October 9, 2017
This morning Birgit and I both noticed that is was chilly outside, for the first time since, oh, maybe last March. The heat wave broke in very early September, and a few thunderstorms showed up around the time of the equinox, but this morning was the first where a sweater would not have felt out of place, and Sicilians in the street were bundled up in winter wear. After all, temperatures dropped in the early morning to 15°C (59°F)!
But the last of our summer came with a great bonus, visits by our friends Andy and Anita – for what was their fourth ‘offshore” experience on Serafina, and another by my elder daughter Sarah and her companion Matt.
With Andy and Anita we sailed to Malta, a nation composed of three islands grouped in the middle of the “Canal di Sicilia” – the waters of the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa. Valetta, the most important city in Malta is just 67 miles from Licata, but across a busy shipping channel with sometimes violent weather. Malta has key position in the central Mediterranean shipping route, and over the 7,000 years that it has been occupied by humans captured and occupied by most every significant power. It has been a very long and frequently bloody history, from the early days of Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, through the Crusades, occupation by various religious military orders, “Knights,” the Ottoman empire, concluding, so far, with devastating bombing in World War II.
At one point the Ottoman navy raided Gozo – one of the three islands – and enslaved the entire population. As a consequence, many of the surviving Maltese moved to Licata… The Maltese language, which is alive and well alongside English, sounds to the unpracticed ear very much like Arabic, but is actually a mixture of Arabic, Italian, French, Spanish and Sicilian…
Now it is a prosperous trading, financial and gambling center, at least in Valetta, with many monuments to earlier days. It’s also famous for beautiful bays and anchorages, especially the “Blue Lagoon,” which is so overrun by tourism these days that it’s impossible to really enjoy.
But we found other places, and enjoyed the food, including an incredibly and uniquely indulgent “Barbecue Pork” pizza, with bacon!
Andy and Anita concluded their trip with time to explore Palermo, and happened to be there during a huge “Gelato” (Italian ice cream) festival. Their favorite was an unlikely-sounding but apparently delicious turmeric ice cream!
Sarah and Matt arrived a day after Andy and Anita flew out, got a short walking tour of Palermo and rode down to Licata on the bus. It was a wonderful visit, and included a hotly contested soccer game between Licata and a neighboring town, in which Licata advanced to the quarter finals for the Italian “Cup of Excellence” for teams in their division. Drums, chanting teenagers, and flares raised the intensity, and fans from the visiting team were banned for fear of fights…
One of the high points of their visit, besides a quick, blustery sail on Serafina (probably her last of the year) was a trip to the “Scala dei Turchi.” This striking formation of white limestone cliffs is so named, not because of Turks, but because it was a landing place for the “Saracen” (Arab) occupation of Sicily that lasted for 300 years and had a significant impact of the language, culture, architecture and cuisine of Sicily.
We ate and drank very well, including a perfect carbonara by Sarah and Matt, and a wonderful meal at our favorite restaurant, La Lampara, also graciously provided by Sarah and Matt. Thanks again!
Next week we’ll have our good friends and fellow cruisers Morten and Anne-Inger back in Licata, on their boat Vid Vandre. And just a few weeks after that, Pete and Nancy for a hopefully memorable first visit to Sicily!
Photo credits, by the way, go to Andy, Birgit, Sarah and Syd