Potpourri & The Ninth Week in Sicily

As I was telling you, last week I had a lovely Easter holiday visiting a few wonderful places around Messina and Calabria, including Reggio Calabria- the chief residence in the province, so to name it.

It was actually a pretty busy week: I traveled to Catania – the city of the great composer Vincenzo Bellini; then to Milazzo, a really beautiful town surrounded by walls, closed to Messina; then I went to Taormina, the pearl of Sicily and to Reggio Calabria.

Catania is located on the east coast of Sicily, very close to the Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe. Catania is the second largest city in Sicily, a metropolitan area well known for its baroque architecture and great urban design (the Baroque city centre of Catania is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the late baroque cities from Val de Noto), despite its seismic history with the violent volcanic eruption in 1669 and the catastrophic earthquake in 1693.

The city has a history of 2700 years dominated by various cultures (Greek colony, followed by the Roman colony, enjoying a long glowing period continued in the Byzantine, Arabic and then Norman era) having a rich trade center, mainly because of its port. Situated close to the active volcano Etna, Catania has been destroyed many times by eruptions, being a city where you can find a variety of landscapes and architectures, and many abandoned houses, especially in the mountains.

I have visited Bellini theatre – the European temple of music, Dome Square, where the Norman Cathedral is located (there is the tomb of the composer Vincenzo Bellini), the Elephant Fountain, symbol of the city, and the entrance to the elegant Etnea, the main shopping street. Afterwards, I went to Stesicoro Square, the true old city center where the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre can be seen even today. I’ve seen Ursino Castle, built as one of the royal castles of Frederik II, King of Sicily; I also saw Biscari Palace and the Benedictine monasteries; I went to many churches with beautiful architecture, and obviously the fish and food market, located just below Piazza del Duomo, a lively and colorful place with many people, especially tourists. The fish market is the busiest and most exotic in Sicily and it is said that here you can find the best fish in the world.

Returning closer to Messina, the northern area of the city extending along with the cities close to the sea, one can admire the beautiful specific architecture, where you can see holiday houses and boats on the beach, as well as the lakes from the little but pretty village Ganzirri, where the mussels are cultivated. The northernmost place is called Torre Faro, a fishing village, which tourists might not consider visiting if they don’t know what to go and look for. The north-eastern and most narrow place found in Sicily is called Peloro Cape, symbolically marked by a lighthouse seen from many places around Messina; it is also the place where the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas meet. The view is wonderful, especially if you see it from the Calabrian shore. A walk on the beach, a Sicilian coffee and a cake with pistachio pasta, some fresh air, and a calm atmosphere… are the ingredients to a wonderful morning of May! And that is because I spend my afternoon in Milazzo, a great medieval town, with a great history behind due to its location on the map (the place of many battles and naval confrontations between the Carthaginians and Romans). It is also the departure point to the Aeolian Islands. Here is where I wandered around on the streets full of flowers and beautiful houses, where I admired the seafront and the harbor, where I admired various churches, monuments and I went to the castle from where you can have a breathtaking view. Strategically placed on a hilltop, with panoramic views to the harbor and the Aeolian Islands, the castle was drowned into activities for the Day of the Arts, where artists and students were preparing their workshops for photography, painting, ceramics, music, and theater. The sun was setting very slowly and the lights were turned up, and as we reached the harbor to take the bus back home, the sunshine was intertwining with the lights in the harbor and the palm leaves…, and the silence got straight to my soul, making me stop for a moment and realize all these beautiful things that I have seen and felt.

A new day, another destination, same 5 o’clock in the morning waking up to take the bus…But no matter what, it’s worth it! This time we went to Taormina, the tourists’ favorite destination and Hollywood stars’ favorite place for shooting movies. Obviously, prices match. But as they say, it’s the pearl of Sicily, the place of many cultural events and the city where Goethe lived for a little while to write Italian Journey in 1787, often discussed by intellectuals, artists and the patronage from the north of Europe. Ever since, the city has been one of the privileged places for the Grand Tour. It’s such an amazing place! Its landscapes and urban architecture is extremely unique and well maintained, and the city is located on a hilltop from where one can see the water, the cliffs, the bays, and the exotic beaches. I climbed to the highest point in the city of Castelmola, from where I could admire the wonderful panorama of mount Etna; and if it were only that, but on my way back to Taormina I walked through many, many flowers and their strong scent. Then the steps took me to the Greek Theatre – symbol of Taormina, which is carved in rock, with a view onto the immense citrus orchards, the Ionian Sea and mount Etna in the background. One of the most spectacular panoramas on the island.

The last but not least city visited was Reggio Calabria, where I had Maria as my guide. Maria is my Calabrian colleague and friend. We crossed by Metromare ferry and after 35 minutes we stepped off in the Calabrian harbor. The waterfront is long, with plenty of palm trees and old houses; water is clear and full of fish and jellyfish. Here I also visited the Dome Cathedral (the main cathedral) and the castle, which is unfortunately under construction, so I had admired it from the outside. Happy with that too! I wandered around the streets and scents of traditional goodies. I was already tired enough to keep the same rhythm from the beginning of the week so I preferred to walk and admire the people, the places, to taste the ice cream and granita, enjoy the sun and the holiday.

The week ended up with the Easter Holiday, spending it calmly in a church, then in a quick shopping at the market, and then with Maria and Laura, cooking fish and asparagus salad, zucchini and eggplant, tasting red wine right from the producers and instead of sweetbread, I had some ricotta pie and dried fruits, all of them being really yummy! Truth is, the atmosphere wasn’t the same like home, and it cannot be as long as I am the only one who celebrates Easter, but my friends respected my tradition as much as I respected theirs. The important thing is what you feel religiously, because for me, even if the service at the church was Catholic, it was extremly important because I could pray as I knew and as I learnt and did my entire life at home.

 Translated by Oana Zlatovici – Potpourri member studying in Sweden