Sicily (American English)/Sicilia (Italian)
Kyra: While in Sarajevo, Ben and I finally managed to watch The Godfather, which set the stage for Sicily. I wasn’t expecting the remnants of the Italian mafia to be as palpable as they were. When we flew into the Palermo airport, a large structure on the hill had “No Mafia,” scrawled in graffiti. The town of Corleone, as in Vito Corleone, has a very close history with the mafia, as described in this article.
Ben: Skip La Comune is where I received my excellent Italian haircut (I’m still blonde). Check it out, they had a cool vibe and some great art donning their walls.
How we got there
Ben: Another budget airline flight took us down from Rome to Sicily. I believe this time we fly with Pegasus air. Maybe Kyra and I have been lucky, but most of these budget airlines have been just fine and comparable to any other airline (apart from not serving free beverages). It probably helps that we only packed one backpack each, but regardless we’ve had quite good experiences.
Where we stayed
Ben: Sicily was a nice departure from our Airbnb scene as Kyra booked us a room in the Casa di Amici hostel in Palermo. When we arrived, they brought us up to the room and it smelled horrible. The host mentioned something about the previous guest having an accident, so we opened all the windows and went to lunch. Returning later that day, the smell prevailed, so Kyra convinced me that we should switch rooms (like a true Minnesotan, I like to avoid conflict when I can) and they happily put us into a different, smell-free room. We were content and later on I decided to head downstairs to meet some of the other residents at our hostel. Sitting in the common room were Andreas and Francois, who were happy to chat and introduce themselves. Andreas and Francois were quick pals who spent a lot of time in Sicily with us.
Kyra: In Rome, we were told that Sicily has the best pastries, but I don’t think either of us was quite prepared for what Palermo had to offer.
Sicilian Street Food
Kyra: An apertivo, or drink and snack, is a way to wet the pallet/keep you from not getting sick from drinking. The concept is certainly not unique to Sicily or even Italy, but with Sicily’s focus on food, they’ve really elevated the game. The food accompanying your drink ranges from chips or nuts to a full smorgasbord of meats and dinner sized dishes. Depending on the restaurant, the food that comes during Apertivo can be free or only a few euros on top of the price of the drink.
Pizza and Pasta
Kyra: Prior to visiting northern, central, and southern Italy, I had a very vague concept of how pizza varies in the different regions. In hindsight, it’s foolish that I didn’t equate our concept of “Chicago deep-dish” versus “New York Slice” versus “Midwest greasy square” pizza to Italian variations. In broad terms, Sicilian pizza tends to rectangular with thick dough. They have their own version called Sfincione which is spongy dough and if you’re getting a traditional one, it’s served with anchovies on top.
Local View and Lessons Learned
Kyra: Anywhere you look on a map will take at least two times longer to get to on a bus or in a car. Traffic in Sicily is horrendous.
Kyra: Italians, especially men, seem to be incredibly in to grooming. According to my research – staring into every barbershop we passed – this seems to be the style most young Italian men go for:
Ben: One of the other neat “we met these people that…” story was during dinner out in Sicily. Kyra and I had ordered our dinner and the people next to us asked us where we were from and began the conversation (this rarely happens in the US, maybe especially in MN). The conversation turned to haircuts (which I desperately needed at this point. Somehow I think that’s the reason they brought haircuts into the convo) and our new friend said he owned a barbershop with his brother. Perfect! After chatting and sharing some of their Shiraz wine, we made plans to meet for a haircut tomorrow. Although Kyra whispered to me that this could be a long con, I was gung-ho and eager to get a trim, regardless of cost.
The haircut was one of the best I’ve ever had (even Kyra thought so, which is a huge compliment). The barber spoke no English, but with the help of our new friend, another barber, and the “look-book,” the haircut was great.
Apparently plumbing in Sicily is horrible after changing power so frequently in the past with no attempt to renovate buildings. That said, throughout Italy, we saw an alternative to the automatic sink that I quite liked: the petal operated sink. You achieve the same great germ free operating qualities of an automatic sink, without the annoying wave-just-the-right-way-so-the-sink-“sees”-you feature.
In addition to plumbing issues, Sicily has quite an issue with garbage
Kyra: And still yet, along with trash there is also an issue with dog poop on sidewalks. It would be unwise to walk more than three steps without reevaluating what the poop situation ahead of you is.
Ben: Andreas was a pretty steady source of lessons, I’ll list a few below:
1. Are you trying to please someone by doing what you currently are? What are the consequences of doing what you actually want? (Andreas had to consider this for awhile before biking the world for 10 years)
2. Know what you need. (Andreas knew when he needed to leave a place with busyness and people to go camp for a few days or weeks, he knew that was a part of the trip he craved the most)
3. Know what money is. (Andreas told us countless stories that involved amazing experiences which were either free or quite cheap. Most imagine that they need to make $x where x > someone else’s net worth so that they can do whatever they want. This puts the cart before the horse – figure out what you want and start, otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of paper and nothing to do.)
Kyra: Sicily is known for street food and markets. They have four large markets, one of which is an antique market only open on Sunday.
Walking the Streets of Palermo
Andreas and Francois
Ben: We met Andreas at the hostel and after talking to him for awhile I learned that he was biking around Europe. He had come down from Sweden (his home country) through Europe, down Italy, and to Sicily. This was just the tip of the iceberg though.
He revealed that after working for a start-up in Palo Alto, he decided to bike around different areas of the world…and this was 9 years ago! He’s been biking ever since. Through Europe and Western Africa, all across the US, and now another trip through Europe. The trips were sometimes truncated (like when he got meningitis in Africa) or extended (3 years in Las Palmas). But most of the last decade of his life has been spent living on a slim budget, camping, biking, cooking, and meeting people.
We ended up spending an entire day with him, walking, eating, visiting the Capuchin crypts, and hearing his travel stories. He’s someone I’ll never forget.
Kyra: Andreas and Francois became fast friends while staying at the hostel, then we lucked out and got to make dinner with them. As Ben mentioned, Andreas is from Sweden originally and Francois from France. I wanted to look up which city specifically Francois is from but then realized I couldn’t because he purposely has not digital connections – no cell, no Facebook, no social media of any kind. Ben appreciated Andreas for his drive while I appreciated Francois for his angst. He was quiet, sarcastic, and completely quintessentially French, complete with a passion for cheese, wine, and bread.
Francois puts a lot of heart and focus into his cooking. One night, we got the groceries and Andreas cooked a seafood soup and salad with surprise caviar he put in. Francois supplied the bread, cheese, and Sicilian pastries:
Kyra: After our first dinner with Francois and Andreas, we met up with Andreas’ Sicilian friend at Dada Bar. The bar itself is a small room with a bathroom, a few shelves for alcohol, and a food station. On a rainy day, Dada Bar must cease to exist as all the seating is in the alley outside. As far as I can tell, they have no closing time on weekends. Andreas came to the rescue at the end of the night when I pleaded for a slice of pizza. He remembered a place that made mini pizzas near the market and miraculously was able to navigate back.
Kyra: On our last night in Palermo, Andreas, Ben, Francois, and I tried to go to Frida Pizzeria. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed that evening so we walked to another nearby pizzeria that others waiting outside with us recommended. The dough and bread they served was made from local wheat and cooked in a way that made it fluffy and hearty at the same time. Our token French, Francois, picked a bottle of wine and showed off a few magic tricks that made us howl with laughter, much to the chagrin of the other restaurant guests.
Kyra: On his travels, Andreas has a beautiful project whereby he takes portraits of the people he encounters (mentioned above).