Sicily, in the Eyes of a Seasoned
Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Solo Travel, Europe, Food and Wine, Italy
Tell me a little about yourself.
June Farrell, a long-time world traveler and a first-time Tauck guest, wrote to us about her recent experience on “Sicily: Culture through the Ages.” We were so impressed with her impressions of Sicily that we wanted to share them. I had the pleasures of speaking to her in June 2013.
I am recently retired, a budding artist, am learning Italian – and I love to travel.
Tell me about your past travels.
I retired from a fabulous career in public relations: 15 years with Eastern Airlines and 27 more for Marriott International. In 20+ years of business travel around the world, I saw Marriott’s international properties expand from 13 to more than 500. I was part of an incredible growth spurt. If I had had the cash, I would have paid them
for the opportunity.
After all your business travels, what made you give Tauck a try?
I’ve always known that Tauck was #1 among English-speaking tour operators and my husband knew Tauck through his work with the National Tour Association. I’m a cruiser by heart, so my husband and I spent holidays chilling out by taking a cruise. But when it came to planning for travel on my own, I spoke to the travel agent who had helped us with cruise planning. She said that her greatest success came with clients who chose to travel with Tauck. Based on that reputation, we narrowed the choices down pretty quickly.
How did you decide on Sicily as a destination?
The first time I traveled in Europe – hitchhiking after college – I spent three weeks in Italy. I remember putting three coins in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, so I knew I was going back. I’ve traveled to Italy probably ten times since: to Venice, Naples, Rome, Milan and Lake Como, so I was looking for something different. And… I’ve always loved the scenes in Patton
where George C. Scott and the U.S. troops are on the move in Sicily.
Why a small group departure?
Years ago my husband and I did a private land tour in Vietnam; it was excellent overall, but I was looking for travel that gave me the opportunity to converse with good company along the way. For me, traveling with a small group was perfect. It’s not cheap, but you get a heck of a lot for what you pay and excellent service.
You describe Sicily as “fabulous.” Why?
And how was the tour?
Sicily is an enigma; it’s unspoiled and wild, hardscrabble and scruffy, proud and all knowing – a land where the afternoon siesta still lives, relationships matter and good, uncomplicated food and wine reign. Waves of Sicilian conquerors left their marks, each one building on the heritage of the others. You come away wanting to know more.
The food… was not what I expected. It’s not tomato-based like a lot of other Italian cuisines; there are Greek, Spanish and North African influences. They serve couscous – not polenta – and mélanges of vegetables prepared simply in olive oil, the freshest of in-season fruits, endless varieties of pasta, and a great variety of fresh fish. All delicious!
Sicilian table wines… are to die for. And if you’re looking for refreshing drinks, granitas and creminos (cappuccino with a scoop of milky ice cream) come in all manner of flavors, especially lemon and coffee.
Mt. Etna still puts on a show…
Sicily would not be Sicily without it. The locals revere it because their soil has been left super rich by its fine sprays of volcanic ash. That keeps the soil young and strong, making Sicily the breadbasket for Italy and Europe.
Myriad civilizations have called it home…
From the Phoenicians to the Carthaginians, Arabs, Africans, Byzantines, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Spaniards… each has built on the civilization preceding it. Sicily is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, amazing ruins and countless cathedrals. A Greek column here, a Byzantine mosaic there, an Andalucían arch, a dollop of Baroque fussiness; all yield silent testimony to having played a part in the Sicily of today.
We made a pit stop at a neighborhood café in a small town – a happening place on a Sunday morning with family members of all ages gathered together. They made room for us, even giving up their seats. That spoke to me of their humanity. The people are warm, hard working, welcoming – and very proud of being Sicilian.
How is Sicily different from the rest of Italy?
Sicily is to Italy like Hong Kong is to China. They have their own president, their own flag and their own history. Most of the cities and towns we visited were not full of international tourists. One of the gentlemen in our group came to Sicily with a special interest in Sicily’s Greek and Roman ruins; he loved the Valley of Temples and said it was like seeing the Parthenon without scaffolding and crowds – truly amazing.
Great! I loved the amazing variety of hotels – not a global chain among them. All were unique, some historic; all did their utmost to put their best foot forward. The tour was a little of everything, even the “cosmopolitan” in Palermo and Taormina. I liked the Tauck Director, the local guides, the driver, the coach – everything.