In Summary

Two weeks home and we are getting settled in. We both started work, are mostly unpacked, and are getting back to normal life. I put together a numerical summary of our time in Sicily because….that’s what I do. 

In our time there I flew 63 flights, spent 193 hours and 47 minutes on planes, and flown 80,109 miles (3.2 times around the earth!).

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I visited the Catania airport 57 times either picking someone up, dropping someone off, or leaving/arriving on my own flight.

I was in the Rome airport 34 times.

29 people visited us.

I visited 13 countries! Italy, Switzerland, Vatican City, Croatia, Malta, Turkey, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Greece, Spain, Netherlands, and Canada.

I read 33 books. My favorites were Seabiscuit, Unbroken, Pillars of the Earth, Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, and Edge of Eternity, Jurassic Park (actually that was the 5th time I read it), and the Art of Racing in the Rain.

I watched too much Netflix. All of Dexter, all of Orange is the New Black, all of Breaking Bad, all of The Office, all of Arrested Development, lots of movies, lots of documentaries.

Of our 579 days, we had visitors here 156 days, were on vacation with visitors 65 days, were on vacation by ourselves 108 days (ok, I was, Sean worked a lot of those days), and were home by ourselves 250 days.

Time in Sicily Chart

I took 19 trips off Sicily, and tons of places in Sicily. We drove through Italy to Switzerland, went to Rome (four times), Croatia, Turkey, Pompeii, Malta, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Greece, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Puglia, The Cinque Terre, I went to New York twice, home to Sacramento, and took a trip to Canada and Washington with my family.

Map Locations

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We drove about 35,000 miles in Italy with zero car accidents. I am very proud of (and surprised at) that. 

I spent 165 nights over the past 19 months in a hotel room.

I won’t say here what our average monthly expenditures were ūüôā

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My Favorite Photos

I’ve taken about 12,000 photos since we’ve moved here. Here are some of my favorites!

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Just a few months after we moved here, Etna erupted. We drove up the mountain at dusk with our camera to see it. It was such a surreal experience watching the eruptions. It’s a powerful, powerful thing and I’ll never forget it.

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Etna eruptions at night.

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Natalia and Mike were our first visitors here. This is up on the rim of one of the craters on Etna.

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Fireworks!! This is on New Year’s Eve in Catania.

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I love driving through the countryside here. This was in May when Liz came to visit and we were leaving the cooking school we went to. Part of the main highway here collapsed and was closed, so we had to take this detour. It was right at the peak of spring, the wildflowers were blooming. Just lovely.

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I did this hike with Grover and Katie. After a couple other times going up here only to find it covered in fog, we finally made it on a clear day. This is a section of Etna that collapsed thousands of years ago and is now a big valley that the lava flows into. The black stuff running down the hill is the remains of a recent lava flow.

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These are the salt flats in Trapani. I’d wanted to go here since we moved here and finally made it with Alanna. They’ve harvested salt from here since ancient times.

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Sean, the kitten, our deck.

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As we were moving out of our apartment, it started storming. This is a couple minutes from our house as I was on my way back to clean it out. I made it through this river, but a mile or two up the road had to turn around. The flooding was so bad that I was afraid I would get stuck and unable to make it back to our hotel.

Sean scuba diving in Lampedusa. I love this photo.

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Ragusa on our way back to our hotel after an awesome dinner at Ristorante Duomo.

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This is Sean’s standard water pose. Sometimes I’m sitting on the beach and start panicking because I can’t see him, but then I finally spot him floating on his back bobbing up and down in the waves.

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Christy at the Turkish Steps

Christy swimming in the clearest water there is in Lipari.

Christy and Steve, I think this photo is so awesome.

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Sean scootering in Greece with his little helmet and little backpack and little pink scooter

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James took us on this hike through the Samaria Gorge in Crete. Absolutely beautiful.

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Sometimes you time the photo just right. Christy and Sean in Athens.

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Taken from the boat on Lipari with Panarea and Stromboli on the horizon

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Boat day with Asa and Jenna. This was one of my favorite days in Sicily. Here they’re swimming ashore for obsidian.

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The Turkish Steps. I actually don’t know who those people are, but I like to pretend that’s me.

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I always try to get a window seat flying in and out of Sicily.

