Everybody told us Sicily was dangerous. If northern Italy is like Manhattan’s Central Park on a crisp, cool, spring morning, then the southernmost tip is like the projects, at night, during a drug war, if the world had no cops. Well, not really… But that IS the picture people painted for my roommates and I as we signed the release forms promising not to sue the study abroad program if we got killed in the process of visiting the place where The Godfather was filmed. In the name of adventure, off we went!
The chaos started on the connecting train ride between Rome and Naples, where a gypsy attempted to “help carry my bag” while a second gypsy hiding in a corner was getting ready to leap behind me and explore the contents of my purse. I could practically hear my dad saying: “If someone ‘offers to help you,’ they’re going to ROB YOU!” (Pessimistic? Perhaps. But true about 95% of the time when you are walking around with a camera around your neck, a map in one hand, and a suitcase in the other.) I am also not a very nice tourist. I simultaneously grasped the first gypsy’s wrist, whose hand was forcefully pulling on my bag, and dislodged her from it, while staring at the other and warning her not to dare come near me. Shocked by my reaction, they jumped off the train before security became aware of the situation. When you travel, you have to assume one thing and one thing only: Everybody around is out to get your wallet… And if they run into your iPod in the process, they’ll take that too.
We finally made it to Naples, where we had booked an overnight boat ride to Palermo, the capital of Sicily (you know, the island at the tip of the “boot” that Italy is). Well, we were soon to find out that we would be the only 3 females on a mini cruise-ship full of men, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and at night. A million scenarios rushed through our heads, in direct competition with quickly fleeting images of our lives flashing before our eyes. Did we stupidly get tricked into PAYING to get on a “boat to Sicily” only to get drugged and sold off on the sex market? Probably. (Had I watched the movie “Taken” by then, this would have been the point where I jumped out the window and into the sea to make my great escape.) To this day, I don’t know WHY we were the only 3 women in an overnight boat full of half-drunk male strangers, but when we peered out our window the next morning, we were genuinely surprised to have actually arrived in Palermo.
A few days prior, we had proudly booked “a great deal” on accommodations online for our 4 day/3 night great Sicilian adventure. WELL, there’s your first clue. The first thing we noticed about our “hotel/hostel” was that to get to the “lobby,” we had to go up at least 12 stories in a tiny, claustrophobic, antique, metal-wire elevator (the kind you only see in movies about haunted hotels and girls getting sold off on the sex market). The receptionist was wearing pajamas and smoking a cigarette, and demanded our passports. After informing us that “no passports, no room,” we skeptically handed them to her. She placed them under her desk and handed us our key.
Our room had not been cleaned. There was hair in the bathtub and CLOTHES hanging in the closet! A cozy welcome. We asked to be changed to a different room, at which point we realized we had not eaten in the past 15 hours, and decided to walk down the street to get breakfast while a new room was prepared for us. During breakfast, we learned that our “great deal” on accommodations had landed us in nothing more and nothing less than a pay-by-the-hour hotel of prostitution. REALLY.
Horrified, we ran back to our lovely “home away from home,” took our bags out of our room, stole our passports back from under the “receptionist’s desk” while she wasn’t looking, jumped back into the creepy elevator, and literally ran away from the place as fast as we could before anyone could figure out what we had done. My roommate, whose credit card we had used to reserve the room, called Bank of America and had it canceled.
Hours later, we met a nice-looking shopkeeper who recommended a small, family-owned bed and breakfast to us. We checked it out, and it was just as great as it sounded. Done settling in and thanking God for keeping our sense of humor (and bodies) alive, we set off to explore Palermo. Our first point of visit was the Palazzo dei Normanni, home of the Sicilian government. The picture above is of a dove bathing in the fountains outside the grand Palazzo. In her I saw, and felt, the calm after the storm.
What lesson did I learn from this? That adventures are what make life worth living. Two weeks later, my roommates and I found ourselves signing a second set of release forms… and flew to Egypt.