Sicily is complicated. To borrow some thoughts from Anthony Bourdain:
"In my case, exhausted, burnt, seasick—I pretty much melted down and spent the rest of my time in country trying to reconstruct my personality from memory...a personal failure...The fault is my own—for what kind of idiot could EVER be miserable in Sicily? Me."
Despite delayed trains, missed connections, swindling taxi drivers, tiny hotel rooms, screaming matches between fishmongers, and boulder-sized rock beaches, I managed to see beauty through tears and find harmony among the chaos. I traveled to Sicily alone, having left Julian waving goodbye at Heathrow and setting off for a solo adventure. Traveling alone is not overrated, and something I've done since I was 19. Back then, I set off by myself to spend the summer in Peru, volunteering and working at an orphanage and teaching English. I lived in Barcelona and Mexico by myself at ages 20 and 21. The hardest part used to be settling myself into the infamous "table for 1" at any respectable restaurant, except on this trip, I looked forward to quiet lunches of fresh fish, pasta, and only my travel journal for company (yet some Sicilian waiters were quick to try and insert themselves into that otherwise peaceful equation).
ORTIGIA: I arrived to Sicily by ferry from Malta, taxied to Siracusa, and strategically stayed on the island of Ortigia. Siracusa would have been a missable destination if not for the quaint, serene island of Ortigia and its narrow old streets, alleyways, historic facades, breezy port, and perfect, historic market, colored with regional produce, fish, meats and cheeses, vanniate (shouting), and Sicilians gesticulating so wildly they look like two NYC cabbies arguing after a fender bender. The rest of Siracusa - including the run-down city and actual ruins, the Greek amphitheater, which are in their own modern state of careless, unkempt ruin - were underwhelming.
TAORMINA: A strikingly beautiful seaside village, with its spectacular and second-largest Greek amphitheater in Sicily, Taormina boasts sweeping cliff-side views, an adorable old town with quaint shops and an infinite gelato supply, and pretty - if rocky - beaches. The one thing that detracts from Taormina's beauty is its unashamedly touristy status, marked by the hoard of human traffic that parades down the main promenade each evening, making it nearly impassable, and near impossible to truly relax and enjoy in July or August.
PANAREA: The trip to Sicily was immediately redeemed when I disembarked the ferry on the shores of Panarea to experience dolce far niente (sweet nothing). Panarea is where, as W Mag phrased it best, "the jetset goes to escape the rest of the jetset." This white-facade haven commands locals and visitors to loll barefoot, go for lazy, late-afternoon swims beneath secluded rocky coves or explore the last safe haven of understated, underdeveloped paradise, as it was, as W Mag also described it, "before discount air travel and regularly scheduled helicopter service clogged wealthy vacation enclaves with weekend interlopers." Considering Panarea is near impossible to reach without a private yacht (I took an inevitably delayed train from Taormina, missed the connection in Messina, hailed a taxi driver to inquire as to distance and price to the Milazzo port and no sooner was my luggage loaded and I escorted into the backseat of the already moving vehicle that ended up costing 90 euros on the meter, but 150 euros according to the whim of this one very frustrating cabbie - which resulted in a fight and me nearly missing my ferry - to then barely make my ferry only to learn that, due to "rough seas" - in July - it was slated to "maybe" stop in Panarea 2.5 hours later but that I should get on anyway and if the ferry didn't stop, would travel the 2.5 hours back to port... so you can imagine that when the ferry stopped in Panarea I felt equal parts relief and excitement that can only be described as Columbus discovering the New World). I cancelled my subsequent trip to Palermo and spent the remainder of my time in Sicily on the Aeolian Islands. In a word: go - or perhaps more to the point of this ever laid-back reprieve - don't.
LIPARI: Unlike Panarea, the smallest of Italy's Aeolian Island archipelago, Lipari is the largest and busiest, and feels as much so. Still, you can accomplish much of the island's attractions in a long afternoon. Here are some highlights:
stroll down the via Garibaldi, adorned with small shops and boutiques, and buy a local, artisan painted and ornament-adorned colorful straw bag at La Casa Eoliana;
stroll down the Corso Emanuele, laden with restaurants and knickknack shops, and stop into the sculptor Giovanni Spada's shop, or buy any number of the local pastries or delicacies;
visit the astonishingly impressive Archaeological Museum on via del Castello, replete with bronze age pottery, miniatures from the Greek tragedies, IV to III centuries BC tombs, Roman era statues, pottery, jewelry (home to what I've branded as the original flower crown), and tools;
enjoy a long, lazy lunch under the shady vine pergola at the 100-plus year old Ristorante Fillipino, order any or everything on the menu, but especially a fresh tomato and caper salad, and even on a 90 degree day, the clam and mussel zuppe is no less a delight. Ensure you try each of the olive oils that adorn your table for sampling;
stop briefly in Marina Corta for a rest after shopping up and down the Garabaldi, enjoy the view of this small, quaint port, and order the refreshing, local obsession, Aperol spritz.