Kat arrived a few days earlier to explore Lake Como and, of course, to warm up the full-size bed that I would later be sharing with her. Wink wink. Kidding.
Whenever people ask me about Milan, I always say to skip it. Three years earlier, the duomo was covered in scaffolding. Our wallets looked too pathetic to even consider walking into designer stores. And, we weren’t very well-prepared for our trip and missed all the awesome gelaterias.
On top of that, we didn’t even realize that Da Vinci’s The Last Supper was in Milan. We saw it in the guide book at the last minute, and thought, ‘hey let’s stop by and see if there are tickets.’ Um, tickets had been sold out for months and need to be reserved way in advance. So, we tried sneaking in with Japanese tour groups. When that didn’t work, Jenn kept insisting to the ticket booth lady that we made reservations but obviously, she didn’t believe us. Shady? Nahh.
This time, when I met up with Kat at the hotel, she already had the gelaterias listed out (e.g. Rivareno) and the confirmation for The Last Supper tickets printed. She is the master planner fo sho!
First stop, The Last Supper. Usually I like to sneak in an illegal photo (no flash, of course), but the room was too heavily guarded. So, I spent my time just taking in the history, afraid that my breaths of air would somehow increase its fragility.
Second stop, the duomo. The rooftop is simply amazing, or rather, complexly amazing? It boggles my mind how some people are just so creative with designing architecture, let alone constructing it. W-o-w.
I ended up missing the panzerotti at Luini because it closed by the time I went. They basically look like empanadas filled with deliciousness or, what you wished hot pockets were like . If you’re in Milan (which I think is worth visiting now), please eat two (or more) for me 🙁
And then, we were off to meet Jackie and Jason at the airport to catch our flight to…
Palermo, Sicily (Italy)
…and met up with Paul at the hotel in Palermo.
Paul: “Was your flight light?”
At least that’s what I swore he said in his Aussie accent. I’m thinking, “huh you mean ‘light’ as in the opposite of heavy?” Idiot.
Paul: “Was your flight late?”
I was always bad at deciphering accents. Back in high school, I volunteered at my dad’s hospital which had many, many thick-accented Russian, Indian and Southeast Asian doctors. You have no idea how many times someone hung up on me (or I hung up on them, or hid in the nearby bathroom at the sound of the phone ringing) because I kept asking “What did you say again? Excuse me?” Hm, bad memories.
Palermo looked beautiful as a landscape seen from the hotel rooftop, but when walking through the alleyways, you realize that the city is quite slummy. Paul was in the city a day or two earlier, and met a Norwegian guy whose name I forgot and whose university and major I forgot. His name might’ve been Peter and he was specializing in something regarding brain mechanisms. We invited him to dinner and drinks, and I now regret not taking down his info.
We rented a Mercedes A Class, and were worried if all our luggage would fit into the trunk. Originally, we rented a bigger car, but there was only one available and it wasn’t functioning. I figured if anything, we could tie the luggage to a bike rack, or pretend we were just married and tie them to the back like cans on a string. Luckily, it all fit 🙂
Driving along the coast of Sicily felt, in some ways, unreal – as if I was on the Hogwarts Express choo-ing and chugging along light blue waters and through tunnels that venture into the mountainside, en route to some place mystical.
Salina (one of the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily)
During dinner at a nearby hotel restaurant, we bumped into an American camera and production crew sitting at the table behind us. As they started to trickle out, we struck up enough small talk to find out that they were filming “Authentic Sicily,” a TV program not yet picked up by a network. My awesome googling powers (meaning typing ‘Authentic Sicily’ into google) brought up a video clip preview on facebook. Cool beans, indeed.
Next morning, we rented a dinghy for the day and drove around the island’s perimeter as the sun warmed our faces and the wind salted our hair. The water was such a beautiful blue and we decided to anchor in one area to swim. Bright pink and purple-veined clear jellyfish. Hm, maybe not. We sped to another area, and took the sight of other boats as a good indicator of safer waters.
Splash. Jumping into the water felt equivalent to drinking freshly squeezed lemonade on a hot summer suburban day.
“By the way, you probably don’t want to swim near me. You might feel something warm.”
Stromboli (a neighboring Aeolian Island)
It must’ve been fate or something to have met the Norwegian guy in Palermo. He had done the three-hour climb up to the volcano’s craters to see the eruptions, and strongly recommended that we do it. Jackie and Jason decided to stay on the dinghy around Salina, while Paul, Kat and I explored our adventurous side on Stromboli.
First, we were worried that we didn’t have the proper footwear to go climbing. I decided to stick it out in my Old Navy flats, while Kat went out and shopped for a cheap pair of sneakers. Paul already had his own pair. Turns out, neither of the three of us had the proper footwear, and luckily, there were hiking shoe rental shops at the base of the volcano.
The climb felt amazing, and…perspiratory. Kat was behind me, and gratefully decided not to tell me until the next day that I had sweat marks on my butt. Did I secretly pee in my shorts, or was I really sweating? You will never know.