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Amsterdam, I love all the colors.

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The Palatine Chapel in Palermo. This place is absolutely stunning. It’s full of Christian scenes and art, but is done in the Arab-Norman gold mosaic style, like so much of Western Sicily. Layers and layers of history here.

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Sean and Jenny in beautiful Cefalu

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Wine tasting on a foggy day in Tuscany

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More shots out the plane window. Those are the Aeolian Islands below. You can see the volcanic ash plume blowing to the right of Stromboli.

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The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Although still unfinished, I think it’s the most beautiful building I’ve ever been in.

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The Gothic churches in Barcelona are stunning

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The floating market in Vietnam

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Etna from the plane in February

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Kim and Sean at the top of our hike in Cefalu. It had poured rain the day before and we had a beautiful, clear, sunny day. You can see the runoff from the rain in the sea.

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Carnevale in Aci Reale. So. Much. Confetti. I still find it in the house and car.

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Carnevale in Aci Reale.

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The Saint Agatha festival in Catania. With almost a million people, this is one of the largest religious celebrations in the world. These men are pulling a huge cart with a statute of Saint Agatha and her relics.

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Sicilian Blood Oranges

The ceramic steps in Caltagirone

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The ceiling at the Royal Palace in Istanbul

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The Cistern Basilica in Istanbul – such a beautiful place.

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The Turkish Steps. I had no idea what this was until we finally wandered down here one day.

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Grandma and the kitten

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My dad swimming in Aci Trezza

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Sean and Christy at the mud baths on Vulcano. It took me weeks to get the sulphur smell out of everything.

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The rim of the crater on Vulcano. Sulfur steams out of it.

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Sean and Christy at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. This is one of the most beautiful and unreal place I’ve ever been.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

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Me at Gornergrat in Switzerland

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Sean made this:) The beach in Fiumefreddo

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Mount Etna lava flows. So, so beautiful.

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Siracusa.

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I loved this door.

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Sean, Natalia, and Mike hiking the crater up on Etna

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The old, abandoned theater in Catania. This was covered by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes before it was recently uncovered.

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Sean and the kitten

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Michelle and Sean and I were driving from Siracusa to the airport for our flight to Malta when we saw this. We didn’t realize it, but the volcanic ash would cause our flight to be canceled and re-routed to Palermo. Our 35 minute flight turned into an 11 hour ordeal by the time we finally arrived at our hotel at 5am.

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Fabrizia’s garden at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school.

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Cefalu.

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Panarea and Stromboli in the distance from Lipari.

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The Cinque Terra.

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One of my favorite places on the island – the Cathedral in Siracusa. This had been a Greek Temple, before being converted to a Christian church, and then a mosque, and now back to a church. You can still see the original pillars of the temple next to the statues of the saints.

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Our hike with Asa and Jenna down to Cava Grande.

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On boat day with Asa and Jenna we discovered a beach with tons of obsidian. We swam all of this back to the boat from shore. I almost drowned laughing at the ridiculousness of swimming with rocks.

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Alcantara Gorge.

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Mdina in Malta.

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The Acropolis in Athens

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Sean and Christy in Athens

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Christy at the Samaria Gorge in Crete

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Samaria Gorge

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Sean, James, and Christy in the water after our hike through the Samaria Gorge. Synchro for life.

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Poloroid camera shots in Crete

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Sean and Christy doing what they do best.

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The Kitten

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Me and Kate against one of the doors in Mdina, Malta. I spent our whole time there photoing the beautiful, colorful doors.

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Sean doing flips in Turkey

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What I will not miss about Sicily

So you don’t think I hated it here, make sure you also read my post about what I will miss about Sicily. But, lest you think it’s all sunshine and rainbows over here for us, here is my list of things I will NOT miss about Sicily.

