Every year a group from my small Sicilian town of Sinagra organises a pilgrimage to the Etnaland amusement park at Belpasso outside of Catania. In the summer months, the waterpark is open until the early evening, and the connected theme park rides are put into motion as the locals spend their evenings spinning, dipping and riding around until the early morning.
This year I was swept up by the enthusiasm of my eight-year-old son, who had never been on a waterslide and was somehow tricked into wanting to relive my childhood. I remembered the wind blowing through my hair on toboggan rides with my best friend at the tritely named Adventure World, a magnet for children on school holidays in Western Australia, together with summer barbecues and walks through Kings Park, a hundred acre patch of natural bush right near the centre of the Perth CBD.
I was determined to create some memories for my son, after this year’s most disappointing persistently rainy summer. I happily got up at six am, took the long bus ride, paid the exorbitant entrance fee, and made a packed lunch.
The day began by dipping our feet and bottoms into the extra large doughnut-shaped floating devices which took us along the ‘slow river’ ride, gently being pushed along by the leisurely paced artificial current while intermittent water features and fountains sprayed us around the circuit.
Lulled into a clear yet false sense of security we decided to test out something more adventurous. My son had seen a waterslide on the parks web page called ‘the black hole’ and was determined to have his official water park baptism on it.
Now I should have guessed the true nature of this ride, by the name alone, the phrase Black Hole doesn’t precisely evoke unicorns and rainbows. But from the outside, it didn’t seem too fierce, and it resembled similar fun waterslides in Australia.
While we sat down on our little double seater water raft at the mouth of the steep pitch black tube, I wondered how I would be able to reassure my son in case he becomes frightened, and I resolved to make happy, encouraging yahooing sounds on the way down. As the water rushed past us and pushed us down into the absolute darkness I suddenly remembered, I’m no longer a child and I actually hate water slides.
What followed was a brief moment of absolute terror. The sensory deprivation of the pitch black meant we could not see one another even if we were one in front of each other, nor prepare ourselves for the twists, turns and bumps along the tube of terror.
Needless to say, my reassuring yahoo noises were actually more like hyperactive teenage girl squeals and screams. My niece who was waiting for us near the chute’s pool heard us coming down and said my son’s frightened eyes looked as if they were ready to pop out of their orbits.
The worst thing about water slides is the sense of losing control over your own movements, once you start there’s no going back, you just need to sit back and try to enjoy the ride, or in my case scream your lungs out.
Then there is the sudden realisation of all the naked foreign bodies who have also sat on the same mats, seats and lifesavers as you, yes the water is chlorinated, but there is a distinct sensation of uncleanliness.
Childhood is such a wonderful time when you seek out adventure, live in the moment and never see the danger. Sadly I’m no longer in that phase of my life and have become quite a snob.
To my surprise, the Etnaland crowd is far from snobbish as it seems most of Catania comes here to cool off during the sweltering Catanese summer. The lava rock landscape around the city is scorching and apart from the odd swimming pool, air-conditioned shopping malls, fountain, crowded rocky beaches, and after dark piazza, there aren’t many options for cooling off, so the water park is a substantial part of the summer entertainment.
Ranked among the twenty best water parks in the world Etnaland is an endless hive of activity with busloads of people coming from throughout Sicily and many families from Europe. It’s a beautiful spot for people watching, as different waves come in, strip down into bathers and head off to the rides for the whole day.
I’ve never seen so much overexposed flesh in one place, it’s actually beautiful to see how so many people can be comfortable with their own bodies and its great to see this immense power for body positivity. But sun worshipers roasting their skin is actually quite unhealthy, and I felt quite overdressed with my shorts and sun proof shirt designed to protect my pale flesh from sunburn. Some habits from my Australian childhood will never grow old.
On the whole, the day trip is a good family day out, the place is well organised, clean, safe and very popular. The only downside was having to wait in line for the rides, but if you are shrewd and head out to the more popular ones while everyone else is having lunch, you can avoid some of the confusion.
Basically, you arrive, throw everything you have into a locker you hire for the day and strip down to your bathing suit and then crisscross the dozens of water rides and pools around the park. There is literally something for everyone from kiddy pools to rides with names like Kamikaze, Twister, Giant Toboggan, Red Cannon, Jungle Splash, Colossum and Titania. There are complimentary maps available at the entrance, so it’s easy to plan out your day.
The many park employees are positioned around the place with cameras taking everyone’s photos on the rides. At the entrance to the park you are given the option to get a bracelet which is scanned after every picture, and when you are finished, you can go and see your photos at the photo booth and purchase prints for about 10 euros a pop.
For those who are looking to relax on a deck chair by the pool all day you can hire a spot, buy a cocktail at one of the many overpriced open bars and restaurants. If you don’t have an energetic child dragging you around the park, you can dip into the artificial wave pool which is put into motion every hour together with an active dance party complete with twerking and gesticulating dancing girls, if that’s what you like.
If everything gets too much at the end of the day there is a relaxing spa bath to massage your aching muscles, just in case you need it, there’s something for everyone really.
Sicily is filled with many culinary delicacies throughout the year, but it seems to outdo itself for the summer holidays when everyone is out to have a good time and forget their diets. There are the usual pastries and the cliché gelati but two particular summer favourites which simply must not be missed by any visitor to the island.
The first is the simple granita, an iced drink offered in a variety of flavours including lemon, strawberry, coffee, chocolate, almond, berry, peach etc. (the choice is limitless, depending on the imagination of your local café bar owner.) To be clear this isn’t merely shaved ice flavoured with artificial syrups, they are made from fresh seasonal fruit and ingredients.
The most irresistible temptation for a summer breakfast is packed with tonnes of, ‘ruin your diet,’ calories but, ‘really who the hell cares about that’ taste. A coffee granita, for caffeine lovers, is the ultimate iced coffee. It must be consumed with a thick layer of fresh cream and a giant sweet bread briosche to dip into it as you mix the cream into this exquisite creation.
For those who aren’t a fan of coffee try strawberry with fresh cream, when you mix the two together, it is like eating strawberries and cream. Or if you have something against fresh cream and sweet bread try ordering lemon and strawberry swirled together for a refreshing summertime drink.
Secondly but by no means inferior to the granita is an ice cream filled sweet bread. Yes, my friends you heard it right, a mega serving of ice cream inside a bread roll for a hamburger with a difference.
Not for the faint-hearted, a brioche con gelato is a regular meal substitute. Don’t, for example, have it after a big continental breakfast or a typical several course Italian meal because you will end up feeling very ill.
It may seem like a strange thing to eat but believe me, you will be tempted by a filling of two or more of your favourite ice creams, which will be complemented by the texture of the extra soft pastry as you devour it.
Try it, and you’ll understand what I mean.
Sicily’s rich history, culture and literature are filled with endless stories, and so one writer or interpreter visiting here will never come up with a definitive interpretation, each experience will remain unique. Sicily has many faces and reflections, depending on where and when you visit and who you meet, it is impossible ever to finish exploring this multifaceted place.
Every book written about Sicily is so valuable as each author who writes about Sicily from a unique experience, and a personal point of view gives us a piece of the puzzle.
John Keahey’s contribution to the story, Seeking Sicily: a cultural journey through myth and reality in the heart of the Mediterranean (Thomas Dunne Books, St Martin’s Press. New York 2011) is a delicate, intimate, intellectual and extremely well-researched portrait of Sicily.
Keahey is an American journalist who has written extensively about Italy and explores many exciting elements of Sicilian culture, history and literature.
Unfortunately, Keahey is a foreigner working with an interpreter, and so there are the usual minor misconceptions, idealism and small superficial errors which will identify him as such.
Sicily is not a comfortable place to explore, at times it is isolated by its own geography, mentality, language, culture and landscape. It is difficult for foreigners to accepted into the community.
Even if Sicilians seem welcoming, they can still exclude outsiders out by switching into their dialect. The centre of local Sicilian communities is made up of an intricate web of relationships, language and interconnections which is virtually impenetrable for an outsider.
But, Keahey’s journalistic eye and sense of story are impeccable, through extensive and detailed interviews with many proud Sicilians he digs below the superficial mask to get to the heart of this place with insightful, rich and evocative insight.
Seeking Sicily offers readers a charmingly well-written introduction to the island. Thanks to a robust journalistic process Keahey sheds new light on the history, culture, literature and cuisine of the island.
