February 12, 2017
Sicilia was so good to us. We wanted to get a feel for the island through the landscape, architecture, monuments, cuisine, and the people and I think we did just that during our 5-day trip. Not many Sicilians spoke English, maybe a few words, and that was great because it challenged us to communicate in Italian. Well, it ended up being a mix of Italian, French, Spanish and English but it worked just fine. People were warm and accommodating, and I was excited to find that I actually understood about 75% of what they were saying!
Sicilians love children. The thing we were told most often was that our kids were beautiful and people were always surprised to find out that Rocky was a boy. When we first met Angela and Mario, the owners of the house we rented, Angela, clearly a loving grandma, kissed Rhône and Rocky and doted on them. It was adorable. People in shops and restaurants always asked the boys’ names and tried to carry on conversations with them. This was a change from Paris where children are usually given a quick “Bonjour” and “Ça va?” and then the adults proceed to talk to each other. When we left an establishment in Sicily, it was nice to hear “Ciao, Rhône e Rocky!”
One day after lunch in Acireale, we went to a sweet shop called Love Bakery Cafe. I had a baseball-sized white chocolate orb filled with pistachio cream and doused with warm chocolate sauce. Rhône and Rocky ate cake pops and as a surprise, we got them each a little chocolate shaped like a Lego. As they took the last bites of their sweets, the girl behind the counter brought them two cookies dipped in icing! As if this day couldn’t get any better for them, the older couple sitting next to us bought the boys two huge rainbow swirl lollipops. (We saved those for another day.)
We enjoyed the sweets and many other Sicilian delicacies. The volcanic soil in the area is perfect for growing grapes, lemons, oranges, pistachios, almonds and a plethora of other produce. The proximity to the Ionian Sea also provides a bounty of seafood. As you can imagine, we ate very well on this trip. I particularly enjoyed the swordfish rolls – swordfish stuffed with herbed breadcrumbs and topped with balsamic vinegar and golden raisins. Penne pasta with finely crushed pistachios, pancetta, and cream sauce was amazing too.
What else can I say about this gem of an island? We visited a couple must-see tourist spots, but other than that it was a low-key trip. We had lunch in small towns, explored fishing villages, bought produce from trucks on the side of the road and found piazzas for our kids to play in. One day when it was raining cats and dogs, we whiled away a couple of hours at a huge grocery store called Conforama, because that’s what you do when your kids have been up since 7 a.m., nothing is open in the small towns nearby and your children cannot handle another minute in the house.
Some highlights of our trip include taking a gondola lift from the cliffside town of Taormina down to the beach and gathering beautiful little rocks and sea glass, basking in the sun at the ancient Greek Theater in Taormina, and marveling at how the crumbling ruins perfectly frame Mount Etna. We loved playing tag in the Piazza di Duomo on the island of Ortigia, discovering a defibrillator right in the middle of said piazza just in case, and playing football with some local kids (and grandpas!) on the waterfront of Acireale.
The lowlights include Rhône projectile vomiting on the drawers of the bathroom console at our rented house (that was tough to clean), learning that all the region’s famous marionette theaters were closed for the season and getting lost while driving in Acireale and finding ourselves dangerously close to the city’s “off limits” driving zones, called ZTLs. Apparently if you drive in a ZTL, a Zona Traffico Limitado, your picture is taken and then you receive a huge fine (like 300 euros) plus a fee for your car rental agency to process it. We think we steered clear of these areas, but we’re not 100% sure as there were many narrow roads and one way streets we were forced to go down while we were trying to find parking. I guess we’ll see if we get a ticket!
Anyone who has their hair colored knows that the lowlights are just as important as the highlights because they provide depth and they actually work to showcase the highlights. So yes, Rhône vomited and we were scared we were all going to get the stomach flu, but it turns out he was just carsick. We were so thankful to be healthy for the rest of the trip. The lack of marionette shows led us to the megastore Conforama one rainy day, which was not the most amazing attraction but turned out to give us a real taste of Sicily. Shopping in tracksuits is highly encouraged! Driving through Acireale was, for lack of a better description, an AciREALe pain in the behind, but in retrospect I’m so glad we went there. As we left the downtown area, we were treated to a stunning rainbow by the sea, and we spent the better part of the afternoon playing football and chatting with locals in the old fishing village there.
One thing missing from our Sicily trip was a fireworks show from Mount Etna. We were told upon arrival that she had been mildly active the past few days, so we were hoping to catch a glimpse of some lava. (BTW, we all decided that Mount Etna was a lady.) One early morning we heard a loud BOOM, the whole house shook, and our electricity went out. I popped up in bed and said, “Was that Etna?!” I ran to Rhône and Rocky’s room and looked out their window, which had a direct view of the volcano’s cone. I only saw dark clouds and sheets of rain. I checked on the boys, who were asleep, and slowly made my way back to the other bedroom in the dark. I climbed under the warm covers and groggily contemplated what had happened. Before drifting off, I decided it must have been Mount Etna making her presence known. We didn’t witness a spectacular Strombolian eruption like we hoped to, but that just gives us another reason to return one day!