Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Sicilian Sampler Platter

Elegant Palermo

Wanderlust mixed with a splash of indecisiveness sometimes means trying to explore a country, province or even an island within, let's say, an ambitious amount of time. My Instagram photos are increasingly tagged #speedtourism. In fact, for my husband and I, it is becoming status quo. But for expats in general, I think it is a frequent occurrence: trying to cover a place/many places within the confines of a weekend.

Marzipan! aka SUGAR!
This past Ferragosto we covered Palermo, Agrigento, Scala dei Turchi, Scopello, Castellammare del Golfo and La Riserva dello Zingaro in a long weekend. Each night in a different place; two hour drives between each. In the end, we only had about 2 hours in each of our stops. It was definitely a good sampler platter. But Sicily is, at least, a seven course meal.

Sunset over the Cattedrale di Palermo
I have been three times to Sicily and have just scratched the surface. Palermo is big, intricate, subtle and complicated. Like an introvert, it is not always obvious what Palermo has to offer. You have to dive into its side streets, neighborhoods and outskirts to get a good feel for this city. Three days on my last trip and one on this trip, and I still don't feel like I have gotten to know her. But from her obvious qualities, her breathtaking architecture, hearty food, and elegant parks, she is exquisite.

Scala dei Turchi

We also drove 2 hours south to Agrigento to see what is called La Scala dei Turchi, a rock formation of "stairs" (scala) that emerges from the sea. Bright white in color, it is not your average sight. Like the Giants Causeway, it is one of nature' s artworks: something to keep you guessing about what nature will do next. It was well worth the detour, but you go there to climb the stairs and see the view. As amazing as the water looks, the beaches nearby are not so inviting. The water is surprisingly shallow and very mossy, making it hard to take a good dip, which is a shame in Sicily, the island of beautiful beaches. We made up for it with our next stop.

Cala Mazzo Di Sciacca

Scopello was precisely the right area for the Sicilian beaches de preference. Our newly rehabbed agriturismo was at the doorstep of the Riserva dello Zingaro, a nature reserve you can only enter on foot, and on the hill behind the Cala Mazzo di Sciacca beach. Perfectly situated for beach-goers. 

First beach upon entering La Riserva dello Zingaro
Our timing was a bit unfortunate though as, our ambitious schedule brought us to Scopello at only 4pm the first day, leaving only 2 hours for the beach. We had the next morning as well, but though the skies looked promising at first, they quickly downshifted into a powerful rainstorm. It didn't deter us though. Once you are wet, you are wet, we all agreed. So we stayed in the water as the heavens poured down. The sea was warmer than the air, so we were happy to wait out the rain in the sea's bathtub.

La Terrazza Restaurant for lunch in Scopello. What a terrace it was!
After maybe an hour, the celestial tears waned and we hiked back to the car in a hurry. There was no need though; there was nothing but blue sky the rest of the day. No matter. In the sun or rain, the sea had been glorious. No storm could take that away from us.

Night scene Castellammare del Golfo
Sicily will for sure require some next-times. More hiking in Riserva dello Zingaro, that is definitely on the next-time list. More time in Castellammare del Golfo, where we had a lovely dinner and granita, but only a brief visit. San Vito lo Capo, the piece of the trip that we had to cut, is also definitely on the list. Marsala. Palermo again. Taormina again. Cefalu again. Mount Etna again. And all of the surrounding smaller islands with their various volcanoes or natural reserves. If we wanted, a lifetime of Sicily still awaits... or at least six more courses.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making the insufferable summer sufferable

Insufferable. My new favorite word inspired by this Roman summer.

I likely have hormones to thank for this, but I do not tolerate heat very well anymore. The girl who used to ride around Hot-lanta in July with the windows open instead of air conditioning, the girl who used to get cold in 80 degree weather, the girl who would opt to sit outside no matter what the level of humidity or heat index... This is now the girl who is contemplating skinning herself alive to have one less layer on her body.

It is 32-38 degrees every day. It is not even 40 degrees like some years. It is a very typical Roman summer. But there is something insufferable about it. Maybe it is the constancy of it. Until yesterday's storm, every day for five weeks was the same. Sunny. Hot. Sunny. Hot. Sunny. Hot. The storm was like injecting a twist into a boring plot. It peaked your interest just enough not to fall into a coma.

I like the word insufferable because it implies that you can't even suffer through it. I am not suffering through this summer very well. at. all.

I flee the city whenever possible looking for any breeze coming off any body of water. I refuse to cook anything not to raise the apartment temperature an extra couple degrees. I am drawn to places that look like they have air conditioning, blenders or drinks with ice.

This year, I regret not taking my own advice about Ferragosto holidays. Instead of going north, we are going south to Sicily. WHY!?!?! today's me asks. But I am arming myself with some tricks that help make the insufferable suffer-able. Sicily offers quite a few.

More Italian than this, you cannot get

The most obvious of the Italian cures to the heat. All of Italy's inhabitants make a mad rush to the nearest coast whenever a free moment presents itself. This in turn creates a new problem of sitting in traffic in a boiling car waiting for the relief of the coastal air and Mediterranean water. Lakes are an alternative to this mad rush and the traffic is much lighter. I have gathered over the years that many Italians consider lakes a poor man's beach, but I adore them. And both a beach and a lake serves the purpose of making it socially acceptable to be nearly nude.

The luxurious Villa Borghese

Trees Parks shade 
If you can't flock to the beach or to the lake, parks are not a terrible alternative. Rome has a lot of old land once owned by dignitaries that has now been dedicated to the city. Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphili, Villa Ada. All parks with ample shade and public water fountains. If there is wind on said day, a park is a lovely option. Don't stay there too late though. They close at 9:00 pm and they will lock you in. I speak from experience.

Not a mocktail. What can I say, I like my alcohol. 
As tempting as alcohol is in the summer, it actually raises your body temperature so a nice alternative are some tame libations. A crodino is totally alcohol free, but looks fancy and fun. There are many Mojito sodas now that are the non-alcoholic ingredients of this classic drink and there is always the Sanpellegrino drinks like Aranciata whose fizziness distract you from the missing alcohol. If you can't go without alcohol (and many of us can't), Campari and Aperol have low alcohol content (10-11%) or simply put, there is beer, evermore popular and available in Italy.

A Granit-ina at the famous Sant'Eustachio
Apparently Sicily is known for granite, so I can speak to this better after next weekend, but I already know that a little drink filled with often-difficult-to-find ice, is a great treat. Granite should not come from a little spinning machine. It should be in a proper steel container where the ice can soak in the juice of its name: Granita di caffe is chunky ice-soaked coffee. Granita di limone is ice-soaked lemonade. You get the idea.

In addition to taking public transport,
waiting for it is just as bruta
No-Go Zones
Avoid places that will make you want to skin yourself alive, or rather skin other people alive. These places include the Metro B line, the Colosseum, the old buses (which is most of them), the Permesso di Soggiorno waiting line (though being here is never by choice), Via del Corso during the Saldi, and worse of all, the Porta Portese market. You are much more likely to choose life if you avoid these spots.

Autumn will come soon enough so I am trying not to wish this summer away. So I will revel in the solutions above and when that doesn't work regress to my mental happy place: The North Pole.


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