I’d always planned to spend some time in Italy on this trip, so after our time in the South of France we drive across the border and travel along the North Eastern coastline of Italy. As soon as we cross the border there is a noticeable change – there are many more potholes and roadworks are ‘a plenty’. In this part of Italy, the scenery is stunning, but the driving isn’t easy. The motorways are built above coastal towns and bays and the lush mountains are to the North, which means there are tunnels, followed by viaducts, followed by more tunnels. And as we enter Genoa, everything goes a bit ‘pear shaped’. There is major roadworks across the city and the satnav lady gets herself in a bit of a pickle, taking us round and around in circles. We pass through the same Piage 3 times, and as we head in the wrong direction again, my stress level begins to rise. I pull over at the next Piage, where we stall and cause more havoc, and John takes over the driving and I do the navigating (a better combination!). I switch to google maps in the hope that we might find a way out of the city and eventually after 90 minutes going around in circles, we break free and head in the right direction……. welcome to Italy, where road chaos reigns!
Italy is very different from France. While France is on the chic side of shabby chic, its neighbour, Italy on the other hand is definitely on the shabby side. Being more on the shabby side myself…. I just love it. I have always found Italy to be ‘untouristy’, very up front, yet unpretentious. It’s somewhere where that’s easy to blend into the background, to disappear even. Our first port of call is Sestri Levante, a beautiful little town on the Ligurian Riviera and the campsite has stunning views over the bay. We take a stroll into town and
Enjoy lunch on the beach. It is Wednesday after all, so why not!
Lunch at Sestri Levante
Our plan is to then move to Tuscany and visit Lucca, Sienna, Florence and Bologna. But there’s a problem. The weather forecast for Tuscany is rain for the next 10 days and we start looking further afield. On a whim, we hatch a plan to head south, as far south as you can go in Italy……to Sicily. Some might say why Sicily? Well, there’s the weather, the scenery, the Greek, Roman and Norman heritage, the food etc, etc. But then on the other side, there are plenty of reasons not to go. It’s too far, we will need to get a ferry or drive a long way, what about the Mafia etc, etc. And so, like most people, when I make a decision, I tend to weigh up the pros and cons, the why’s and the why not’s. There isn’t a right or wrong decision of course, as I try and tell myself when I’m, struggling to make a decision, so that’s when the other why not can be helpful. This isn’t the reason not to do something why not, this is the open why not, the spontaneous why not, the ‘you will never know until you try it’ why not, the ‘embrace new things with open arms’ why not. And I have learned on this trip that if you listen to this why not it helps to challenge indecisiveness and it has taken me to places, I’d never dreamed of. After all, that’s what travelling (and maybe life itself) is all about. Isn’t it better to be open to life’s possibilities, I hear the helpful why not whispering, rather than shutting out opportunities with our fears, before they even have a chance to get going? So, we take an overnight ferry from Livorno to Palermo (Sicily) and
We stop at Lucca on the way
The streets of Lucca
sharing the most amazing Margherita Pizza for lunch. We arrive on a Saturday evening (in the dark) in the chaotic city of Palermo, where the driving is Mental, with a capital M. Over the next few days we begin to explore this island of contrasts.
We take a train to Palermo
and visit the Royal Palace, where under the rule of the Norman King, Roger II (1130) the Palatine Chapel was built. The chapel represents an extraordinary fusion of Islamic, Byzantine and Romanesque architecture which has been awarded Unesco World heritage status. The golden mosaics covering the walls and the Moorish wooden ceiling are mesmerising.
The Royal palace and inside the Palatine Chapel
After a lovely Sicilian lunch, we spend the afternoon wandering around the city centre, visiting Piazzo Pretorio and Quattro Canti (1608), the historic centre of the city. More stunningly beautiful baroque church interiors – don’t miss Chiesa di SS Savatore and Chiesa del Gesũ, – they stopped me in my tracks, not something that happens with churches very often.
Inside Chiesa del Gesũ, Piazzo Pretorio and Quattro Canti
Outside Chiesa del Gesũ there is a wedding party, waiting for the bride to arrive. Everyone is immaculately dressed and smiling but turn the corner and in the dirty back alleys, full of litter and graffiti there is a sinister edge. Here, I wouldn’t be surprised to meet those men in dark suits and sunglasses carrying guitar cases!
As we travel across the North West coast of Sicily,
we take in the Capo Gallo and Zingaro nature reserves and visit la Tonnara di Scopello (a medieval tuna-fishing estate). We walk along spectacular coastal paths, with wonderful spring flowers (yellow thistles, bright purple clover and red poppies), crystal clear turquoise waters and idyllic pebble coves.
Capo Gallo, la Tonnaro di scopello and Zingaro nature reserve
But in contrast, as we travel through some of the small towns, there is a definite air of neglect. Roads full of potholes, pavements strewn with litter are uneven with weeds and trees roots and many houses seem in a state of disrepair. As other parts of Italy have moved with the times, Sicily somehow seems to have lagged behind. Perhaps Sicily, considered the most conquered island in the world (Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Normans, Spaniards, Northern Italians, mafiosi, fascists….), dominated by outside forces and lack of investment for so long, has resigned itself to accepting its lot and has moved a little more slowly? As we tuck into a Sicilian tapa, followed by Cannoli (tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta), I wonder what the answers might be, and so I am looking forward to exploring this fascinating island and finding out more.