In particular, the research into Sicilian writers like Leonardo Sciascia and Pirandello, the Mafia, the Spanish Inquisition, mythology and the many different conquerors of Sicily are exciting and make Seeking Sicily a more than worthy addition to the library of work dedicated to and inspired by Sicily.
After reading Seeking Sicily, I was enthralled at how John Keahey was able to write so freshly and vividly about Sicily. It is surprising to see how Keahey was able to discover so many refreshing facets to Sicily. Many books about Sicily, can be quite repetitive when it comes to Sicilian history.
I was excited when I found a contact email, and John Keahey granted me an interview which I’m happy to share with you along with the great news that his new book about Sicily has been released this November (2018).
What is your particular connection to Sicily, how did you fall in love with the place?
I have a hard time defining this connection: As far as I know, I have no direct Italian/Sicilian ancestors, so blood isn’t an issue. All I can sense is that I spent two weeks in Sicily, in the Catania area, at a U.S. Naval Air Station (Sigonella) in 1986. Friends and I would drive into Catania (indeed a remarkable, beautiful city!) for dinner each evening, and on the weekend I rented a car and drove to Sciacca, on the southern coast. En route, creating a small hill east of Agrigento, the Greek ruins strung along the Valley of the Temples suddenly appeared, and I knew I was in love with the place. The people, the food, and the culture cinched the deal. By 1990, I was making almost annual trips to Italy, for pleasure and my first two books, and Sicily kept creeping back into my mind. When I worked on my first Sicily book, I made four trips, and the connection was cemented.
What do you think makes Sicily such a special place?
As I hinted above, it’s the people, first and foremost, then the culture that I learned about from reading Sicilian authors (plus several viewings of Visconti’s The Leopard!) and by studying the history. The culture and the people are shaped by that history and by the reality that Sicilians have never been in control of their own political destinies. The last conqueror of the island is, in fact, the Italians. Northern Italy, not counting ancient Rome, has been in control since 1871, and the island’s people continue to under its wing.
How did you go about researching your book? What was the process from the initial idea?
My publisher Tom Dunne (St. Martin’s Press) and I agreed that the book would be made up of varying amounts of history, culture, literature, with some Sicilian food and food history tossed in. Anything else a plan of action, a travel itinerary around the island, which places I would visit went by the wayside. It’s an organic process, and how it grows is up to chance. I’ve learned to be flexible and allow a change of plans to take over. One example: I am crossing a street in Palermo en route to see something I had read about. I was struck by a thought as I glanced at a street sign, and turned right instead of left, ending up at the crumbling, ruined birthplace of the author of The Leopard. This chance manoeuvre led to the beginning of what became chapter one. I never made it to the place where I was initially headed.
What is the one place someone should visit or the one authentic Sicilian experience for anyone visiting Sicily? Tell us about it.
What is an “authentic” Sicilian experience? The impoverished peasant class, beholden for centuries to large landowners, disappeared shortly after World War II; widows almost never wear black once the funeral is over; women, once forbidden from venturing out of the house on their own, are as free as men ever were; the only carts pulled by mules and horses are just seen during festival parades and in tourist rides; streets once used by the occasional cart or wagon are now hopelessly jammed with automobiles; the thrilling tuna harvest off the south central coast is nowhere near what it used to be. And, fortunately, the Sicilian Mafia is deep underground; bodies no longer pile up in the streets of Palermo (in a 15year period during the 1980s90s, there was a thousand Mafia death in those streets). The mob is still there; tourists just never see it. The streets are alive with activity, day and night.
So the experience today is one where history can be explored, the art of all eras appreciated, wonderful food unlike any elsewhere in Italy consumed, vistas of rolling hills and expansive vineyards abound, and most importantly, friendly people are found nearly everywhere. For example, I made four visits to a small, non tourist village in the south, wandering the few streets and speaking with just a handful of residents. By my second visit, several months later, some locals remembered me. By visits three and four, some even remembered my name and would stop by my table at the local restaurant for a conversation. I stay away from the heavily touristed villages with all their Tshirt shops and copycat restaurants with “tourist menus” and seek out the small places where local shops don’t even sell postcards. That, to me, is authentic Sicily.
Obviously, first time visitors need to spend time in some of those larger places. That’s where the art, the big museums, the reconstructed Greek ruins are, and they must be seen. I’ve been to the Palatine Chapel in Palermo three times and spent Easter Week in world famous Enna, so I’ve done my share of “touristing”. Now I want to seek out the hidden, the less well-known, the secret places.
Why do you think Sicily has inspired and continues to encourage writers?
I can only address what inspires me and why I keep going back. Perhaps it is the fatalism of the people who seem to do quite well living in the moment. While many, of course, speak Italian, most grew up in households where Sicilian, a separate language, was spoken. Sicilian has no future tense, and I speculate this is because Sicilians over three thousand years had no future to look forward to; it was always in the hands of outsiders. Plus they live in a place historically wracked by earthquakes, bloody Mafia control, and occasional catastrophic volcanic eruptions. They view Etna as a giver and a taker: Its lava enriched soil gives an incredible bounty almonds, wine, lemons, oranges but Etna can kill you in an instant. The sour with the sweet. All this has helped shape a unique Sicilian mindset that has intrigued generations of writers, both from within and without.
Who is the one Sicilian writer who spoke to you most clearly?
There are many Sicilian writers with whom I did not get acquainted, at least not yet. But of the dozen or so I have read and written about, it has to be Leonardo Sciascia and Giuseppe di Lampedusa. If you only read those two, you would be on your way to a basic understanding of who Sicilians are. Of course, go back a few years and explore Luigi Pirandello and Giovanni Verga, and watch the Visconti films “The Leopard” and La terra trema.
How is Sicily so different from the rest of Italy?
Sicilians famously do not consider themselves Italian. The only time, perhaps and I say this flippantly, of course, that they claim to be Italians is when Italy is a finalist in World Cup Soccer. They are different for all the reasons I’ve mentioned 3,000 years of being ruled by at least 15 or so outsiders, the dangers of everyday life, etc. but also because of their awareness that those in the north of Italy only want them for their military service or their labour in automobile factories or as maids in their homes. Just recently, a northern Italian Member of Parliament said he considered that sending his home soccer team to play in Palermo was the same as sending it to Africa. Sicilians do not feel they are part of the peninsula. Rome lets Sicily’s roads deteriorate while pouring money into the north. Funds might be sent down for a project, but when the money runs out, work is stopped, often for years. One of my earliest memories while driving around eastern Sicily in the mid1980s was highway offramps heading to nowhere, abandoned ends of bridges over highways with no middle span, unfinished apartment houses and factories, all left to rust and crumble. Sicilian oranges are left to rot unpicked while Rome strikes a deal with Morocco to import oranges in exchange for North Africans buying Fiats made in the north of Italy. It’s complicated, and what I have cited here barely scratches the surface.
I know you are a real Italophile and have written extensively about Italy, please tell us more about the subjects of your books.
My first book, “A Sweet and Glorious Land: Revisiting the Ionian Sea”, is about southern Italy, particularly Naples, Calabria, Basilicata, and Puglia. Then came “Venice Against the Sea: A City Besieged”. It deals with Venice’s struggle with high water in the face of global climate change. My Sicily book was third (“Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey Through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean”). Fourth is “Hidden Tuscany: Discovering Art, Culture, and Memories in a Well Known Region’s Unknown Places”. The fourth deals with western Tuscany, which many travellers to Tuscany ignore while spending their time along the region’s east side.
You mentioned you will be back in Sicily tell us a little more about your trip and next book.
The Sicily book, in particular, seems to have struck a chord with the travelling public (as well as a lot of the third and fourth generation Sicilian Americans!). That tells my publisher and me that interest in the island remains high. I have travelled through the same places many times for research and to take family and friends on visits there , and I want now to find places visitors seldom if ever, get to. So book five will be an exploration of the island seeking out those places. I’ll miss a lot, to be sure, but I’ll also discover a lot as well. There is no title as yet. The release is tentatively scheduled for Spring/Summer 2018.
Thanks so much to John Keahey for finding the time to answer my questions. Molto gentile. I love your book and on behalf of all of your readers, I thank you for writing it, as it has enriched our knowledge of Sicily.
