Palermo Hands down, Sicily was my favorite part of the trip. Perhaps it was that laid back island attitude, or charming decay of the domes and intricate stonework, or the friendly strays, but let’s not jest–it was mostly the gelato.PalermoPalermoBaby shark, and only for 5 euro? What the what?
PalermoOur first morning in the city, a guy with this horse tried to persuade us to take his little tour to all the main sights. We were eleven; we wouldn’t fit. He called his brother. Before anyone actually knew what was going on, our professor was nodding his head with a “Ja, ja, ja”, and we were stacked into carriages and whisked around town. Nobody knew what to think. It was hilarious.PalermoPalermo PalermoPalermoGelato! Whenever I didn’t have a cone in my fist, I was talking about searching for a gelateria. It was sort of pathetic. The best combo was creamy, nutty pistachio and fresh, tart strawberry. Coffee and cream wasn’t too bad either…This is our group on our last day in Sicily, just after lunch. See how much smaller we had gotten already? PalermoThis picture was taken at the Roman ruins of Agrigento, where the views were breathtaking. The statue is of Icarus, whose father made him wings of wax and feathers, which melted when he flew too close to the sun.PalermoPalermoPalermoPalermoPalermoPalermoOne of the things that really impressed me about Italy was the pride that artists and small-businesses took in their craft. I wandered into this tiny ceramics store and ooed and ahhed for a solid half hour, while waiting for our food to be ready at the restaurant across the street. The owner was there, sitting behind his desk. He actually took the time to take us to the backroom workshop, freshly-cast and partially painted pieces yet to be fired. It was like this in practically every store: products were made and sold directly by the artists. Even at restaurants  the owner would come and greet you, seat you, serve you. There was also a great sense of community among businesses; I noticed a few other stores using cups and change plates from this ceramics store. If you walked in looking for something that a business didn’t carry, they would practically lead you to the door of the place that did (in this case the something is gelato–surprise!), instead of trying to persuade you to purchase something else.

At first I had thought that the business atmosphere in Italy was very strange; there was hardly a receipt to be gotten anywhere, because everything was off the books. Seriously, probably a fourth (ok, i’m totally just tossing that number out there, but it’s large) of the commerce that happens in Italy is never recorded, for tax evasion purposes. There’s just this anti-corporation and anti-government mentality. This made things difficult for our professor, who need receipts to be reimbursed for tickets, etc. Sometimes he would ask for one, and the person would literally write down numbers on a scrap of paper and hand it back with a shrug. It all sounds so bizarre, but this sort of symbiosis is what makes the family-owned business so tight-knit and successful. 
PalermoPalermoOh, and we went to the opera! Funny enough, the Teatro Massimo (the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe, pictured below) was showing The Walküre (The Valkyrie), second in a series of four opera written by German composer Richard Wagner,  in celebration of his 200th birthday. We sat in the last row (you know, just to see if the famous acoustics really are perfect) and enjoyed a full-circle cultural experience, as the entire opera was sung in German, with a heavy Italian accent. Actually, I found it easier to understand what was going on by reading the Italian subtitles than listening to the terrible German. The piece itself was actually first performed in Munich in 1870. Good stuff.

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Palermo

After four days in Sicily, we parted ways with four of our comrades and flew north to Venice, now only seven strong.

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