About 4 years ago, we went to Sicily with 3 other families. We thought renting a house would be best, since there were many of us…so the search was on. It was a challenge trying to find a villa that could accommodate all 16 of us. One day, our search ended when I found an old castle, close to the town of Messina. It had everything we were looking for; space, location & a POOL. It was perfect. Everyone agreed this was the place.
The castle was gated off, with donkeys & roosters roaming the property. In the house, the walls were lined with animal heads & marble bust of men who had eyes that followed you, as you walked by. The place creeped me out! The kids thought it was cool, but some of us swore it was haunted. In our bedroom, there was a baby’s crib with a large painting of a little Victorian girl hung over it. Why is it that anything Victorian is spooky? Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep. There were lots of little weird things about the house, Magdalena the housekeeper was one. Every time we needed her, we had to open the back door & scream her name. Out of nowhere she would appear, like a phantom.
The town where the house was located, was tiny, & most definitely not a tourist attraction. One day the “guys” decided to explore the town to find a restaurant where we could have dinner. 3 hours later, they strolled in, smelling of booze & pizza. During their little adventure, they met Pete. Pete is the owner of a restaurant close to the castle called “Pete’s American Place.” Pete treated them like long lost friends. He sat them down to chat, while the wine kept flowing.
Pete was born in this little town & moved to the States when he was a young boy. He would spend his summers back in Sicily with family. He loved the simple life of the Sicilian people & dreamed of going back. He eventually did & opened “Pete’s American Place.” In the States, Pete lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey, about 20 miles from where we live. What are the chances of this happening? We traveled half way around the world to find a restaurant that’s owned by a fellow New Jerseyan. It goes to show how small the world actually is!
That night we went to see Pete. Across from the restaurant was a small piazza over looking the water. There were kids playing & eating Pete’s homemade gelato, that was to die for. Old women dressed all in black were chatting, while the men strolled around with their hands clasped behind their backs & small handkerchiefs tied around their necks; like my grandfather use to do.
Pete set up a long table with the water in front of us & a small church behind. The amber glow of the street lights gave the piazza a warm, welcoming feel. As for the food, we left the ordering to Pete. He sent out dish after dish of food, plenty of wine & his incredible homemade gelato & granita. We sat in the piazza for hours, talking & laughing with Pete & his family. That night was “one” of the many highlights of our trip.
Before we left for Sicily, one of our friends contacted a college buddy who had moved to the Island of Lipardi. Lipardi is part of a string of islands off the coast of Sicily, known as the Aeolian Islands. He arranged a boat to pick us up at the port in Messina, to take us exploring on the Tyrrhenian Sea. We were taken to the “must see” islands of Lipardi, Volcana, Salina & Panerea.
There are 2 active volcanos that are part of the Aeolian Island, Stromboli & Volcana. At the end of our second day on the water, we went to the island of Volcana to have dinner. When we left the restaurant it was dark, very dark; there were no street lights. We couldn’t see our hands in front of us. People were walking with flashlights. We all whipped out our cel phones so we could see where we were going. I was afraid that one of us would fall into the sea! The kids thought it was fun & yet again, I was creeped out!
When we finally got to the port, we hopped into the boat ready to go back to our haunted castle. The captain of the boat wanted to show us the other side of the island before we headed out. When we arrived, he turned off the engine & told us to look up. We were amazed, excited & scared at the same time. There was lava spewing out the top of the volcano & running down it’s sides. We were so close, it seemed as though we could reach up & touch the hot liquid. Every time it erupted, we all screamed & clapped at the spectacular show. The hot lava lit up the pitch black sky, like fire works on the Fourth of July. It was truly the most AWESOME thing I’ve ever witnessed. I thinks, it’s safe to say we ALL felt that way.
I always talk about moments during my travels that,”move me”. Those moments when I’m touched by the sights, sounds & overwhelming emotional feelings I get from a situation. Seeing the volcano erupt in front of us, is on the top of my list. Four years later, our families are still talking about Sicily being their favorite vacation. I’m really happy to have had this unbelievable experience with not only our kids, but also with our closest friends. It’s a memory & bond that all of us will have together; forever.
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