A side track around a wannabe microstate

Two weeks ago, Steve and I took the train from San Marino to Rome, where we met our old friend Megan and visited our fifth microstate (the Holy See). From there we flew to Microstate #6: Malta, stayed for three nights, then took a Ryanair flight to Catania in Sicily, the large island off the toe of the Italian boot. We’ve been here for the last 8 days, a significant side track from the theme of this trip; Sicily is not an independent country, though it sure resembles one. It’s been a part of Italy for only 161 years, before that hosting a dizzying succession of cultures and conquerors: Stone Age settlers 5000 to 6000 years ago, North African invaders, Elymians and Carthaginians, Greeks, then Romans, Barbarians, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, a Holy Roman emperor or two, Austrians, Spaniards, Brits, and finally Garibaldi (hero of Italian unification.) I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. All have left their mark, and for a brief spell after World War II some Sicilians agitated for independence. Had they succeeded, Sicily would have been more a ministate than a micro-one. It’s ten times bigger in area than Luxembourg (which in turn could contain all the 6 smaller European midgets.)

Bottom line: Sicily is a staggeringly old, fairly large, and complex place that I’ve barely begun to comprehend.

To try to gulp down as much as possible, we rented a car at Catania Airport and after spending two nights in Sicily’s second largest city…

The centerpiece of one of Catania’s main piazzas is what surely must be the coolest elephant statue anywhere.

…we hit the road, moving every morning for the next five days. It’s a madcap way to travel, and I don’t recommend it. But it allowed us to cover close to three-quarters of the island’s coastline and glimpse so many wonders, it seemed worth the price in energy. We made it halfway up Mt Etna……which wasn’t erupting but instead was blanketed in fog (thwarting an ascent all the way to the crater). Later that day, we paid a lightning visit to the ancient Greek theater in the lovely resort town of Taormina.

The next day in Syracuse, we paid homage to Archimedes, the local who became the father of modern engineering.

The adjoining town of Ortygia is very beautiful,

The next day we drove to Noto… and Ragusa

An astonishingly hilly place!

Then on to the remains in Agrigento, where one of Sicily’s richest and most powerful Greek cities once prospered.

The 2500-year-old temple in Segesta, which we visited a few days later, was never finished but remains astonishingly well-preserved.

Throughout our travels, Steve rose to the challenges of the road, steering our little Opel Corsa around the hairpin turns…

Like this!

…leading to Erice, maybe my favorite stop on the driving tour.

A medieval town on the top of a hill, it offers views like this.

And wonderful pastries like this, left in the fridge for us by our Airbnb hosts.
This was the view from our private patio there.

Palermo has been a fine and surprisingly finale. It has a reputation for crime, urban decay, and corruption, but in our Airbnb here, which overlooks the main street in the heart of the old city, I’ve loved the energy crackling all around us.

The window in our living room opens onto the central street in the old town.
It was pretty empty when I shot this photo out the window because it was raining.
But Saturday night it was jammed with tables and revelers.
At one point, a thicket of fans gathered to scream with joy and take photos of some actor. (We never found out who it was.)
We’ve seen lots of brides being captured in their finery.

Tomorrow we’ll have to push back from the banquet table, stuffed but hardly sated. I can see how one could feast on Sicily’s offerings for weeks without digesting it all. But we have one more microstate to visit and one more wedding to attend before heading home on Sunday.

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