We have now been in Sicily for a month, and are beginning to feel familiar with some of the regions quirks – like driving into a car park, being directed to a parking place, a cloakroom ticket being placed under the wiper blade and asked for a Euro for parking. This is in a free car park. At public toilets, and even private toilets in public places like service stations, a man in a blue jacket with a spray cleaner in one hand and cloth tucked into his pocket will be standing outside to collect a service charge. Begging is professionalised. I expect these people have an employer too, someone who rents them their spot in the car park or outside the toilets – sick pay and pension? Probably not.
Recycling is another thing Sicily does differently. At Palermo Airport, when collecting my parents, I went to buy a Diet Coke. The barman said his pump was out of order, but he took my money and sent me to the fridge for a bottle. The front six bottles all had their seals broken, and I had to take a bottle from the back. I sat down to enjoy my refreshment and watched as the barman recycled an empty coke bottle from under the counter by refilling it from the pump and putting it in the space freed by my purchase.
Driving is also very different. Speed limits, often treated as advisory anywhere I’ve been, are treated as a bare minimum requirement in Sicily. A no overtaking sign is an indication that overtaking is expected and the hard shoulder on motorways is for overtaking when the overtaking lane is occupied.
Even with all these nuances, we have thoroughly enjoyed our month in Sicily. It has miles of stunning beaches, amazing archeological sites, wonderful looking nature reserves (we never actually went in one because dogs are banned) and a volcano to excite a four year old.
Mount Etna dominates the land around Catania. Its smoking white cap can be seen for miles in every direction. The unremarkable photo below taken from just outside the Cavegrande nature reserve has Etna (left of centre) 55 miles away.
An equivalent distance is Buckingham Palace to Chichester cathedral!
closer, Etna is absolutely stunning, towering above the towns at its feet.
On Tuesday we drove as far up as permitted. It was a long climb, but not particularly steep, across a barren moonscape, occasionally glimpsing the remains of concrete homes consumed years earlier by lava flows. At just below 2000 metres we came to the ski station car park. At 6 degrees it was colder than we’d experienced since Florence, and it was windy. The cable car was not running because of the high wind, but there was a mountain bus service to 2500 metres for 30 Euros per adult (children free). We declined the opportunity to go higher – we’d been that high anyway, in Andorra, and knew what it would be like. Instead we explored one of Etna’s many vent craters.
Horses and citrus fruits are two other features of Sicily etched in our memories. Seemingly, even more so than Valencia or Seville, oranges are everywhere, and the very best Sicilians reserve for themselves. This eight kilo bag costs just €5.
And below the orange trees, or in this case, almond trees, Sicilians keep their horses. Fearless and excited, Ben had his first ride.
Today we pack, tomorrow we say goodbye to Sicily and return to the mainland for nearly three weeks in the foot of Italy before we cross to Greece.