What I will not miss about Sicily

Having nothing to do. When we have people here visiting us, or we’re traveling, or we have something else going on, things are great. However, a large chunk of the time we were here, Sean was working 12 hour night shifts and I was just hanging out by myself. That kind of freedom sounds really nice in theory, but in reality, there were a lot of days I woke up, and the only thing I had to do for the next 7 days was feed myself, Sean, and the cat. I’d make up stuff to do, go grocery shopping, clean the house, cook lots of stuff. I had some friends here that I’d go on little trips with or go get lunch with, but you can only fill up so much time with that. I’m legally not allowed to work in Italy, base jobs are given priority to military spouses (and even a lot of them can’t find jobs), and honestly, with all the trips and visitors we had, it was really hard to commit to anything long term because after just a few weeks, we were going somewhere or we had someone coming to stay with us. I felt like if I got too involved with something here, then I wouldn’t be free to do the traveling we had hoped to do, and either I would have to quit, or I wouldn’t be available to spend time with our friends when they came to visit. Excuses and sob story aside, I basically spent a lot of time at home in my pajamas. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of Netflix, spent a lot of time with the cat. It’s nice to decompress, but after not too long, it gets desperately boring and un-fulfilling.

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To be honest, most of my time is spent like this and the cat is my number one photography subject.

Sean working 12 hour night shifts. This is hard on me and hard on him. 12 hour shifts, sometimes longer, with a 45 minute drive on each end. On the days he’s working, I see him for a couple hours when he wakes up in the afternoons, and then he’s gone. If I’m out doing something, there are times I won’t see him awake for days in a row. If we have something to do on his days off, it’s hard on him to switch to regular day-time hours, and then back to night-shift hours a couple days later. I have a lot of respect for people who work the night shift their whole lives, it’s not easy on you or your family.

The little things are so hard. Again, a lot of this is my fault for not doing a better job learning Italian, but everything here is hard. Things don’t work they do at home, and figuring stuff out is challenging. Going grocery shopping is hard, figuring out how to order in the different restaurants is hard (do you pay first? pay last? what is that thing called?). How do you return something to a store? What if the internet isn’t working? What if you’re lost and need to find something but can’t understand anyone giving you directions? How do I ask my landlord why it smells like we have a gas leak? Sometimes I would be lucky and find someone who spoke English, but most people here (rightfully) only speak Italian. I figured out the things I did frequently, but doing something new always gave me anxiety. And I looked stupid a lot.

Finding gas stations. We get gas vouchers from the base so our gas is cheaper (otherwise it’s like $8/gallon!) which is great and I probably shouldn’t complain about, but we can only use them at two types of gas stations, and a gas station attendant has to be present, and they have to agree to take the voucher. Usually this is fine, but when there is only one gas station in 40 miles and they won’t take the voucher and then the next station is out of gas and then the next station only has an attendant there until 9pm and the next station won’t take your credit card because it’s foreign….I miss the days of three gas stations at every intersection. Oh, and if there’s a gas strike? I never let the tank get below 1/4 full.

Restaurant hours. For lunch, things are open from about noon to 2, and for dinner they don’t open until 8. If you’re hungry at 4 or if you want dinner at 7, too bad.

Everything closing in the middle of the day. Everything. I’ve figured out some of the tourist attractions that are open all day, the big grocery stores are open all day, and some cafes are, but they just have coffee and gelato and pre-made pastries. All the shops, banks, the smaller tourist attractions, gas stations, everything is closed. It’s a nice time to drive, because the roads are empty, but it’s awful if you’re out sightseeing or visiting a town for the day. You have to prepare yourself because from about 1:30 to 5:30, you’re just going to be walking around empty streets.

Driving. People here drive like reckless assholes. The general attitude seems to be to just get where you’re trying to go, and not worry about the other cars on the road. People will be driving 15 MPH down a 40 MPH one lane road with zero care of the line of cars behind them. Or if someone wants to go 60 and the other cars are going 40, they’ll just drive up the wrong side of the road, honking their horn, literally making the cars going the other direction swerve out of their way. There have been many times that had I not swerved over to the shoulder I would have been hit head on in my own lane. The lines on the road mean nothing, every day I see cars swerving back and forth between lanes in the turns or driving down the middle of two lanes, not caring that they are blocking traffic behind them. Cars swing wide into the opposite lane when coming around corners. You get really really good at figuring out what space you can fit through with a half inch of room on either side. Almost every car is scraped. People walk on the side of the road or stand in the road, in the dark, wearing black clothes and just assume the cars will see them and not hit them. I’ve seen people reversing on the freeway and driving the wrong way through roundabouts or on 1 way streets (ok, I do this too sometimes). If someone wants to stop somewhere but doesn’t see a parking space within 20 feet, they will stop in the middle of the lane and get out of their car. Double and triple parking is common. And multiple times a day I see people with their infants or young children in their lap in the front seat. Or you see the kid standing in the backseat, or leaning their heads out the window. No seatbelts, no carseats, I hate it.

