First of all, happy birthday to two of my favourite people in the world! Ben just turned 9 and Lindsay turned 29 (or so) yesterday. We had a fantastic time on the sunny beach celebrating Ben’s big day. Yesterday, on Linds’ birthday, we opened all the balcony doors of our airbnb and relaxed as the Sicilian sea breeze blew through. Owen and Jake are learning how to solve a Rubik’s cube; Ben and Eli are exploring a literacy app called “Reading Eggs”; Linds and I ventured out for groceries, had a nap and a little laptop time. “Lazy days” are a treat we don’t take for granted – even now.
A week ago we traveled clear across Sicily to get to this town, Balestrate. Unless you are going to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a private driver to take you everywhere, travel days utilizing public transit will always involve some stress and uncertainty.
Catching the early morning bus from Catania was easy since we had bought our tickets the day before. Eighty Euros ($120CDN) for all six of us to be driven from the east coast all the way to the northwest corner. The city of Palermo was the closest we could get to our destination. On Google Maps it certainly looks like it is within striking distance of Balestrate – about 40kms – but we couldn’t quite nail down what bus or train to take between the two.
We’d just figure it out when we got there. No other choice, really.
In any case, the three hour drive across the island was fantastic. I sat with Eli and gave him a GoPro to capture some of the scenery – arid hills dotted with huge cacti, rustic dwellings with terracotta roofs, and jagged mountains that appeared to be pushed out of the ground at acute angles.
Arriving in Palermo, Sicily’s capital, we expected a busy train station with choices of which one to board that would get us to our next destination. Unfortunately, upon our arrival, it was disturbingly barren. Two hours later, after painful conversations with the lady at the train ticket counter, a man at the bus station and a French couple who were also looking for a way to go west, we swallowed our frugal pride and hired a taxi.
We’d been avoiding taxis due to cost, but were pleasantly surprised when we showed him the address of the airbnb in Balestrate and he said it would only be 15 Euros – score!
Ten minutes later, without having left the city limits, he stops in front of a building that looks nothing like the pictures on airbnb.
“Via Liberta!” he says with a smile as he starts to open his door.
Confused look. “You-a say, ‘Via Liberta!’”
“Si, Via Liberta in Balestrate!” I reiterated.
I pulled out Google Maps again and held it out to him, zooming out of Palermo, sliding over to Balestrate and zooming into the correct Via Liberta street.
You can imagine the pained look on both of our faces. I was dreading how much this was about to cost us, let alone that he might not even want to drive out of town. He was probably thinking we might just get out and not pay him at all.
After several minutes of intense hand gestures, broken English, and horrible Italian, we agreed that he would drive us to our actual destination for 80 Euros. We had no idea whether this was reasonable or not, but forty minutes later we arrived at the doorstep of our next airbnb. We later learned from our host that 80 Euros was totally reasonable and that there are NO trains or buses to Balestrate on Sundays anyway!.
Balestrate is one of numerous beach towns on the coast of Sicily. Because there are so many, it is not particularly touristy, which is wonderful. Even after just one week here we have a favourite produce guy who greets us with a smile and teaches us how to pronounce the fruits and vegetables in Italian. We even saw the shy cashier from the grocery store last night walking in a different part of town and exchanged friendly, “Ciao’s!”.
We thought we would use this location as a home-base to explore the area a little, but we have found that for now life is good just hanging out in Balestrate. We know where to get groceries, fresh produce, and cheap, delicious pizza. The beach is so amazing that the kids really need nothing else to entertain them. And we have met another full time traveling family from the UK who have become fast friends.
Spending hours with the Johnsons on an almost daily basis feels like the most natural thing in the world. We’re so interested to hear each others’ stories, share our thoughts and ideas about this whole family travel thing and dream about what else might be out there to experience. It’s tiny, but we have made our own community.
The kids are having a blast together. At the same time, I think all of the adults are sensitive to the possibility that someone might think we’re spending too much time together. But making these social connections feels . . . normal. It was our “old life” that was the problem – the one where we barely had time to get together with close friends every few months. That was crazy.
There is so much pressure to do more, buy more, be more . . . I’m starting to think we should just slow down. Talk more. Listen more.
At the end of the day no one really cares about your status, what you wear, the car you drive . . . what matters is the connections between us, our relationships. And those take time. The only shortcut is to be kind, authentic, and caring.
Of course, my birthday girl figured this out a long time ago. I’m working on it.