Pace del Mela

We leave Sciacca, but before heading to northeastern Sicily, we drive through the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. Gabe and I really appreciate having Becky here because as she explains what we are seeing, we better understand the importance of the seven monumental Greek temples all constructed in the Doric style during the 6th and 5th centuries. These temples are considered the best preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece.

Valley of the Temples

Our second two nights in Sicily are spent in Pace del Mela (Peace of the Apple), and although that city’s name would be p’unny when translated into English, there is unfortunately no pun present in Italian. Calling Pace del Mela a small town is an understatement. With its population of slightly more than 5,000 and its one central piazza, this town felt like home. Gabe’s father grew up here until the age of twenty-two when he left for Venezuela, and Gabe has lots of aunts, uncles and cousins still here. From his annual summer visits while growing up, everyone in town still seems to recognize him. Their reactions as they greet Gabe and tell us of times past is what small town Sicily is all about. Although there are not many people of our age, there were still lots of kids full of energy, always ready for a delicious meal, and never refusing to go the beach. After meeting Gabe’s aunt and settling in with a large full smile-shaped slice of watermelon, we venture to the town piazza for some gelato. Unique to Sicily, we enjoy our gelati in a brioche. The brioche absorbed the cream and the sugar and was a perfect end to the snack. In talking with Gabe’s family, ordering the gelati, and just generally getting by, English is not a very popular language in Pace, so Becky and I are forced to use and improve our Italian.

Gelati in Pace del Mela

We eat a both very delicious and very filling dinner at Gabe’s aunt house. His aunt does not believe when we say that we are full, so by the time we stand from the table, we are probably full two times over. After dinner, I spend some time with Gabe’s aunt’s 3-yr old granddaughter, Katerina. We both sit on the couch, and Becky and I do a dramatic reading of Cappuccetto Rosso (Little Red Riding Hood) while she listens. Conveniently, when I say a word or phrase that I don’t understand, I get Katerina to point to the referring image or object on the page and learn a little Italian. After dinner, we venture to the slightly larger nearby town, taste a little more gelato, and walk along the coast before retiring for the night knowing that the next day would be busy.


We start the next day in the same bar that we had purchased our gelato the day before in the main piazza (there aren’t too many choices of restaurants). There’s a dish that gives kids an excuse to have gelato for breakfast, so I decide that I can use the same excuse. For breakfast, the three of us enjoy granita, ice cream, and brioche. While we are still on our sugar high, we continue on to Taormina. Other than having an in-use Greek theater overlooking Mount Etna and much of Sicily, Taormina is a charming town with a couple too many steps. It would be a surreal experience to watch a live performance in this Greek theater with its well-designed acoustics and fabulous vista. I realize that if my Sicily visit ends here, I would be more than satisfied, but there is still a packed 24 hours to go.

Greek theater in Taormina

We drive back to Pace del Mela for lunch with the cousins. Again, I play around with my Italian replacing the words I don’t know with their Italian-ized Spanish equivalent, which means making sure to end works in vowels and pronouncing certain letters slightly differently. While waiting for the finishing touches of lunch, Gabe gives me a tour of his cousin’s house, which is the same house that his father grew up in. He also tells me a story of when his grandfather was sent out to purchase some cement for house work but ends up returning with a brand new television, the first television in the town. As it was a rough time for the whole town, his grandfather set up the television outside of the house, which is located near the central piazza, and at least 100 people would come to watch together. In my short time in Pace, I already started feeling the history and the community among all its residents.

Lunch in Mela del Pace

After spending the hottest part of this 40 degree Celsius day at the beach, we return to Gabe’s aunt’s for dinner, and later join the entire town in front of the church for some sort of celebration. There is music, food, a little karaoke, and a lot of dancing. The diversity of ages all congregated on the dance floor can only happen in a small town like this one. As expected, everyone knows each other and we all have a great time.

Gabe and Katerina

Our last morning comes much too quickly as I feel so welcome and am not ready to leave all of Gabe’s cousins and family. They all wake up early to say goodbye and we enjoy a last granita and brioche together at the central piazza bar.

