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3 Places You Must Go in Sicily

3 Places You Must Go in Sicily

Ciao! What a busy two months I have had… Since I last posted, I have been to 10 cities in five different countries. Each weekend I slept in a different place and saw and did so many incredible things! This past weekend in particular was one of my favorites of the semester.

Last Thursday night I flew to Sicily. My aunt and I arranged this trip about three months ago. This has been the longest I have gone without seeing someone in my family so to spend time with a familiar face was comforting.

During our four-day trip we visited three cities, and I would say they are definitely places you must go if you ever find yourself in Sicily.

  1. Palermo: This is the largest city on the island, with a total metropolitan population just under a million people. We stayed at a hotel in the old part of town, and were very close to many of the historical sites. On Friday morning we took a tour of the city. This is when we learned about the town’s history, from the fragile beginning to the violent mafia era that ruled the area until recently. We also saw some of the city’s most popular sites, such as Via della Liberta, the main shopping street; Teatro Massimo, a large theater built to entertain 3,000 or more people; and the Palermo Cathedral, a unique church that looks unlike any cathedral I have ever seen because of its unique exterior. After our tour we ate pizza while catching up. We wandered around for the rest of the day, eventually finding some gelato. Saturday night we went to Teatro Massimo to see the Martha Graham Dance Company. It was the first time this semester I had been inside a theater and Teatro Massimo did not disappoint. It was beautiful and so was the show.
    Shops, restaurants and churches line each street, especially Via Roma and Via Vittorio Emanuele. Palermo has many street markets overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. One of the most popular markets is called Il Capo and it is located directly behind the Teatro Massimo. I have been to a few markets while in Europe, but this one was by far my favorite. When I say the produce was fresh, I mean it was fresh. The fish had been caught that morning and the clams were still alive and spitting water out of the bucket. Many varieties of fruits and vegetables line the stands. There were some things we had never seen before, such as the Italian broccoli, which does not look like broccoli at all, as well some items we have at home but look very different thousands of miles away. We found out that Sicilian eggplants are round instead of elongated and the average pear is about the size of two regular pears at home.
    While we walked through the market we noticed a church. On a whim we decided to go in and were completely blown away. The entire interior was made exclusively of marble and completely decorated in small designs. It was the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and even the altars depicted famous scenes all in marble. Many of the churches in the city have the same style. Arab influences mixed with the time period of when the specific church was built created very beautiful facades. They are all worth seeing! There are so many churches in the city that you can’t go wrong with visiting any of them.
    Friday night was also the night of the Paris terrorist attack. I will admit that this shook me up because I was in Paris just two weeks before. What was comforting, however; was how the world responded to the attacks. The amount of love and support people all over the world gave to the beautiful city of light was very heartwarming. Palermo was one of these supporters. Saturday night when we arrived at Teatro Massimo it was lit up with the colors of the French flag and people had arranged candles and flowers in the piazza. It was a very moving sight.
  1. Monreale: Sitting on a hill overlooking Palermo, Monreale is a must see, not only for its views of the valley and the sea but for its food and buildings. My aunt and I decided to visit this city because it is the town where her grandparents, so my great grandparents, were born. It is only about a 25-minute drive up the hill from the center of Palermo. We first went to the Cathedral, which is being restored. Inside we saw many mosaics, including one of Jesus that is the largest of its kind in the world. Just his hand is six feet tall. The cathedral is also the burial place of some of the area’s royalty, including King William I and William II. After we left we went to a spot where we could see the clearing, all the way down through Palermo and to the sea. Then it was time for coffee. While we sat and enjoyed some Sicilian cookies an older gentleman our guide knew came and sat with us. During our conversation (translated by our wonderful guide) my aunt and I found out that he might have known our ancestors. He said they had lived not far from where we were and that they were shoemakers and iron workers. We were so excited! Neither my aunt nor I had planned on doing any research into the family history while we were there; we only wanted to see the town. However, the new information was great! Who would have known that we would meet someone who had a small family connection to us over coffee!
    Our next stop in Monreale was the local convent. Here we spent a lot of time admiring the columns in the courtyard because of how decorated they were. As I have mentioned, Sicily is filled with mosaics. These columns were no exception. Each was decorated uniquely with small tiles, with biblical tales and local stories carved into the tops of the columns. For example, I recognized a carving right away, the Starbucks mermaid (or a siren as she was known before the coffee powerhouse adopted her).
    Before we left we stopped at a bakery that our guide said was the only one in the area to still use a wood-fired oven. There we got some bread and peeked into the kitchen to see the oven at work. You definitely don’t see that at Panera…
  1. Cefalu: Sunday morning we hopped on a train and traveled 50 minutes east of Palermo to Cefalu. This tiny coastal town was great for a quick stop. All in all, we spent about three and a half hours there. We saw the cathedral, which was similar to Monreale’s, walked to the edge of the town and ate pizza by the beach. It was not warm enough for swimming, as it was definitely the off-season. A lot of the small shops were closed and it was pretty quiet. I can only imagine how the city is during the summer. It was beautiful anyway. It was definitely great for a little “trip within a trip”!

Monday morning saw me flying back to Rome and bidding my aunt farewell in the airport. I will admit that I immediately missed eggplant pizza, Cassata (a Sicilian cake) and the picturesque hillside as soon as I got back to campus.

There is less than a month left of school and I cannot believe how fast this semester has gone by. Soon I will be home about to celebrate Christmas! I can’t wait to share stories of Sicily and other places with my family.


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