We’re on the tail end of our month-long trip through Italy; right now we’re in Sciacca, a fishing town in the south of Sicily, where our views are of the Mediterranean Sea — slightly different than what we’ve been used to in Cortina.
The goal of this trip was to explore a different part of Italy, one that was less organized with fewer mountains and more sea.
In Italy, people always talk about the great divide between the North and the South. Stereotypically, it’s thought that everyone in the North works hard while everyone in the South sits around drinking coffee and playing cards. The North runs smoothly, and the South runs how it pleases. The North has mountains and skiing and Prosecco. They have German efficiency and nice cars and spaghetti carbonara. But as one local we met in Sorrento said: “All the Northern Italians think they’re doing so well up there, but then they come down here for vacation because we have the good life in the South.”
Down south we found a new kind of Italy, one with freshly filleted anchovies and just-caught fish and a sea breeze. There were cactuses and volcanoes and lemons everywhere. It was true what I read: Italy really does intensify the farther south you travel.
In Naples, we found pizza like we’d never tasted before. At one place, we waited two hours to get in because everyone else was waiting too, and they were real Italians from Naples who know their pizza. And every bite was worth it.
When we arrived in Palermo last Sunday morning, it was like a different country. Here were the scooters, the terrible drivers (and parkers), the men who sit in cafes chatting, literally all day long. Here were the women hanging their laundry out to dry over their balconies and the children playing soccer in the street. Here were the traffic jams and the fish markets and the shoppers who haggle over the price of bright red strawberries. If I thought we had found all of these things before, I was wrong. They’re all in Palermo.
The farther south we went, the more wonderful Italian chaos we encountered. In Sorrento, we couldn’t figure out which bus stop was ours for two days. In Naples, none of the roads had street names, none of the cars stopped at red lights and all of the pedestrians walked whenever they felt like it. In Palermo, we asked five different people which bus to take to get to Sciacca, and each person told us a different thing, all of which turned out to be wrong. When we finally did get on the right bus, we found ourselves in the middle of a traffic jam so epic that it made Los Angeles traffic look efficient. The bus driver navigated through the intersection after blocking it for 10 minutes, completely unfazed and on his cell phone the entire time.
Frustrating? Yes. Italian? Yes. But now we know, and we are appreciating Italy as a whole, with all of its contradictions and flaws and beauty. Italy is the sum of its parts, and there are many, many parts.
Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer living in Cortina, Italy, where her husband and Steamboat native, Ryan, plays professional ice hockey. While in Italy, she loves to eat, cook, explore and drink red wine. You can follow her adventures online at sophiedingle.blogspot.com.