Sicily’s Sect

“In Palermo dialect the adjective ‘mafioso’ once meant ‘beautiful, ‘bold’, ‘self-confident’. Anyone who was worthy of being described as mafioso therefore had a certain something, an attribute called ‘mafia’. ‘Cool’ is about the closest modern English equivalent: a mafioso was something who fancied himself.” (Quote form Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie)

The start to Godfather IV should occur on Meridiana’s direct flight from Palermo to New York. While in Sicily, I read Dickie’s book detailing the history of the mafia called “Cosa Nostra.” Along with providing a history of the mafia and how it came to be, the book also does a nice job of outlining recent Sicilian history. Interestingly, much about the mafia was not understood until about two decades ago in 1992 when Giovanni Falcone, an anti-mafia investigator and prosecuting attorney, headed the famous Maxi Trial. Of 474 Mafia members charged in this trial, 360 were convicted of serious crimes. In addition, Falcone was able to convince Tommaso Bruscetta to be the first ever Sicilian Mafia informant. It is through the words of Bruscetta that so much is reliably known about the Mafia today. Sadly, to retaliate, the Mafia kills Falcone and his family soon after the trial on a highway outside of Palermo.

For the most part, the three of us were hidden from the corruption of Sicily; however, there were several small examples that we experienced along the way. One such example occurred on our first afternoon in Palermo after parking our car in a public lot. We were approached upon getting out of the car and told that someone would watch our car while we were away for 3 euros. Our car, however, would not need watching if that same someone would not mess with the car when we don’t pay him the money. Although the sum of money wasn’t huge and the whole situation benign, small occurrences like these confirm some of the shadiness that exists on Italy’s southern island.

Scala dei Turchi

We enjoy our Sicily’s day one
At the famous Scala dei Turchi
Where there’s much fun in the sun
And the water’s anything but murky.

Scala dei Turchi 1

With the town of Agrigento so close
These weather-formed white stairs
Makes the sun with temperature most
Much much easier to bear.

Scala dei Turchi 2

And while we sunbathe and read
Finding chalk everywhere rock touched
Slow is the only day’s speed
For this beach came through in the clutch.

Scala dei Turchi 3

On The Road

Gabe, Becky, and I rent a car in Sicily because the island is not too large and becomes very accessible with wheels. Before leaving Palermo on day one, we visit the Catacombs of The Capuchins and the Duomo di Monreale. Both are incredible experiences and both are very different. The Catacombs are full with well preserved human bodies still dressed in their finest clothes from several hundred years back. There are men, women, and children, all either lined up against the walls or stacked on top of each other. There are babies in carriages and families still together. Some still have skin, some still have hair, and some still frightening show an expression as we pass. The Catacombs are a chilling experience where the dead people seem too real. The next stop before leaving Palermo is Duomo di Monreale, a beautiful cathedral at the top of a hill overlooking all of Palermo. Becky, who has studied much about ancient architecture, reveals many of the intricacies of the church as we walk through it.

Palermo from above

On our way to Sciacca, where we will be spending our first two nights, we stop at Corleone, the home of many Mafia bosses from the Godfather’s Vito Corleone to real bosses such as Jack Dragna, Giuseppe Morello, Michele Navarra and others. We take a couple photos, grab a snack, I unsuccessfully try to find some suspenders because I seem to recall those from the movies, and we continue on our way.


Our final stop of the day is Sciacca, pronounced like Chaka of Chaka Khan, the 10 time Grammy Award winning artist with hits such as “Tell Me Something Good” and “Sweet Thing”. But enough about Chaka. We find a nice bed and breakfast to stay at just outside the heart of the city. The owners are very friendly and full advice, and there is ample space for the three of us including a kitchen and a living room. For dinner, we make our way to a hidden pizza place not far from the bed and breakfast and we end our day enjoying three large pizza with fresh local ingredients.

The journey in the car between each stop shows off some of the expansive and empty landscapes still present within Sicily. There are mountains, valleys, greens, and browns in every direction. The island is beautiful, very warm, and still not overrun by tourists. Looking out the windows as we drive through the countryside is as enjoyable as any destination.

On the road in Sicily

Sicilia: Good Food, Good Times

We will number three for the Sicily portion of our adventure. For the next many days, Becky, a friend of Gabe’s from Rome, will be joining us. The home of the mafia immediately begins with great food. We land in Palermo near the Northwest of the island, rent a car, and head off to the center of the city to find a restaurant Gabe remembers from visits past. At the Antica Focacceria S. Francesco in Palermo, we begin our culinary tour of Sicily. From panele to spleen sandwiches to deliciously fried arrancini to camponata to cannoli made with fresh ricotta, we commence our time on Italy’s oblong soccer ball with a feast.

Food in Sicily