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Hello From Sicily – Exploring Lipari and a Sicilian Seafood Dinner in Salina
My first evening and night on the boat had gone surprisingly well. After a short night’s walk in the town of Lipari, I slept like a rock, but I woke up this morning around 8 am to see how the island of Lipari looks like. So I peeked out of the boat and saw that it was a beautiful day! Blue, sunny clouds, not a cloud to be seen. Perfect for exploring Lipari, the capital of the Eolian island of the same name.
Our ambassador had already woken up while the other three travelers were resting. Francesco and I took some snacks from our many places below the deck, sat down and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We were surrounded by many boats, mostly motorboats, power boats, and some of them were beautiful boats, while on the shore we saw several fishing boats tied up and fishermen straightening their nets.
I told Francesco that what we experienced on this boat and in Sicily is very different from the fast and fast pace of our North American cities. I added that it was a very welcome change from my usual routine. The rhythm of life is less here, and people seem to have different, simpler needs: they only care about their friends and family, and eat good food, drink good wine, and enjoy life, every day. Our own ambassador, a true Sicilian, also showed calmness and contentment.
Around 10 am I was ready to start exploring and start my journey to the city of Lipari. Half an hour’s drive down the busy road is a beautiful sight, with the mountains on one side and the sea on the other, and the walled town of Lipari looming in the distance. On my way to town I saw a scooter rental place, and for 15 Euros a day I was very tempted to rent one for a few hours. Instead I decided to do a little exercise and continue on my way to town.
With about 11,000 inhabitants, Lipari is the largest and most populated of the 7 Aeolian Islands. It is a very popular tourist destination: in the summer season the population swells to more than 200,000 people. It is a commercial center and a marina. I entered the town on one main street which was full of shops selling vegetables and fruits and various restaurants.
A steep cobblestone road led up the mountain, so I followed it and arrived at the walled town of Lipari with its long and confusing history. Inhabited since at least 5000 BC, the island has been ruled by successive waves of Greeks, Carthaginians, Etruscans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Saracens, Normans, Hohenstaufen, Angevins and Aragonese. The beautiful city walls were built by the Spanish on top of the ancient Greek acropolis in the mid-1500s. Within the walls of the walls are a cathedral, an ancient palace, Greek archaeological sites and the Museo Archeologico Eoliano.
A long staircase leads from the lower part of the town to the Cathedral and on a small piece of grass near the stairs an old local man has set up a shop to sell different types of handmade dolls and mountain stones such as pumice and obsidian which are all naturally occurring on the island.
I came to him to see what he had for sale and he called himself “Nonno Dorino” (“Dorino’s Grandfather”) and told me that he weaves all the doilies. She enthusiastically engaged me in a conversation and I bought two of her beautiful knits. On the way he showed me a picture of his granddaughter and gave me free samples of every type of explosive stone. I always enjoy interacting with the locals, and Nonno Dorino was a real person. He really knows how to attract visitors.
I went down the stairs from the church and turned left which took me to the second port of Lipari, Marina Corta, which has a large terrace overlooking the citadel and various outdoor restaurants with beautiful rooms. Today there was a large group of kids riding bikes, along with various local police officers. It was seen as a unique cycling event and drew spectators among locals and tourists alike.
A small chapel is located at the southern end of the piazza and narrow streets with various shops leading to different parts of town. During my visit on this sunny day I explored some of these side streets and found narrow but well-kept residential buildings, children playing in the street, cats and dogs crossing the sun, and many old ladies sweeping the roadside in front of their houses.
Behind me at the dock I joined Herbert, one of my traveling companions, and we walked together back to the ship. At around 2 o’clock in the afternoon we were ready to leave Lipari and started to leave the port and our captain set the sails as soon as we entered the water.
We walked along the coast of Lipari and reached the next beach which had a town that hugged the coast and stretched out in the mountains, and looking north the main part of the island was covered with white rocks. Francesco, our captain, explained that this stone is pumice, a white sparkling stone from volcanoes.
