I went to the Palermo bus station, which was really just a street with some buses parked on it. I was supposed to take the 10:30 a.m. bus to Catania to catch the 1 p.m. bus to Siracusa. All I saw were a bunch of people standing around smoking in front of some dingy storefronts and a couple of dogs peeing in the gutter.
I wandered around looking like the silly, planless American that I was for about 20 minutes trying to find the right bus. I was starting to panic when finally I realized the dingy shops were ticket offices (biglietteria). I went into the first one and they looked at me like, “Great, another stupid tourist with no clue and no means of communication.”
I said, “Bus for Catania?”
“Uhh… shit. Umm, I mean, scusi, dov’è?”
I don’t know why I am trying to recount this conversation because it’s not like I can write any of the Italian things that the man behind the counter said to me. But I thought the gist was, “Sorry, you’re screwed.”
I went outside despondent thinking I would have to return to Patrizia, the bed and breakfast owner I stayed with the night before, with forlorn eyes. But I thought, “OK, come on there has to be a way to get to Catania.”
I went into the next three shops and they all said, “You’re an idiot. Come back when you speak Italian.”
In the last shop I went in and asked the same thing expecting the same answer.
“Si!” I screamed in wonder. Afterward I realized all the Italians thought I was nuts, but forget them, I got a ticket to Catania!
Once I got to Catania I encountered a similar state of affairs, but I asked around using my new favorite expression, “Dov’è la biglietteria?” “Where is the ticket office?”
I caught the 2 p.m. bus to Siracusa. Now I needed to find a place to stay for the night. My handy-dandy guide led me to a nice pensione run by some nuns and after a quick nap I began to explore the city.
Siracusa beats Palermo by a mile. They don’t get much tourist traffic this time of year so I stuck out more than in Palermo — if that’s possible because Palermo is not the kind of metropolis where blonde, blue-eyed Americans are seen often.
Siracusa is smaller, but its history is much more evident that Palermo’s. And if it’s not already evident, I love being able to see the history of a city especially because this one is almost 2000 years younger than Arlington, Virginia.
Foreigners have ruled Sicily since the beginning of time. Greeks and Phoenicians displaced its first peoples. Then the Romans took over following the Punic Wars. Then came the Byzantines. Next were the Moors. The Normans came next, then the French and the Spanish — and for a little while the Austrians. Finally came Italian unification. But Sicilians still consider Northern Italians “foreigners.”
What I mean by this is that many different forces shaped Sicilian architecture, food and culture leading to a fascinating blend. Buildings have been restored by successive waves of invaders and they have all added their unique style.
My favorite part of Sicily though is the Passeggiata. This is a nightly stroll that Sicilians take around the more scenic parts of their cities. Families walk together in a line. Mothers and fathers push strollers. Little children grab onto their grandparents. Dogs sniff and lead the pack.
It’s quaint, it’s cliché and it’s so idyllic it makes me want to hug them all even though I don’t know any of them.
I had hoped to go hiking around Mt. Etna but I ran out of time on my Sicilian adventure. I’m back in Palermo about to return to Barcelona for the beginning of my classes. I’m sad to leave Sicily. Despite the touches of modernity, tradition coexists here. Family is king on this island and it makes me miss mine.