From Eileen Russell, June 13, 2013 —
While the sites on the itinerary for the Italy trip have been incredible, my favorite moments have been the in-between moments spent driving from place to place, particularly on the island of Sicily, where we’ve spent the last three days. Passing through the countryside as well as driving through the quite confusing streets of various towns and cities has made my jaw drop more than any Greek temple or Roman palace. Each town has its own unique character while all share a few commonalities. The streets are always narrow and the towns are always situated on hillsides, making driving a perilous experience. Each building looks like it has been squashed in between the two beside it so the only way to differentiate them are their different shades of peach. The countryside, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. It is filled with one lane highways and switchbacks climbing mountainsides. A slowly moving car with a red flag sticking out the window often forces us to pull off the road and allow a humongous tractor to pass from farm to farm. The farms stretch on all sides for miles and miles (or rather kilometers and kilometers). Neat fields of olive trees alternate with fields of grape vines and almond trees. The most remarkable part of these farms is that the same crops have been grown on these fields for literally 2800 years.
With the exception of the narrow roads swerving across the hillsides and the sparse power lines, the landscape that makes me gape is largely the same as what everyone who has ever come to Sicily has seen, from the Carthaginians and the Greeks to the French and the Spanish. Rolling hills turn into mountains in the distance and far off, through a thick haze, the outline of Mt. Etna can be seen. Antiquated farmhouses occasionally interrupt the fields, as well as abandoned stone bunkers leftover from World War II. The navigator, whoever is sitting shotgun in Mr. Savage’s car, aka the Savagemobile, has the job of linking the chain of towns we pass through and attempting to follow the signs properly while simultaneously trying to create the most breathtaking route possible by using the green lines on the map that indicate a scenic drive. It’s a tougher job than one might think. Two signs for one town often point in opposite directions and a road that supposedly leads to a major city inevitably becomes narrower and narrower, until it dead ends. We had to leave and re-enter the island of Ortigia three times but each time we drove through the city of Syracuse it seemed to get prettier and prettier. We’ve gotten lost more times than my parents would be comfortable with but ultimately the amount of times we’ve had to stop and ask for directions combined with the number of U-turns and the times we’ve had to double back on ourselves is nothing compared to the unbelievably beautiful things we’ve seen. The lesson: when in doubt, take the green line route.