Yes, I did just call my semester of study abroad a vacation. And I realize that it isn’t, and I do have classes (which I do attend and enjoy), and I am learning – probably more than I ever have in a semester, mostly outside of the classroom. But it feels like a vacation in the sense of my mindset: I don’t think I could describe my head space as nervous or stressed since the day I got off the plane. I almost never know what time it is or where my phone is, and I rarely care. I’ve never been one to stress about school, but this isn’t just that – it’s a complete lifestyle change. I’m often exhausted, but always feel at peace. I guess it’s that elusive contentment. Here, I never feel like there’s something I’m forgetting, something else I should be doing, an email I need to send, a text a need to reply to, a meeting I’m missing. I just am wherever I am whenever I’m there, and feel okay with that. Hence, my mental vacation.
But Sicily… now that was a real life beach-filled Champagne-drinking Turkish bath-going arancine-eating verified girls trip vacation. See that view up at the top there? Yeah, that’s the view from our apartment terrace, featuring Mount Etna just four days before it exploded. Of course before we made it there, we experienced a happy mishap which brought us Ostia Antica on the Friday we intended to depart.
As Pompeii was quite possibly my favorite experience of my first trip to Rome with la mia famiglia, Ostia Antica was high on my Rome priority list. It is a massive archaeological site that was the port city of ancient Rome – in fact it may have been Rome’s very first colony. So far they’ve found ruins that date back to the 4th century BC (and they’ve probably only found about two-thirds so far), and was inhabited until it was finally abandoned in the 9th century because they kept getting sacked, which sucked. Luckily for us, an incredible amount of the ancient city was preserved thanks to silt. There were some beautifully preserved frescoes, though unfortunately Ostia’s crowning fresco at the Temple of Neptune was temporarily covered when we were there. It made us extremely uneasy.
But after that brief excursion, some Jewish Ghetto fried artichokes, and apertivo-hopping/backpacking in our own neighborhood, we arrived in Palermo to one of the most beautiful views we had ever been lucky enough to eat pastries within view of.
We saw the necessary Palermitano sights – the Palermo Cathedral, the Palazzo di Normanni with its (gaudy) Cappella Palatina, the botanical gardens, and the Teatro Massimo. But if we’re really going to be honest here, we chilled and we ate. And boy did we eat. Just a few of our standout meals:
- Arancine: A Sicilian specialty, these fried balls of rice with meat sauce or prosciutto in the center may be the world’s crowning street food.
- Seafood risotto at a restaurant on the beach in Mondello. It was as amazing as it looks.
- Squid ink pasta
- Swordfish cooked with tomatoes, capers, and olives (just like my mommy does it! One of the best meals I’ve ever had) at Trattoria ai Cascinari, the best restaurant in Palermo according to several sources
- Brioche filled with gelato…exactly what it sounds like
I know what you’re thinking (or not): You went to Sicily and didn’t have any cannoli?!? I am extraordinarily saddened to report that we went to the alleged best place for cannoli in all of Palermo…and I didn’t love it. I don’t blame the cannolo: I blame a lifetime of exposure to the very thick, very sweet, very chocolate-chip filled, Americanization of the cannolo. But regardless, it just didn’t do it for me. I am so sorry foodies.
If you’re wondering what Mondello is from that name drop there, it’s Palermo’s main beach town, about twenty minutes away from the city. It’s also drop dead gorgeous. And made me feel like this:
We frolicked along the beach in skirts and sundresses as the Palermitans huddled together in hoods and blankets, seemingly unaware that 65 degrees is reason to celebrate. And to finish up the ultimate girls trip, there was the Turkish bath, Hammam. We doused ourselves in buckets of hot water while sitting on a giant marble slab, stifled uncomfortable laughter as a woman entered in nothing but a paper thong, were doused in another bucket of hot by the Hammam lady, sweated in a sauna so full of steam you couldn’t see a foot in front of you, got exfoliating massages, chilled out in the jacuzzi, and lost five pounds. Simultaneously exciting and relaxing, it was a perfect ending to the perfect mini-vacation.