La Bellissima Sicilia
This Spring Semester 2013 study trip to the beautiful island of Sicilia took place over the weekend of February 22-24. The group of 40 JFRC students were accompanied by Dr. Alexander Evers, a JFRC professor and classical historian, Student Life Assistant Gina Crovetti, and the Director of Residence Life and Student Services Dr. Michael Beazley and family. The group ventured out of the Rome Center Thursday February 21 to board a train from Rome to Naples. Once in Naples, the group walked to the dock to board an overnight ferry to Palermo, Sicily. The ferry arrived Friday morning at 7:00 AM, with the sun rising and pink-blue skies waiting to begin the day. Once aboard their coach bus the group began their full-day itinerary. First they visited the Cathedral in Monreale, a short drive from Palermo. Here the students gazed at gilded statues, high-reaching arches and mosaics that covered the interior of the church. Next door they walked around the cloister to enjoy fresh air and picturesque columns lining the open garden.
From Monreale the group drove to Segesta, an archeological site dotted with temple ruins. After a short shuttle up to the highest point in Segesta, Dr. Alexander Evers gave a short lesson in the open-air theater, with the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop. The rolling hills were bright green with large rocks and remnants of ancient times sprinkled throughout. At the lower sites, the students had free time to walk around another well-preserved sandstone temple that stood amongst the trees and cacti.
Due to unforeseen circumstances and a collapsed bridge, the group drove straight through to Agrigento where they were to spend the night in a hotel and nearby B&B. Dinner Friday at Trattoria Dei Templi served various courses all revolving around the Sicily’s freshest seafood. The group started with roasted vegetables, arancioni (rice balls), and some fish specialties. They then enjoyed a swordfish, eggplant, and tomato pasta made fresh to taste. Finally they topped off their night with baked fish and potatoes and a large serving of homemade tiramisu. If there was one thing to learn from dinner, it was that they would not go hungry while in Sicily.
The second day of the trip began with a short drive to the temple sites in Agrigento. The sun was fully shining on the group as they reached to tops of the hills holding the temples. Dr. Evers again explained to the group a short background on the ruins they were to see that day and the historical importance to Sicilian and Roman history. Many of the temples and ruins the group visited were atop hills, showcasing the strategy of past peoples to build homes and towns as high as possible so as to always have a view of the sea and any possible invaders.
After much exploring and photo taking, the group departed from Agrigento for Taormina, with a stop at Piazza Armerina. In Piazza Armerina the group was able to see the palace of mosaics that included room after room of decorated floors and walls, specifically highlighting the long corridors and the different depictions of people. Each room had a different story and purpose, and with the renovated structure for tourists, the group was able to walk on raised paths and see each room from above.
The remaining drive to Taormina was after sunset and as the group approached Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, they encountered the biggest surprise of the trip, a live view of Mt. Etna erupting. Tuesday February 19 Mt. Etna began to erupt and had continued to each day. The group could see her spouting lava on Saturday night from the bus and even caught a glimpse of some of it running down the side of the volcano. This was truly an impressive sight and once in a lifetime opportunity.
After hotel check-in in Taormina, the group enjoyed an even grander dinner than Friday if possible. At La Piazzetta, the group began with homemade large macaroni noodles served with a roasted eggplant and tomato sauce. Then thinly sliced beef was rolled around potatoes and cheese and served with a light glaze as the second course. For desert they enjoyed a classic homemade, layered chocolate dish with cream that was spotted with hazelnuts before being drizzled in chocolate. But beyond the amazing cuisine, the group drank the remarkable Sicilian wine produced locally. Never have food and drink joined together so harmoniously.
The final day of the trip began with a walk to the theater in Taormina, with an eclipsing view of Mt. Etna in the distance. The sun was shining again, providing a view of the coast and sea to match the beauty of the ruin-filled theater. Dr. Evers gave a briefing on the theater and its surroundings, and then the group had free time to walk the streets of Taormina and enjoy lunch on their own. After a slow afternoon the group departed for the Catania airport, catching different evening flights back to Rome and the JFRC. What a sad departure it was to leave such a gorgeous island, and on Election Day in Italy nonetheless.