Sicily rocks

Obviously, we've been back from Sicily for a little while now. With literally hundreds of email to catch up on upon our return, it's taken me a while to post about the trip.

I must say that Sicily has to go on the 'Top 10 Cool Places to Hang Out of All Time' list. Beautiful scenery. Warm sand and lovely beaches. Seafood right off the boats. Great wine that's cheaper than Coca-Cola(!) And generally cool people everywhere you go, especially if you're there outside of prime tourist season (which we were.) I will eventually back all of this up with photographic evidence, but I took a heck of a lot of pictures, and it's taking some time to work up the energy to sort through them.

Part of the joy of any trip, of course, is in just getting there. To get to Palermo, you pretty much have to connect through Rome or Milan. Which means you're going to be flying one of the two main Italian airlines. Which means you stand about a fifty/fifty chance of getting there according to plan. We chose AlItalia. And to keep the flight to a somewhat decent cost, we figured we'd just drive down to Heathrow (about 3.5 hours from Liverpool) and get on the plane there, rather than adding another leg to the flight. We timed it about right - we left at zero-dark:thirty, and arrived 15 minutes before they began checking people in for the flight to Milan. Good job me. So we were pretty close to the head of the line, and the smiling bunch of us (me, my bride, the Critter, the Critter's aunt & the Critter's godmother) presented our passports and luggage to Cranky Counter Lady.

CCL: I'm sorry sir, we're only checking people in who are going to Milan.
Me: Yes. That's us. We're going to Milan, then we connect to Palermo.
CCL: No sir. We're only checking people in who are going to Milan.
Me: Er. Yes. We're going to Milan. Then we get on another plane and go to Palermo.
CCL: Sir. You're going to Palermo?
Me: Yes. That's right. Via Milan.
CCL: I'm sorry sir, we're only checking people in who are going to Milan only.
Me: Going to Milan on this flight?
CCL: Yes sir. Only Milan.
Me: But we're all getting on the same plane, yes? I mean, they're going to Milan, and we're going to Milan, all of us on the same plane. And then we get off and get on another plane which takes us to Palermo. But only after we get on the plane to Milan that you're currently checking in, right?
CCL: That's right. Sir, you'll have to wait over there. We will check the people in going to Milan only. And then we will call you.
Me: ...
CCL: ...
Me: Why don't we go wait over there?
CCL: We'll call you later. Sometime.

She looked at me as if this system was the only natural and proper system in the world for checking people on planes, and that I was obviously an idiot for questioning it. It was like a little bit of Italy right there in Heathrow. Fantastic. We did end up getting on the plane, eventually, but it's worth noting that the airline nearly lost one piece of luggage on the way there (only caught because I didn't follow instructions and waited at the baggage claim, even though our bags were 'checked all the way through to Palermo, right?'). And they lost a bag on the way back. Which wasn't on the baggage claim halfway through (this time the connection was through Rome), but was eventually found. This time it was the Critter's bag. We just told her the bag was visiting the new Pope, and would eventually be returned.

While in Sicily, we rented a kick-ass old farm-house outside of Sciacca (see the map?), located on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. The description in the advertisement reads 'on the outskirts of the hinterlands'. It was surrounded by olive, almond and pomegranate trees, and not a great deal else. And it was still within a few miles of the beach. In other words, it was perfect. We used it as a base to go around and see most of the western parts of the island: Sciacca, Agrigento (Valley of the Temples: amazing Greek ruins), Trapani (kind of like the French Quarter meets Italy), Erice (mountain top fortress town where the girls found the best pastries on the island, apparently made locally by a community of crippled, deaf-mute nuns. That's what the brochure said, I swear), Marsala (that's where they make the wine, after all), Selinunte (more amazing Greek ruins), Cefalu (giant Norman cathedral, with the most beautiful interior I've ever seen), Monreale (another giant cathedral, with an even more elaborate interior), and of course, the beach. Several trips to just lay in the sand and play in the water. And we ate. A lot. Serious amounts of food and wine were consumed, boys and girls. Did I mention that wine was cheaper than Coca-cola? And it was a good thing.

I think my favorite part of the whole trip was just the Sicilian experience, though. Haggling with fish market vendors in the square. Trying to navigate around the island. And the best part of all, the entire island shuts down from 1pm to 5pm every day. Every store & restaurant is closed (there are an infinitesimal number of exceptions). Seriously. Boutiques. Supermarkets. Whatever the Sicilian equivalent of 7-11 is. All closed. They go home for a few hours, eat, take a nap, and then (mostly) come back and open for a few more hours. Unless it's Monday. When whichever shop you're interested in is closed. Because Murphy works like that.

I vote we adopt this afternoon closure as a global work/life practice. They're onto something good there.