For more information about John Keahey’s books and impressive book trailer for Seeking Sicily see his author page here.
The new book Sicilian Splendors: Discovering the Secret Places that Speak to the Heart has just been released this November (2018) fall and is available on Amazon.
One of the most surprising finds in my journey into Sicily was the discovery of the works of American journalist Theresa Maggio.
Her concise poetic prose distils the true essence of Sicily in an almost intoxicating style.
Maggio’s intimate memoirs are delicate little stories which distil the essence of the character of the island.
From the ancient traditions in her novella Mattanza; love and death in the sea of Sicily where she describes the great blue tuna being lifted out the men harvest the bluefin, lifting them by hand from a labyrinthine trap used by fishermen at Favignana. The fishermen no longer use this technique, with the advent of commercial fishing this tradition has ended, yet the songs and struggles of these workers are lovingly recorded by Maggio for prosperity.
The distinct personality of the isolated old towns in her second book, The stone boudoir; travels through the hidden villages of Sicily are wonderfully evocative. Maggio’s ability to paint such vivid portraits, allows us to visit these rustic mountain towns and the women who help to keep them alive.
Her voice was one of the first voices I heard from Sicily, and it indeed spoke loudly, clearly and directly to my romantic, poetic soul.
I was thrilled to get in contact with Theresa Maggio and talk to her about her work.
Your first two books Mattanza and Stone Boudoir came from a part of your own personal family history and experience tell us about how they happened together.
Yes, my first connection to Sicily was through my family. I first went there when I was still in college to see where my paternal grandparents had come from and to meet the relatives who were still there.
Back home years later I actually started writing about the little towns I had visited in 1986, when I lived in Mondello, where Piero the fisherman would take care of my dog while I went off on bus joy rides into the hinterlands. Santa Margherita Belice, my ancestral town, was one of my destinations. But so was Favignana. My friend, writer Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) , was my first reader, God bless her, and when she read the Favignana chapter I guess it popped and she said, “Here’s your book. Write this.” And that was how Mattanza was born. But I still had all these stories I wanted to tell about beautiful little medieval mountain towns, so as soon as Mattanza was finished I wrote a five-page proposal for Stone Boudoir and Perseus Books, Mattanza’s publisher, bought that too.
How would you describe your books to someone who has never read them?
Colourful narrative nonfiction that makes you feel like you were there.
Was it difficult to find an audience/publisher for these books at all?
HAH. For the first one? You bet. I had given up. It took years. I saved all my rejection notes. A simple “no thanks” would have sufficed, but one editor wrote back something like, ”WhatEVER made you think I or anyone else would POSSIBLY be interested in reading a book about men killing tuna?” You’ve got to have a thick skin. No matter, I used it for fuel (“I’ll show HIM!) and forged ahead.
Years later when the book was about to be published I asked my friend and journalism school classmate (and your compatriot), Geraldine Brooks, to read it and write a blurb. She, without knowing about that editor’s stinging comment, came up with this opening line: “If you think you do not want to read a book about the death of tuna, think again….”
I was so pleased with my editor and publisher, Perseus Books, distribution and general treatment at Perseus Books that I offered my second book exclusively to them and they took it with just a mini-proposal and a few sample chapters.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a book based on their own family history or heritage?
As for any book, figure out what makes you passionate about your subject and use that for your motor. If your people immigrated, learn the foreign language you need to learn to do the research on site.
You are working on a new book about Palermo, tell us about this new work?
It’s about good people in the historic centre who love their city, be it the people or the stones, and how they show that love by their actions.
Do you consider yourself an Italo-American writer or does this classification bother you?
I am Siculo-American (and German–American) whether I like or not, and so far all my books have been about Sicily, so I really couldn’t complain even if it did bother me.
Your writing style is beautifully precise, intense and almost poetic, are you at all influenced by the poetic genre and if so by who.
Thanks for such a wonderful compliment. You know, back in grade school the nuns had us memorize and recite stanzas of nineteenth-century poems. I think something rubs off. I learned to appreciate rhythm and rhyme. Robert Frost is my favourite, but I also liked John Donne. I used to compose poems when I was a kid, but then I quit because I wasn’t very good at it, and for other reasons, but I thought that from then on I would turn my energy to write better declarative sentences.
Also, in journalism school, one professor advised us to read a favourite author the night before writing a piece, because that author will flavour your writing. It is true, and it works.
I actually do write a poem in the morning these days, with my left hand, as a warm-up, and to connect to the right hemisphere of my brain. I think it works and sometimes the poems are funny.
Do you visit Sicily often? How would you describe contemporary Sicily?
Well, legally, without a visa, I can only be there for three months out of the year. So recently it has been nearly once a year, for three months at a time to get the most value out of a plane ticket.
The second question – too big for my brain.
You have a background as a journalist, do you think this has influenced your writing if so how?
Definitely. You know being classified as an Italian-American writer doesn’t bother me but having my books reviewed as memoirs really grates. Because in memoirs you can filch and make up quotes and facts you supposedly remember from long ago, whereas I consider my books first-person narrative non-fiction. Every word is true. I wrote Mattanza in such a way that it could be fact-checked by the New Yorker, just in case they ever wanted to publish an excerpt. (Never happened.) They might have had a hard time fact-checking the dream I reported, but I do keep a dream journal.
Why do you find yourself returning to Sicily as a subject for your books, I’m sure it’s quite personal, but what captivates you so much about this island?
Sicily has been a good muse, that is true. You cannot beat it for natural beauty, climate, strata of history, cuisine and character of the people. Sicily is also affordable. I don’t have a lot of money, and when I go there I can rent a room in an apartment share or stay with friends who put me up in Catania. I speak Italian, understand a lot of dialects, I’ve done the reading, I have the contacts, I know and love the territory, so it is fertile ground for me. Like I said, you can peel Sicily like an onion and have an ever-deeper understanding of and appreciation for the island. Yes, if I had more money I would expand my territory. I never made it to Corsica in 1986 when I was sidetracked by a Mondello fisherman; I’d still like to go there and explore. I’d like to spend a year on the Isle of Jura, in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, with 5,000 red deer and not 200 people, where George Orwell holed up to write 1984 because the place was “un-get-attable”. But there is a satisfaction in knowing one place really well.
Do you have a favourite Italian or Sicilian author you want to share with us?
I’ve read Lampedusa’s The Leopard four times. I loved Vitaliano Brancati’s Don Giovanni in Sicilia. But Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series I just devour like popcorn. And immediately want more.
Are you working on any other interesting projects?
On the back burner until I sell this book (wish me luck): My video documentary about the incredible feast of Saint Agatha in Catania. It is ready to be edited, and is partially edited, but needs a professional touch and funding.
A million thanks to Theresa Maggio for answering my questions and for the gift of her beautiful books about Sicily.
Her first Mattanza; love and death in the sea of Sicily is currently out of print but can be tracked down through your local public library while The stone boudoir; travels through the hidden villages of Sicily is available on Amazon.
While her new book about Palermo is something to look forward to.
To read more about Theresa Maggio see her web page and YouTube channel(Vermont and Sicily), she always graciously replies to emails.
Theresa Maggio says:
I was raised in Carlstadt, NJ, went to Catholic schools from K through 12. Double majored in French and English at Wells College, worked summers at a lodge cum stable in Vermont. Hitchhiked the states and some of Europe, learned to tend bar, cocktail waitressed, became a laser optics technician in Vermont, then was recruited by Los Alamos National Laboratory to work in their captive optics shop. Went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and returned to Los Alamos as a science writer, covering, among other divisions, the nuclear weapons designers and the Nevada Test Site. Quit to go live with a fisherman I met on vacation in Mondello, Sicily and the rest is history.
I was recently asked via twitter about what there is to be done in September in Sicily. The truth is just as many things as you can do at any time of the year, it probably is a good month to visit the island as the holiday ‘high season’ is well and truly over and if the weather holds it is so much more pleasant compared to the stifling heat of August. Feel free to do all the same things as you would in the summer but perhaps with cooler weather and less confusion.
If it is still warm you could have the beach to yourself, even if you will find many of the small bars and restaurants will close up after the summer. This is easily resolved with a trip to the supermarket where you can buy a bread roll with whatever your heart desires, perhaps a selection of cheeses, a beer or a small bottle of wine, what more can you ask for than a five-star picnic at the beach?