Road conditions. They’re awful. I’ve never seen potholes like the ones I see here. We hit one so bad that we tore a hole in the tire and ripped a chunk of metal out of the rim. The roads don’t drain, so they flood. They’re horribly lit at night, sometimes lanes just vanish, or in the middle of the intersection, two lanes turn into one, the plants are overgrowing into the road, which blocks your view. And nobody picks up the trash or stuff that falls off of cars, so you’ll see the same plastic crate sitting in the middle of the road for days, with every car just swerving around it.

Dead animals on the side of the road. There are tons of stray cats and dogs here, and when they get hit, nobody picks them up. I counted the other day and on my 90 minute drive I saw 5 decomposing dogs on the side of the road.

Trash. I can’t understand this. Sicily has so much natural beauty and the people are so dependent on the soil and water, yet they dump their trash on the side of the road, throw their garbage out their window, toss that fridge or toilet they no longer want on the side of the highway, leave their garbage from the day at the beach. It’s so, so sad.

Corruption/Mafia. Granted, being a foreigner I didn’t have to deal with this a whole lot, but talking to Sicilians about it and seeing how much money and how many resources are siphoned out of the economy by corrupt politicians and the mafia is really really sad. Corruption is everywhere here. The mafia gets portrayed as “men of honor” and are romanticized in movies and in TV, but in reality they are disgusting criminals and brutal murderers that have no care for the community or the people around them.

Getting cut in front of in line. Baahhhhh, I’ve been cut in front of so many times. People are shameless about cutting in front of you. If you are not right behind the person in front of you in line, someone will walk up beside you, look the other way, and casually just step in. I’m taller and broader than most people here and have become pretty good at either staring them down or turning my shoulder so they can’t get¬† in, but it is maddening.

Being so far away from our friends and family. It’s hard. We’ve missed a lot of weddings/babies/funerals/other events while out here, and it’s kind of scary being so far away in case of an emergency.

Public toilets. I’m a good sport, I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve used lots of toilets that are pits in the ground. However, I’m looking forward to public toilets that are clean, have soap, have toilet paper, and where you can actually flush your toilet paper rather than having to throw it in the garbage next to you (which is full of the dirty toilet paper of everyone else).

Lack of variety in restaurants. If you want Sicilian or Italian food for dinner, you have hundreds of options. If you want anything else….maybe 1% of restaurants aren’t Italian.

Smoking. So many people here smoke, it’s disgusting.

Lack of resources if something goes wrong. Our circle is small out here, and is 100% comprised of Sean’s coworkers and their families. We have no family we can call for help, and everyone just relies on their coworkers to help if there is an emergency. Two of Sean’s coworkers were in a bad car accident earlier this year, and seeing how everything they needed had to be done by the people they worked with was kind of scary. Realizing they were in an accident, finding what hospital they were in, visiting them, paying the traffic fine, adding money to their cell phone so they could use it, paying their rent, bringing them clothes, contacting their family at home, translating what the doctors were saying, figuring out what medical care they needed. Everyone is in the same boat, and used to it, so you go above and beyond for the people you work with, but I just don’t like knowing that we would be a burden on people that aren’t family.

Not understanding what people around me are saying. You know what’s fun? Eavesdropping on conversations around you. Can’t do much of that here. You know what’s helpful? When the guy next to you says, “Don’t step in that dog poop,” or “That place you’re on your way to is closed.” I have no idea how much of that I missed out on.

Being an outsider. I will never be Sicilian. Even foreigners who have lived here for 30 years are not Sicilian. Even though people are friendly, you are always treated as an outsider, and that’s hard. There is a big American community on the base, but even there we are outsiders. Sean’s not military, and we are only doing this for a year and a half. Most people here are active duty, retired military, or have been doing the overseas contractor thing for most of their life. Our lives are different from most people on the base here, so sometimes it’s hard to relate.

