Wildflowers and Ruins in Segesta, Sicily

The following is a post that didn’t make it into Il Bel Centro. But as Sicily was such a magical time for us (odd, considering once we returned to Spello we’d discover that I had bronchitis and Keith had pneumonia), I wanted to share it with you all here. It’s the post I wrote after we returned and got ourselves, finally, healthy.

Health is increasing in our household. Keith reports feeling almost normal, and I can almost laugh without coughing. Which is good, as I highly value a good laugh. We spent yesterday hunkered in and cozy, trying to catch up on the places we've gotten behind, and rethink plans we  made erroneously assuming health. For instance, tonight is Siena's class party at Ca' Rapillo, where the carnevale party was. None of us really wanted to go in the first place, but we decided to buy tickets for all of us but Nicolas, as it would be a last hurrah for Siena's class and Gabe is friends with her classmates and their siblings. The meal sounds dreadful, sandwiches make up 2 of the 4 courses, but we really can't make all our decisions based on food. But now, Keith's doctor has said he can function fairly normally, but he can't walk into a crowded room. So he will drive us, and I am taking Nicolas as my buffer. I've told him that he is not allowed to bring his Kindle, but that I promise to call him "Fly Boy" all night. Not at all ironically. Ten euros says he finds a way to make me pay him an hourly wage in Haribo.

And tomorrow is Siena's birthday festa. We had decided at the start of the year, "no birthday parties", but Siena convinced us it would be a good way for her to increase her contact with some of the girls that she likes, but has a hard time finding time to connect with at school, and feels weird about calling out of the blue. So, a simple party. She made invitations, we found a way to deliver them (and she did a great job calling Chiara to get the phone numbers for the other girls and calling the girls to get their addresses), and she planned an afternoon of playing at the park, having snacks together, being together at our house, making pizzas, and having cake. No one has RSVP'd, so hopefully someone will show up tomorrow. If not, I am going to have one sad 11 year old on my hands.

And so now that the hospitalization is beginning to take on the form of a bad dream, I can get back to where I was. Writing about Sicily. You'd think that since Sicily is where Keith and I began our decline, it would be associated with illness and shortness of breath. But it's not. It still seems magic—painted in bold brushstrokes and wreathed in sunshine. Such is the power of Sicily.

One of the highlights of the trip was our trip to Segesta. Initially, I hadn't intended on seeing ruins. I'm surrounded by ruins, they no longer create a sense of awe. As Gabe said, "Isn't it too bad we get used to things? Then there is less that is new." But the ruins of Segesta were compelling. Partly because they are surrounded by nature, not by city, which reminded me that of all the ruins in Rome, my favorite is the Palatine Hill, I think because it's quiet. In the quiet, I can feel the ghosts of those long ago. Also, the history of Sicily is fascinating, and I thought it would be interesting to see a real remnant of that history.

And it was, indeed, marvelous. The weather was incredible, the profusion of wildflowers created a tapestry of color and texture against the ancient stones, the landscape was gloriously verdant. And there was a hush. Not that many people, which helped. It was so quiet you could hear the breeze wind its way through the columns. The pictures do a better job, I think, of illustrating what I mean.

After the temple, we took a shuttle bus up the hill to the old Roman amphitheater. Keith and I were dragging by this point, but we felt utter contentment as we watched our children perform in the center of the amphitheater, with the stunning Sicilian landscape as a backdrop, the sea glittering in the distance. And we marveled at the school group. Can you imagine, being in school in Sicily, learning about Phoenicians or Greeks or Carthage or Romans or Punic wars or Arabic influence, or the Spanish Armada, and then hopping on a bus to actually see the evidence of those stories? These are some lucky children. And we were able to step back for a moment, and let our own fortune click into focus. Wow. Here. We. Are.

Instead of waiting for a shuttle bus back down the hill, we walked. A little tricky for me, as my balance seemed off, but the walk down was actually one of the nicest parts of our Sicilian vacation, particularly for the children. One, because it encapsulated this notion that "Sicily is ripe with incidental adventure." And two, because it felt steeped in both nature and also history, as we walked past old Roman homes, a tower that was part of the disintegrating defense wall, a fortress complete with piles of catapult balls.

We had planned on seeing Carthaginian ruins at the little island of Mozia, surrounded by salt flats. It sounded beautiful and interesting, but we just didn't have the energy. And frankly, we were a bit history-ed out. Maybe that was because we were exhausted. Instead we took a flyer from a man standing at the exit of the parking lot, and followed directions to the advertised restaurant. A first for us. It was a strange road, we had to go under the freeway, following signs that were spray painted on the support columns. I was not the only one who could hear horror music thrumming in the background. Where were we going? And how much would we regret it later?

Turns out, where we were going was one more unexpected treat. This glorious stretch of beautiful countryside. Achingly green and enchanting. And the restaurant, for which we had zero hopes, turned out to be surprisingly good. They brought out delicious Sicilian pizza antipasti on the house, with a rich, savory tomato sauce. Wonderful. And the eggplant on my pasta was sweet and perfect. A surprisingly nice meal. And the children ran around on the lovely grass before we piled back into our too-big rental car and drove back to our hotel to recuperate from what felt like a jam-packed day. But was really mild and easy. Only not for people fighting an epic virus.

Where have you found delightful ruins in Italy? Did you love Sicily as much as we did? Leave a comment and let us know! And don’t forget to share this post with others!