The choice of beaches in Sicily is really endless, heck it’s an island which means 360º of coastline. From Mondello beach in the north with it’s white sandy beaches near the Capo Gallo Nature reserve, in the south the Scala dei Turchi or ‘the Turkish steps’ rock formation near Realmonte in the province of Agrigento it is a little out-of-the-way but it is worth it, the Riserva Naturale Belice-Menfi with its beach and dune area in the province of Trapani in western Sicily and snorkeling or swimming through the rocky inlets near Acitrezza’s Isole dei Ciclopi below Catania on the eastern coast.
For those who are interested in trekking, wildlife and archeological sites, September is a perfect time of the year to visit the likes of the Etna regional park, Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples and the Zingaro Natural reserve. The hunting season starts in mid September so don’t be alarmed if you hear gunshots, hunting is prohibited in parks and reserves so you are perfectly safe.
If the weather gets all stormy on you there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy from museums, wine tasting and eating. There are still plenty of festa’s and sagras (food and religious festivals) to experience the best thing to do is keep an eye out in the local press. Sicily in September is famous for wild mushrooms (particularly porcini) and fichi d’india fruit which are widely consumed throughout the year, the refreshing rains perforate their prickly cactus exterior adding flavor to their pip filled flesh.
I’m generally allergic to archeological and ceramic museums as it’s easy to overload on them in Sicily, there are literally hundreds of these types of museums here.
Some wonderfully fascinating museums which spark my interest include: The Museo Interdisciplinare Regionale Agostino Pepoli di Trapani with many elements grouped together it gives you a general taste of Sicily’s history and art from coral jewelry, religious artifacts to ancient Greek bronze sculptures.
If you are tired of medieval churches the Galleria di Arte Moderno (Palermo) gives you a selection of artwork from the Neoclassical and Romantic periods, it also hosts regular exhibitions of contemporary Sicilian artists.
The Museo Regionale di Palazzo Abatellis (Palermo) has some of Sicily’s most famous artworks, sculptures, ceramics, decorative arts and jewelry including works from Antonello da Messina and Antonello Gagini.
The Museo Regionale di Palazzo D’Aumale at Terrasini, Palermo offers a variety of Sicilian archeology, natural science and includes a collection dedicated to the once common and elaborately decorated Sicilian cart.
I think if you are going to visit Sicily you need to experience the dying art of Sicilian marionette puppets which once proliferated the island in the period before modern cinema as a form of popular entertainment and told stories of epic battles and heroes from Sicilian history. You can even adopt a puppet and help it’s restoration at The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino.
So far from being an end to the summer, autumn in Sicily is the beginning to a new season filled with ever more feasts and experiences.
***Warning this post contains images of Italian toilets, bad double entendre and Australian slang***
I have never understood the reason behind the lack of public toilets in major Italian cities as you would think it is a common courtesy to keep lovely, clean toilets for tourists and visitors.
So what should anyone visiting do to find service rooms in an emergency? Well you can find toilets in shopping malls, at train stations, at ‘Autogrill’ stops on the Autostrada highways, occasionally you can sneak into a bar/café but you are generally obliged to buy something, if you are game you can pop into the town hall or into an office building where no one will say anything to you if you are quick and look as if you work there.
In more touristy areas you can find a clean toilet provided by the local tourist board, which you will have to pay for as there is someone there during office hours to clean it, but these are usually locked up after hours, weekends and public holidays so you are literally screwed if you need to use a toilet in these times!
Apparently it has not always been like this, my husband tells me in the bountiful 1980’s even every small town had clean public toilet service, but vandals and budget cuts put an end to this utopia.
Those few toilets you do find require a gas mask at the entrance, boy toilet paper and disinfectant hand wash it a must. I’m guessing most places have had the same frustrating problem with vandals as the toilets you do find around the place are filled with graffiti, usually proclamations of love and lust, everything from ‘Ti amo Angelina,’ to ‘per divertire chiama Tommy 333333999.’
Well I suppose if you have weak pelvic floor muscles, or you can’t simply tie a knot do as the Italians do and slip in between two parked cars, near trash dumpsters or some bushes and do as nature commands. You are not going to get arrested or fined as we are in Italy baby!
P.S: On researching this post (yes I did put some thought into this one), I came across a couple of useful posts about the toilet situation in Italy which will help you understand what you will come across. Here are some Italian Toilet Basics from Andi Brown at Once in a Lifetime travel and a how to flush tutorial by Alex Roe at Italy Chronicles.
After spending 6 weeks on Australia’s East Coast, I couldn’t leave without getting a taste of the West Coast as well. With only 3 months in Australia (relatively speaking), I can’t do it all (even though I want to), so I had to pick and choose. Australia is a gigantic country with so many exquisite destinations. I decided that I would spend most of my time on the East Coast, since most of my dream bucket list destinations are on the East including the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Magnetic Island, Noosa Everglades, Sydney, and beyond. Although Eastern Australia is my focus on this first trip (I am hoping for more future trips), I decided to see other regions as well. Although I won’t have the same amount of time to explore the West Coast and South Eastern Australia I thought I should still get a taste.
Ten days in Western Australia doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but if planned correctly you can see quite a bit. As a hyperactive traveler I like to stay busy throughout most of my journey. Planning things to do in each destination that I visit is exciting for me. The more I can squeeze in the more excited I get to go and explore. I still try to make sure that I have some time to relax every few days, but generally speaking I stay quite busy bopping around each place of venture.
I didn’t know what to expect when I flew from Cairns to Perth. After spending so much time in Eastern Australia I think I was expecting to see a similar landscape. How much different can the West really be?The beaches can’t be that different can they? Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise when I landed in Perth. Western Australia has an entirely different look and feel. It’s refreshing to be able to travel within one country, yet get different experiences in each region of the country.
The dryer, Mediterranean-like temperature was a gift from heaven. The cities are slightly more spread out with more natural unspoiled views in between. Very few hotels line the sunset and turquoise coast as many do in Eastern Australia. The rough coast rests along the surprisingly crystal clear turquoise waters. The desert-like terrain greets the sand dunes along the beach with welcoming arms. A change of scenery was exactly what I needed to recharge my vagabond heart.
Although I don’t have to worry about deadly jelly fish in the ocean like I do on the East Coast. I now have to worry about encounters with deadly sharks (yes, that would include the Great White Shark among others) and snakes. While swimming at Conto beach outside of Margaret River, just shortly after my friend and I got out of the water all of the surfers were quickly swimming to shore and flagging down other surfers to get out of the water. I asked one of them if there was a shark and he responded casually with “yes, a big one“. Oh my goodness, and I was just in the water with a shark! To be in a beautiful destination means that there are risks to be taken to enjoy the environment. Knowing these risks I continually tempt fate by exploring more and more in Australia. Am I crazy?
10 Busy Days on the West Coast: Fly into Perth
Sculptures by the Sea Art Display
Sunset Coast (beaches South of Perth)- Scarborough Beach, Brighton Beach
Turquoise Coast (beaches North of Perth)-Mullaloo Beach
Surfers Point & Southside
Conto Beach (we had to get out of the water because of the shark in the area)
Fly to South East Australia: Melbourne
Bucket List Adventures on the West- See wild kangaroos for the first time
Bodyboarding at Redgate Beach
Spelunking in Giant’s Cave
Indian Ocean Beaches
Drink Australian wine at an Australian winery
Hamelin Bay to see the wild dolphins
Have you been to Western Australia or recently started planning your Western Ozzie adventure? I’d love to hear from you to know what you have done and plan to do!
About our most pleasant guest blogger:
Jessica from Turquoise Compass is a teacher at heart, but her true passion is traveling (especially to turquoise beaches), adventure, and trying new things. She has been to 17 countries and she is ready to see more. She has completed over a hundred items on her bucket and encourages others to live life to the fullest, while taking advantage of every opportunity that comes. As you can tell, this hyperactive traveler loves visiting beautiful turquoise destinations.
Thanks so much to Jess for this delightful guest post and her great ideas for visiting my home Australian state of W.A. It makes me feel a little closer to home and some of the places she mentioned, I still haven’t visited yet!
