In the weeks leading up to my trip to Sicily, several people responded to my enthusiasm with "Sicily? Alone?? Why Sicily? Isn't it pretty dangerous?" and the more I heard that, the more I began to question my decision... I guess the mafia is still a thing and Sicily is notoriously difficult to travel around once you get on the island. Not a great place to start off solo foreign travels, perhaps, but I was determined. Though I loved the hostel experience in the Canary Islands (and Lisbon and Marrakech,) I decided to go with Couchsurfing this time. Nothing like experiencing a city through the eyes of a local. Couchsurfing is an organization similar to Airbnb but instead of exchanging money, you exchange culture...and sometimes you end up sleeping on a couch or on a floor instead of getting a private room. I've been using it since 2011 and love it, y'all should check it out!
I wanted to leave my plans relatively open so that my hosts could show me the ropes and give me suggestions once I got there, but generally speaking, my plan was to go to Palermo, Taormina, Catania and fly back to Madrid from there... so what happened was...
We landed right next to a massive cliff, and walked out straight onto the runway while the shadows were short and dark and the the smell of the ocean was everywhere. Wake up, Olivia.
It was warm, sunny, and still early. My head was woozy from the two hours of sleep I'd gotten on the plane, after a sleepless night in the Madrid airport. I kept thinking about a boy back in Spain.
The airport-to-city bus dropped me in the "new city" but I soon walked through a massive gate protecting the old town where my host, Fillipo, lived. Dragging an already broken suitcase over cobblestones is a pleasantly rhythmic struggle that makes me laugh every time. I found Fillipo's house easily and he buzzed me up. I'd chosen to stay with him because he had over 100 reviews on Couchsurfing, and seemed to be enamored with his city, which is something I find very charming and contagious. I want to be enamored with every city.
Fillipo was clad in all khaki with slicked back hair. His apartment was decorated with his grandmother's hand-me-downs— an unusual twist to the quintessential bachelor pad. It had a spiral staircase and was warm with natural light from the windows you could open dramatically to hear the chaos of the famous Mercato Ballaro a few blocks away. He was very well traveled and there was evidence scattered all over the place. A hookah from Iran. A sculpture from China. A trinket from Egypt. Lonely Planets from Romania, Croatia, Cuba, Turkey... "It's a good thing you're not one of those tall Americans" he said. "Why?" "Women should be small...and protectable." ... okay Fillipo.
My stomach growled. We walked through the Mercato Ballaro, which reminded me of the souks in Morocco. Bustling. Chaotic. Colorful. He said the name of the game here was screaming louder than the guy next to you to advertise your daily goods. It was bursting with life and noises and smells and mist as merchants hosed down their produce. Everything was tinted red from the bright umbrellas overhead, shading the artichokes, strawberries, cheese, and olives. There were fisherman with odd sea creatures I'd never seen and jolly old men handing me free strawberries with whipped cream. And seemingly endless, exquisite blood oranges. An assault to the senses is what it was. And it was positively thrilling. I meandered around that market at least once a day for the remainder of my time in Palermo.
After some powerful espresso and my first canoli, Fillipo showed me the cathedral, the royal palace, the opera... we sauntered through the Monte di Pietà neighborhood where he helped me haggle for a new hat. He CONSTANTLY pointed out how much UNESCO loved Palermo. Everything is a UNESCO world heritage site. Here is Fillipo on the steps of the mayor's office.