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…
…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 next day we drove to Noto… and Ragusa
Then on to the remains in Agrigento, where one of Sicily’s richest and most powerful Greek cities once prospered.￼￼￼
Throughout our travels, Steve rose to the challenges of the road, steering our little Opel Corsa around the hairpin turns…
…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.
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.
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.