LA to Sicily: Planes, Ferries, & Automobiles

I have spent Christmas and New Years’ in some memorable places. When I sat down and tallied the various locations where I have celebrated the holidays, I came up with roughly 12 different places for Christmas and 15 different states or countries for New Years’ Eve. The list ranged from exotic (New Zealand, Colombia, Japan, St. Lucia, Singapore) to the mundane (Massachusetts, Kentucky, Ohio, Connecticut, Washington D.C.). Despite the variety of locales, sometimes the seemingly least exciting locations turned out to be the most memorable. A couple of years ago, I had a great time ringing in the New Year with college friends in Nashville. Last year, I shared a drafty barn with my now fiancée in Nebraska. Conversely, in New Zealand I was the only member of my family to stay awake to usher in the New Year on a deer farm (full disclosure: I was only awake to go to the bathroom and I hold the dubious distinction of being the first person to urinate in the New Year since New Zealand is in the first time zone to cross into the New Year – so, since I was going to the bathroom as the clock struck midnight, I am tied for title of the first person in the world to urinate in 1999). And so it was that this year I had another memorable trip planned, this time to visit my family in Italy.

The journey began as all epic journeys must, in a long line on Christmas morning with an irritable mob of angry travelers. Contrary to my naïve expectations, many people do in fact travel on Christmas day. I left my apartment at 7:30 am on Christmas morning, boarding the shared ride van that cruised through the eerily empty LA streets and arrived at the airport in record time. The lack of traffic and overly cautious shuttle schedule resulted in my arriving at the airport four hours before my flight. This proved useful as I was immediately confronted by an appallingly long line. Apparently, US Airways had too few people working the counters and the resulting line wrapped 100 yards out the door. People stood helplessly as they missed their flights due to the airlines incompetence. Any traveler brave enough to walk to the front of the line to ask a question was berated by the people who suspected the encroacher was trying to cut the line. Eventually, after an hour and a half, I made it to the counter and had plenty of time to reach my gate. I was then whisked to Charlotte, Frankfurt, and, finally, Bologna, where my smiling family was awaiting me.

Having spent Christmas Day flying across the Atlantic, I arrived in Bologna on December 26th . My brother, who arrived a day earlier, gleefully reported on a delicious Christmas meal that my mom cooked for his arrival. Fortunately, my family celebrated a belated Christmas and had another excellent meal before exchanging gifts. For this meal, my mom prepared a traditional Italian Christmas dish called “stinko” (sp?). Despite the off-putting name, it was in fact very good and an always reliable Brunello provided by my dad only enhanced the dinner. Despite the presence of tasty food, transcendent wine, and good company, jet lag took its toll and I found myself nodding off in the middle of conversations like a doddering, senile old man.

The day after I arrived in Italy, we woke early and began the long drive from Bologna to Sicily. Considering how tiny Europe is, it was with some surprise that I learned that it would take about 12 hours to drive from northern Italy all the way to the heel of the boot. The drive was scenic and my still confused body spent much of the trip drifting in and out of sleep. We alternated drivers and the long journey didn’t seem too bad. Just after sunset, we finally embarked on a ferry that carried us across the windy strait to the island of Sicily as rain clouds lurked on the horizon.

Still, we had another hour of driving through a torrential downpour before we reached our destination of Taormina. After eventually finding our hotel, my father and I then spent the better part of 30 minutes figuring out how to get the spacious BMW to fit in a parking spot several inches shorter than the length of the car. The answer was eventually revealed to us when a passing Sicilian pulled one of the poles marking the end of the spot out of the ground and leaned it against a nearby wall.

Taormina is perched on the side of a hill overlooking the sea and is considered an affluent resort town that offers stunning views of Mt. Etna. Befitting the alpine personality of the town, our Swiss lodge felt like it could have been somewhere in the Alps. After checking into the hotel, we secured a recommendation for dinner and walked through the quaint downtown to a non-descript pink restaurant. Small and cozy, we were fortunate to have a reservation as waves of would-be diners were turned away due to lack of available tables. Hardly larger than a decent sized dining room, the patrons all seemed to know the wait staff and everyone appeared to be a regular. Celebrating our arrival in Sicily, we dined on the fresh seafood accompanied by local wine, followed by some delicious tiramisu. This proved to be the best meal of the whole trip.

Still suffering from jetlag, the next morning I awoke before sunrise and ventured out into the damp predawn. The town was empty and I was free to stroll the quiet streets as the light slowly changed. Cobblestone streets and narrow alleys snaked throughout the small village. I ventured up a well-trodden path towards a remote village that appeared to float in the clouds. Hanging on the side of a cliff, the village clung to the mountain and watched over the rugged coast below. After encountering an insistent dog that urged me to turn around, I took heed of the advice and headed back to the hotel for a mediocre continental breakfast.

Since it was Sunday, my mom seemed to feel that it made sense to attend church. Since this was Italy, there were plenty of churches, although they seemed to specialize more in the displaying of relics and on the struggle to remain standing than in the conducting of religious ceremonies. We wandered through several churches and walked through a maze of high end shops before being caught in a downpour. The rain was unrelenting and we finally ran back to the shelter of the hotel. While the city was beautiful, the weather did not seem encouraging. With another drive ahead of us, we decided to move on to Syracusa.

Having not seen Mt. Etna, we left Taormina charmed, well-fed, and wet. Next up, Syracusa.

3 Replies to “LA to Sicily: Planes, Ferries, & Automobiles”

  1. The trip up to this point is exactly how you have described it. Mom’s not going to like having her picture up, though.

  2. The beautiful woman in that picture does not look nearly old enough to be your mother.

  3. Jeanette Turner says:

    What a great idea to travel(by car) from Bologna to Sicily! Must have been quite enjoyable.
    Hope to see you back in Atlanta soon.

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