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What I will miss about Sicily

Leaving here is bittersweet, but life here has been bittersweet as well. I’ve loved our time here and have experienced such joy, but at the same time, it’s been really hard and really frustrating. I think it’s important to remember all those good times, but also to remember that it wasn’t all vacationing and wine and beach time. So, here’s my first of two posts on what I will miss, and what I absolutely will not miss about living here.

What I will miss about Sicily:

Free time. I can pretty much do whatever I want most days. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it has been pretty nice. If I want to drive down the coast, I can. If I want to go to the beach, I can. If I want to spend the whole day cooking awesome food, I can. Go to the market? Watch Netflix all day? Wake up early? Sleep in late? Read all day? Go on a hike? Stare at the cat? Sure, whatever. This was all made possible by Sean’s ability and willingness to work long, hard hours at a sometimes frustrating job, and I am forever grateful to him for that.

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Driving. I hate it as well, but you can basically do whatever you want, which is fun. Driving down the middle of two lanes, parking on the sidewalk, triple parking so you can run in for bread, drive whatever speed you want, run red lights, run stop signs, drive on whichever side of the road suites you. All of those things are fine here, and I’ve started to get good at it.

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The opportunity and ability to travel. We have done a ton of traveling here. Not including trips in Sicily (of which there probably another ten), we took 15 vacations while we were here. Some were two days, some were two weeks, but it was so amazing to be able to see so much in so little time. Most things in Europe are close by and relatively inexpensive to get to, which made our time here so fun. Again, all this was made possible by Sean’s awesome job and some really long stretches working 10 days of 12 hour night shifts in a row to get the days off.

IMG_4178Spending so much time with our friends and family. It’s been such a priceless experience for me to have so many people come see us out here. I basically got to vacation with some of my favorite people in the world. All in all, we had 29 visitors, a total of 216 days of guests. Some people came for a few days, some for over a month, and it was all awesome. I loved getting to spend such fun, uninterrupted time with all my friends and family, and equally getting to spend that time with Sean’s friends. Since we live where I grew up, he knows a lot of my friends pretty well, but most of his friends live out of town, so I don’t get to see them much. It was really fun for me to have so many of them visit, and to get to spend time together.

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The food! Yeah, my pants don’t fit like they used to, and if there is a lifetime limit on cheese consumption, I’ve reached it, but it’s been so amazing to be around all the wonderful Sicilian food. It’s a little different than at home, which has taken getting used to, but the pride they put into their cooking and the amazing quality of fish, meat, cheese, olive oil, bread, and produce has been such a treat. I love going to the markets and buying fresh fish, meat, and bread, or getting the best oranges and tomatoes there are.

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The Sea. It’s warm and clear and so salty you bob like a cork. There’s nothing like it.

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A slower pace. I’ve never really been one for sitting around or moseying. I always have a plan and a list, but out here….you just can’t. Nobody’s in a hurry (unless they’re in their car), people walk slower, food service is slower, sometimes things are closed for no reason. You just have to get used to it. It’s kind of nice to just go with the flow.

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I got to see my sister a lot. If you can believe it, I actually saw her more this past year and a half than I normally do. She lives in NYC, which isn’t exactly close to Sacramento, but while in Sicily I was able to go to New York for 10 days for her graduation, she came to Sicily both summers for about 8 weeks total, I saw her during a layover in NYC in November and I spent another week with her in New York in February. We traveled to Croatia, Rome, Greece, and Malta together.

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The coffee. It’s strong and dark and is everywhere and costs 80 cents.

The Wine. It’s different than California wine and it took a little while to get used to. But it’s good, it’s made with love, and it is super affordable. In restaurants you can get a jug of wine, which is (normally) pretty good for about $6 a liter.

IMG_9878Mount Etna. I love volcanoes. Living underneath one is a joy, especially such an active (but safe) one. I saw it erupt four times while we were here, and it smokes and ashes almost constantly. There are many trails to hike. The clouds gather around it differently every day, and it’s covered in snow in the winter. It’s beautiful and always changing.

IMG_0290 IMG_6797 IMG_6920 (2) IMG_6846 (2) IMG_7290 IMG_6922IMG_6789IMG_9245 (2)IMG_6439Tradition. There are thousands of years of tradition here, and people take it very seriously.

