Giuseppe’s Generosity & Other Thoughts on Sicily

I was all set to write a post about the plethora of Greek and Roman ruins I have visited in the past few days but I’d rather share instead what I hope is a more interesting story from yesterday.

After spending a few days in the eastern Sicilican cities of Catania, Taormina and Siracusa, I decided to head back to Palermo a day earlier than expected (July 26). While I had reservations for Friday, July 27 at Your Hostel, where I stayed my first time in the city, they were fully booked for the week with a youth conference for Amnesty International. So this last minute change meant I needed a place to crash for the night.

Taking the bus back to Palermo with a German couple whom I had met in my hostel in Siracusa, I decided to see if their hotel had extra space for me. It did but at a pretty hefty rate (at least for me on this trip). Luckily, I had taken note of another hostel nearby where I decided to try my luck.

I arrived to find the hostel was really a spare floor in a young Italian couple’s apartments. It had a few bare bedrooms but it was cheap and they had a bed for me. However, I got a strange vibe from the woman who ran the place. She seemed taken aback when I asked to see the bathrooms and about the bus schedule to Agrigento, where I planned to visit the next day.

When I returned from an ATM so I could pay her for the night, I asked her if the room was as loud in the morning as it was at that moment (keep in mind the room had no AC or fan, so the window was open, and it faced a main street, so it was plenty loud). That must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back because she then said if I wasn’t comfortable staying there I should find somewhere else. She said she didn’t like all the questions I was asking and if I couldn’t relax maybe it would be better for me not to stay there. I was shocked. That had never happened before and my questions were pretty standard.

I certainly did not want to stay where I wasn’t wanted so I decided to try my luck at Your Hostel, hoping they might have an opening.

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Living La Dolce Vita in Sicily

As I ease my way into the second country on my trip, I am trying hard not to do too much. Especially in Sicily, filled with so much natural beauty, impressive architecture and delicious food, there is a tendency to see and do everything. I have opted for a simpler approach so as to avoid being overwhelmed. Thus far I have been amply rewarded.

In particular, my time with my host Giuseppe (“Peppe”) illustrates the advantages of sharing Sicily through a local perspective as I was able to enjoy certain food and sites that would have been hard on my own. Peppe is a graphic designer and aspiring tour guide living in the city of Trapani who was kind enough to let me spend the weekend with him.

Food

Right off the bat I was blown away by the food. For dinner my first night, Peppe and I drove to his girflriend’s summer beach cottage in San Vito Lo Capo, close to the sea. On our drive there, we stopped at a roadside produce stand where Peppe carefully chose just the right tomatoes and fruits for dinner.

shopping for tomatoes en route to San Vito Lo Capo
I then watched in amazement as Peppe and his girlfriend set about preparing the meal, busiata pasta with seafood and tomatoes. I did my small part by helping slice the tomatoes and of course eating. The pasta, which is dry to begin with, was prepared al dente, and mixed wonderfully with the moist fish while the tomatoes gave it a ripe sweetness. We then finished things off with espresso, which Peppe correctly assured me would not prevent me from falling asleep that night.
San Vito Lo Capo
busiata pasta Sicily

Staying with Mario in Gozo

My knock at the door yielded a schlubby looking, middle-aged guy with a filthy t-shirt and baggy sweatpants. As he walked me through his stone home, which clearly had not been renovated in decades and was filled to the brim with knick knacks and books, I couldn’t help but second guess myself. Then as I got to my sleeping area, a bunk bed in a cramped, hot space, I wondered, could I really stay here for the next two days?

After four days in Malta, I had decided to take a trip to the nearby island of Gozo, which I had heard was more rustic and laid back than Malta. When I initially went looking for Couchsurfing hosts before I left the US, I had received a message from Mario asking me if I needed a place to stay. I told him I was not planning to come to Gozo straight away but he said if I decided to come to let him know and he would put me up.

Which is how I came to arrive at his home in the hill town of Xaghra (pronounced Sharra). Of course I had not read all the fine print on his Couchsurfing profile and so did not realize what I was getting myself into.

For you see Mario is both the only Couchsurfing host on the island as well as a constant host. A 52 year old native of Valletta and anthropologist by training, Mario moved to Gozo 26 years ago for a more peaceful life and when not working as a curator of the Dwerja Tower, built by the Knights of St. John in the 17th Century, he loves to host guests. Read more of this post

My journey begins…in Malta

Judging by this first post from the road you can tell that I have successfully made it to Malta. Despite arriving here only a few days ago I have seen quite a bit of this island nation, which sits like a sun drenched speck in the Mediterrannean, right off the southeastern coast of Sicily.

Rather than give a blow by blow account of my time here I figured I would focus on some initial highlights and observations.

A day touring the island with Jorge

On my first full day in Malta, my Couchsurfing host Jorge treated me to an epic bike trip to several of Malta’s famous sites and a swimming expedition through caves in the Mediterannean.

After renting a bike on the waterfront in Sliema, where Jorge lives, we set off first to the town of Mosta, centered sround it’s famed domed church. One of the largest domes in the world, this church was bombed by the Germans during World War II yet miraculously, the bomb never exploded and the church still stands.

Mosta Dome Malta

enjoying the cannon outside the Mosta Dome

Our next stop was the walled former capital of Malta, Mdina, which affords breathtaking views of the Maltese countryside and showcases numerous examples of the limestone buildings that have stood out in my time here. It’s very expensive to live here and houses are passed down from generation to generation lending an air of old world exclusivity.

Mdina church Malta

a church in Mdina

Medina stands surrounded outside its walls by its sister city Rabat. Here we toured St. Paul’s Catacombs where the dead were buried in Roman times and where St. Paul reputedly stayed when he was shipwrecked in Malta. Catacombs are not the most exciting places to visit, especially as this one smelled like mildew. Can you imagine being buried forty feet deep in a cavern of stone?

By this point, sweaty from a day of riding and tired from the sun, we stopped near the ancient temple complex of Mnajdra, which was built in the 4th millennium BC. Yes it is that old. Luckily, the complex sits atop a hill above the water so we climbed down, dropped off our stuff and jumped in.

It was so much fun swimming in the choppy Mediterannean surf. We were shielded on three sides by caves with the open sea in front of us. The water was incredibly refreshing yet, made me appreciate how easy it is to swim in a lap pool where the lanes are clear and the water calm.

swimming in Malta

one of the areas where we swam

After drying off we biked back to Sliema, exhausted but exhilarated.

It could only happen to me

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