Okay, it really was sweat.
The beginning of the climb was through greens and vegetation. Then it became treacherous-looking rocks. At times, the climb seemed like neverending rock after rock. Then I would look back to see the neverending sea. Ah.
Finally, we reached the craters, and saw the eruptions against the quickly sunsetting sky. Fifteen minutes later, we walked over a bit closer, and saw the eruptions against the dark night sky. Unreal. The next twenty minutes or so, all you saw were bursting lava, glowing ashes and flashing lights.
It was time to go downhill.
“Everyone, turn on your flashlights.”
It was pitch black, except for the stars and one or two boats in the distance. Never have I seen a dark sky speckled with so many stars. This definitely surpassed the starry sky during the Inca Trail in Peru. All I wanted to do was lie down, back against the ground, and just stare.
The going downhill side of the volcano was pure volcanic sand. We were slip sliding down for about an hour or two, and no matter how high your socks were, sand somehow got inside them. Though thigh-trembling, the sliding was unbelievably fun. My helmet flashlight was so flimsy at times, I thought I was sliding into a black hole.
We stopped midway, so that the second half of the group could catch up to the first half.
Guide: “All the children should go to the front of the line. Both of you, get to the front of the line.”
He pointed at me and Kat. HUH? Little did he know that we were actually in our mid-20’s. We listened anyway and laughed in disbelief.
We finally reached the bottom, returned our gear and took the hour-long midnight boat back to Salina. We drove off in the inflatable motor boat into the pitch black sea. The neighboring island was miles away, and we were left with nothing but the light from the stars. I looked onward into darkness, looked over the edge to see black waters, disturbed by our passage, then looked up to see the night sky, overflowing with stars. I reached out my hand, thinking I could touch them. It felt like an indoor Disney World ride. Magical. I had to remember to breathe because I was in complete awe. I tried to blink away the surreal, but it was real. I was happy.
Next thing I know, I woke up to my head dangling, as we docked into Salina.
Taormina (back to the mainland of Sicily)
On the spiraling drive up the hill, we caught a glimpse of Isola Bella in bright sunshine. It caught my breath because it reminded me of a dream I had. I don’t know how else to describe it except that it looked like an island that could’ve been in Lothlórien (completely geeky Lord of the Rings movie reference). Maybe it was the hazy lighting or, the unusual brightness of turquoise that surrounded the verdant island, which had a connecting path to the mainland half-engulfed by sea water. I was too mesmerized to remember to take out my camera at that moment, so it shall remain fantastical in my memory.
We grabbed lunch in town, visited Teatro Greco, and took a cable car down to the shore to cool off in the sea. On our way back to the hotel, we didn’t realize there was a bus and, instead, walked along the uphill spiral road for about forty minutes. Chances of getting hit by a car were, um, pretty high. The positive? Buns and thighs of steel.
Catania, Piazza Armerina and Caltagirone
Wine tasting for breakfast at the Gambino Vineyard in the town of Linguaglossa, Catania. Sweeeet. This led to a really nice sleep in the back seat of the car. Having little to no driving experience can have its perks.
Nearby Piazza Armerina, we stopped by the Villa Romana del Casale – a wealthy person’s villa with mosaic flooring that had been restored after a long forgotten landslide. We stood near a tour group whose guide spilled water onto the tiles to show them better color clarity. We were impressed and tried to do the same, but with saliva. Classy.
On the drive over to Caltagirone, there was a panoramic view of Piazza Armerina with houses built upon houses like Lego’s. It was quite the beautiful site along a local road.
Candles were strategically placed along this long staircase in Caltagirone, a city known for its pottery and ceramics. Looking up, you see the ceramic artistry. Looking down, you see normal concrete stairs. The candles lit up on Fridays. It was a Thursday.
On the drive to Syracuse, we squeezed through the narrowest street with cars parked on both sides. One parked car forgot to fold in their left side view mirror. Next thing you know, we’re driving through and POP! I looked back to see a sad dangling mirror, like an eye out of its socket hanging on by the optic nerve. We felt incredibly bad, but what could we do – stand there and wait for the owner? Leave fifty euros underneath the windshield wiper? So, we continued to drive in guilt. I guess karma hit when we got lost for a couple of hours on roads lit up only by our own headlights.
I love fresh produce and local food. Restaurants are great but, it gets tiring and expensive. So, we rejoiced and clicked our heels in the air a la Einstein at the sight of a street market. A vendor let us sample a locally grown peach that was the sweetest and juiciest peach to ever grace my taste buds. The meat and cheese were also drool-worthy. This is what I imagine the food of the gods to taste like. On top of that, we found watermelon granita. SO DELICIOUS!
We visited yet another Teatro Greco and became super crispy from the sun’s rays. Luckily, there were stands selling freshly squeezed orange and lemon granita. Serious thirst quencher. We then walked into Dionysus’ Ear, a huge cave and former abode for prisoners, and took advantage of its echoing ability.