IMG_9695 (2) IMG_0170 Sicilians. They’re a unique breed. Life here can be hard, but is full of joy and beauty. They’ve endured thousands of years of abuse, invasion, and exploitation, but they stay true to who they are and find joy in their island, traditions, and family. They’re (rightfully) somewhat suspicious of outsiders and foreigners, and a little private, but the ones that I got any sort of chance to know are the nicest, friendliest people there are. I love the way they talk and interact, how strangers yell and laugh with each other, I love when they take the time to tell me about Sicily and their life and to share what they love.

The Aeolian Islands. I think these are my favorite place here. I’ve written about them many times – I made nine trips up there!

IMG_8712 IMG_2387 IMG_4525IMG_5885 Sausage. I never liked sausage until I moved here. But I have decided it is the food of the gods.

Fireworks. I saw more fireworks this past 19 months than my entire life so far put together. There are fireworks on every major holiday, and then every town has multiple days a year dedicated to their patron saint (or saints). Every one of these days is fireworks too, and our high perch looking over the coastline meant fireworks shows many many nights.

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$3 movies at the theater on base. $4 if it’s 3-D.

History. The history here is SO OLD. And so varied. Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Moorish, Norman, Spanish, etc. etc.

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Our Apartment. It’s small, full of light, and easy to clean. The four flights of stairs give me a little bit of exercise every day, and we have so many good memories there.

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Our Deck. This is a big thing I’ll miss. Our deck is huge, and has an amazing view over Sicily and the sea. I’ve spent countless hours out there staring out at the water, over the island, watching fireworks, looking at the stars, watching boats go by, and enjoying good food and wine with good friends. From our deck we can see:

  • Aci Trezza, the little fishing village
  • Aci Castello, the other little fishing village
  • A castle built in 1076 by vikings on volcanic rock
  • The Cyclops Rocks, huge lava spires that stick out of the sea. They’re the stones that the cyclops threw at Odysseus after he blinded him.
  • Catania, complete with carnivals, fireworks shows, etc.
  • The port, and the monster boats that dock there
  • The airport, and plane after plane flying in and out
  • The town of Augusta
  • The hills behind Siracusa, which are full of necropolises and caves that were occupied since neolithic times
  • The Ionian sea
  • When the wind is right, the ash plume from Etna blows over us
  • The weather changing and the storms blowing in across the water or from back over Etna. I never realized what a high vantage point can do for your awareness of how the weather moves and changes.

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Two Weeks Left – Moving out and big storms

We’re down to two weeks left here. We moved out of our apartment last week, which was super sad. We loved that little apartment and its huge deck. The movers showed up around 8:30 on Tuesday morning, and by 2:30 in the afternoon, everything was packed, lowered down a lift off our deck, and in the truck. Sean’s company paid for the movers, but I vow to never move again on my own unless I can afford movers. It’s the absolute best thing.

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A perfect rainbow on our last morning in the apartment

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Movers are the way to go

We scheduled our move at juuuuuust the right time. The next day, a huge storm rolled across the island and hit Catania hard. It dumped rain all day long. Normally on days like that here I just stay home because the roads are so bad, but Sean had to go to work, I had to go to the apartment to clean it, and we had to make a couple trips to the post office on base to mail some stuff home. Everything was flooding so bad. It’s amazing that they haven’t found some resolution to this problem here – it has probably flooded like this at least four times that I can remember while living here. There isn’t sufficient drainage for when it rains hard, so the roads just turn into rivers down to the ocean. Cars are underwater, shops and houses flood, and this time there was even a sinkhole that opened up under one of the roads and a car fell into it. A few photos of my drive during the storm:

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And the calm after the storm

Things were quickly back to normal after the storm (I think it happens so often that they are used to it), and now we’re living in a hotel and closing things out here. One car’s sold, the other we will sell in a couple weeks. The keys to our apartment are handed over to our landlord (and the Sicilians even complemented me on my cleaning!), and Sean is finishing up his last couple weeks at work here. We are trying to pack in a few more things here before we leave. We went to Ottobrata (Oktoberfest) in Zafferana last night, we’re doing a cooking class on Friday, and then beer and cheese tasting on Saturday. I’m making sure to have a few more cannoli, pizza, and bottles of wine, and our hotel has a view of Mt. Etna, so I’m enjoying that. Our belongings are on their way across the ocean, we (hopefully) will see them sometime mid-December!

