So it’s about time I do a proper travel post. Little unconventional, it’s more a travel journal. But giving it a go nonetheless! And my first one is about a little gem of an island – Sicily
I think most people visiting Italy tend to stick to the major league – Rome, Venice, and Florence. And throw in Cinque Terre, Amalfi coast, Milan and the like. And while Sicily isn’t overlooked, from conversations I’ve had with other travellers, it definitely isn’t no.1 or 2 on the list. But I’d highly recommend everyone pay this little island a visit.
Last October, I got a really short but sweet taste of Sicily. My friend Eddie and I flew out Friday afternoon from Stanstead and arrived late at night in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. First impression was that it was quite run down, no one spoke a word of English and it felt very authentically Italian. We hopped on the airport bus that takes you to Palermo Centrale station for €5 one-way. Given it was 10pm and neither of us had functioning internet we took a taxi to our accommodation from the station. Taxis are cheap here and it’s a real time saver! We stayed at a cute little 2 bedroom apartment very close to the centre of the city. After struggling for a good 10 mins to open the grand Italian doors we were greeted by the cutest Italian girls who were literally the only locals we met who spoke English the whole weekend.
By the time we checked in and changed, it was 11:00pm and turns out that is too late for food in Palermo. Which was a little surprising at first given my previous experience with Italians eating quite late. We managed to find a cave like restaurant in the middle of a gorgeous square. And the chef there was kind enough to let us order even though they were ready to close. We ate the most delicious pasta and thus began a weekend of the most epic food ever.
The next day we got up bright and early and dropped by a local bakery for breaky. We picked up some savoury pastry filled with delightful tomatoes and bocconcini. Side note – I hated tomatoes for 26 years until I tasted them in Italy. And now I can’t live without them. They are just soo good in Italy! We finished it off with a pistachio cannoli which instantly made me feel like it was the best thing I had ever tasted. In my life. Period.
The cannoli in Sicily is something else. Light, deep-fried pastry cylinders filled with sweet (but not sickly sweet) ricotta filling or pistachio/ricotta. Turns out cannoli originated in Sicily. The other thing is they are super-sized. And you can get them everywhere in Palermo for €2. They even give you takeaway trays for the crazy people like me who would later attempt to take some back to London 😀
We headed to centrale station and after a good hour of walking from main ticket office, to bus stop, and back and then to something we thought was a ticket office but it was actually a bank, we finally found a stand at the front of the station train tickets to Cefalu. That painful hour made me realise I need to learn a European language ASAP. Traveling to a European town and expecting to find English speaking people? To say I felt wanky and inadequate is an understatement.
We hopped on the train and an hour later we were in the gorgeous fishing village of Cefalu. This place is too beautiful for words. First agenda item was gelato – cos sitting on a train for an hour is hard work. We walked through the town, eating our amazing gelato, marked where we would eat for lunch and headed up a long, stone staircase which was more like rubble that kind of resembled steps. It was a stairway to heaven. I remember at various points Eddie and I contemplated turning around cos we just weren’t mentally prepared for the effort of walking uphill. We came to eat dammit! Anyway, we made it up to the top of La Rocca and the views were to die for! If you head up here I recommend checking out views from both sides – they are actually quite different!
On the way down we almost flew, so excited for more gelato and food. We ate a gorgeous café (pictured below with all the vines). We started off with Arancini which again is super-sized in Sicily! And then I realised, they are actually meant to be that size. All those mini arancini balls and cannoli I’d been eating all these years – nah uh. They are just pretenders. I felt totally jibbed :s
And then the pasta…Anyone who has been to Italy will know – the thing about the food is its so uncomplicated. The pasta and pizza is usually just a few ingredients put together really well and dished with up genuine love. The café owners were the cutest and through a combination of sign language and speaking English words super slowly with an Italian accent (cos that totally makes it sound Italian) we managed to understand each other.
After food, we headed to the beach for a nice, long stroll and noticed a mammoth rock formation behind us. Wait, WHAT we climbed that?? Haha hell ya baby! Feeling smug we thought it was time for more gelato.. cos we had earned it! We got some more gelato, strolled through the windy streets and just took it all in…There is something soo gorgeous about just walking through old European cities. And that in itself is a sight.
