All good things must come to an end.

It took me over five hours, two buses & more than €20 to get from Syracuse, to my next temporary abode.  Situated in the countryside of Sciacca, a small town, on the west coast of Sicily, two Sicilian brothers, Fabio & Alessandro & the latter's Polish girlfriend, Aga, live on a small family owned olive grove.

Each year, the olives are hand picked by the guys, with the help of a team of volunteers.  The majority of the olives are pressed into organic virgin olive oil, which they sell & some they save, to preserve to eat at home.

None of this is unusual in Italy, where most families living in the country have their own olive trees & make their own oil, usually just for family consumption.  However, the difference in Sciacca is, they've decided to do something a little special with their oil.

Having turned the ground floor of their three storey home into a laboratory, Alessandro has taken to using their own oil to make organic cosmetics.  Soap, body scrubs, lip balms, skin oil.  All natural, homemade, organic & deliciously scented with lemon & grapefruit, among other fruits.

Professionally packaged, they sell the products in some of the hotels & gift stores in town, but mainly online through their website saponi&saponi & abroad in Germany & Poland.  I was fortunate enough to get to test out all the products & I was really impressed, especially with the body scrub.

I spent three weeks with the guys in Sciacca & I can honestly say, it was one of the most enjoyable, fun packed time I'd had on my travels.  The guys at Sciacca were kind, caring, warmhearted, funny & generous people, who made me feel a part of their family.

Within the first weekend, we had indulged in würstel & sauerkraut at a German night, in aid of Oktoberfest, been sailing on a yacht during the regatta, been witness to the talents of the local salsa dancers & had a night in playing Hotel, the Italian version of Monopoly, whilst devouring pomegranate mojitos made by Mara, my German roommate.

The first week saw the consumption of a fair few more cocktails, which at €4 a glass, I couldn't really deny myself.  Then, after a day trip to Palermo & the purchase of a rather oversized & overpriced Italian grammar book, I began to finally do some real studying, with the, much appreciated, help of Aga, who, after two years in Sicily is now enviably fluent in Italian.

The second week saw more volunteers arrive & all of us go out to the fields to pick the olives.  After an unexpected storm, early on in the summer, the crop had been greatly affected & many of the trees were quite bare.  After two days under the Sicilian sun, all the olives were picked & we took them to the small local factory to be pressed.  I really enjoyed watching the whole process, from picking, to pressing, to the final product, of fresh olive oil.  The smell of freshly pressed olives is so unusually strong & the colour is a really dense green.  Nothing like it is in the supermarket.  If you would like to see the process for yourself, I have posted the photos here, on my food blog, Mangiamo!

On my last weekend in Sciacca, the guys held a BBQ, in order to celebrate the end of the harvest.  There were freshly caught mackerel, grilled on the BBQ & an abundance of dolce, which included a ginormous carrot cake, handmade by myself, with the help of my New Zealand friend Kate.  Turns out Italians quite like a moist carrot cake, especially when it's made with nearly a litre of freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil.

In my last week in Sciacca, I gave up any attempt at dieting & decided to indulge in the local gelato.  It's hard to deny that sugary delight.  The weather in Sicily was still hot & sunny, despite it being October.  We spent our afternoons battling the slugs in the organic vegetable garden, picking the surviving aubergines & bright red peppers.  I spent two days decorating the laboratory's office, painting it a beautiful shade of sea green.  I felt quite proud of myself once it was finished & the guys seemed to be happy with it too, as they awarded me with half a kilo of chocolate!  Nothing puts a smile on my face more than chocolate!

On my last night in Sciacca, we held an 'International Night' at the house.  Made up of three Sicilians, one Polka, one New Zealander, one Brit, two Italians & one Taiwanese, each of us made something typical of our nationality for the evening.  Aga made pierogi, polish dumplings, the Italians made a tuscan soup & the Taiwanese formed small parcels out of leaves from the palms in the garden, to steam rice.  I made chocolate muffins…I would like to defend myself, by saying that I was asked to make them.  Otherwise I would have chosen something more traditionally British, like my buttermilk scones.  Alessandro made pomegranate mojitos, using fruit picked from the garden, which I may have lost count of how many I indulged in & to be honest, the night soon became a blur, especially when we ended it with shisha.

The next day, we had a brunch made up of the previous evenings leftovers, said our goodbyes & then, with my new friend Kate, hopped on a bus for Rome.  Still wearing a T-shirt, with the sun beaming its heat, I was not looking forward to the cold & rain of the mainland. 