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Ottobrata

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Ottobrata

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Ottobrata

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Ottobrata

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A Quick Trip Home

Well, we’re almost done with our stay in Sicily. Our movers come in two weeks to pack up our apartment, then we’re in a hotel for two weeks, and then it’s time to come home. Even though we have very little time left in Sicily, I just had to make a quick trip back to the US. My grandma turned 92 in September and we had a big birthday weekend bash for her up in Cle Elum, Washington, and then the following weekend my cousin got married about an hour from there at Lake Chelan. With the opportunity to see both sides of my family just a week apart, I couldn’t resist coming back. So, I flew home mid-September for a few weeks.

Can I just mention my grandma’s passports for a minute? As my mom was gathering up the passports for our little jaunt over the border into Canada, she pulled out my grandma’s old ones. Look at all those stamps! Each passport has pages full of them. She is amazingly well traveled.

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So anyway, I flew home and after a couple days in Sacramento, my mom, dad, grandma and I loaded into the car and drove up to Cle Elum. The drive was long, but fun. We drove up highway 97, which I’d never done, and it was beautiful.

We had a great weekend at the Huntley Lodge in Cle Elum. It had a huge communal space, and little cabins tucked away in the woods for people to sleep in. The lodge is out in the middle of Eastern Washington, and beauuuuutiful. Plus, when you fill a place with your family, it’s great no matter what.

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The family

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Birthday Girl

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The oldest and almost youngest

We had the week between the birthday party and the wedding free, and there was no sense in going back to Sacramento just to return to the same area the following weekend. So, we drove up to Canada to stay with my mom’s cousins for the week. Jack and Kathy have a darling little house in Hope, BC. I loved the drive up there and through Canada. It’s so green! And there’s so much water! It was quite the contrast to dry Sacramento.

While in Hope, we hiked every day (even my grandma did!), walked into town, ate great food, and played games. The pictures in the tunnels below are at the Othello Railroad Tunnels in Hope. The railroad was built in 1914, and I know for certain I would not want to be one of the people building the tracks through those granite cliffs with the rushing river below. The railroad was closed in the 1960s, but this section has been converted into a great walking trail.

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Strolling through the Othello Tunnels

Othello Tunnels

Othello Tunnels

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Hiking behind Jack and Kathy’s house

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Kawkawa Lake

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Coquihalla River

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Kawkawa Lake

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Coquihalla River alongside the Othello Tunnels

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Coquihalla river alongside the Othello Tunnels

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Hiking with Jack

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Othello Tunnels

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Othello Tunnels

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Hiking with Kathy

After our week up there, we drove a little more back down to Lake Chelan, WA for Greg and Christina’s wedding. They picked a great hotel on the Lake for everyone to stay at. There was a big BBQ for everyone the first night, and then the day of the wedding we got to spend the morning on a walk around the lake, and hanging out on the beach right in front of our room. Not a bad way to spend a day:)

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Lake Chelan

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Lake Chelan

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A huge fire came through here this summer

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Morning walk

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Pre-wedding relaxation

The wedding was at a nearby winery, a beautiful place! I’m so happy I was able to go.

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The ceremony spot

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Cousins!

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The happy couple!

The next morning we started the loooong drive home. We were going to split it into two days, but decided to just drive straight through. I think the final count was 16 hours in the car that day. All in all, we drove 2,100 miles on that trip.

I had a few more days back in Sacramento before my flight back to Sicily. I got to see a few friends, spend more time with family, and prepare a bit for the move back. And, on my flight back to Italy I had a long layover in LA and got to see my dear friend Joanna, who I haven’t seen since I moved!

Poor Sean has been stuck in Sicily working while I’ve been gone, but he did get to do an awesome scuba trip in Lampedusa!

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Our Last Visitors and Sicily’s West Coast

I did a count this week and in our 19 months in Sicily, we had 29 people come visit us. 29! Someone should be giving us frequent flyer miles for getting all those people over there. We had our last three visitors in August and September, and now we are just focused on closing things out in Sicily before moving back home on November 7th (well, except for my brief trip back to the US, but that will be another post).

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Grover and Katie

Grover and his fiance Katie came out in August. We saw the festival in Catania for St. Agatha, did some touring around our part of the Sicily, visited the Aeolian islands (our favorite!), did some hiking, and drank a lot of wine.

