Today, one of my dreams for Sicily came true! The one problem was that I had nobody with whom to share it, so it wasn't as fulfilling as I had expected. This post is dedicated to my lovely cousins across the globe, especially the ones who are lucky enough to be the family reunion in South Dakota. They are my dearest friends and I missed them a lot today.
Last night, as I was eating my dinner (leftovers from lunch since I had gone to the beach early) Maria came in and said “Stavo pensando…” Actually I can’t remember the whole thing in Italian. She said she had been thinking about my desire to go to Palermo, and though I should take one of the tours promoted by the hostel. It’s a company called Sicilian Airbus Tours, and its acronym SAT does not scare me like it might have in high school. They do guided bus tours to places like Mt. Etna, Palermo, Siracusa, and any other possible day trip. I hadn’t thought about taking one because it’s much cheaper to organize your own trip. Maria, however, said they would pay for my ticket. “Veramente?!” I said. Yes, truly, I was going in less than twelve hours.
The bus departed Taormina at 6 o’clock this morning. I woke up at 5 and hit the snooze button once before I convinced myself that it would be a huge shame (funny story on “shame” later on) if I missed the tour that had been so kindly arranged for me. So I got out of bed, crashed into a few things (which miraculously did not wake up my three roommates) and tried to gather what I needed for this last-minute trip. By 5:30 I was running the first hundred meters down the road, just to make sure I would get to the bus terminal with time to spare. I applied sunscreen as I went. I kicked myself for forgetting a notebook and a hair band. Turns out I didn’t need the hair band (it has remained remarkably cool here for the past week) and I just paid extra-close attention to the tour guide so I could remember everything to share with you here.
Despite the drawbacks (limited time frame, pre-selected activities, blatant identification as a tourist) there is something so relaxing about being on a guided bus tour. It nice to be driven around and told what to do, rather than stressing about making a train or bus connection. It’s like being a kid again. Also, it limited my chances of run-ins with men I would rather not have run-ins with. Oh, yes, that keeps happening. Just the other day I was innocently eating a peach, admiring the view of Isola Bella from the top of the long staircase. This guy’s pickup line was “un bel posto, vero?” – “ a beautiful spot, isn’t it?” but unluckily for him, I was running out of patience for such behavior and soon excused myself with “I have to go – ciao!” and scurried off down the stairs. If he were cuter, maybe I would have kept up the conversation longer. JUST KIDDING, MOM!
So anyway, at 6 o’clock this morning I handed my ticket to the lady who turned out to be our tour leader. She was a very impressive lady who, for the entire 14-hour day, made every single announcement and explained every single site in three languages: Italian, English, and German. I think, from her accent, that she herself was German. We had a local guide in Palermo who also accomplished that tri-lingual feat. He was an older Italian man named Pietro and he reminded me of Grandpa Heckmann. Oh, I forgot to mention that our bus driver’s name was Nino. I really need to make a list of all the Italian names I hear. They can be so funny.
We got to visit three towns today, actually. Besides Palermo, we visited an amazing cathedral in Monreale as well as the beautiful seaside town of Cefalù. Monreale was a bonus, actually just a replacement for another church in Palermo that was closed for renovations, and I am so thankful we got to visit. After our brief tour of Europe at Christmas time, my friends and I were trying to decide our favorite church. Mine was either St. Mark’s in Venice or Notre Dame in Paris, but after today I think it is the cathedral of Monreale. I can’t imagine any other church being better.
Oh darn, I really have to go to bed. I'm going to post this anyway, so I apologize for leaving you hanging. Tomorrow I will share everything I remember about the sites. They were all SO beautiful. But my closing thought is something that I questioned on the way home, looking out on the gorgeous blue Mediterranean Sea with the Aeolian Islands on the horizon. Can beauty, all on its own, make a person happy? After today, I think it cannot. (Does that have something to do with why God created the world? Is that why God created Eve? Is this all too deep for me to be thinking about at midnight? Undoubtedly.) I would like to explore that thought someday, but tonight I will just say that I wish you were here!