I had only really planned to stay in Sicily for a period of a month & by this time, I had been on the island for three!  I knew my time there was done, but, it was still sad to say goodbye.  As the bus rolled out of Sciacca, I looked out of the window & held back tears, I would miss this place & its inhabitants.



I lost myself to the unknown.

After my time in Linguaglossa had been cut short, due to irreconcilable differences, I no longer had a firm plan of what to do next.  The Brits, had come to stay in Italy for just one month & already nearly three weeks had passed since they'd arrived.  They were in Italy for a break, before heading out on a year long travel exploration, around the world, starting in Vietnam.  As we all were seemingly without a fixed plan, the three of us hopped on the earliest bus to Catania.

Going back to Catania for the third time, felt odd.  I had seen too much of that town.  Once there, the three of us went off in search of thrift shops, stopped for coffee & then took refuge in the train station, equipped with a loaded panini.  We caught the train to Siracusa in the afternoon, after the Brits managed to secure us an apartment in Ortigia, through AirB&B.

I was going off-plan for the first time in this trip.  This both excited me & scared me a little.  I have to admit that I am one of the least organised people around, however, I don't do well at 'going with the flow'.  I like very much to know what I'm doing & I no longer knew anything at all.  I tried very much to just 'be'.  The Brits seemed to be very good at that & so, the three of us shacked up in our apartment & went out for pizza, when we couldn't figure out how to work the oven. 

The following day we swapped apartments, for a better one in the center of town, equipped with a TV that was language adjustable.  Once moved in, we spent our days sightseeing, snapping pictures, lazing around, stopping for beer & gelato, reading books & eating more pizzas.

My favorite thing though, was the morning food market in town.  Fruit, vegetables, formaggio, vino, pesce.  Everywhere you looked, there was something beaming out at you!  This was the best place to go for brunch.  Everyone wanted to give us a taster of what they had to offer.  Fresh ricotta, drowning in olive oil, seasoned with garlic & thyme & still warm.  Chunks of mozzarella.  Tiny plastic cups filled with red wine.  All shoved in your face, begging to be consumed & I did.  I had a piece of everything!

The three of us were coaxed into a family run deli, where they made the biggest, most delicious paninis, for a mere €2 each.  Inside, they were filled with mozzarella, olives, sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto, fresh tomatoes, grated salted ricotta & drizzled with olive oil.  To die for.  We bought some of their ricotta too, with the garlic & thyme, a snap at €4.  This is why I came to Italy, I thought!

Alas, this break from the plan had to come to an end.  The Brits wanted to explore Sicily more, before they headed off on their travels & although I would have happily stayed with them for the duration, I sensed they were ready to have some time alone together.  The three of us spent an entire day in a coffee shop, abusing the WIFI & after a few emails, I managed to find an olive grove that needed help & that I could go to straightaway.

The night before I left, we ate dinner together in the apartment, stayed up late talking & then finally said our goodbyes.  In the early hours of the following day, I got up, got dressed & crept out of the apartment & walked the twenty minutes down to the bus station.

I had really enjoyed my time with the Brits & I would miss them.  Both had grown up in the country, much like myself & later moved to London.  After leading the usual heavy London lifestyle, they had given it all up, careers, home, everything, to seek a new perspective.  A better way of life.

I felt, although we were different, in some of our opinions & our upbringing, that it was easy to open up to them.  To be searingly honest about myself.  I think, when you're traveling, especially for long periods of time, being in countries, whose languages are foreign to your own, it becomes very isolating.  It is not until, you meet someone that speaks your language, that you realise, how much you really need to be able to express yourself.  The amount that you learn about yourself over a period of time, is overwhelming & needs to be expressed, in order to be processed.  You need that outlet & you also need the outsider's perspective, so that you yourself can gain perspective on what you've learnt.



A mild interlude.

I must take a moment, away from recounting my travels, to speak of my longing, for home, or a home.  As I have now finally left Sicily, after nearly three months there (my experience of which, I shall fill you in on, in good time) & moved onto Rome, the beautiful Sicilian summer I was happily experiencing, until only last weekend, has come to an end & in its place, a real Italian Autumn has taken grip.

Here in Rome, the weather is much akin to an English climate, at any time of the year, really.  You will wake to sunshine, although, the temperature will be bitterly cold & then, as you wrap up in your snugliest boyfriend sweater, the heat suddenly emerges & you are at once, stripped back to nothing but a T-shirt.  Then just as you settle into the heat, out come the ominous dark clouds & down comes the rain.  Light at first, gradually building to a heavy down pour.  Then, in a blink of an eye, it's sunny again.

This erratic behaviour doesn't bother me, but it does bring on a feeling of longing.  Longing for a home I no longer have & so utterly want & need.