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Agatha’s festival in Catania

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Gambino winery

We have hiked to this part of Etna before, but never saw it when it was clear. This is a huge valley from when part of the volcano collapsed. It now serves to catch the lava that erupts from this crater, and protects the cities below it. The black you see is from a recent eruption.

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Etna hike

For Sean’s (very belated) birthday, he and I had a little alone time and took a trip down to Ragusa, a town a few hours south of us. Ragusa is famous for a few things, but in particular its Ristorante Duomo, which is considered one of the best restaurants in Sicily. We stayed overnight and dined on delicious food and wine.

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Ristorante Duomo

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Ragusa’s Duomo

We took our time coming home and checked out the Donnafugata castle, complete with a rock maze and catacombs.

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Mazes are easy when you’re 6’2″ and can see over the walls.

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Donnafugata castle

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Catacombs

My friend Alanna came out as our last visitor. She and I took a trip over to the western side of the island. I’d never been, so it was a real treat for me. We stopped at Grotto Mangiapane, a village in a cave near Trapani that’s been inhabited since paleolithic times. The town hasn’t been inhabited in the last few decades, and is now a museum.

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I loved staying in Trapani. We had a great hotel on the waterfront with a stunning sunset and rooftop bar. ¬†For such a small island, it’s amazing how different parts of Sicily are from each other. The food, driving, building materials, and so much more are so different from Catania, just a couple hours away.
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We were fortunate with our timing leaving the East coast for the West – our first day in Trapani, Sicily was hit with a cyclone. The East coast got the worst of it (think cars getting washed down the streets and water levels three feet deep in the low roadways), but it stormed pretty bad where we were. Not being in a hurry, we just pulled over when the rain became heavy and the roads turned into streams. It’s amazing what people are willing to drive their little Fiats through – water rushing, storm drains overflowing, and bags of garbage floating down the streets.

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Nope.

When the storm finally passed, the weather cleared up into a beautiful day. We spent the afternoon in Marsala (where the wine of the same name comes from). They have wonderful, if poorly explained, museum housing the wreck of a Phoenician ship (from the 3rd century BC), tons of Phoenician pots, and an archaeological site with the remains of an old Roman villa. I love the layers of history you find in one spot.

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After the storm

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Phoenician ship

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Phoenician pots with barnacles still attached

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Baths from the old Roman Villa

The highlight for me was seeing the salt flats between Trapani and Marsala. I’ve heard about and seen photos of these ever since I’ve moved to Sicily, and they’re so cool to see in person. Sea salt is harvested from acres and acres of flat marshland next to the ocean. Water is pumped in and then evaporated out, after which the salt is collected and stacked to dry for six months under terracotta tiles to protect it from rain. Salt has been harvested like this for centuries, at least. The fields may even go back to Phoenician times when they were used for preserving fish.

IMG_7892 IMG_7896 IMG_7904 IMG_7930 IMG_7938 IMG_7939 IMG_7954 IMG_7964 IMG_8008¬†Just above Trapani sits the town of Erice, on a mountain about 2500 feet above sea level. Erice was founded by the Phoenicians, after which it fell under Greek, Arab, and Norman rule. It’s a medieval looking town with castles, walls, and tiny stone streets. It’s full of little shops and restaurants and 360 degree breathtaking views of the land around. We took the cable car up from Trapani and spent a few hours wandering, eating arancini, and trying out their famous bakery.

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We left the west coast and headed home, but not before making a quick stop at Segesta to see their famous temple. The city is believed to have been settled around 1200 BC by people who came from Troy. The temple, however is Greek and was built around 450 BC. One theory about the building of the temple says that the town of Segesta was rivals with the nearby town of Selinute, who was allied with the powerful and nearby Syracuse. Segesta turned to Athens for alliance and built the temple to impress the visiting Athenians. The temple was never completed, lacking a roof and the fluting up the columns, but is wonderfully preserved. It claims to be the best preserved Doric temple in the world, it very well might be true.

Like many of the sites in Sicily, the temple sits out by itself, is a little hard to find, and lacks much signage. However, to see history like that, away from the shoving crowds and in such a serene setting, makes it worth the effort.

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