and Baroque. It really is stunning. I wish we had more time; we try to see as much as we can on foot before we have to leave.
We make our way east across the Island for Siracusa. On our way to the car we pass through a market and buy a large tray of fresh strawberries, they were the perfect snacks for the journey. As soon as we leave the confines of the city the majesty of the landscape becomes apparent. Rocky hills spring out of the ground, grass filled valleys filling in the open spaces between. Both of us are stunned, this was never something we thought about, we knew the sea and cities would be wonderful, but the landscapes stole the show.
We arrived in Siracusa and stayed in the heart of the old city, on the Island of Ortigia. The sun soaked piazzas in their white sandstone were breathtaking. It was so quiet and peaceful there; it truly is a wonderful place. From there we left for Agrigento, a former outpost of ancient Greece, filled with temples. We enjoyed our time in these places, but the real highlight was to come. We were going to see the towns where are family was from, back on the western side of the Island. There is no highway in the south of the Island, only two lane roads. We chose to stick to the coast and take the long way around, hoping to be rewarded with excellent views.
Our home base for this portion of the trip was Trapani, a smaller city on the west coast. I have been all over Italy, and this is one of my favorite places yet. From her we set out to Calatafimi Segesta, the birth place of Antonio, Uncle Mike’s Grandfather, my Great Grandfather. It houses a wonderful Greek temple and is situated so beautifully in the surrounding landscape. It seems like paradise today, but when our family left for America it was anything but. It was a hard life and they were poor. We knew that we had some family there, but did not know where they lived. I asked some people if they knew our cousin, and they did! They called him up on the cell and said, follow us and we will take you to him. We arrived, unannounced, but they were very happy to see us. Our cousin, also named Antonio, berated us for not telling him about the trip, saying there was no need to stay at a hotel when we could have stayed with him. This is someone we had never met before, but family is family and I would offer the same to them. We spoke for a few hours, me doing the translating. More members of the family came to see us, bringing delicious pastries and treats. When we finally left, my Uncle and I agreed that this had been a special day, and made the trip entirely worth it.
The next day we went to Erice, the ancestral town of our Grandmother Francesca. Erice is an absolute gem, and has been transformed into a must see tourist destination. It is a medieval city perched on the mountain that overlooks Trapani. The city is charming, and the views are spectacular. From one side you see Trapani and its islands trailing into the horizon, from the other the outskirts of Palermo, both surrounded by the azure Mediterranean. Both of us agree, this has been the trip of a lifetime. To experience these places, to see these views, eat this food like our forefathers did is truly special. I can’t wait to bring the rest of my family here.
Our trip has come to an end, but we are not parting ways. My brother Gino will be joining us for the next leg. We will accompany Uncle Mike back home to Bristol, and spend a week there with our family.