A Senior Lady from Australia, Solo in Sicilia
After a lifetime of dreaming, I flew off to Italy for seven glorious months. Five months of that time were in Sicily, land of Myth and Magic.
My friends were surprised that I didn’t make a beeline for Venice or at least to the exquisite city of Florence. No, my heart was drawn to the South.
In Rome I tramped around for a fortnight, seeing history in every cobblestone before braving the train trip to Naples. My first proud moment was purchasing the ticket, Rome to Naples, and booking my ticket for two weeks ahead from Naples to Siracusa. All in my halting, rudimentary Italian.
Down in Campania I walked the streets of Pompeii, following the directions in Mary Beard’s ‘Fires of Vesuvius’. I took in Herculaneum, another volcano tragedy, smaller and somehow more personal than Pompeii. Buses carried me to little places along the Amalfi Coast, places I’d only seen in postcards.
Fun Train Ride in Sorrento
I stood in awe, looking up at Vesuvio.
Then the train took me south to the Straits of Messina and I was off on the trail of Ulysses. With the Odyssey in my hand, I followed his adventures around the island of Sicily. I was in the Land of the Cyclops, the Land of the Laestrygonians and I took a small boat to the islands of Aeolus, god of the winds.
I tracked down and visited places I’d read about in the Odyssey. I travelled along the north coast from east to west, I leaned over the clear water spring falling into the sea, I stood where Cyclops hurled his rocks at the Greek ships.
I walked in the footsteps of Ulysses.
I clambered up the La Rocca di Cerere where Persephone returned to the world after her abduction, I gazed at the mark left by Demeter’s sickle in Trapani and, from mountain tops, I dreamed of heroic sacrifice, selfless deeds and great feats, despair, murder, blood and betrayal from the ancient stories of mythology.
I walked in the footsteps of Persephone
Who remembers Carthage these days? If the world were flat (just a tiny bit flatter) I could have seen, from my balcony in Marsala, the ruins of this once great city.
Phoenicians established trading centres in Sicily but, after 3,000 years, there’s not too much left to see even in their former heavily-populated colony at Palermo. These skillful navigators and adroit merchants ruled the Mediterranean Sea from Tyre to Gibraltar.
I carried around Rome and Carthage: The Punic Wars and The History of Carthage both of which detailed much of the carnage on land, and at sea. I followed the trail of the Phoenician settlements and devastating defeats. I hired a boat to take me out to sites of battles in the Ionian Sea. I visited their old cities of Palermo, Siracusa, Agrigento, Trapani and doomed Selinunte.
I walked in the footsteps of Hamilcar Barca.
Amid all this immersion in mythology and ancient history, I fell in love with the stunning little city of Siracusa. This was my base from where I set off in buses and trains to revel in the old sites and the vibrant life of modern Sicily. I sipped my coffee next to the temple of Apollo which had waited twenty six hundred years to provide a place where I could plot my next 3 day trip.
I walked in the footsteps of Archimedes.
The people of Sicily were kind, generous and wonderfully patient with me.
I shivered while staring at Stromboli. I fell in love with the beautiful, fiery, capricious and thoroughly feminine Etna.
I discovered the gorgeous food of Sicily, the bright vegetables pulled up from the volcanic soil, the delightful cheeses, fried rice balls in arancini, cuscus with fish stock, tuna preserved as bottarga or salame di tonno, grilled swordfish, explosively-flavoured tomatoes, fat olives, capers from Pantelleria, the dolci, and everywhere, always, the smell of oranges and lemons.