December 2nd, 2012

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Thanksgiving in Sicily

Some of you (my most loyal readers) may remember my post from earlier in the semester when I wrote about seeing my family’s villa in Tuscany. I told you a little bit about my family’s heritage, and about our roots in Tuscany.

What I didn’t tell you, though, is how that’s only half the story. The Italian half of my family is actually very diverse. My Grandmother’s side hails from Tuscany, while my late Grandfather’s side of the family comes from Sicily.

It wasn’t until I came to Italy that I realized how influential that Sicilian part was. My idea of “typical Italian food” was, in fact, typical Sicilian food. I found myself wandering into the Sicilian bakery in Piazza Balduina just for a taste of home, via their amazing cannoli. All of the Italian I thought I knew was actually Sicilian, and all the traditions I grew up with come from that beautiful southern island. I suddenly realized that I had to add a trip to see my family’s OTHER home region to my list of “must dos.”

I was lucky enough to receive a Forza Roma Scholarship to travel to Sicily. The Forza Roma Scholarships are awarded to students who present (in the form of an essay) a specific reason for wanting to travel to a certain place, in my case to discover the other side of my Italian roots. Without this scholarship the trip would not have been possible, and I am forever thankful to the committee for granting me the scholarship.

We started our trip in Catania. Catania is located right next to Mount Etna, and when you fly in the landscape looks like Tuscany but with a black dusting across it, thanks to the fertile soot from the volcano (but more on that later). Our bed&breakfast was located right off of the main piazza. When we opened the door to our room we were greeted with a great surprise; instead of just a room we had a mini apartment, including a kitchen! We were thrilled with the change to cook after being kitchen-less for the whole semester and immediately ran off to the market to start planning dinner.

The market was huge, and was lined up and down all these tiny blocks by our B&B. The market had everything from vegetables I had never heard of to the freshest (still alive!) fish. We stocked up on veggies, pasta, meat, spices, bread, and cheese before dropping them off and heading out to explore the city.

Catania is absolutely beautiful. We went to Savia, this famous bakery, to try their cannoli and arancini and they were AMAZING. Well worth the wait and long walk over.

The next day we took the most amazing tour of Mount Etna, the active volcano next to Catania. We were picked up in the morning and the three of us and four other tourists were taken up the volcano while our guide explained the history of the volcano, the eruptions, and how it has positively and negatively affected the land. The volcano was so beautiful, and as soon as we started heading up we entered into a cloud. It was so beautiful and surreal. We kept saying we felt like we were on the moon! After climbing to the top our guide drove us down a bit to where we could enter into a lava cave. Our guide gave us hard hats and flashlights and lead us into this pitch black cave, where explained how a lava flow is created. He even pointed out how you could see the roots from the plants above us growing through the ceiling!

After the lava tube we had a lunch of sandwiches and wine followed by a honey, wine, and olive oil food tasting. The entire day was absolutely fabulous, and one of my favorite adventures while studying abroad.

The next day we took the trip that I had been waiting for since receiving the Forza Roma Scholarship: we went to Termini Immerse, the town where my family is from. The town is about 30 minutes outside of Palermo and is mainly a fishing town. I could tell that Termini was going to be a charming town as soon as we arrived. I was able to visit a few of the churches and their Duomo (I swear, EVERY TOWN in Italy has a Duomo!) along with their stunning scenic overlook. Everyone we met was so nice and so excited to hear that my family was from the town. Although I didn’t meet any of the 62 Mantias that still live in Termini I was still able to get a sense of the town and feel what it must have been like to live there so many years ago.

From Termini we then went to Palermo, the main city of Sicily. Although we were there for just about 12 hours we still got to see most of the famous touristy sites, including their incredible Cathedral and theater, made famous by the Godfather III. Although my visit to Palermo was fleeting I was able to see all the beauty it had to offer.

From climbing an active volcano, to seeing the town where “Mantia” is from, my trip to Sicily was definitely one of those trips that I will carry with me forever.

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