Oh to be wrapped up in the softest of blankets, my feet warmed by a pair of chunky knit socks.   Mr Pig snoring dreamily next to me, as I watch a, no-doubt, festive film, most likely in black & white.  A roaring fire in the room, its heat protecting me against the rain, beating heavily on the window panes.  A plate, laden with squidgy chocolate brownies, resting on the arm of the sofa & just to add to my glutenous comforting, a mug of hot chocolate on the coffee table, just within reach.  Real hot chocolate mind.  Melted down bars of dark chocolate, with swirls of warm milk poured in.  Non of this powdered malarkey.

The Christmas tree, alight in the corner.  Adorned with all manor of delicately decorated baubles, picked up from Christmas markets all over the world.  Small, wrapped gifts, sitting neatly under it.  Each one special & hand picked.  Not one bought from a store.  Not a chain, anyway.  Some made by me personally, others sourced from ethically minded small businesses.  Wrapped in brown paper, white crochet lace ribbon, tied neatly around & hand decorated paper labels attached.

Alas, here I am, in Italy, alone.  Without a home.  Without my Pig.  Without...A lot of things.  Although, I do have a plate of brownies, a blanket, some nice snugly socks, Sir Fleming bought me & thankfully I have the ability to watch films on my laptop.  I suppose for now, this will simply have to do.



Terror di Trente

After a week cut off from the outside world, I was more than ready to leave Catania for somewhere new.  Whilst HIG was out at work, I packed my bag & hopped on the bus for Linguaglossa, a small town with views of Mount Etna.  I had made arrangements to stay on a vineyard there & help pick grapes.  The website made it look quite perfect.  I think, after years of watching those TV shows, where Brits move abroad & set up somewhere in the Tuscan hills, attempting to become wine makers, I kind of had a romantic view of what was to come.  Sadly, the reality was far from enchanting.

I arrived in the town center (after panicking about where to get off for far longer than needed) & proceeded to wait for my collection.  Five minutes went by, then another five & then I started to question as to whether anyone was coming at all.  I finally relented & called the host.  She told me to go get a coffee & she'd be there in five.  Ten minutes went by before she eventually came.

When we arrived, I was given the guided tour of the house & gardens.  The property was quite modern, with a great kitchen & bathroom & their living room/diner was incredible.  A large room with a high ceiling, every wall covered in art & antique furniture in every crevice.  The garden was beautiful, with an outdoor swimming pool down at the bottom.  There were even outdoor showers, made from huge stones, sitting in a graveled base.  I was starting to think I'd landed on my feet!  That was until I realised that the pool was an Eco pool.  Or otherwise known as a pond, complete with fish & frogs.  Did I fancy a swim?  Ummm, I think I'll pass this time, thank you.

On the first evening, the other volunteer, a Finnish woman, & the hosts'  Romanian worker, went out for pizza & so I was left alone with my hosts.  I had already sensed that this was not a match made in heaven & soon this was to be confirmed when the following conversation unfurled:

{sat in the kitchen waiting for one of the hosts to arrive with dinner}

Host One: "So, what did you do before WWOOFing?"
Me: "Oh, I was backpacking around before."
Host One:  "No, what did you do before?"
Me: "Oh, you mean before coming traveling?"
Host One: "You're evading the question & that's pissing me off!"

I swear, that is how that conversation, on my first day no less, went down.  As you can imagine, I was taken aback & quite in the mood to slap her round the chops.  But alas, I just answered the bloody question.

Unfortunately, the following day, on my first day of work, there were no grapes to be picked.  Apparently, after making sure that I had got to them by a particular date, so as not to miss the grape picking, it turned out, they weren't even going to pick them for another week.  And so, I was asked to shovel gravel from one spot, to another & sieve the stones in-between.  I was about ready to slit my wrists all of an hour in.

When my wheelbarrow, loaded with gravel fell over at one point, spilling the stones all over the grass, Host Two, just stood & looked at me & did absolutely nothing.  It was a really hot day & the sweat was pouring off me, my back was in so much pain from sieving the gravel & I just about wanted to cry.

Things were just not looking great.  These guys weren't about to give me the Sicilian experience.  Nor were they about to teach me the processes of wine making.  In fact, the only thing they seemed interested in, was using me as cheap labour.

Thankfully, a few days into my living nightmare, two Brits turned up & hoorah for the English & their sense of comaraderie.  The three of us huddled together & found friendship in our mutual dislike of our captures.  Every evening we would run off into town & plot our escape over a beer.  Then shuffle back to our prison in time for dinner & proceed to drink ourselves happy.  The one & only plus point to this place, was the constant flow of wine on offer.  I can honestly say, I was inebriated every night for two weeks.