We anchored the boat on the beach in front of the pumice mines, some of which had been closed decades ago and remained industrial ruins. Claudia, Francesco and Lorenzo drowned in the frigid waters of the Mediterranean. The temperature would not be higher than 18 degrees, and as a true wuss, my policy is to swim only if the water temperature is above 28 degrees. So for me it was not a go, but my shipmates enjoyed a short, but refreshing dip. We also saw a jellyfish, which is called “medusa” in Italian. It seems that these animals are more common when the water is cold and are not seen during the summer months.
At around 6 o’clock in the afternoon we arrived at the next island called Salina, an island that used to be called “didyme” (“twins”) by the ancient Greeks, because of its two big mountains, Fossa delle Felci (962 meters high) and Monte dei Porri. (860 m). We arrived in the large village of Santa Marina, which has a large harbor for pleasure boats. On the island there are two other large villages: Malfa and Leni, and the total population is about several thousand people.
My friend Herbert and I went on foot to see the town. Santa Marina is made up of two streets that run parallel to the coast, Via Lungomare Giuffré near the coast and parallel to Via Risorgimento, towards the mainland. The town has a large church on Via Risorgimento, and a small house on the site near the port. The scene around the main square is interesting, with several restaurants, ice cream and street vendors.
Since we were meeting for dinner at 8pm, I went back early to take a shower – on land! The Santa Marina marina has a comfort area with modern toilets and showers. And since I was still worried about using the small toilet/shower combination, I couldn’t wait to jump into a real bathroom. Sometimes when you leave your comfort zone, you realize how simple things like a warm shower can be. I really enjoyed my cleaning routine and got dressed for dinner.
Francesco took us to a local restaurant in the main street called “Nni Lausta” (http://www.isolasalina.com/default_eng.htm – Sicilian for “lobster”), a famous local seafood restaurant that has been listed. The Michelin Guide. Our captain arranged with Fabio, the owner of the restaurant, to prepare a multi-course Sicilian meal for our group. Fabio has also lived in the United States for a while and owns a restaurant in northern Italy, apparently a successful restaurant entrepreneur.
We settled in and our food started to arrive. Fabio’s sister, Sabina Giuffré, owner of the bed and breakfast, also passed by, and recognized Lorenzo, who visited the island 12 years ago and met Sabina then. For Lorenzo, this was a real homecoming, a past experience, a return to the small island that his grandmother had left in 1910. He had already passed through the entire town of Santa Marina, talked to and connected or reconnected with many of the villagers, and although he had limited Italian skills, he was not shy to talk to anyone.
Sabina and Lorenzo mentioned that almost everyone in the town seemed to be called “Giuffré”, a common name that seems to have come from the Catalan people many years ago. Indeed, a website about Sicilian surnames shows that “Giuffré” is the most common surname in the town of Santa Marina. It was good to see this man from Boston, a Catholic priest, reconnecting with his parents and having a good time.
The first course of our dinner was ready to arrive: each of us received five different types of fish on an oblong plate that included tuna, mackerel and anchovies. One of the dishes was called “tartan di tonno” meaning it was raw fish. The group liked the appetizer, me not so much because I’m not a fish eater. Unfortunately the wonderful world of seafood in Sicily is
lose me completely.
But, I told myself, you will try each of these dishes. At least I gave it a shot and decided to open my mind. So I tried all five types of fish and there were two that seemed unappealing to my mouth. The rest of the people were very surprised when they realized that I don’t eat fish, but I happily wash my leftovers. There is no end here!
The meal continued with two types of pasta: “battarga di tonno” (with tuna), and “pasta verdure di stagione” (vegetable), which was a very tasty dish. The main dish was the biggest fish of the whole group: “scorfano” which I believe translates to “hogfish”. It was a big fish, ugly but beautiful and it was enough to feed the whole group of four people. My main meal was a pasta dish with eggplant followed by a lemon ice cream dessert for everyone. A glass of local wine “malvasia” (malmsey) followed and a few on board had grappa to digest. A true Sicilian meal consists of many courses, always with wine and fish, and maybe a glass of wine to close it.
After doing most of this cooking we went back to the boat and sat up chatting until 2 am. It’s time to relax for a new day of action…
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