The train ride back to Palermo wasn’t that eventful. Pretty sure we both knocked out and nearly missed our stop. Handy hint – set an alarm on local trains if you are likely to doze off. It has saved me on so many occasions in many countries. We got back to the city, visited a few churches and old ruins before stumbling across what can only be described as absolute chaos in front of a little shop. Turns out the chaos was over Arancini. Correction – the BEST. ARANCINI. EVER. Ke Palle – specialises in these little bad boys offering what felt like 100 different flavours. And wait for it…it was here that day that I met my soulmate. The Nutella Arancini. YES, my jaw literally dropped and it was love at first sight. I experienced that magical moment when you think – ‘where have you been all my life??’. Granted it was over a ball of cooked rice. But magical nonetheless! The chaos was too intense so we decided we’d come back for lunch the next day.
That night, I wish I could say we did more. But we didn’t. All that time in the sun, walking and eating was totes exhausting. Like true nannas we took a ‘nap’ at 9pm and didn’t wake up till the next morning…living that wild life 😉
Next day bright and early we were on a mission to Mondello beach and Mount Pellegrino. So the thing about buses in Sicily is they don’t stop. I’m not kidding. You basically have to walk onto the main road, wave your hands, jump around like a freak and if you are lucky and (don’t get run over) the bus driver will see you and stop. And you have about 10secs to jump on before it leaves. So you best be confident of your route, bus number and don’t second guess yourself. Sicilian buses got no time for indecisiveness. Needless to say, we failed miserably. Left with no time to fluff around with the next bus, we gave up and spent the day in Palermo which was actually lovely. The city is quite run down but has a lot of history and architecture and you can feel the influence of the Mafia. Check out – Palazzo dei Normanni e Cappella Palatina, Cathedral of Palermo and Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (La Martorana)
Afternoon, we headed back to the Arancini mecca for late lunch. Oh god this place was SOOO GOOD. You know those moments in life you know you’ll never forget. This is one.
Foodgasm like no other. I think Eddie had a slight allergic reaction to the nuts but that didn’t stop her chowing it down.
Next, I proceeded to buy takeaway cannoli. You know when people in foreign countries think you’re crazy? Yup, that happens to me a lot. The adorable shop owner laughed and judged me for 1) my poor attempt at Italian 2) my questions regarding the shelf life of ricotta and whether it would really last 6 hours outside refrigeration?? 3) the fact I was even trying to smuggle cannoli back to London in the first place. Which made me wonder… Does no one else contemplate taking home cannoli from Sicily?? Was I seriously the first person he had encountered trying to do this?? Seriously?
Anyhow, I got my box of cannoli, he got some good laughs. Everyone was happy! Only, I managed to leave the box in the fridge at our apartment after we checked out :O Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
Shattered. Devastation. Heartbreak.
But I refused to back down – on the way to the airport I snuck into another shop and bought more cannoli for like double the price I paid earlier. The obsession had truly reached another level.
We got back to the airport, ate a few more cannoli. Wow I just realised how much sweets I eat. How do I not have diabetes??
And… we were back off to London
We did have drama getting back though. Long story short, our first flight was delayed which meant we missed our connection in Rome by literally 5 mins (seriously they could’ve let us on). We then spent 2 hours trying to organise a transfer and got put up at a hotel near the airport and booked on the first flight back to London. At this hotel I managed to lock myself in the bathroom. Yes I LOCKED MYSELF IN. I don’t know if it was the realisation that my cannoli wouldn’t last the trip back to London now, the physical/mental fatigue at 1AM, or the fact that I couldn’t budge a simple lock, but I was nearly in tears. This while the hotel maintenance dude and Eddie were in stitches laughing at me on the other side. I managed to get out, had a good chuckle about how my life feels likes a series of ridiculous situations, and finally hit the sack at 2am. We slept for 2 hours, got on a 7am flight to London, all peppy to start another week of work…YAY!
Soo wrap up – my top 5 tips for Sicily
- If you are in the northern hemisphere go in mid-late October. The weather is perfect and it’s the best escape for the cold. It’s around mid-high 20s and given all the walking and hiking you’ll be doing its better in off-season when you won’t melt away in 40degree heat and the crowds are manageable
- Eat cannoli. Even if you aren’t a fan of sweet ricotta give it a go because it is the towns speciality
- EAT ARANCINI at this place. Try the sweet and savoury and you will have no regrets
- Check out Cefalu. It’s well worth it and climb La Rocca
- It’s a great weekend getaway… but you will be back. There is just soo much to see and it truly does not feel like other parts of Italy. If you are looking to go to a place that doesn’t feel crowded with tourists and you experience real Italy – Sicily is your place
I will be heading back there this October to check out Mount Etna, Taormina, Aeolian islands and continue the quest for amazing food!