Sicile be de bomb

This lunchtime I completed a successful 5k run to Bastille and back for the first time since my treatment finished, which I’m sure was made possible thanks to lots of trekking up vertiginous mountaintops in Sicily this week; this is perhaps the least tenuous way of shoehorning a holiday in Sicily into a blog about Paris (though still fairly tenuous all the same). There were a few French travellers in the west who we encountered, but in the north the place seemed to be overrun by Germans. The other problematic thing about writing a piece about your vacation, is that you end up either sounding like a shameless braggadocio, or worse still, an excitable 13-year-old doing an assignment after the summer holidays. But fuck it, it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want, plus most 13-year-olds don’t swear when given an assignment, which obviously proves that we’re all grown ups here right?

So anyway, we just spent the last nine days in Sicily, and its extreme beauty lived up to expectations. It must be one of the most beautiful islands in the world, although I’ve not been to nearly enough islands in the world to be able to say that for sure. Some might say it’s not even as nice as Sardinia next door, but I’m no authority on that either, having not yet visited Sardinia. It’s nicer than a stank up and down the M1, and I can say that with some certitude, although beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s fashionable these days to love Modernism, but I still unashamedly get a kick out of rococo monstrosities that push the boundaries of taste, and I think I’ll always be a sucker for twisted baroque statues leaning threateningly from on high, forbidding gargoyles putting you in your place and letting you know who’s the boss, so much so that I almost find myself wishing I was a guilt-ridden left-footer at times. We were definitely in the right place for all that caper.

Claire and I – it transpires – had both always really wanted to go to Sicily, and instead of staying in one place we decided, we would take a hire car and drive around the entire island. Aside from a few hair-raising moments, particularly driving in the capital Palermo, it was the best idea we’ve had in ages. Well I would say that, I wasn’t driving; instead I was an inadequate navigator, provoking Claire’s well-hidden evil side on numerous occasions. Sicily also pushed her limits as a driver, especially travelling up ridiculously windy hill-top towns taking scary hairpin bends in alpine residences like Erice, and I have to say I was impressed with how she coped (I was biting nails as the inclines got steeper and steeper and the views more gut-wrenching).

We also climbed some mountains on foot, and somewhat inevitably we came in contact with a wily serpent slithering in the shade like a badass. I didn’t actually see it with my own eyes, which is a good thing, because I hate snakes more than I hate Oliver Letwin. At first, knowing about my phobia, Claire tried to keep it a secret from me, but from her reaction (she was giggling and shaking slightly) I could tell her story that it was just a chap pissing was a damnable white lie. Once the truth had been prized from her, I decided it would be a good idea to get off the mountain, and descended tentatively, legs like rubber, cursing the hissing shit all the way down to the town. I thought I might have another snake to deal with when I stared out an old man in a suit for pushing ahead of us in a restaurant near the temples of Agrigento, and then spent the rest of lunch worrying he was a Mafia don who was going to have me crushed like an almond on finishing my last supper. The preferential treatment accorded him would suggest I wasn’t just being imaginative (although the Mafia is on the wane in Sicily, apparently 70% of businesses still get nobled), though thankfully our car didn’t get blown up on the SS115, and I didn’t find a horse’s head in my bed later that night either.

Without coming on like a holiday brochure, I was most impressed with the preposterously gorgeous sights of Siracuse and Taormina, and the bustling life of Palermo. The temples of Agrigento are worth visiting, as are the Greek mosaics of Martorana and the Roman mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale. One place I would avoid is Sciacca, just because it was a town full of weirdos with only one pizzeria full of obnoxious children on dates. Some seaside towns only seem to have fish on the menu wherever you go, which isn’t much use if you don’t eat it. Palermo did the finest pizza I think I’ve ever tasted – at Frida’s a little off the beaten track. The other thing Palermo has is the ugliest cathedral you’ve ever seen. If the Gothic cathedrals of Paris took centuries to complete and showcase a number of period styles as a result, then the cathedral in Palermo really can’t quite decide what it is, and probably cries when it looks in the mirror. Built on the foundations of a mosque first put there by the Moors in the 7th century, it then takes in the styles of Greek, Norman, Roman and just about every other invader over the many centuries since, to create one hideous Frankenstein creation, an abomination that surely even God must turn his face away from. But like most mongrels it’s a strangely loveable underdog, and as a showcase of Sicily itself, its a fine representation of its multifarious and multicultural legacy.boom

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