Next up on the Blogging Around the World bandwagon is a delightful chit chat with Joanna from Multifarious Meanderings who enlightens us about family, humor, life and misadventures in the Hérault region of France.
Joanna says on her about page that: Multifarious Meanderings is simply an opportunity for her to write up and share a few moments in life, the odds and sods, the bits and bobs, without any ambition other than to enjoy writing and interact with other bloggers who share the blogging bug.
I think she’s being too modest! M.M is witty, sharp, hilarious, observant, truthful and filled with joie de vivre all at the same time. I was happy to have some of these qualities visit my blog even if only for a brief interview. So let me introduce you to this great ‘bloggess.’
Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in France? Where exactly are you living?
Yes and no. I consider myself a true expat in so far that I still obsessively squirrel away any British produce that crosses my path – imagine Gollum with a tin of baked beans. On the other hand, I feel very much at home here, having spent most of my adult life in France. When I go home to Britain I scare people off because I get too close, talk too loud and keep prodding them and squeezing them like fruit at the village market. I live in a small village in the Hérault valley in the South of France.
How would you describe France to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?
Coo, this one is hard. It’d take me an entire blog post to cover. (MM scratches head and reaches for bottle of rosé). Hmm. Adjectives. France is feisty. Sunny. Snowy. Spacious. Multicultural. Delicious. Passionate. Sometimes opinionated. Sensitive. Complicated. Proud. Historic. Beautiful. A tad precious at times, but endearingly so.
I haven’t had any bad experiences here – as a general rule of thumb, if you do your best to learn the language and adapt to French living, the French will reward your efforts. As in any country, you have a number of people who hate difference – but don’t let that put you off. If you want to read more of my ramblings about living with the French, I wrote three articles on Expats Blog that describe working and living in France.
Name five things I should see and do in France?
1)Visit the Alsace region, in the East of France, and discover fabulous scenery, scrummy food, and people with a big heart and real pride for their roots.
2) Fill in a French income tax form. If you come through the experience without crying, pulling your hair out by the roots or going mad, you are fit for life in France.
3) Check out the huge parties the French have for the 14th of July.
4) Christmas food – the closest you’ll ever get to a five-star restaurant meal without even leaving the house.
5) Treat yourself to a huge motorway traffic jam in the middle of summer, caused by demonstrating lorry drivers, and surprise yourself with the impressive stock of 100% French rude gestures and bad language you have learned since you arrived with your good behaviour so many years ago.
What should I defiantly taste/eat in France?
Defiantly? Nothing, unless you fancy being booted out of the restaurant by an angry cuistot. But you should definitely taste EVERYTHING. Starting with Munster cheese, the Rottweiler of the cheese plate (don’t let the smell put you off; its bark is worse than its bite). The galette des rois is a must – a sweet pie served for epiphany, made of flaky pastry filled with an almond – butter cream. Gratin dauphinois – the most moreish potato bake ever (and yes, I know that ‘most moreish’ isn’t English. It’s MM –ish). Saucisson, jambon cru and crunchy baguette pulled out of a picnic bag on the top of a hillside, shared in good company and washed down with some Châteauneuf du Pape red wine. Hungry yet?
Tell us about your perfect/average day in your part of the world?
Pain au chocolat and coffee at the bottom of the garden in my PJ’s on a Sunday morning, after a balmy night listening to the nurse toads and owls partying outside. Then a walk with Smelly Dog and Candide the Canon in the vineyards, lunch in the garden with PF and the tadpoles, a siesta, baking a cake with Little My, then reading a book in the bath, bread and cheese in front of a Pixar cartoon, then blogging, reading or writing in bed. Parfait.
If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?
At the bottom of my garden, with a chilled bottle of rosé and a truckload of peanuts (I’m a peanut addict. There, I said it.)
You are a foreigner now living full-time in France, is there a terrible culture shock or do you find your expat culture has something in common with your new adopted home?
No problems at all, bar seeing the French dunk their baguette and jam in their bowl of coffee and watching the butter melt all over the surface like an oil slick. Yuck. I’ll never get used to it.
Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?
Yes, sometimes. I get over it by Skyping my family whilst downing a G&T or three. Generally it happens at ‘key’ family moments, like Christmas and birthdays, or when my LLS (Littlest Little Sister) posts on Facebook that she’s having a bacon butty then going to the pub for a pint, a game of pool and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. The worst time was when my grandmother died, and I wasn’t at home to cuddle my Dad – I got myself a plane ticket home, and got in hot water because I turned up at the airport with my son’s toy pistol in my handbag.
What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in France?
Most rewarding high point? Ho de hum. Everything is good about my life here. I’d say that the most fabulous feeling was to be accepted and welcomed, particularly by PF’s Grandmother, who at first would have preferred to gouge her own eyes out with a blunt spatula than see the family DNA diluted with foreign stock. Being elected as the first non-French town councillor in our previous home town was a magic experience, too. Low? When a little old lady at the bus stop elbowed me in my very pregnant belly in her hurry to shove past me and get the last remaining seat on the bus. But that could have happened anywhere… and given the speed at which she ran, at least it proved that the French health system works well.
Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place?
Only if you let it.
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
I chose to live in France because I was intrigued by it as a teenager, then fell for the place hook, line and sinker. I don’t think expats have the same reasons for living away from home – some do it for professional reasons and live the experience very much as expatriates, some start off like that and fall in love with the country they went to, some go to the ends of the earth because they have fallen in love, others need to get away from their routine and try something new. What’s important is to be happy.
Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?
Not really, because I was only interested in French at school, so I put all my energy into learning to speak French rather than mastering less important, boring things like maths, geography and science. I regularly make mistakes when I have drunk too much rosé, but the tadpoles (my “Frenglish” offspring) correct me immediately. I also confused my apples and potatoes once, hence describing the most unusual toffee apple ever to a wide-eyed French audience.
Advice? Forget the evening courses, DIY French CD’s and text books, and get stuck in. Get out and about with your workmates, invite your neighbour around for a coffee, and stick at it. The French will reward your bravery with encouragement and will correct your French to help you along.
The French are infamous for defending their language, perhaps you can tell us about how you cope with this linguistic French snobbery?
I think that it’s more a question of pride than snobbery – the French have a beautiful language and as a grammar fiend in my own language, I wholeheartedly approve of their belief that it should be treated with respect. I have a nasty habit of taking pictures of the spelling mistakes I come across, proving that many French people mistreat their language. My kids quake in their boots every time I find one in case I tell someone off. The most recent example was today – a solicitor who mistyped the verb ‘determine’ in her email, and informed me that she was going to ‘terminate’ my husband instead.
You also blog in French, do you get many French readers, how challenging is this for you?
The French blog is still a baby – it’s doddling along. I don’t get the feeling that blogging is as popular in France – it seems to be a more personal project for many in comparison with the busy blogging community I have seen on the English-speaking platform. I mainly have French readers, many of whom are expats themselves. I enjoy reading their blogs too, and love seeing how those who live in Britain experience expat life in my own country.
What led you to the world of blogging?
My lovely big sister. I love writing, and I was frustrated to leave it on my hard disk. Big Sis told me about WordPress, and I will never forget how I had my heart in my mouth when I pressed that ‘publish’ button for the first time just over two years ago.
How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …
A big sweetie jar full of all sorts of fun jumble from MM’s life – if you’re looking for grown-up, serious stuff, you’re in the wrong place. Multifarious Meanderings is a humorous hotchpotch of parental palavers, run-ins with the evil Queen CERFA (aka the French administration), eternal mysteries of life such as the LSD (lost sock dimension), my hate – hate relationship with the sadistically smug Wondeure Woomane, my inability to become a Febreze Fairy, and the trials and tribulations of being a peanut addict. Learn how to embrace your inner bitch, deal with recalcitrant bathroom plumbing and get teenagers to adopt a Nike approach with the housework (i.e. ‘just do it’). There is also some serious stuff about Herr Hormone and his Henchmen, hunting down snakes in your home, the migration of the lesser spotted boob, and how to deal with cougars chatting up your husband at the bus stop.
Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?
Not really. Opinions have differed at times, but the people who comment are generally all intelligent grown-ups who know how to behave. Those who don’t are what I call bad fairies, and they generally manage to shoot themselves in the foot and nose-drive into blogger’s purgatory without any help from anyone else. I moderate all the comments on my blog to avoid any nasty surprises, because a blog should be a pleasant place to hang out, not a boxing ring.
