Monday, August 24, 2009

Recap of Sicily

This stop on our trip was the most disappointing, which I blame almost solely on how short the ship was in port. The tour we were on was very rushed and spent way too much time at a jewelry shop which literally locked us inside for a good hour (although they did feed us).

Before I get into the tour, I want to point out I am 25% Sicilian, which is also the least mixed quarter of my family (one of my grandfathers was 100% Sicilian). However, even the Sicilians themselves can hardly be thought of as homogenous. Because of its strategic position and fertile land, Sicily has been invaded several times.

From early Iberian immigrants to Phoenician farmers and scribes, from Greek settlements to Roman domination, from Moorish conquerors to Viking raiders, Sicily is both a hotbed of historical activity and a bastion of cultural diversity.

It was the home of the famous Syracusian scientist and inventor, Archimedes. The most legendary story of Archimedes involves his discovery of the hydrostatic properties of water, used for measuring volume through displacement.

Archimedes had been tasked by his king with determining whether a crown made for him contained all the gold the smith had been provided, or whether the smith had kept some and used another material. In order to do this, one weighs the object and compares this to its volume in order to calculate its density.

All objects of the same material have the same density (e.g. all iron is 7.8 g/mL, all gold is 19.3g/mL). The problem is, it is impossible at this time in history to find the volume of a metal without melting the object into a perfect geometrical shape for which we know the formula for volume (e.g. length x width x height for a box).

So, Archimedes is tasked with calculating the volume of the crown without damaging it. After many failures, he is climbing into a bath to relax after a hard day of thinking. As he enters, he notices the water level rise. He immediately jumps out of the bath and runs naked through the streets to the palace screaming, “Eureka!” (“I have found it!”)

Anyway, I was excited to see Sicily and was disappointed at how short our stay was and how little we saw. We took a tour bus from the port of Messina to Mount Aetna (or Etna). The city has some very unique architecture:

Below, one can see some of the Vandal influence still present over a millennia after their invasion:

Here are some pictures of our approach to Mount Aetna:

Notice in the second the prickly-pear cactus, imported from America and grown locally there, further evidence of their cosmopolitan tradition.

At our first stop, we saw a church and a little town at the foot of the mountain. It was not like the other tourist destinations we had visited; my wife never even found a shot glass to buy. I did get some pictures of the town:

Here’s a local gelateria (purveyor of gelato, a really thick, creamy, expensive ice cream):

And a condom vending machine:

We stopped further up the mountain to see a lava flow from one of the more recent eruptions:

We were then ushered to a jewelry shop, fed some appetizers, and hard-pitched some over-priced trinkets.

Back on the ship, I got this picture from our balcony as we left port:

There’s so much to see in Sicily, and yet we were scheduled to leave port at 1pm (and were even delayed by late arriving tours). This did not enable most tours, including our own, to fully appreciate the island. I’m not sure if it would have been better to dock in another port, or simply to stay longer.

I already complained about the trip back to the US being such a hassle, so I’ll just say I love the in-flight entertainment consoles on transatlantic flights. I got to play a trivia game with other passengers, and eat it passenger in seat 33F, I kicked your ass!

So that’s it for my honeymoon recaps. Finally… I’m going to do a reflective post months from now after going through everything I wrote and brought home (which includes quite a few pamphlets, print-outs, ticket stubs, notes, etc.). It will be a sort of “best of what I forgot to mention” post. I’ll probably also include some of the photos I liked but couldn’t sensibly incorporate into my already titanic posts.


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