Today is my 56th birthday. The first thought that comes to mind is…how did I get this old? I don’t feel old. I’m in pretty darn good shape. Where did the years go? I have to say that it was my forties that went by the fastest. The fifties are flying by even faster. I have a fear that each successive decade will move even more rapidly. A good friend of mind, (you there, Geno?) told me over twenty years ago that time moves more quickly as we get older because, relative to our age, a year isn’t as long. I thought that was very prescient.
Anyway, enough of the hand-wringing. Today is my birthday! And I’m spending it in Cefalu’, a quaint resort city about an hour by train from Palermo in Sicily.
Yesterday had been spent kinda laid back. I had been charging through Palermo at warp speed and needed a break. So, I slept in and took Palermo more slowly. Just walked through neighborhoods and along the waterfront. Like I always say, the best way to discover is to do so without an agenda.
I came across a great bazaar with lots of interesting items–reminded me of the flea markets I saw in Berlin. The waterfront was wonderful. I had initially refrained from approaching the waterfront because it didn’t look interesting. All I had seen were cranes for containers so I assumed it was industrial. I was wrong. There was an enormous cruise ship in port. Of course, all cruise ships are enormous, aren’t they? I was also impressed by the number of sailboats. The view was gorgeous and I could see the mountains coming down to the sea. Just goes to show that you shouldn’t write something off without checking first.
I found a restaurant for lunch and had a seafood pasta dish, then went on my merry way. I came back to the hotel for my requisite nap and woke up to do some Internet surfing. When it came time for dinner, I started on another trek. I found a restaurant but it was only so-so. The concierge had given me the names of three restaurants, one of which was around the corner and offered traditional Sicilian fare, something I had really been anticipating. I’ve been told over and over that Sicilian food is out of this world. So far, I’ve not found it.
Unfortunately, none of the restaurants were open which was very disconcerting. Perhaps it had been too early in the evening. I didn’t know. That’s a frustrating thing about Italy–you have to eat on their schedule. Many restaurants don’t open until 8:00 p.m. for dinner. If you’re famished, it can be tempting to eat just anywhere.
Instead, last night I stumbled upon an area chock full of restaurants. Most of them looked more like clubs and featured pizza. Frankly, I am pizza’ed out. Unless I go back to Naples for true Napolitana pizza, I don’t plan on having any more.
I walked around past restaurant after restaurant and finally chose a small family-owned place. Again, the food was only okay. Nothing to fantasize about. Afterward, I came to my hotel room and read the news. Yes, this is how exciting life in Europe is!
Today, though, is my birthday. I had planned that I would go to Cefalu’ a small (population 14,000) resort town. I had no idea how big the city was. My cousin, Maurizio and his wife, told me that it was enchanting and they were right.
After disembarking from the train, I saw no taxis. I rightly assumed that the city center was within walking distance. Following the signs, I came across a beautifully quaint piazza with a church and outdoor cafes. The backdrop of the church was a mountain that came practically to the church’s back door. It provided a dramatic scene. I could not get a decent photo, though, because of the location of the sun.
I kept walking and found myself losing count of the number of restaurants. I couldn’t believe it. I am confident that Cefalu’ has more restaurants per capita than Palermo. In some spots the restaurants were lined up, one right after the other. All of them looked upscale and some had terraces that looked out over the sea and the rocky outcroppings.
But it was so frustrating! They were all closed! Many were under renovation, probably to prepare for the tourist season. The prices were reasonable–$15 for spaghetti with fresh clams? Yeah, baby.
I noticed, too, that the streets were very clean in Cefalu’. There was very little graffiti. It was evident that this community was more affluent than Palermo. The streets of Cefalu’ even seemed to be of a better quality. They consisted of stone squares and cobblestones and were immaculate. Of course, Palermo is very industrial and has more than 665,000 people so one really can’t compare.
Ceramic shops were everywhere. So were candy stores and clothing shops. Cafes were too numerous to count. I was going nuts, planning my next trip back just so I can eat. Truthfully, there’s not much else to do in Cefalu’ but eat. The town is on the coast and stretches of the beach are sandy but there’s only so much time you can sun worship. I’d rather pack on the pounds by pigging out.
I took a long walk along the promenade. The weather was actually quite good. The morning was warm and sunny. By 1:00 p.m. clouds were starting to roll in and it was getting a bit chilly, though not enough to be uncomfortable.
As I walked, I heard a dog yelping. It wasn’t a normal bark, but a plaintive cry. Eventually I came upon a cream-colored lab tied to a gate. He was sitting on the sidewalk, crying pitiably. I didn’t know where his owners were, but he was unable to lie down. I felt so sorry for the poor guy that I stopped and scratched his ears and his front and just spoke softly to him. He looked up at me and I swear I saw gratitude in his eyes.
I walked away and he started his cry again which broke my heart. I was half tempted to untie him and take him for a walk so he could get some exercise, attention and an opportunity to lie down. On my way back, I walked toward him and he looked at me expectantly. When I stooped to pet him, his tail wagged enthusiastically. Again, I talked softly to him and he actually closed his eyes in what seemed like serenity while I scratched his ears. I fell in love with that guy.
Well, it was nearing time to eat (it’s ALWAYS time to eat for me) and I needed to find a restaurant. I didn’t want bar or cafe food. I wanted a sit-down restaurant and I wanted seafront. I walked back to the area where the upscale restaurants seemed to be congregated and chose a place called La Locanda. It was waterfront but had no al fresco dining! I ate there because I saw swordfish on their menu and I had been exhorted to have swordfish. The food was good but not the eye-popping, lip-quivering swordfish my tutor had experienced. The dessert, however, was to die for. It was so sinful, I expected to open my eyes and find myself in a confessional.
Actually, eating inside at La Locanda had been fortuitous because it eventually started raining. By the time I finished dessert, a latte macchiato and the complimentary aperitif, the rain had stopped. It was approaching 3:00 p.m. and I wanted to catch the train back. I had pretty much seen everything in Cefalu’ so I felt it best to return to Palermo. Plus, I want to find a good restaurant so I could celebrate and have some damn traditional Sicilian food!
After arriving at my hotel, I parked my substantial rump on my hotel bed. I opened up Facebook and found fifty (and counting) birthday wishes. It was very heartwarming. Even though I’m 6,000 miles from home and spending my birthday alone, dozens of friends and family members are remembering me today and it makes me feel good. Doesn’t seem so lonely anymore.
Tomorrow my flight leaves at 6:30 p.m. which gives me several hours to snoop around town some more. Funny, even though my apartment is also in Italy, I want to stay here in Sicily. I guess I need a level of wealth that allows me to travel without having an actual address. Is there such a job?