What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?
I rarely visit my stats page (although I do admit I’m a sucker for reading the spam). I blog because I love writing, I love reading, and I never tire of the magic equation by which blogging + nice humans =friendship. That’s all. Now, about my book… just kidding. For now.
You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?
I don’t think I’m really in a position to hand out advice, but for what it’s worth:
‘Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.’ (Oscar Wilde). Your posts are unique –believe in yourself. Aim for quality, not quantity. When people comment, answer, and welcome first-timers who knock on your virtual door – there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve gatecrashed a private party. Never judge the success of your blog in terms of whether you’ve been Freshly Pressed, or the number of likes or followers you have – a blog may have thousands of followers, but the proof of the pudding comes from the followers who actually comment on a regular basis. If someone, somewhere is happy to see your post pop up in their reader as they eat their breakfast, then you have succeeded.
How important are weekly writing challenges and collaborations for you and your blog?
If I see a challenge that strikes my fancy, I’ll go for it, but I’m a gob on a stick, so I rarely need prompting to talk. I do enjoy interacting with other bloggers who set up cool projects like this one, too.
Do you think ‘virtual friendship’ really exists? You mentioned in a recent post, that the blogging community is a helpful presence for you, it’s certainly a new phenomenon, how suspicious or open should a new blogger be?
It most definitely does. I feel like I’m rolling into the local pub for an evening out with the regulars when I blog, and that’s what it’s all about. When my Father-in-Law died recently, I put a note on the blog to inform everyone that I’d be offline for a while. The ensuing support and concern, both on the blog and even by email, was not only touching, but humbling.
I am careful not to put too much ‘sensitive’ information on line. I use pseudonyms for my family, and I don’t put photos of my family on the blog – you never know who could download that photo of your five-year-old in the tub, or how they could use it, whether or not you have copyrighted it. I follow my gut feelings for contact with people – just like in real life, you should never take sweeties from strangers.
You liberally use Playmobile toys to illustrate your posts, what’s the inspiration behind this idea?
I’m just a big kid (MM grins and runs off to find her toy chest). I love playing with Playmobils, and I think that a Playmo photo illustrates a post well, particularly if it’s original and contradicts the social ideals that are depicted on the boxes. Like Prince Charming hoovering the floor and looking after the kids whilst his erstwhile Princess, now an Evil Queen in a fleece and tracksuit bottoms, drinks tea with her friend on the couch. This actually winds children up – I was told off by a friend’s three-year-old son when I sent the Princesses mum up the ladder in a pair of dungarees and Birkenstock sandals to save her daughter from a life of drudgery with Prince Charming. As far as I know, the poor lass is still there.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
Definitely. Peter Pan – a great guide to a place I’d love to visit, Never Never Land.
So what’s coming up on Multifarious Meanderings that we can look forward to …
‘If I told you that, I would have to kill you’, as some super spy said in some film or other. No, seriously: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t plan anything; I couldn’t organise a shopoholics meeting at Harvey Nick’s Christmas sale. Generally, a random idea floats to the surface when I’m doing something, and I immediately start scribbling it down, then wake up what feels like five minutes later in a huge pile of washing, with an indignant husband glaring at me and the tadpoles baying for food.
Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?
Apart from yours? Lots. I regularly read great blogs written by blogging pals in the Middle East, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, the U.K.,Costa Rica, Germany, France, the U.S., Canada… and many other places. Check out my blogroll!
Thanks ever so much to Joanne for running amuck on my blog, which may never be the same, but in a good way. I think we all need little more Playmobil in our lives to bring out the inner child which has been repressed for too long.
For future reference I will try to avoid using phrases like joie de vivre and stop trying to invent new words to express talented female bloggers (blogess doesn’t really exist) in a vain attempt to impress my guests.
Blogging is about finding that right balance of personality, photography, fun and words to make others want to read and comment.
One of my favorite blogs which has found this harmonious mix is Tahira’s Shenanigans, which I accidentally came across while searching out travel blogs to inspire me and it is a real treasure.
Tahira is a cardiovascular critical care nurse from the States who is currently working in Saudi Arabia and writes about her travels around the world in amazing places like: Thailand, Italy, France, England, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.
I was excited when she agreed to do an interview with me and she happily answered my questions about traveling and blogging:
You are a very well travelled person, tell us about the most fascinating place you have visited and why was it so fascinating?
I have two parts to answering this question.
While I have been fortunate to travel to a lot of different places, I must admit, the place where I have been living as an expat these last two years, without a doubt, is the most fascinating. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is by far the most different and the most removed from anything I, as a Westerner from a free & democratic society, have ever experienced. For me to put into words, at this time, why it is so fascinating would take up way too much of our blog time and use up all of my word count as your Guest Blogger. So I will leave that for a different forum.
In the meantime the most fascinating place I visited, outside of The Kingdom, has to be Sri Lanka. Where the people were so friendly it almost tears one up, but at the same time they live with so little. It’s where my eyes truly opened up to the fact that one does not need much to be happy. That the material things in life were not the most important. Repeatedly I was overwhelmed by the Sri Lankans generosity. It was a solo trip I made and throughout the week or so I was there I came across countless people who opened up their homes to me, invited me to their dinner table, gave me their help and time in getting from one place to the next, all without asking for anything in return except my friendship and company. How amazing a feeling.
How do you plan and fund your trips?
I get lots of inquiries to this so I’m glad you addressed it here. I work full time as a cardiac critical care nurse in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. Not only do I get 52 vacations days right off the bat but I can also manipulate my work schedule where I have time off without using vacation time. Meaning I work, work, work, and save up my scheduled days off and then use them all at once and in turn not be dipping into my vacations days.
And as far as funding, I keep a little “travel fund” where I put a small portion from each salary into. Being in the Middle East is a perfect spot to be in because I feel I’ve been centrally located to be able to get to a lot of places that under normal circumstances would not only be very timeconsuming and tiring but very expensive to get to were I traveling to them from the States, lets say.
And as for planning, there is not really a set pattern to my “planning”. Some of the places have been spontaneous and some have been planned way in advance. There are a lot of like minded individuals here in Saudi Arabia who I’ve gotten a lot of suggestions and tips from and I follow a lot of travel blogs where I’ve also gotten several ideas. So I’ll pull a little from here, a little from there, and somehow it all always just seems to work out perfectly.
You often travel alone, any advice for people who like to travel solo?
I get asked this a lot too. My biggest advice is to be open. Open to change, to new ideas, to cultures, to different ways of doing things. Change is going to happen no matter what and I’ve learned that that is magnified especially when one is traveling. Something is going to happen to throw a wrench into your plans. It’s inevitable. And when traveling solo things are magnified because you’ve only got yourself to rely on. Things that one thinks is a ‘big deal’ almost always turns out that it’s not really all that big of a deal. I have learned the true meaning of acceptance. Acceptance of change. Acceptance that just because you have an idea of what something should be like, does not mean that is how it will be. And let me also say that for the most part, these changes, these problems, these wrenches that have popped up in my travels have usually steered me to something even better. My second piece of advice is to get lost and this kind of ties in with being open to change and acceptance part. Get lost out there, it’s when I’ve been lost that I have come upon the most beauty.
You have built up quite a following on your blog, do you have any advice for new bloggers?
Unless you are really serious. Then don’t be so serious.
I think it is really important to not take oneself so seriously all the time. Or take their blog so seriously all the time. Leave some room for some fun.
Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place? Why or why not?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we are so connected nowadays via the internet. Through blogging alone I have friends in all corners of the world that I’ve met and we actually have true friendships. And I have countless stories of bumping into folks I know in the most remote or random of places The Irish Bar in Dubai. The TGV train from Paris to Toulon. The coffee shop in the Istanbul Airport. Hiking in the Saudi Arabian desert. And the list goes on.
But I’m going to say no as well. This world is so vast and big. I’ve only covered a very small portion of what is out there. It’s endless. Which makes all the possibilities endless.
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
Because it feels like you are on one long vacation. Even though I’ve been working (a lot) these last two years, I still feel as if I’ve been on a two year vacation.
What led you into the world of blogging?