“Please sir, may I have some more?”
“MORE?!?!?!” (more, more, more…)
Before flying out of Sicily, I made sure to eat a cannoli at i dolci di Nonna Vincenza. Normally, I’m not a huge fan since they’re way too sweet but, this one was soooo good :9
I felt like I walked into a large vanilla frosted cake, and we all know that I. love. cake. and vanilla. I salivated as I imagined myself biting into the walls, until it dawned on me that in reality, it would break my teeth. Hm.
Embedded throughout the labyrinth of white and blue alleyways were stores selling vibrant summer dresses, brightly beaded leather sandals and sparkly jewelry. We considered buying some but the price tags were displaying 80-100+ euros, while the clothing tags revealed “Made in China.”
Dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went straight for Panormos Beach, without a care in the world. Sun, sand and time to actually enjoy them. Why can’t real life be this way?
Post-beach: infinity pool. We were having our fun, taking advantage of the many photo op’s.
[Enter: little German boy]
He and his father, in little speedo and big speedo, respectively, come into the pool. We strike up friendly conversation with the father, switching where-we’re-from’s and vacation details. The little boy starts throwing around a plastic bag and fetching after it. I thought I’d bring on the fun and throw around the plastic bag for him to the other side of the pool. Not a good idea. He starts following me around the pool, obnoxiously spitting water. It came to a point where I needed to leave the pool to get some peace.
Um, did I just feel that on my ass? Yup. Little German boy tap-tapped me on the cheek. I turn away in slight shock. Tap tap. Except this time, I turn around to see him, his back towards me, pulling down his little speedo to reveal a white moon.
His father kind of scolded him at first, then proceeded to blame us for egging him on.
“Just don’t give him any attention, then he’ll stop bothering you!”
Nope, that didn’t work either. Eventually, the father had to pull his son away. Yea, paying him no attention sure did us a lot of good. Ha.
We ate at Caprice for dinner, and although I remember the food being good, the only thing I remember being spectacular were the loukoumades. Fried spherical goodness, crunchy on the outside and doughy on the inside, drizzled in honey and cinnamon. Mmm…
Stuffed with food, it was time to go pah tee at Cavo Paradiso. 2am, barely any people. 5am, tired. We left just as the party was getting started. The Europeans have a completely different party schedule than the Americans, that’s for sure. (Or maybe we’re just getting old…)
Next day’s plan: rent ATV’s, grab Jimmy’s gyros and go beach hopping. Though in fear, I drove the ATV with Kat sitting behind me. It felt like Mario Kart. I have a driver’s license, but something about motorized vehicles does not register with the synapses in my brain. I will surviveeee. I survived!
First stop – Kalafatis Beach.
Jason: “The water is so clean, and it’s so turquoise! Wow, the water is so clean. It’s really turquoise. Hey, look, the water is very clean!”
Yes, we had you at the first sentence.
Pit stop: loukoumades and water break
Second stop – Elia Beach.
A good two-beach hopping day. It may seem lame that we hit up only two, but it was more than enough sun exposure to my increasingly itching-to-peel skin.
We walked along the edge of the island towards Fira, where we caught a boat ride to a nearby dormant volcano. Stromboli puts this one to shame, a million times over.
On the boat ride back, we stopped at a hot springs on some remote shore. The boats anchored a distance away, and everyone had to jump into the waters and swim to the muddy hot springs. Jump. Shock of cold water. Ack! One girl jumped in, realized how far of a swim she had to do, freaked out, cried and had her boyfriend help swim her back to the boat. I went on from shocking cold to lukewarm and found my footing on squishy mud-clay floors. One guy was innocently standing when he suddenly felt something swish between his calves. Perhaps an eel. -shivers-
The mud is supposed to be good for your skin. Upon hearing that, everyone proceeded to rub the mud in every nook and cranny of their bodies and pose sexually in front of cameras. These people were far from sexy.
Back at Fira, we met Eeyore and friends for an enjoyable (and crappy-smelling) donkey ride. He later thanked me by inadvertently whacking me in the face with his tail. His rear weaponry looked deceivingly soft.
The narrow alleyways were stuffed with people trying to squish in for a better view of the sunset over the sea. The second the sun dipped into the water, the entire audience applauded.
It felt oddly unifying.
The black sands of Perivolos Beach seared my feet and forced monkey noises out of me [ah ee oo ah]. The maroon pebbles of Red Beach, on the other hand, caused a different podiatric pain. Wonder if anyone ends up getting these pebbles lodged in between the butt cheeks while swimming. Ha ha…
Overall, Red Beach reminded me of a large piece of red velvet cake. (By the way, this is my second reference to cake when describing the islands of Greece. Yum.)
My group photo plug.
Sadly, this city tops the cake (haha) as one of the most boring cities I’ve ever visited thus far. Frankfurt is first. Regardless, I was sad to leave. Departing from Europe is never an easy thing.