Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Farewell Sicily

I was up pretty early again on the day of the flight home, although this time my early rising had more to do with the day's schedule, which required us to leave the hotel by 7AM.  I did, however, forget that breakfast wasn't served until 7, so my aim to wake up with time to get some breakfast proved ill-planned.  The time was well spent though, as I unpacked and repacked my whole bag more neatly, with more attention towards the fragile souvenirs I was carrying home.

After a little more than a week in Sicily during the rainy part of the year, we managed to avoid the wet weather altogether.  I remember during the first six weeks I spent in Florence, it seemed to rain at least once during five out of seven days in a week.  Jackie, our tour guide, told us on the way to the airport that it was finally supposed to rain that day.  We really lucked out.

One interesting thing was, on the way out to the airport, Jackie continued to point out landmarks and sites that we'd passed several times before.  However, instead of saying, "I'll tell you more about that later," she followed up her comments with the addendum, "Which you know all about."  It was a small rephrasing, which I doubt Jackie even realized, but it brought a conclusion to our tours of the island.  I had half been expecting all week that when we got to the final day she would simply say, "And I'll tell you more about that when you come back to Sicily for part two of the tour."

Isola Delle Femmine

Old buildings near the airport

There was some confusion as to which flight we'd be on when we got to the airport.  We were originally scheduled to be on an 11:10AM flight to Rome, but apparently that changed before we even departed to Italy, and we were moved up to a 9:30AM flight through Milan.  Upon arriving, we were told that we were bumped back onto the later flight to Rome and had time to rummage around the tiny airport.  Some fifteen minutes later though, we were all called back to the check in to prepare to board the earlier plane to Milan.

When we finally boarded the plane, it seemed odd that there was any doubt as to whether we'd fit, as the plane was maybe a third to a half full.  Everyone switched to their optimal choice of seat, which for me was a window on the right-hand side of the plane, where I would be able to view the Italian coast.

Most of the flight the views were obstructed by a thick layer of clouds, but as we reached the middle of Tuscany, the land became visible.  I started to pick out cities along the way, notably Livorno, Pisa, and La Spezia.  We hit clouds again soon after La Spezia, and I got one more brief glimpse of snow-covered farms in Lombardia.  We were all shocked by the landing in Milan, as the fog extended all the way down to the ground.  Everyone was waiting for the plane to break through the clouds, and we never did, getting a sudden jolt as our plane touched down.

One of the old 14th century watchtowers sits on an empty spit of land beyond the airport

The Falcone E Borselino airport sits at the center.  Palermo's modern center sits on the next cove beyond the one visible here, on the far side of that last ridge.

Sicily disappears into the clouds

Between the clouds over the Tyrrhenian Sea

Livorno, the big Tuscan port, sits in the foreground along the coast.

Pisa sits on the winding Arno, just before the ridge at the center of the picture.

La Spezia is built up around this cove on the left of the frame, at the southern end of Liguria.

The foothills in Liguria/Emilia-Romagna before we reentered the clouds

Snow covers Lombardia as we approach the airport in Milan.

The stopover in Milan should have been about forty-five minutes, but it was pushed back a bit, which we were happy about as we figure that allowed for a greater chance of our bags making it aboard our connection to New York.  Unlike my quick turnover in Munich two years ago where my bags were lost for three days, I was part of a larger group, including my class and others, making the flights from Palermo to New York.  They may have made a point of getting all the luggage transferred to accommodate this mass of patrons.

The second flight was quite nice.  The airplane was much newer than our first trans-Atlantic voyage, replete with personal television monitors and far more leg room.  The plane was again probably only a third filled, and many of my classmates switched seats so we were closer together.  We had about four consecutive rows with four adjacent aisle seats filled.  Probably to the consternation of other passengers, we got to be the slightly obnoxious talkative Americans.  It's not as if we talked for the whole ride though.  After about an hour or so, we calmed down a bit, and everybody settled into their own movie.

There was a little napping as well, and after about three hours or so, we were all chatting again.  We played two group rounds of the trivia game on our in-flight consoles, shared snacks, and had a generally good time.  As we neared New York, we joked that we should just turn the plane back around to Europe.  Nobody minded the flight, and if anything, I think we all enjoyed the extra time with one another.  It was only Europe that was gone, and I was missing that already.

Back in New York, clearing customs and collecting baggage proved not to be any hassle.  We were all a bit sad to be leaving each others' company, but one benefit between this experience and mine in Florence was we would all be back in school together within a week.

I found the next several days alone in my apartment to be a bit depressing, not only because of it's location in New York (I know, many would die to be in my position, but I can't get back to Europe soon enough) but also for the lack of company.  I'd more or less been surrounded by interesting people for twenty-four hours a day for eight days.  My roommate was not back yet and neither were the day-to-day distractions of school.  Watching movies, something I normally love, I found to be a chore.  I felt like I was really living life abroad, seeing amazing things, learning, and hanging out with new friends. 

Back home I looked forward most to my hours working at Moore Brothers where I could relate to people who have a similar appreciation for Europe and its cuisine.  Sunday night I got a chance to meet up with my friend Kevin, an avid Jets fan, to watch the AFC title game at a bar in Brooklyn.  He seemed to have similar feelings to my own, but I have faith we'll get back into the swing of things here and see each other much more.  We'd been discussing a reunion of sorts for the class since long before we left Sicily.  If such an event occurs, I've promised to make my tiramsu, which apparently the class got an underwhelming taste of at the dinner in Agrigento where I went to bed early.

Well, I guess that about wraps things up (for now.)  I thought the blog was to end when I last returned from Italy, but clearly the opportunity struck to bring it back.  With any luck, this will only be a hiatus, and I'll have reason to discuss my travels again in the future.  Thanks again everyone for reading.  I have thoughts about turning my recent travels and other trips I've taken around America into another book, so stay tuned for more on that.


From left to right: Kevin, Pizeme, and me having a blast outside Il Tempio Della Concordia in Agrigento. (Picture taken by Kelsey Whitelaw)

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