Friday, July 29, 2011

Sicily, Italy - days four and five


See Day One here, and Days Two and Three here.

Sunday morning we woke up around noon, and after collecting Roberta, who went on AFS to the USA, we drove off for what was supposed to be a surprise but had been ruined by everyone telling Francesca she had to take me there in front of me. We went out past Avola and up this huge hillside with amazing views and one terrifying moment when we stalled just around a hairpin bend on the slope and I kept imagining a car tearing around the bend and smashing into us while she got the car going again.

From the top, we could see for miles, past all of these hills and valleys out to the sea. At the bottom of a valley in front of us was Cavagrande, some blue lakes where everyone swims, but its a bit of a hike to get there, it took us 30 minutes walking downhill in the sun, and I kept thinking that the walk back up was not going to be fun!

The water was amazing, quite cool but refreshing after the long walk, and I spent a long time working on my tan (I swear I got a tan, I was just really white beforehand so you can't notice it!). We had leftover arancini and pizza for lunch with more fruit, I really love those squashed peaches, for some reason they taste better than unsquashed ones! Roberta was really cool to talk to as well. Finally around 6pm we decided to brave the walk back up. It wasn't as bad as I thought, we made it up in about 40 minutes, but 40 minutes of walking uphill in a place as hot as Sicily isn't really fun!

Me with a tan!
We stopped in at Roberta's place for cake on the way home, her older brother also did AFS in the States and has just returned from living in Spain, so I talked to him a lot. Her mother is the president of the local AFS chapter, which Francesca volunteers for. We went out to a little pub for dinner with Francesca's mum, aunt and uncle, and had paninis, which are actually quite different to the paninis we have in NZ, they are more like round hamburger buns.

Making pesto
Monday was my last day in Siracusa, and we spent most of the morning sorting out my bus and hostel in Palermo and to the airport, and buying last minute souvineers and packaging them up to post to NZ. Francesca's mum taught me how to make fresh pesto, so we had pasta out on the terrace for lunch again, and then we headed off to the post office on the way to the station. Going to the post office was a great example of times when things just don't work in Italy, because you can't post a parcel unless you have an Italian ID number. I left the parcel with Francesca to post, but I'm not sure what anyone who was just a tourist and didn't know anyone would do, we were there for ages and the guy was at a loss as to a solution. It reminded me of Spain, where you needed a national ID number to book an appointment to get said national ID number…It's kinda weird that NZ has no national ID number like all other developed countries, but I'm not complaining!

Last lunch with Francesca and her mum
So then we were running late for me to catch my bus and Francesca pulled some crazy driving maneuvers getting us there. Driving in Italy is crazy, Italian's do not like rules, or being considerate of other road users. Cars don't really go down the road in lanes, so much as a messy pack with scooters weaving in and out, and crossing the road is like playing roulette with the grim reaper, you just gotta run and hope for the best because no cars are going to stop for you! The scooters are scary too, you can start riding one at age 14, and a lot of people don't wear helmets even though they are a legal requirement. I even saw a family of four, the two parents and two kids all squashed together on one scooter!

I got to Palermo around 9pm, and headed off with my hand-drawn map to find the hostel. I stayed in a university student dorm that takes in tourists over summer. I think any NZ students that complain about university accommodation should get sent on exchange here. Spartan describes it accurately, with decor from the 60s and bad lighting, and a corridor that wouldn't be amiss in a horror movie. If you like paying exorbitant prices (although admittedly less exorbitant than all other hostels in Italy) to sleep in a dirty sauna with background noise akin to the sounds produced by a small highway, then this is the hostel for you. If not, then I really wouldn't recommend it!

I headed out to try and find some food, but walking around Palermo at night was the only time in seven months that I've felt a little afraid for my safety, and I've wandered around all sorts of neighborhoods late at night and hung around train stations waiting for buses in the early hours of the morning without being concerned. So, I employed all my 'avoid dodgy looking people and try to blend in' tactics, and went back pretty quickly. I couldn't sleep because of noise on the street, so I wandered down to the bar in the courtyard, which was full of all of the Italian students studying there over summer and a lonely french tourist who I spent a few hours talking to, before I headed to bed at 2am.

I woke to the alarm at 6am, remembered how much traveling I had to do that day, and instantly regretted drinking that last beer the night before! I had been told by everyone I'd asked that the bus to Palermo airport left every half hour, on the hour, but as I've already said, schedules don't really exist in Italy, and after waiting for 45 minutes the bus departed. I'm always a 'better safe than sorry' person that gets there really early and waits ages in the airport, but seeing as this flight was so early I'd planned on getting there a little later than usual. This was a bad experiment to do in a country like Italy, because then with the bus issues and traffic jams I ended up as one of the last people to get through check-in and got really stressed out.

The flight back was ok, I landed at Weeze just after noon, and got a bus and train to Dusseldorf ok. The weather here in Germany is still terrible, all grey and raining and I didn't take a coat with me to Italy so I was freezing! I had an hour and a half to kill there and went to an internet cafe and then for a walk, only just making it back in time to get my next train.

I got back to Gottingen just after 7pm but had missed the bus to Harste by about five minutes and waited nearly an hour for the next one, so I was pretty shattered by the time I got home. Its funny how little it takes for a place to feel like home to me now, but Harste really does, I love it here and am looking forward to a few last days here before I take off again.

All in all, I really enjoyed visiting Italy. It felt like a real holiday, being somewhere so hot and sunny and being near the sea really relaxed me a lot. But, I don't know if I could live there. Far from the chilled out lifestyle that Italy is known for, I actually found being there quite stressful. Not only was it stressful having to do things like take buses and trains and post parcels in a country with poor infrastructure, meaning I was constantly worried that something would go wrong and I'd miss a plane or whatever, but I also got quite worked up just by the way Italian people tend to disobey rules and behave in a manner that seems rude to NZers! So a great place to holiday, but maybe not a good retirement spot!

More photos of Italy are here.

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