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Sicily and the Aeolian Islands

Author: LSKahn (More Trip Reviews by LSKahn)
Date of Trip: May 2005

Thursday, May 26th
Today we sailed for our first Aeolian Island, Stromboli. The chief attraction in Stromboli is the volcano. It is best seen at night when you can see the red flares. Some hiked up to the top, but, hey, this was an elderhostel. The boat moseyed on over to the best viewing point and watched in comfort rather than climbing up. I bought a t-shirt which says (in Italian) "On Stromboli even the cats are on vacation."There is a nice drawing of a sleeping cat in a window well.

Friday, May 27th
We headed for the island of Panera. Many of the jet set have summer homes there. We took a hike to a prehistoric site. Not everyone did the hike. I made it to the top of the hill but did not walk into the site. I was able to take plenty of good photos from that vantage point and, mindful of an ankle I broke last year that was reinjured two weeks before the trip, I did not walk down into the site. Enough was enough and I did not want to take unnecessary chances with turning it over on the uneven ground. I did have the ankle in a brace for much of the trip and occasionally used a stick on uneven ground as a safety measure.

Saturday, May 28th
If it is Sunday it must be Salina. Salina was the quietest of the Aeolian Islands we visited (we did not go to Filicudi or Alcudi). There was a bar and a ceramics shop in the harbor but not much else. During the day, we had a tour of the island which included a caper farm and a winery. I bought some capers which I ended up giving to the boat when I thought about the damage that could be done if they plastic bag they were in decided to open in my luggage. I also bought a bottle of grappa at the winery which was eventually consumed on the boat. Given the weight and trouble, I no longer bring wine or liquor back from Europe.

Sunday, May 29th
We went first to Volcano where a hike to the top of the volcano was offered. At this point we were all fairly chilled out and only 3 tried the hike. Two completed it. Some swam off the boat. The rest of us took the dinghy to shore and explored the town on foot. Eventually we all met up at the inevitable bar in the harbor for limoncello and/or gelatti. Unfortunately some of the group found out how much those fancy ice cream concoctions cost when you sit down at a table in a major tourist destination.

The boat then moved on to Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian Island, where we anchored for two nights.

The evening was free for ambling and shopping or whatever. A group of the men went to dinner in a restaurant. The rest of us remained on board. My understanding was that a number of the men more or less drank their dinner. I heard about it afterwards. A highlight of the day was the Corpus Christi relgious procession in Lipari. Unfortuantely, it was in the evening when it passed by and and I missed some great photo ops. I thought the locals took the procession rather casually. One of the musicians in the band immediately picked up her cell phone and began talking as soon as the music stopped. She talked as she continued walking in the procession. Some of the children needed adults to remind them to keep their minds on what it was they were supposed to be doing. Kids are the same everywhere!

Monday, May 30th
The morning was free for ambling, shopping or relaxing by the port. I used my time to finally put my film cards on a CD so I could freely shoot photos again. I did some shopping, buying a ceramic tile from a shop in the harbor that had the most intense colors of any ceramic shop I saw. I was sorry I had purchased things elsewhere. The tile is out at the framers being simply framed so I can hang it on the wall.

The afternoon was spent on a tour of the island by bus which finished with a walk up to the castle and the Aeolian Museum. The museum is full of pots and the guide spoke about the different ways the pots are dated, the styles, etc. If it had not been so hot in the museum I would have paid better attention. There were also masks from Greek plays that had been discovered and were displayed. Interestingly, there was no museum shop. Plenty of replicas of those masks were available all over Lipari in the shops.

After dinner, the guide, one other woman and I walked over to the beach and collected pumice stones. Italians use these to rub dead skin off feet. We brought ours back to the boat and left them for anyone who wanted them. They are volcanic in origin and actually float if you throw them in water! We tried it!

Tuesday, May 31st
I spent the day sailing to Cefalu, just east of Palermo on the northern coast. Cefalu is a charming town, but the boat had to dock a good distance away from the downtown so we got in a walk after dinner to earn our gelato. I had limoncello gelato which, alas, turned out to taste suspiciously like lemon custard. The cathedrale is very interesting inside with a huge mosaic of Christ over the altar.

Wednesday, June 1st
In the morning we double confirmed our flights and then set sail for Palermo. Arriving in Palermo, we had a few hours and I finally succeeded in seeing a Sicilian puppet show where Orlando and Rinaldo slugged it out and the Saracens were left in a heap on the floor. We got a chance to try to pick up the puppets afterwards and I can tell you that they were extremely heavy. I also saw the cathedral in Palermo. My one regret is that there was no time to go to Montreale, but I have learned that you never get to see everything on these trips.

Thursday, June 2nd
We were awakened at 4:00am to tumble onto the bus for the ride to the Palermo airport and our connecting flights home. I had a window seat on a blissfully uncrowded transatlantic flight. As we flew away from Milan, I could almost touch Mont Blanc out the window. When we reached Canada, there were great views of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia! You do not get that often!

Our wonderful trip to Sicily was over and I had a wonderful tan to cause much jealousy in the office!

Some Notes
I have enjoyed traveling in Europe either through home exchanges or on group trips. Each way has its plusses and minuses.

When you are independently traveling and something goes wrong, you have to figure it out. The upside is, of course, you do what you want to do when you want to do it. That is a huge advantage, but it does mean that YOU plan every detail of your trip.

A group tour removes all the uncertainty. If something goes wrong, the tour director deals with it. The disadvantage is that you may not care for some of the people or you may want to do something else than what is planned for the day. I did go "off tour" twice but was always careful to be certain to return when I needed to so as not to inconvenience anyone. There is nothing more annoying than have to wait for someone who gets "lost" on a tour and holds everyone else up (usually over haggling in a market in my experience). In Palermo, I was 5 minutes late for dinner (which was on the boat, so I inconvenienced no one by being 5 minutes late). You cannot believe how many said they were worried. The tour organizer told them all he had seen me and I was fine (He ran into me at the Palermo Cathedral and I assured him I would be back on time, etc.). When I walked onto the boat, I did get applause! The one who was worried the most, by the way, was the woman who did not want a roommate! We became good buddies on the tour and would have roomed together just fine. Many individuals have never traveled independently and get worried when they can't see the guide. They were amazed I took the bus back to the boat from the cathedral and survived!

On my Russia trip with elderhostel, I tuned to CD's when people started complaining. Most group trips--even non elderhostel ones for which you must be a minimum of age 55--attract older people. Unfortunately, many of them are not used to the petty inconveniences of travel. The food is a frequent source of complaints. Toilets are another. I have to say that on the boat I had my own toilet and I never used a public toilet in Italy as I could always return to my private moving hotel (the boat) except at the Milan airport when I was coming and going. In any event, you do have to learn to turn that stuff off or the kvetches will drive you nuts!

On the boat it was difficult also to find private space when we were sailing, say, to read. There were groups that formed to play bridge and dominos, but I was not interested in that. I preferred to read. Reading in the cabins during the day was not comfortable as the cabins were basically bunks and a closet (mine had no closet because I took the smaller cabin to allow the older woman to have the larger one--and avoid any unpleasantness). There were no chairs and no air conditioning. When the boat was not moving, there were fans to cool the air down below, but during the day it could be quite warm. Finding a quiet space on top was difficult because there seemed to be "talkers" everywhere when I wanted to read. I did usually find a spot but sometimes I rotated to different places around the boat to find quiet.

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