BIS Secondary School 2010 Study Tour to Sicily J.W. Goethe wrote in his “Journey to Italy”, “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to have not seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” So this year’s destination for the annual BIS Study Tour was Sicily.
We stayed in Cefalu, a charming town on the Sicilian mainland, and the first town we visited was Monreale. We liked what we saw of Monreale – the church, the cloisters. The Duomo was gorgeous and there is a lovely square just next to it. We had lunch in a comfortably shaded little restaurant. There we tried famous Sicilian ice cream and cannolis. The cannolis are really amazing, as they should be, since it is a specialty of the area. One student was suspicious on hearing that the filling is made of ricotta cheese, but loved it. A minute later everybody was eating cannolis.
Then we went to Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Many great films had been shot there, including “The Godfather”. We visited the locations where the scenes were filmed. Just outside Palermo in the village of Corleone is the Museo Anti-Mafia. This museum’s exhibits depict the Mafia’s horrific deeds throughout history and helps people understand the dangers of organized crime. That night senior students organized a party in one of the rooms. Thankfully the hotel staff were friendly and helpful.
Next day we visited Erice the medieval town on the top of the hill that has been inhabited since pre-history. It was like Disneyworld only real. We tasted some local foods such as almond-bases candies, pistachio liqueurs, cheeses, and Marsalis wine. The wind was blowing, it was raining heavily, it was a long walk up and down the somewhat steep and slippery streets, but no one seemed to care. We bought souvenirs and marzipan treats in La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico, a world-famous sweet shop.
One whole day was dedicated to Aeolian Islands. There are 7 of them and they are all very different. So we sailed for our first Aeolian Island, Lipari. It took us two hours to get there. The sea was rough, and those who were below deck, bouncing in rough seas, felt seasick. From the harbour of Marina Corta we went to visit the archaeological museum, the 19th century Cathedrale di San Bartolomeo and the amphitheatre.
We also had some free time and walked around the town and did some shopping, took lots of photos, had a bite to eat, and really did not feel rushed. We have seen thistle, cactus, palm trees, daisies, yucca, agave and eucalyptus trees that day.
The boat then moved on to Vulcano, the second largest of the Aeolian Islands, where we anchored for the afternoon. Half of the group went to the black sand volcanic beach; another half climbed the hill to explore the Valley of Monsters. We met a Serbian lady who fell in love with this unique and intriguing island years ago. She even bought a house there. It was a great experience though the pervading rotten-egg stink of sulphur stayed on our clothes for a couple of days afterwards.
Another town we visited was Agrigento, which is graced with the finest collection of Greek temples in the world, called, oddly, The Valley of the Temples (5th century BC). We were where Pirandello was born and Aeschylus died.
In the evening we came to Giardini Naxos. We stayed in the hotel that was immediately by the sea. We spent the evening on the beach. The boys played football, and the girls cheered. We were all excited that night before visiting Mt Etna. ‘Imagine, we can walk up a volcano and descend into the crater. Is it safe, Miss?’ one student asked.
The weather was not good, it was cloudy and raining, but our guide assured us it was different on Etna. And he was right. We headed to the world’s most continuously active volcano, twice the height of everything else. In the beginning it was quite cloudy so the view was poor. The higher we went, the more crooked the road became. There were so many turns on the road it almost seemed like you were doing figure eights. Around one curve, there was an old stone house, shingled roof, with part of a house still underneath. It was obvious that this house was caught sleeping during the lava eruption.
At one moment Etna permitted us to take a good look around. The fog lifted, the sky cleared and the view from Etna was breath-taking. Looking down from the 2000 meters you can see all the cities and villages, seas, Calabria and the Aeolian Islands. It was like looking down from the top of the world. The sight of a souvenir shop up here seemed so unreal – who would come up here every day and work in this shop watching the puffing of smoke so close to the summit nearby? In front of the souvenir shop we spotted thousands of ladybirds. The guide explained that they come here every October to die. It was unreal to see these tiny red spots scattered on black rocks. The souvenir shop offered some firewater called “Fogo de Etna” and a delicious hot chocolate. We bought lots of lava-made products and then went to inspect the extinct crater.
We ended our visit at Taormina which was a charming town, where we had lunch and visited the Amphitheatre. Again, there were spectacular views from there and we were even able to see Italian coast afar. Upon arrival there we immediately saw the difference between the east and west coast of Sicily. The east coast seemed much more developed and colourful. It was here, in romantic Taormina, that a self-exiled D.H. Lawrence was inspired to write Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Next morning we went to visit Siracusa. We had a walking tour of the town and the Greek theatre. The theatre was spectacular and the best preserved in Sicily. We visited Ortigia, which is the historic section. The Piazzo Duomo is lovely. The Duomo itself still has the columns from the ancient Greek temple it was built on. We spent a day at the Archaeological Park and Museum, walking among the almost intact Greek theatre and the echo cavern and beautiful park. In the park there was the funnel-shaped Ear of Dionysius. The echoes were tremendous. One of our students with a fabulous voice started singing while we were inside it.
Then, way too soon, it was time to leave and fly out of Catania back to Serbia. Our wonderful trip to Sicily was over. We came away feeling that we would like very much to return to Sicily with time on our hands to have a chance to experience more of this beautiful country and its people; and above all, to spend time together and collect wonderful memories and anecdotes.