I wanted a centralized way of keeping my friends and family updated of my status. Some of my friends/family were on Facebook, some on Twitter, some on neither. So I sent out the link to the blog to all of them and they had a choice to come and checkin and see what I was up to. Little did I know I would be introduced to an entire new world, the world of blogging and bloggers, and have an entirely new network of friendships from all over the world. And it’s been the absolute most positive experience. Once I realized just how supportive and encouraging and helpful the blogging community is I was hooked.
Do you have any culture shock related stories to share?
Well. Yes, most definitely. As I mentioned early Saudi Arabia is not exactly what Westerners are use to. It is the most conservative country in the world. They live and operate under a whole different set of rules. Outside of the Diplomatic Quarters women and men do not mingle, there is no alcohol, no bars, no cafe’s, men wear these long white robes and women are covered from head to toe in all black. And that is just the tip of the iceberg….
Tell us about your blog …
Well. It’s a cornucopia of stuff. It’s about my adventures, the traveling I’ve done, my evolving photography, it’s about where I’ve been and where I’m going. At last look I had just about 700 followers of the blog and I am so extremely grateful, but at the same time a bit perplexed, that people are actually interested in what I have to say. There are some moody posts, I share things I’ve learned, things that inspire me, things that make me happy, but in the end it’s mostly about the changes and the growth that I’ve gone through since moving to Saudi Arabia. As I looked back over the blog I saw how the blog has evolved and I realized I’ve evolved right alongside the blog. And I think that’s what keeps folks coming back for more and brings the new followers around as well.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
I love this question. It got me to remember a book I read some years back that I simply adored. I just pulled it up and I think I’m actually going to reread it now. Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Women by Alice Steinbach. A remarkable book written by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with the back drop being Paris, Oxford, and Milan. It’s almost like a book of postcards depicting her journey physically and metaphysically.
What would be your ultimate dream trip?
Ah. Tough question. I don’t really have a “dream” trip. It’s what I’m in the mood for at the moment. What calls to my soul. Being a beachbum at one moment. Hiking mountains the next. I could be craving a hidden cabin deep in the Alaskan wilderness. And sometimes I need the pulse of a major metropolitan city, the feel of the underground and elbow to elbow with all the city dwellers. If I’m living and experiencing what my heart desires, I suppose at that moment that is my dream trip.
Complete this phrase: I travel because …
not only to understand other people and cultures but more so to understand myself. Travel far enough, you meet yourself.
What are the five things you would definitely never leave home without …
Camera, iPod, Kindle, travel size baby wipes, and a hat(s)
You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.
I have a Nikon 5100. Honestly, everything I know about taking a decent photo has been by trial and error. My advice, take a lot of shots, one is bound to turn out good.
So what’s coming up on Tahira’s Shenanigans that we can look forward to …
Perfect timing of this question. And it’s the perfect forum to announce that I will be leaving The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia within the next few months. While it’s been an amazing two years, it’s time to head on out and conquer other parts of the world. I am craving The America’s and everything American. I’m returning to North America and that’s all I’m prepared to announce at this time. But I promise there will definitely be more shenanigan’s and there is so much I am looking forward to. The options are wide open and endless….
Have you discovered any other wonderful travel or expat blogs that we should be reading?
There are so many wonderful expat & travel blogs out there. One of the combined travel/ex-pat blogs I simply love following is Journey Around The Globe.
It’s a blog by a mom of two, from the United States living in Belgium with her family and traveling across Europe (and Asia, and Africa.) I am all about Europe so following along on blog has been pure joy. The photography is spectacular and the writing is a class act.
Thanks so much to Tahira’s Shenanigans a totally inspiring travel blog. I must recommend taking a look at some gobsmacking fantastic photos as Tahira is sharing some images from her adventures every week, there are new photos with a pinch of wisdom to reflect on too!
I’ve always been a lover of the travel writing genre, ever since my mother gave me a paperback of Bill Bryson’s ‘Neither here nor there’ which took me backpacking through Europe before I left high school. Since then I have made my way through many travel writing classics from Paul Theroux to Bruce Chatwin. Many great writers throughout history have also been great travellers.
Together with contemporary travel writing, there is also the historical travelogue which not only does it allows you to explore a particular part of the world but gives you a sense of how people from other centuries travelled and how the specific destination has changed through time.
While doing research for my own attempt at this genre after a decade of living in Sicily, I came across the work of Brian Johnston who has become one of my favourite writers. His book Sicilian Summer: a story of honour, religion and the perfect cassata is a beautiful read and captures the spirit of this mysterious Mediterranean island while guiding us through its cuisine, history and culture.
Invited by a friend to visit family in Sicily Johnston takes the opportunity to experience some wonderful Italian hospitality. What he discovers is not only the vibrant cuisine of Sicily but also the seductive way the islands infectious personality can draw you in.
As Brian Johnston himself says about his one Summer in Sicily:
I found myself unexpectedly swept up in flamboyant family dramas and complex village politics, eccentric personalities and age-old feuds. As the cover blurb puts it, this is “a delicious and wholly irresistible tale of passion, power, politics and pasta”.
It also turns out Johnston is a professional, down to earth and approachable guy who graciously accepted to do a ‘virtual’ interview via email and I was thrilled to talk with him.
How would you describe your books to someone who has never read your work?
My books are travel books on a simple level, inviting the reader to discover a destination, but I also like to infuse them with some of my personality – after all, it’s a place seen through my own very particular eyes. And I hope they are thoughtful, thought-provoking and amusing as well. I don’t think anyone should take themselves too seriously.
Do you have a certain method when you are working on a travel writing piece? For example, how did something like Sicilian Summer come about?
Sicilian Summer just started with being inspired and jotting down notes of my experiences and thoughts wherever I went. Then trying to make some semblance of order and sense out of them, and a whole lot of extra research when I returned. I suppose even short articles work more or less the same way in miniature. Good note taking at source is certainly the basis of any good travel piece.
Montalto is the fictionalized town in Sicilian Summer, what is the real small Sicilian town near Messina it was inspired by? Why did you feel the need to disguise the name in your book?
There would be no point in disguising the name if I was going to tell you where it really is! I just felt that, given I was writing about the personal lives of so many people in that village, that I should protect their privacy. You know, writers always dream of having bestsellers. I had visions of queues of fans knocking on villagers doors… I don’t think they would have wanted that.
Have you visited Sicily since writing Sicilian Summer and what else have you discovered about this intriguing island?
Actually, I haven’t been back to Sicily. Sometimes I’m a bit wary about returning to places where I’ve been really happy. They’re never the same the second time around. Sometimes they’re best left in the mind…
Sicilian Summer is very much a love letter to Sicilian cuisine. What is your ultimate Sicilian meal from appetizers to dessert and why?
I might start with some pasta puttanesca, fiery with chilli and garlic, and some grilled fish to follow the lemon and capers. The dessert is a hard one, too many temptations. A cassata perhaps.
Please tell us about your other travel books …
My first book was Boxing with Shadows, an account of the two-and-a-half years I spent living and travelling in China. Humorous encounters with a TV crew, a snake, a drunken shoe salesman and China’s most famous rock star are interwoven with more serious observations on political campaigns and ethnic minorities and balanced with personal reflections.
My second travel book, Into the Never-Never, is about me and my sister Nicola’s adventures across Australia. Sicilian Summer was my third and alas so far my last, apart from contributions to anthologies. Too busy earning money as a journalist!
You also have a travel blog The Thoughtful Travel Writer how are you enjoying the world of blogging? Do you think all writers should have a blog or are there simply too many bad blogs out there?
There are a million travel blogs out there. Some may be bad, but most have their market, even if it’s only the 10 people in the blogger’s family. Nothing wrong with that. But I’m not convinced all writers should have a blog. It’s incredibly time-consuming for little or no monetary return. You just have to do it for the joy of it, and hope some readers get pleasure out of it too.
What advice would you give to a writer who wants to get into the travel writing business?
The great Victorian writer John Ruskin observed ‘I know of no genius but the genius of hard work.’ The world is full of travel-writer wannabes, but only hard work and unflagging professionalism will take them from part-timers to professionals.
As a freelance writer, how important is it to get great photos for your own articles? Please tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.
Few freelancers can get by these days without supplying photos, so it’s very important. I recognize that I’m a better writer than a photographer, so often provide a mix of my own photos and those supplied by tourism offices. I use a Canon EOS. I’ll leave the advice to others better qualified!
