WHEN IN ROME
Documenting my travels across the globe
It only seems fitting that my last flight abroad is through the one and only RyanAir. As I sit here, in my cramped seat covered in Getaway Café ads, I am filled with an overwhelming amount of emotions. Not only have I just left my entire family in beautiful Sicily, I only have less than three weeks left in Rome and no plans set for the summer. For the first time in my life, I am uncertain as to what comes next. If only it were possible to slow down time!
Rewind to exactly nine days ago. I’m in my solo-traveler-zone, minding my own business as I file in line to board my flight from Rome to Sicily. Out of no where, my oldest sister Christina pops up with a suitcase in hand.
“You’re on my flight?” I asked, “Wait. What are you doing here?” My sister started chuckling. “Is that really you, is this real life?!” I exclaimed.
Christina was originally not able to join our family in Italy because medical school did not allot enough vacation days for her to come. She explained to me that her and dad had secretly booked her flights to surprise us all for a few days. I was the first to be surprised because her connecting flight was the same one as mine in Rome. I still cannot believe how clever her and my dad were!
The best parts about Christina coming to Italy were all the different reactions to her surprise arrival. Since she lives in Atlanta, so our family rarely gets the chance to see her. When she popped out from behind me in Palermo’s airport, my Nonna threw her hands up like she was riding a rollercoaster and instantly broke into tears. My Nonno, considering he is almost completely blind, could barely even register her being there. The best reaction was definitely from my mom though. My dad and I planned out the whole surprise. We hid Christina behind this giant billboard by the arrival doors and waited for my mom, Laura, and Matthew to come through. After greeting them, I stopped and told them I had something for them. As I shuffled through my purse, Christina popped up from behind the billboard. My mother was so excited that the airport employees could not help but stare at her as she embraced us all.
“One day you will understand what it is like to have your whole family together!”, she exclaimed to us. And there you have it. My entire family and I, nuts and bolts in all, were reunited in Sicily.
Sicily is an island off the coast of mainland Italy that my father and his family are from. We stayed in the little coastal town of Cefalu, which is home to the beautiful and ancient Lungomare Beach. Most of our nights consisted of walking through its cobble stone streets, admiring the architecture and stunning views of the sea.
The other majority of our time was spent in Misilmeri, a tiny town outside of Palermo where my Nonna grew up. For Easter, we had the pleasure of witnessing the local holiday processions in Misilmeri. On Good Friday, the entire town meets to watch as a life-size Jesus is nailed to the cross. His head even falls as they read about his final breaths. On Easter morning, the entire town gathers in the main square to watch as Mary and Jesus see each other for the first time since his resurrection. Their flower covered floats run towards each other until they are brought together at the center of the square. I am so glad that I was able to experience such a beautiful tradition; especially since it is the same one my Nonna has seen since she was a baby.
After countless hours of crowded dining tables and extremely loud Italian conversations, my family decided to a take day trip to a hilltop vineyard as a family. Sadly, Christina’s short stay in Italy had to come to an end and she headed home to return to school the day before. So my parents, Laura, Matthew, and I set out to Anastasia’s vineyard, about twenty minutes from Cefalu. The winery is situated on a hilltop of endless vineyards, overlooking a small lake and the Mediterranean Ocean in the near distance. We enjoyed a phenominal four-course meal in a quiet dining room. Afterwards, an employee gave us a personal tour of the winery and we enjoyed some of their variations of red wine. Surprise, surprise, my favorite wine was one of the cheapest, a Siciilan Nero D’Avalo.
Nearby the vineyard is a little hilltop town named Castlebuono. Despite the sudden downpour of rain, we took a walk through the little streets, weaving in and out of the shops. Castlebuono has a cute, medival charm to it and reminded me a lot of a tiny version of Prague. We snacked on some delicious gelato. I got the pistachio because Sicily is known for having the best pistachio nuts. That, and every ricotta filled dessert you can think of!
Another day we ventured into Mondello, one of the most famous beaches in Sicily. After enjoying some pizza and the crystal clear, blue water, we drove our van up Monte Pellegrino. Since it was raining, the closer we got to the top, the cloudier it got. I was terrified as the clouds enclosed around the car, but also mesmerized by how surreal it was. Eventually, the clouds disepated and we climbed to a statue overlooking the ocean and a port city below. Then we went into the Church and Sanctuary of Saint Rosalia, which holds the actual saint's remains and is one of the most sacred places in all of Sicily. I have seen a lot of churches since being abroad in Rome, but this one was by far the most unique. The church is placed inside a cave and has mosaic floors made of giant smooth stones. The ceiling has giant natural rocks with thin slabs of steel to divert the dripping cave water and even some openings into the natural light. It was the first time I had seen a church built into a natural cave.
After we finished exploring, we headed out to have dinner at my dad's cousin's house. We enjoyed some of the most amazing, fresh mediterranian food and go to play with PUPPIES! Salvatore breeds mastiffs and currently houses two 15 day old puppies, along with 20 other dogs. Mastiffs can get up to 75 kg (about 150 pounds) and are some of the sweetest, most loyal dogs. I was so surprised at how gentle they were!
The last day trip we took was to Agrigento, about two hours south of Palermo. The first stop was a nature preserve that has these "volcanoes" that spurt out a mixture of water, mud, and natural gas. I was really excited until I realized it wasn't lava and wasn't even above room temperature haha. Afterwards we headed out to the ancient ruins along the coast. On a hilltop between the town and the ocean, lies ancient Greek temples and burial grounds. The temples are supposedly in better shape than those in Athens and boast spectacular views. I remembered bits of pieces of the ruins from when I was little, but definitely did not remember the views. It's funny how when I was little I was so focused on what was right in front of me, rather than around me.
My stay in Sicily went by too fast and I cannot believe that my family is already back in the states! I am so happy and thankful that we had the opportunity to be together again in Italy. Thank you Papi for planning an unforgettable trip to see our relatives and experience a bit of our heritage!
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!