Although, after a while, I think this became our downfall.  At first, our hatred of these two people & their treatment of us, riled us & made us plot escape plans nightly.  But soon, it became apparent that we weren't actually putting any of these plans into action.  Had it happened?  Had we developed Stockholm Syndrome?  No!  Not me, anyway.  Especially as I was consistently singled out for Host One's tirade of abuse.

I am a resilient person & I can take a lot, but I do equally have a short fuse & a fearsome temper, as mère can testify.  It took every ounce of my strength to bite my tongue throughout this entire experience, whilst getting extrememeley riled up on many an occasion.  Although, it's odd how, when someone verbally attacks you completely out of the blue, with something completely ridiculous, you just clam up, unable to respond.  How can anyone be expected to defend themselves against someone who is clearly being irrational.  Which really just annoyed me further, my inability to articulately defend myself verbally.

After two weeks of abuse, daily meals made up of three day old, re-heated pasta, too much red wine, far too many beers & at least some new friends in town, we'd had enough.  We faced our captures & told them we were leaving.  On our last evening, they took us out for pizza & karaoke & I almost began to like them…almost…Then I remembered how I'd been treated over the previous two weeks & I stopped even trying.

I could have really regretted those two weeks, but in the end, I really appreciated them, because, amongst the bullshit, I found two new friends, that I really liked spending time with.  So, in the end, it really was just meant to be.



A lost connection.

Leaving Vinciucci was filled with such sweet sorrow.  I had come to feel at home there, I was comfortable & although recent events had left me feeling disgruntled, I was genuinely happy there.  But, I had become too comfortable, sedated in the familiarity of it all.  I knew that, despite my longing to stay, it was the right time to leave.  Saying my farewells, I had to hold back the tears welling in my eyes.  I would miss these people.  They had, in their own unique way, become like a surrogate family to me.

After a final injection of gelato & an hour long wait, I boarded my bus to Catania, leaving Ispica & all those fond memories, from the five weeks spent there, behind.  It was time for the next chapter, for something new.

I had arranged to meet Hawt Italian Guy & stay with him in his rented apartment for a week.  It would be the only opportunity I would have to see him in Italy, before he returned to his home in Madrid.  Our time together at Vinciucci had meant something to me, but coming to the end of my stay there, I worried that perhaps my feelings had evolved from the alien environment, rather than true emotion.

HIG met me at the bus station in Catania & it felt like so much longer than three weeks since I had last seen him, yet nothing had changed.  He took my bag & we walked the short distance back to his apartment, stopping for groceries along the way.  The apartment itself was better than expected.  It was perfect in its imperfect state.  Small, compact, but well formed.  Empty & in need of life.  I loved it & I wanted to stay.  I wanted to be the one to fill it with life, to give its character some love, some affection.

We spent the evening eating & drinking on the terrace, which overlooked the port.  It was nice to be able to relax & have a proper conversation with someone, who actually understood what I was saying!

The next day & every other day after, HIG would leave in the morning for work & not return until late in the evening.  With no WIFI in the apartment, I attempted to entertain myself.  I would walk the five minutes to the fish market everyday, taking in the sights & smells.  It took me a few days to work up the courage to actually buy anything.  My confidence in my ability to speak Italian has somewhat taken a nose dive.

I walked along every street & down every alleyway.  I looked in churches, I strolled in parks.  I eventually found a free WIFI zone in one of the piazzas & so inevitably ended up there everyday, attempting to check my emails & Facebook.  Turned out Facebook was the only thing it would actually load.  There I was, hovering by a fountain, surrounded by tourists snapping away with their cameras, whilst I impatiently glared at my phone, waiting for the floods of messages to come in, only to be disappointed by the lack of red notifications.

On the weekend, HIG & I attempted to venture out on his vespa to the beach.  Alas, the weather had other ideas & both day's attempts were scuppered by the rain.  Instead we took a trip into town & with HIG's help, I finally invested in an Italian sim card!  Unfortunately, I had not had the foresight to call Vodafone at the start of the trip & get my phone unlocked, so I was greatly disgruntled when they told me it would take anywhere from forty eight hours, to seven days to do!  The sim was burning a hole in my bag, dying to be abused.  I sulked mercilessly.

Stuck indoors, with no internet access & our conversation running dry, I realised I had been right to question my feelings.  The attraction I had previously felt for HIG had gone.  Lost to the carob fields.  Yet, I did not regret my visit.  I am at least starting to realise that not everything has to have a happy ending.  It was an experience & now I've let it go.  So perhaps I am learning after all.