Talking about dreams
is like talking about movies,
years can pass in a second, and
you can hop from one place to another.
– Federico Fellini
While vacationing in Malta, the Tunisian government put Malta on its red list without my knowing. Out-bound flights are for repatriation of Tunisian nationals only. First boarding denial of a long year of pandemic travels! I immediately scan the destinations of next departures: Berlin, Paris, Milan… and Catania, Sicily, leaving at 20:35.
Can you please rebook me to tonight’s flight to Catania? I ask Air Malta’s agent.
No, Madam, you need to have a negative Covid test result to fly to Italy, she replies.
Upon return to the hostel, Beronica, an Italian traveller, came to my rescue: I could book a Ryan Air flight and get the free Covid test on arrival. A much simpler – and economical – Plan B.
The young Italian doc at the Catania airport is surprisingly relaxed, reassuring me, “You are doing a good job!” while sticking the tiny tube deep into my nostrils. Fifteen minutes later, they give me back my passport and a certificate of good health. No quarantine required. I love Italy already! So Sicily is a detour… WTH, life is one gigantic detour anyway; the longest distance between two points might well be oneself!
I have been to Italy four times, mainly in the Northern tourist circuit – Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, the picturesque Cinque Terre. One hot summer, I took a course on international human rights at the European University Institute in Florence when Slobodan Milosevic went on trial. In 2016, my children and I did the 10-day Alta Via hike in the majestic Dolomites. My impromptu three-week stay in Sicily and South Italy is a bonanza of stunning discoveries of uncountable gorgeous historic cities and villages. From Catania, I make day trips to romantic and enchanting UNESCO World Heritage cities of Syracuse, Noto, Taormina, Scicle, Modica, and Ragusa. Then I head to Palermo and take an overnight ferry to beautiful Sardinia before flying out to Naples. La dolce vita!
Catania is a young, lively, and welcoming university town with fantastic vibes and almost daily fireworks! I find some of the best street scenes here: gorgeous piazzas and churches, shoppers along Via Etnea – the Champs Elysees of Catania – and just everyday Sicilian life…
The UNESCO World Heritage cities of Syracuse, Noto, Taormina, Scicle, Modica, and Ragusa are simply stunning, with more magnificent late-Baroque architecture, piazzas, chiesa/churches, hilltop vistas and narrow lanes, colourful ceramics – and colourful Sicilians – per square meter than anywhere else in the world!
Palermo, a bustling city with gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings, old shops, and quintessential slow Sicilian life, is my favourite city. I add a day trip to the photogenic Marsala salt flat. What a gem of an island, Sicily!
From Palermo, it is a simple overnight ferry ride to reach quiet Sardinia. Though public transit is limited, my short four-day stay is pleasant and relaxing, wandering in pretty Cagliari, roaming up and down the St. Remy Bastion with a superb view, visiting the prehistoric ruins in Nuraghe Su Nuraxi, and walking along white sandy beaches…
By then, I have met enough travellers who all raved about one city: Naples! This is where they stay the longest, or even put down roots. Wow, I want to see this city! A short plane ride away, Naples turns out to be truly exhilarating. It’s arguably the most vibrant city in Italy, with the best that the South has to offer: great heat well into September, gorgeous Bay of Naples flanked by legendary Mt. Vesuvius, enchanting Capri and Amalfi coast, some of the most magnificent ruins in Pompei, and, of course, mouth-watering world-famous Neapolitan pizza and gelato! I linger for a long while in Villa Lysis, a sublime Art Nouveau residence – “Amori et dolori sacrum“/a shrine to love and sorrow – built by Count Fersen for his lover during his exile on Capri…
From Naples, I loop back to Catania, before heading to Africa. I test my knee by climbing up Mt. Etna, and am happy to find it to be intact and robust, despite minor discomforts. Etna, the biggest and most active volcano in Europe is impressive, making fearsome primal guttural noises every few minutes!
My impromptu three-week detour to Sicily and Southern Italy is so intense that it feels like a year-long trip! Needless to say, the food is slow and awesome.
But it is the southern, Mediterranean light that leaves an indelible impression on me. Since Malta, I have developed the habit of waking at the ungodly hour of 6am to roam around and take pictures when the city is still quiet and empty. There’s something about the combination of pastel coloured old walls, grand buildings, narrow lanes, crumbling facades, abundant graffiti and street art, vibrant outdoor life, and flamboyant residents that make Sicily and Southern Italy look like a Fellini film set. What a photographer’s paradise!
There is no end.
There is no beginning.
There is only the infinite passion of life.
– Federico Fellini