I just got back from an Amazing ten day working vacation in Sicily. I went on this trip as part of a Travel & Art class here at the University of Hartford Art school. Students could apply for the course for a chance to learn about field sketching while traveling across a breath-taking mediterranean landscape. Sicily is an extremely diverse place in terms of landscape, culture, agriculture, language, and even climate. The island has been shaped by volcanoes, earthquakes, and invading peoples for centuries, leaving layer upon layer of visual interest for us to explore. I will upload my sketches and paintings from the trip shortly, but first, here are some of the notable photographs that I took while in Sicily.
I experienced so much on this trip that it is a daunting task to even put anything into words. This trip was full of firsts for me: my first 9 hour plane ride, my first time in Europe, my first time seeing ancient Greek and Roman ruins, my first time eating octopus, my first 10 day vacation without my family, my first time conversing in Italian, MY FIRST TIME ON A VOLCANO. Etc.
During my trip I woke up several days before the sun around 5:30 am in order to paint the sunrise from either the beach, the hotel roof, or my window. You will notice right away the mountains in the distance. Sicily, especially the area around Palermo, the capital city where we stayed at the beginning of the trip is a very mountainous area. There are many sheer cliffs and deep valleys. The highways are a real thrill to drive on because they often cut straight through a mountain and pass over huge gorges hundreds of feet deep. The winding and narrow cliff roads of Sicily are not recommended for anyone afraid of heights or prone to motion sickness.
Food was a major part of this trip. We were fed very well, with most of our meals included in our hotel packages. Often times we couldn’t even finish what was brought to us! A typical Sicilian breakfast consisted of ham, cheese, bread, yogurt, cereal, fruit, jams, nutella, coffee and tea. Breakfast was light and healthy. A typical lunch or dinner however consisted of bread, several antipasti courses, a pasta course, an entree and finally dessert. Lunch and dinner was ENORMOUS compared to what I am used to in the United States and many of the women on the trip would make the mistake of filling up on the antipasti and being totally unable to eat the entree. Somehow it took us half way into the trip to figure out that there was always more food coming, so don’t finish you’re plate. One really interesting meal that we had was the “seafood extravaganza,” in which we were served 14 courses! They were as follows:
- anchovies in a red sauce
- fried calamari
- baby shrimp in a sweet cream sauce
- a white butterflied fish
- swordfish caponata
- cold octopus salad
- whole fried shrimp
- steamed muscles
- pasta consarde
- risotto with shrimp
- spagetti with clams
- breaded swordfish
- half a rock lobster
- and a strawberry sorbet dessert
My two favorite places to photograph on the trip were the town of Castelbuono, and the Valley of the temples at Agrigento. Castelbuono is a small hill town in the northern part of Sicily. It is filled with narrow streets, terraces, and lots of friendly people. They also use donkeys to help collect trash but I heard a rumor that it was mostly to please tourists. I had my picture taken with one of these donkeys–see below.
At first the man tending the donkey couldn’t get my camera to work, but he spoke no english and I didn’t know enough Italian to tell him that he had to hold the button down half-way, then all the way. He was just pushing it and nothing was happening. Then he handed it off to some other guy on the street who knew how to use it….. This picture is the result. I am the one on the left awkwardly standing right in front of that donkey’s face. He was a very docile donkey, but I think I still look kind of scared….oops.
The valley of the temples was the other location that I absolutely loved photographing and sketching. It was an ancient complex of temples and catacombs all along an ancient greek road. There was a temple for Hera, The Temple of Zues, the Concordia, and a few unknown temples. The temple of Hera was the most beautiful in my opinion.
Another major highlight of my trip was getting to stand on Mt Etna, Europe’s most active volcano! She erupted only two days before we headed up the slopes, and was smoking white puffs the day after our visit. We had perfect weather when we were up there and it wasn’t even that cold! I have been fascinated by volcanoes since I was little and I know all about them. Having the opportunity to actually stand on an active volcano where this was lava actually moving beneath my feet was incredible! We were only on mount Etna for an hour, so I didn’t have much time to sketch or paint. In fact I was so overwhelmed by my location that really all I did was yell and break rocks to take home with me.
The summit in the background there is not the main summit or the active crater. That is a secondary crater which is no loner active. The much bigger, active crater is up the slope on the left, maybe another thousand feet up. As you can see, there is a little town up on Mount Etna, with a ski-lift and everything. Etna is an effusive volcano which means she erupts fairly frequently with viscous liquid lava flows. Etna does not explode, so there are no pyroclastic flows or deadly ash to worry about. When Etna erupts, the people do not run; they wait to see where the lava is heading, and then simply get out of its way.
I have so much more to say about my trip to Sicily, but I can hardly cram it all into one post here. I need more time to digest my experience and maybe then I will be better able to break my experience down into more manageable posts. I have a zillion more pictures, a whole sketchbook filled with journalling and notes, and several paintings to show you, so you’ll have to check back soon!