After waiting for what felt like a lifetime since booking the flights, it was finally time to pack the suitcase and dust off the passport ready for my next adventure – a mid-week break to Palermo, Sicily. Read on to hear all about my experiences of Sicilian culture, including the way of life, my favourite parts of the city, and of course, the food!
A much-needed break
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a traveller at heart and will take any opportunity to get away and spend time somewhere new – UK or otherwise. For me, travel is the perfect opportunity to learn about other cultures and what makes the people from those cultures who they are. Of course it’s also the perfect opportunity to indulge in a little escapism. Though I’m a student and don’t have a lot of the responsibilities that others have, I’m still busy and have a tendency to operate at a high level, with little time spent on re-charging. So what better way to take some time out to rest and re-gen than a complete change of environment?!
Sicily was somewhere I had always wanted to visit. The country seemed so idyllic, and so when a friend who’s currently studying in Palermo offered me the opportunity to visit for a few days, how could I refuse? So a couple of weeks ago the time had finally arrived, and at 05:50am on a Tuesday morning, my travel buddy (my good friend Tania Di Felice) and I took off. Two and a half hours later, we were in the Sicilian sunshine, and as our bus took us closer to the city, my excitement to explore grew as the environment changed from mountains and quaint coastal abodes to beautiful, historical buildings and stunning parks.
When we were given a personal tour of the city sights by own lovely host, I couldn’t believe how alive the city was, and how at home I felt – despite the hectic drivers! The first day was spent exploring the incredible churches and monuments that, like in any Italian location, seem to be everywhere you turn, and sampling the local cuisine. It was a deliciously cheap pasta lunch at a little restaurant in the heart of the city, followed by a trip to Monreale – a local town boasting acres of orange orchards and a stunning cathedral. On our return to the city, we made a quick stop at Briocia – a gelateria specialising in strange brioche/gelato hybrid creations, followed by a stroll back to our friend’s apartment to end the day.
Gelato and brioche/gelato hybrids at Briocia
Hit the beach
Waking up to the sun shining over rustic rooftops and mountain scenes was one of my favourite things about my break – it was impossible to wake up in a bad mood when that was the first thing I saw! As a lover of fresh food and of breakfast, I couldn’t resist heading out to the local market and picking up some fresh fruit for us to start the day with. I was AMAZED! Seeing so much fresh food in one tiny backstreet blew my mind! There was everything from local citrus fruits to freshly-caught fish and seafood, dried fruits and nuts, and even aubergines the size of your head – honestly! And the prices? Ridiculously cheap! It really opened my eyes as to why the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ is said to be the best; with such a rich variety of fresh and nutritious food available on your doorstep, how could you not eat well?
Once I’d collected all I needed, I prepared a delicious breakfast for us to share as we planned out our day. There was only one place we were going…the beach! We packed ourselves a light lunch, donned the shades and headed to Mondello beach! Only 30 minutes away from central Palermo was a stunning nature reserve (Capo Gallo) and a white-sanded beach bordered by crystal blue water. After finishing a peaceful walk around the nature reserve, we took some well-deserved time out to relax and top up the tan on the beach. This was the perfect opportunity for me to completely unwind, forget my responsibilities from work and just focus on how I felt (see my previous post ‘A New Perspective‘ for more on my new-found love of mindfulness). Just having that time to think about nothing but how I felt both physically in the environment around me, but also internally, psychologically, was so important to me – it’s the main reason why I felt so refreshed on my return from Sicily. And of course I couldn’t resist a quick dip in the water – definitely invigorating when you’re in a bikini and it’s still a chilly Mid-April 18degC! But to me it all just added to the experience and made me feel even more in touch with my surroundings.
A piece-a pizza!
No trip to Sicily is complete without a sampling of the finest foods on offer, and pizza is top on my list of favourite foods. So when a visit to Frida – a well-known traditional pizzeria in Palermo – was suggested, I couldn’t wait to go! This was authentic, stonebaked, paper-thin based pizza we were talking about – my all-time favourite kind. But with a full 4-page menu on offer choosing which one to go for was a nightmare! I settled for a carciofo, as I’d always wanted to try artichoke, so why not put it on a pizza? Each of us ordered something different, and every plate was a work of art! (What more could you expect from a pizzeria named after a famous artist?) What always impresses me about food like that is how such incredible flavour can be created from minimal ingredients, all because of freshness and quality. One of my main aims of trips away is to take inspiration from the experiences I have, and my food experiences are perhaps the most important. At home I’ll try my best to recreate the foods I have, but I didn’t wait until I was home to do this!
Carciofo pizza at Frida
Making the most
Thursday was a more relaxed day, and it couldn’t have started any better! A morning pilates session followed by a ‘DIY’ sharing breakfast was perfect to set me up for the day, and despite a freak rainstorm mid-afternoon, we were able to take an easy wonder around the city to see the sights. A quick trip to the Botanical Gardens, a cheesy group photo in the park, a wander down to the harbour with gelato, and a coffee shop storm-escape defined our day, and we all loved it. We finished our day off with a couple of stop-offs to pick up freshly-baked bread and a variety of vegetables for our evening meal – bruschetta with roasted vegetables. Local produce, Sicilian flavours, all shared with loved ones – the ultimate Sicilian experience. Simplicity is at the heart of Italian/Sicilian cooking, and though the foods were basic, the way in which they were prepared and served made all the difference. At that moment I felt so lucky to be sharing such an incredible experience with my friends, and couldn’t have been more grateful for being given that opportunity.
Fresh produce from the local market
For the final day of our Sicilian adventure, we couldn’t resist taking another trip to the beach, and alongside a bit of souvenir shopping, we took one final walking tour of the city to say farewell to the place we’d called home for the past few days. It really did feel as though we’d become part of the city, and I knew it would be a wrench on my heart to leave that evening. But evening soon came and we packed up our bags ready to leave for the airport. For the whole of my journey back to the UK I couldn’t help but reflect on my Sicilian trip, and though I was devastated to leave, I also felt a sense of contentment. I’d had the much-needed break that I’d been hoping for, I’d spent more time with my friends than I’d ever managed to before, and I’d learnt so much about Sicilian life. Instead of becoming a victim of those post-holiday blues, I’ve tried as hard as possible to recreate a little bit of the Sicilian way of life at home; whether it be heading to the local market to pick up fresh produce, cooking Sicilian-inspired dishes with ingredients I picked up whilst out there, or just enjoying spending time with friends (with food involved most of the time!), I have to keep a part of Sicily with me.
The harbour at Mondello beach
My first trip to Sicily has definitely inspired me to explore more of what Italy and its constituent islands has to offer. Though I’d visited a few cities on the Italian mainland before, being able to feel how different the culture was in Sicily was something I really appreciated. Hopefully I can return to the beautiful country again soon and share that experience with you too.
That’s all for week’s post, and I apologise for the delay in posting about the Sicilian trip! I know the theme of this week’s post is completely different from my previous ones, but I hope it’s a nice change and that you’re inspired to take a nice break away for some time-out soon! Any comments are welcomed, as always.