• Aarushi Saxena

72 Hours in Sicily!

I met Silvia in a narrow cobblestoned alley of Palermo, where compact balconies form a canopy over the streets below, and laundry hangs on ropes tied between them. Silvia was perched on the edge of a tiny square table, in one of these balconies as she waved us up to the AirB'nB.

She introduced herself as 'Sicilian, not Italian and certainly not Milanese.' The latter was in reference to the Italian city I've been calling home since 2017. For half an hour, we spoke in broken Italian and English, about the similarity of our cultures, the must-have arancini of Palermo, life in the North and South of Italy and even squeezed in some bits about Salvini's politics.

While there's no dearth of architectural marvels or stunning beaches across the island of Sicily, it was the food that she excitedly recommended us. To date, I reminisce of breakfast cannolis and croissants with 'crema di pistacchio,' loaded plates of spaghetti ai frutti di mare (seafood) paired with some of the best wines I've sampled. Still on the topic of food: there is an unparalleled guilty pleasure of biting into a calorie-intensive arancini, deep-fried rice balls stuffed with meat. Every street and piazza is lined with restaurants, bakeries and gelatarias - spoiled for choice is a perpetual state of being in Sicily.

No doubt, all that food requires a daily workout and the best way to explore any Italian town is on foot. Palermo is easy to navigate and we were exploring sans maps by day two. From our B'nB located in the historic centre, all the sights were within a twenty minute walk.

Our lane opened up directly into Piazza San Domenico, a tourist pitstop, known for its Baroque-period church. For most visitors, the highlight of Palermo is Fontana Pretoria, a large circular fountain that dates back to the 1550s. With multiple landings and white marble sculptures, I personally feel it gives a serious competition to the Fontana dei Trevi in Rome.

En route the fountain is a square called Quattro Canti, where four concave symmetrical facades face-off. Each of these Renaissance era buildings feature a small fountain at their base. Like this, there are plenty of cathedrals and theatres abound in Palermo to satisfy the thirst of every history and achitecture buff. However, I chase local crafts, foods, stories and what better way to get acquainted with these than at the local flea and farmers' markets.

In Palermo, La Vucciria is a historical outdoor bazaar with origins that allegedly date back to the twelfth century. Wikipedia says: 'The origins and etymology of Vucciria are murky. Some claim the name is allied to Voce, or voice, and refers to the loud hubbub and babble of merchants. Others claim the term is a colloquial butchery of the French word boucherie or butcher's shop.'

Pro-tip 1: A free walking tour spread over a few hours will have you sufficiently well-versed in all things Palermo.

Aside from satisfying food-cravings, one of the main reasons why Sicily was top of my bucket list is the natural wonder called Scala Dei Turchi: a beautiful stretch of white stratified limestone cliffs that hug the coastline. The literary translation is 'stairs of the Turks' and the story speaks of Turkish pirates who once scaled these step-like cliffs and plundered people's homes. So with Palermo as our base, we decided to drive from one coast to the opposite and back, in search of these cliffs.

Visual cue of SdT to prove the effort is worth it:

Right adjacent to the Scala dei Turchi, a parking spot leads to a staircase which further leads down to the beach. Then, after a little time spent wading across shallow waters, a gentle slope appears. This leads up to the step-like area of the white cliffs, where the wind is strong and the views are breathtaking.

Having driven down till here, it seemed a shame to miss out on the ruins of an ancient Greek temple fortress, called Valle dei Tempi, in the region of Agrigento. Less than an hour of driving brought us to this historical national park - spanning over 1300 hectares, this UNESCO World Heritage site is probably one of the largest remnants of Magna Greacia architecture in Italy.

More visual cues:

Pro-tip 2: The entire journey from the coast of Palermo to Agrigento and back, can be planned as a day-trip, which is what we did.

We only spent 72 hours in Sicily, but left a few kilos heavier and with memory cards full of soulful stories to look back at.

P.S Have you ever been followed home by members of the Italian mafia and lived to tell the tale? Apparently we parked our rented car in 'their spot.' The pure touristy vibes we were emanating, probably turned out to be our saving grace. The end.