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
When it comes to the art of travel and what travel means, I’m a big fan of Australian author Bruce Chatwin. Try his Songlines or What Am I Doing Here.
Do you think travel writing has become fashionable? If so is this a good or a bad thing?
I think travel writing has come and gone in literary fashion over the decades and even centuries. I’m not sure as a literary genre that it’s that fashionable at the moment – difficult to name a truly well-known travel author since Bill Bryson’s heyday a decade ago. Online travel blogging is another creature; there has certainly been an explosion of interest in that. Surely it must be good that people take such an interest and enjoyment in travel.
What are you working on right now?
An article on Bordeaux for a newspaper travel section, and several articles for various magazine on everything from Singapore to Sydney and New Zealand.
Is there any part of the world you are dying to visit or write about if so where and why?
People always think I’ve been everywhere, but that’s far from the case. I’d love to see East Africa, a place I’ve fantasized about since seeing the movie Out of Africa as a teenager. Seeing those vast animal migrations would be awesome.
Do you think travel writing is about luck or good planning? Why?
There’s no luck involved in travel writing. To be successful in anything takes a lot of hard work and hustle. Outsiders see only the glamorous side, but to make a full-time living as a travel writer takes a lot of exhausting travel, work and marketing.
If you could spend one week in any major city of the planet, where would it be and how would you spend the time?
I know it’s a cliché, but I’d choose Paris to while away a week. It has so many good museums, and the streets are just made for walking. There is beauty all around.
Where is Brian Johnston heading off to next?
Off to Romania and Hungary shortly. Should be interesting!
Thanks so much to Brian Johnston for finding a moment in his busy schedule to talk, if you want to know more about his work and his current obsession with river cruises see his page here.
For more information about the Sicilian Summer, book be sure to see my review for the Times of Sicily.
If you are interested in reading this delightful piece of travel writing Sicilian Summer: a story of honour, religion and the perfect cassata is available on Book Depository.
This year I was fortunate enough to get to San Leone’s ‘festa’ at Longi (20th Feb) which I find is generally more traditional and particular then the one celebrated at Sinagra (even if I love them both!)
I liked the solemn religiosity and playfulness of Longi’s interpretation of this Saint’s celebration. Not only does the procession take the Saint’s statue around the town, it has him dancing to the time of the local brass band. Leone doesn’t move without musical accompaniment, here the catchphrase is ‘Viva Santu Leo … E musica!’
The face of San Leone is always the same yet the elaborate decoration gives Longi’s festa a more traditional feel, here he is decorated in flowers, monetary offerings, bells chiming, threaded wheat shafts, golden vestments and the local children adore him too. The procession lasts nearly the whole day from after the late morning church service until four o’clock in the afternoon when he is placed down in the square before the parish church to receive final offerings and salutes from the devout.
During the procession the warmth the locals have to their patron is palpable and it quite frankly gave me goosebumps. A saint’s day in a small town is a particularly special occasion everyone puts on their best face and there is a real sense of pride and religiosity through out the day, it is an exceptional Sicilian tradition.
For more details on San Leone and other Sicilian saints see my article on Times of Sicily.
As you know every Christmas I experience away from my family and friends is always tinged with guilt and melancholy. Even if the blessings of my children and new friends distract me from dwelling on negativity. Such is the life of an expat.
I don’t particularly want any gifts for Christmas, I was writing to you to let you know how I’m going to make sure you pass on my love onto everyone.
This year has been wonderful thanks to my blogging, I’ve had numerous compliments and have met several people on similar journeys to mine which has helped me to feel less isolated and has encouraged me to continue my writing in all its forms. I’ve finished my first book and I’m well into a second which will be a collection of essays and I have many new ideas.
Dearest St Nick I ask you to give everyone I’ve met this year a warm embrace and thank them for their kind words. As for my wonderfully open and loving family I give them my love as always. And for you Santa, I pray everyone remembers Christmas should be about giving of themselves and not giving to others.
One really can’t talk about Sicily without mentioning the Mt Etna volcano, here are some short pieces I’ve written about this strange monster that dominates this island, following along on the theme of earthquakes from yesterday.
‘Etna is a real monster, a living breathing part of the Sicilian landscape. Its sixty by forty kilometre base is the heart of the island and its three thousand three hundred meters tall shadow has given birth to the fertile Sicilian land, rich in mythology. The volcano is different things to different people. For the ancient Greeks, it was the forge of Vulcan, the god of earth and fire. It was the home of the Cyclopes who terrorised the island by throwing pieces of earth into the sky, their appetites subdued by regular animal sacrifices. It is the resting place of the giant Escalades, upon whom the god Jupiter placed the mountain. Each eruption signifies the motion of the giant trapped by Etna’s weight.
Etna has forged Sicily after hundreds of thousands of years of activity and it still is the centre of the island’s evolution. Sicily is still developing and geologically it is relatively young and so the volcano will continue to reshape the island’s destiny. Etna is a living breathing force of nature which holds the terrain firmly in its grip.
Like Naples’ Mount Vesuvius which, lies above and below the city in a perpetually active state, Etna has the potential to create great damage. Early in the seventeenth century, it went through a period of hibernation only to erupt violently towards the end of the century. This eruption in the late sixteen hundreds caused powerful earthquakes. New mouths of the volcano were opened throughout the island, some hundreds of kilometres away. The main lava flow during this eruption lasted many years, destroying most of Catania and eventually reaching the Ionian sea.’
(A snow capped volcano in the middle of summer)
I have had the privilege of seeing Etna in her highest fury, from afar and at night time yet it was enough to inspire the following description that is included in my travel book, ‘Descent into Sicily.’
‘The sun having set I can now see the splendour of Etna’s eruptive heat. The opening at the head of Etna is spewing out diabolical black ash, a second opening can be seen about halfway down and it too is vomiting out smoke which flows up to combine with the fumes of the main opening.
From the new mouth, lava is rocketing up into the sky. There is a red-hot halo of heat around Etna’s summit. It is a colour unlike any other I’ve seen. It is a piece of steel being melted in a furnace, translucent, like the surface of the sun. The magma is spurting forth like a fountain and although we are hundreds of kilometres from Etna we can see the lava spewing out of its mouth as if it were only meters away.
Watching television when we return home, I hear that fifteen new mouths have opened up overnight and the residents of the towns below are terrified by massive explosions as lava explodes into the air above them.
In the weeks after its eruption, the ash from Etna is taken by the wind across to Catania where it covers the city in a fine grey film. The scirocco, a desert wind from Africa, moves the ash further north to Calabria. The breeze changes direction covering everyone with a fine blanket of ash.’
(A slightly smoking Mt Etna taken from the Nebrodi Mountains last year)
Italy has always been a place susceptible Sicily more so than other regions. I’ve never felt anything, that is until this summer when the Mt Etna volcano has been erupting. Etna has always been relatively active and is quite far away from us towards Catania.
In the past we’ve breathed in its ash over as few weeks but it seems to be very angry lately. We’ve been having a series of tremors since the beginning of summer but I didn’t feel anything until one night at around midnight as I was nodding off to sleep I felt a few seconds of pure fear.
The sound of it was what hit me the most; it was like a massive explosion, I thought the old abandoned house across the street had collapsed but then the movement of an 8 on the Richter scale earthquake hit.
It was like a bad disaster movie, every thing just shook and rocked and I couldn’t even moved, then within a flash it was over. We all ran outside, but there was no more movement. I was all over.
Those maybe 4 seconds were enough to make me a nervous wreck for the rest of the week when every little sound or movement made me jump out of my skin.
Losing control of your movement and your surroundings I think if the most disempowering thing that can ever happen. In short it scared the s*** out of me!
My heart goes out to those poor people in the USA who experienced an earthquake just the other week, especially those in NY who justifiably thought the worst after the memories of S11 jumped back into the foreground. And then right after they had Hurricane Irene … talk about fodder for doomsday theorists!!
The earth’s motions here in Sicily have been justified by spectacular fireworks from Etna, with lava being thrown up several hundred meters in the air. One night I was even rewarded by a single Etna explosion which lit up the horizon for a few seconds like a red hot aurora borealis.
There’s nothing like a spectacular natural phenomenon to instil a feeling of awe and fear deep inside your soul.