2 October 2019

A Week in Sicily (Part 2)

By In Travels and other stories

Day 4: Marzamemi

A week in Sicily (Part 1)

It was our last day in Avola before heading north to Taormina for a few days. With my newfound day-tripping prowess, I decided on a destination for the day: Marzamemi. This small fishing village in the south-eastern corner of Sicily was featured in Esagono Monello’s guidebook of must-see places to visit. We were very close to other natural sites, but although I was foolish enough to travel alone with a 10-month-old to Sicily, I was not so stupid as to venture to a natural, rocky ‘waterslide’ that led straight into the ocean.

As I was preparing Baby G early that morning, I heard a man’s booming voice over a loudspeaker outside. I popped my head out the door and just caught site of a little truck with a speaker on the roof. The street was deserted. Was this a warning to stay indoors because of some imminent danger? Were these Berlusconi or Five Star Movement people preaching their ideologies to the people at an hour of maximum impressionability? Was it Car Park Man looking for me? It didn’t sound good. I ducked back inside and waited a good half hour before surfacing with Baby G to head out.

Morning luggage rearrangement

The drive to Marzamemi was a very pleasant one that took us past Noto and wound around olive groves and citrus orchards. The sky was looking a little grey, but I didn’t let that deter my mission.

Marzamemi was such a small, unassuming town, that when driving in and looking for a spot close to the town centre in which to park, I had to reverse back 100 metres or so because I was actually already in the centre at the edge of the pedestrian zone. I could see right away that much of the beachfront had been closed for the coming winter, and that in summer this place would dazzle with colours and smells and dynamic characters from all over Italy, seeking a place in the sun.

The cobblestones were glistening with recent rainwater and as such were a little slippery as I guided the pram over them and into Piazza Regina Margherita. Even on this low-season day and with the darkening sky, there were small hints of summertime vibrancy in this magnificent piazza.

The smell of fresh fish and garlic and the ominous sky led me to straight to the door of Liccamuciula, a cave-like enoteca and cosy trove of jewellery, homewares and scarves for sale, with a smattering of tables in between. Baby G and I found a table in amongst the other tourists, who looked as delighted as I was at having found a spot in this dry, warm and eclectic cavern. A boy at the next table looked less than thrilled with the baby who kept shrieking at him and saying hi.

Out came my order of freshly caught-squid in a spicy sugo, delicately-fried prawns in a creamy saffron emulsion, lots of bread and a glass of Nero d’Avola. Baby G was not having any of his porcini puree and went straight for the squid. I ended up sharing the meal with him, much to the horror of onlookers.

I could have sat in Liccamuciula all day enjoying cake, coffee and the soft jazz playing in the background, buying pretty things and pretending to be a lady of leisure about the town, but there was a restless baby to get to sleep, so out we went into the drizzle. I reclined the pram and covered it over once Baby G was inside, and began my 2-hour wander through the gentle rain.

The moody weather made it only more beautiful, to be honest. A small alleyway out from the square led straight to the town’s edge; waves violently meeting their end on the colourful bricks that enclosed the town. The back streets held most of the charm of this quaint fishing village. Hanging clothes, pots of geraniums and brightly-coloured terraces made me look a little closer at the ‘for sale’ signs. I weaved my way around the streets to the main beach strip and saw the black sky looming over.

Pot-plant goals

I quickly ducked into the Adelfio Conserve di Marzamemi, a wonderful emporium of tuna and small fish products. Tuna pate, smoked tuna, raw tuna, dried tuna, tuna caviar, tuna salami … endless ways and means with tuna. I bought a few items and headed back out. The sky was now proper black, so I found a large umbrella outside a deserted café and huddled underneath with the pram and sleeping babe.

Once the rain set in I was joined by a German couple for a little while. We awkwardly stared at each other and exchanged polite smiles while the rain turned to hail. They made a run for it to their vehicle and in exchange for their company I was soon joined by a local man. I know this because he launched right into conversation with me – in dialect – to tell me all about his life, his extended family and the village. He pointed out his boats and told me how he had hoped his children would continue the family’s work, but instead they had moved to Rome and to New York. At least, this is what I thought he told me!

Once the downpour cleared I farewelled my new friend and got Baby G promptly to the car. The drive home was dramatic. The roads had flooded and nervous tourists were driving so slowly that I thought we’d never make it out. I stopped at a supermarket in the middle of nowhere to have a break from the drive, encountering a local family at a cashier having a major screaming match and the attendant telling them to shut-up because they were scaring the foreigners. There was something comforting about their style of feuding – it reminded me of my Greek family back home in Melbourne.

Once safely back in Avola we took our last tour around the streets, dropping into the rosticerria and receiving free goodies for our patronage. The whole, beautiful family of the rosticerria came out to farewell us. At the relatively large toy shop next door, I bought souvenirs for little ones back home, with the beautiful ladies gifting Baby G a toy of his own. There were no limits to the kindness of people in this town.

