We are so thankful for the friends and family that have made the long trip to visit us in the Med, first in Sardinia and now in Sicily. Traveling can be a true test of your ability to adapt, even more so when you're visiting a moving sailboat, and we so appreciate how willing everyone has been to roll with whatever may come our way. Plans are always changing because of wind and weather, sometimes it means sailing overnight to visit a far away island with an erupting volcano and not being able to step foot off the boat when you get there due to the approaching storm, going to sleep in a calm harbor only to be woken up at night to huge swells throwing you out of bed, staying at a small B&B in the mountains thinking you will get a long hot shower off the boat and realizing in the middle of the night that there is no running water, losing expensive, designer sunglasses when they get knocked into the water when balancing on the skinny, rocking passerelle that connects the dock and boat, or a windy, bumpy sail to the next port when the weather forecast was for calm seas and a light breeze. But thanks to the great sense of humor and the adventurous spirit that everyone has brought with them on board we have enjoyed all these times together. My grandfather always said "a sense of humor can see you through anything", we remember these ordeals with a smile on our face, and hopefully so do the fun loving people that have joined us.
It was a busy month, there is so much to see and do in Sicily and the month we spent here gave us almost enough time to do it all. There were the towns and cities we visited, the fishing harbor of Trapani with it's fresh fish market steps from the boat and the salt mines a bike ride away with the tiny museum and it's personal guide that brought to life the history of the mines and the people that worked them. The historic hilltop town of Erice, famous for it's decadent past, pastry shops that line the tiny, stone streets and the Norman castle behind it's tall stone walls, that was reached by a one way cable car ride up the cliff and a white knuckle bike ride down through hairpin turns on the steep mountain road. Hiking up to the hilltop ruins at La Rocca in the beautiful coastal town of Cefalu and walking the rocky path along the coast that connected the harbor to the town, giving us free rein to eat and drink as much as we wanted when we got there knowing we had the long walk back to the boat to look forward to. Enjoying the local festivals, first in the beach town of San Vito Lo Capo at the Couscous Festival (who knew that couscous was a thing in Sicily) and then in the mountainside village of Castelbuono for the Fungi Festival, eating up as much as they had to offer. Exploring Palermo, described in tour books as "gritty" but discovering new things to appreciate as we rounded each corner, the historic buildings, fountains, churches and museums, the hot air balloon installation in the piazza, wash hanging off every balcony, rain or shine, and the many streets that specialized in a single item, one with metal shops, another leather works, nothing but beds on one street, another old bike parts, you name it and there was a street for that. Eating our way through the markets with the vendors doing their sing-song yelling to let everyone now what they had to offer, and of course trying all the street food that Palermo is so famous for, pannelle (chick pea fritters), arancini (rice balls), sfincione (thick crust Sicilian pizza), crocche (potato croquettes) and pani ca muesa, which was amazingly good until we found out that the meat served on a bun was not roast beef but sautéed spleen and lung. Visiting the mountain town of Gangi, rated Italy's most beautiful town, with it's artwork lined cobbled streets. And Mazara, where we met Federico, our impromptu tour guide that didn't want us to leave thinking the famous Dancing Satyr statue was all the town had to offer, taking us down skinny alleys through the Kasbah and explaining the history to us in rapid Italian. We wish we understood more than just a few words, Jewish people, mosque, Duomo, church, but the hidden treasures he shared we never could have found on our own, courtyards reminiscent of Morocco, a man making miniature replicas of Sicilian churches, and the underground crypts. And we visited the historic town of Marsala with it's abundant wine, Ortyqia in Syracuse with it's winding, old alleys, beautiful piazzas, bustling markets, and abundance of churches, and the coastal town of Taormina perched on a hill with it's Greek theatre, amazing views out over the water, famous artist and an unusual abundance of English speaking tourists, making us realize how nice it had been to have a month of visitors on board to talk with and how much we missed that. We were a bit like Pavlov dogs, turning our heads every time we heard the English language (even meeting someone from Buffalo, the friendliest city), but noticing most travelers we met were not as starved for conversation in their native tongue as we were. And sometimes traveling by boat means pulling into harbors not listed in any travel book and finding hidden gems, like the sleepy town of Baelstrade where we met a shop owner that told us the best restaurant in town was right next door where he introduced us to the owners as his "brother and sister from America" and they treated us like family, bringing us numerous plates of fresh fish and home grown vegetables with their home made olive oil, and shared their story in a mix of Italian and broken English.
And we enjoyed getting away from the towns and cities. Sailing to the islands of Favagnana with it's tuna fishing history, Stromboli to watch the volcanic eruptions light up the sky at night, a quick stop in Lupari were we were greeted with free local Malvasia wine and capers, and Vulcano where we hiked up the volcano (thus the name) to watch the steam rise out of the crater as a fellow hiker played music on his flute to a small audience, it was truly magical, and we realized just how fortunate we were for the experience when we passed an endless stream of people climbing up as we were going down. Renting cars and scooters to get us places not accessible by boat, scooter rides through the windy, mountain roads while worrying about running out of gas on the steep uphill's in the middle of nowhere and getting run over by overzealous Italian drivers, and taking up way more than our share of the road driving a huge nine passenger van when most people were behind the wheel of smart cars, mini Fiats and scooter trucks. Imagining life thousands of years ago in Agrigento's Valley of the Temples and the isolated hilltop ruins of Segesta, continuing to be amazed at how long these ancient buildings have endured and wondering, what will we be leaving behind? And sometimes when you're traveling inland you can't wait for favorable weather and trips up Mt. Etna are in the clouds leaving you without a view, but still the amazing experience of trekking through a moonscape of black lava rocks in the freezing cold to catch a glimpse of the crater between breaks in the clouds.
We have been so fortunate to have had the time to travel most of the island and share the experience with those that came to visit. As we get ready to move on it seems the weather is moving on as well, the temperature is beginning to drop and the winds are turning finicky and difficult to predict. We are realizing that our time sailing will look very different in the upcoming winter months than it did during the previous year when we enjoyed summer days. It's time to dig out those winter clothes, switch from AC to heat on board, and replace the grill with the pressure cooker. We are reminded with each passing storm just how lucky we have been to have had sunny skies for twelve months straight, but we are ready for a change. And we're ready to move on to mainland Italy to leave the boat for a much anticipated trip back home to enjoy the holidays with family and friends. Traveling can be a bit of a conundrum, we love experiencing new places and meeting new people, but it also makes us appreciate and miss the familiar things that make home so special. We're not sure if it's due to the upcoming holidays or the fact that we've been away over a year, but lately the pull back home is so strong at times it takes us by surprise, we're happy that the need to return home endures no matter how far we travel or how long we are gone. We will be looking forward to returning in January after catching up with all those back home and navigating what life on board in colder weather will look like and seeing where the wind will blow us next. In the meantime, wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season!