Once safely back in Avola we took our last tour around the streets, dropping into the rosticerria and receiving free goodies for our patronage. The whole, beautiful family came out to farewell us. At the relatively large toy shop next door, I bought souvenirs for little ones back home, with the beautiful ladies gifting Baby G a toy of his own. There were no limits to the kindness of people in this town.

Day 5: The hazy, crazy drive around the volcano

Most tourists travelling along the east coast of Sicily rightfully incorporate Taormina into their itinerary. It’s a short drive north from Catania airport and a stunning seaside town with Mount Etna views and the infamy of having hosted the 2017 G7 summit, with none other than Mr Trump in the line-up.

I had decided on two locations, max, for our Sicily trip. Moving around from night to night with a baby was not an option … even I have my boundaries. Avola for four nights and Taormina for two. Sensible, no?

HOWEVER, on the day of our departure from Avola (a sad day), the heavens opened up yet again for a downpour extravaganza of doom. Knowing it was only a 2-hour drive to Taormina, I decided to pace myself and timed my departure with Baby G’s big sleep. During his morning nap I prepared myself for the next stage of the adventure, studying the map and re-reading my Taormina Airbnb host’s instructions.

As soon as he was awake I loaded the car, tidied up and for the last time took in the beautiful Avola mansion in which we had stayed. I fed Baby G and then during a tiny rain-free window, got us into the car. I performed what (I thought) was to be my last 10-point turn and away we went.

Once on the freeway Baby G nodded off for sleep #2 (well timed, Mamma!) and all was well for a while. After Catania, where I had begun this adventure only a few days earlier, the freeway turned into a tollway. I had purchased a pass that allowed me to travel through without stopping; another thing not to have to worry about. Soon the vegetation began to change from dry and dusty to lush and overgrown, the soil becoming darker as the volcano, the only one I had ever seen, loomed. Most of its 3,350 metre slope was shrouded in a cover of thick cloud, but I knew it was there, an ever-powerful reminder of who the true overlord was in this part of the world.   

After driving through a series of tunnels that weaved their way under the base of Etna, I approached the Taormina exit. At that very moment the rain picked up significantly. Despite the frantic to-ing and fro-ing of the windscreen wipers, the thick sheets of rain hitting the windows and premature darkness made it near-impossible to see. I found my exit, but in following Google instead of my host’s instructions, which I didn’t dare even glance at, I ended up back on the tollway. I took a deep breath. Baby G was now awake and I was not going to get into a panic, despite not being able to see, Google Maps freaking out completely and me heading in the opposite direction to where we needed to be.

I took the next exit, got back onto the tollway heading in the right direction and proceeded as planned. Google freaked out once again and I overshot Taormina, ending up not in its mountains where my Airbnb was located, but down along with coastline after descending down a series of narrow, windy roads. This was not going well. I pulled over, re-typed the address into my stubborn app and tried again. And back onto the tollway we went.

After this happening a fourth time and feeling at a bit of a loss, I pulled over at a service station on one of the windy roads. I had been driving for 4 HOURS now. I couldn’t see for the torrential rain making itself at home on these mountains, and Baby G, although remaining beautifully quiet on a steady stream of baby crack biscuits, needed to be freed and fed properly. I was growing weary and felt tears prick my eyes. Inevitably the questions and self-doubt followed … What had I done? Why was I here? Was I some kind of moron? And so on.

I decided to take a chance on my Airbnb host and give her a call. She promptly answered and out come my teary recounting of the drive from hell, raising my voice to make myself heard over the rain pounding the car windows.

‘Where are you?’ she asked. ‘I’ll come and get you’. I breathed out a ‘thank you’. I was so relieved.

And so she arrived, this marvellous woman who would lead us to our sanctuary and away from the tollway tunnels that kept sucking me back in. Suddenly reverse parking into the tiniest spot was easy after the day that had been. But I also vowed, wholeheartedly vowed, not to move that car until we were driving back to the airport two days later.

From inside the cosy apartment

Vanessa was an amazing host who helped us to dry off, settle in and locate the nearest supermarket so that I could get all the necessities quick-smart. Her multilingual melting pot family, much like my own, all lived within the one apartment block. Hearing the familiar family sounds immediately put me at ease.

I strapped Baby G onto my chest and went down, and I mean down, to the supermarket. I only realised how many steps I had descended once I was climbing back up, weighed down by the shopping on my back and baby on my chest, holding an umbrella to keep us dry.

That first night, once I got Baby G to sleep in our beautiful room, I cracked open a bottle of wine, made myself some warm comfort food and let it all hang out in front of ‘Guess my Age’. Everything was going to be OK.

PRACTICALS

Marzamemi and Taormina are located on the east coast of Sicily, Italy. Both are accessible by car (if you dare) or by bus from Catania airport. Taormina is also accessible by train from Catania airport.

Accommodation
Avola: All you need to know about the beautiful Esagono Monello is at this link:
https://www.esagonomonello.it/en
Taormina: Vanessa’s apartment listing can be found on Airbnb at the following link: https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/3006997?adults=1&source_impression_id=p3_1562215865_zKs40XdSGP1ljJuZ&s=Rsi80sEH

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