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Student Travels to Sicily

On the whole, Sicily has a very different vibe from the rest of Italy. The best I can describe it as a combination of Africa and Italy- which is a pretty easy conclusion to draw given it’s geographic location. But what that actually translates to on a street level is a much greater ethnic diversity than Italy (and better ethnic food) while still displaying the classic Italian norms.

I spent all three of my nights in Palermo, on the north side of Sicily. I wanted a big city to stay in, but word of warning: if you’re at all interested in hiking the famous volcano Mt. Etna, stay on the east side of the island. Sicily is a big place, and it would take a good chunk of time training or busing there from Palermo.

I split my weekend into three parts: first half day exploring the city itself, another relaxing on the beach, and a third in the interior in a small town of Corleone. Yes, the movie the Godfather drew me here, along with almost any other tourist that would visit the town. I found a few things interesting:

1) The city, predictably, has gone through great lengths to shed themselves of their mafia past. Anti-mafia movement is the name of the game, and the tour we took through town focused primarily on the anti-mafia movement opposed to the doings of the mafia. Rightly so- these people are brave public heros and the town of course would want to maintain a good name, but part of me thinks they should embrace both sides. Ham up the mafia aspect a bit, sell some more “Godfather” related souvenirs, lead a tour of an old Don’s villa- easy money. None of these things really exist right now, and the poor town could use the income.

2) Transportation sucks. Trying to get from Palermo to Corleone is a definite challenge, and the only way to do it is by bus. However the bus times do not line up with the guided tours of the city and the last bus leaves at the remarkably early 4:00pm back to Palermo, so one needs to plan accordingly.

That’s about it- the couple of places I hit both were exactly what I was hoping for, and Sicily was well worth the flight from Rome. A couple of final pointers for anyone considering going:

-Try the Etna Rosso, a Sicilian red wine grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna. Very delicious.

- In Palermo, stay at Casa di Amici. They had a very friendly staff in a great location for a reasonable price, only make sure you ask to stay in the main flat. They’re divided into two, and the lesser one sucks.

-The daytime markets turn into night life hubs around 11:00pm. Definitely check out one of them if you’re a night life person.

Published October 8th, 2012 by Patrick Johnson
Posted to Student Blog



Patrick, it sounds like you had a great stay in Sicily. I must admit, I envy you because after quite a few years living here in Italy, I’ve never made it. You students really know how to plan your time abroad ;-)

I think that there is one thing you might have missed during your stay, though. Corleone may very well be visited by people attracted by the ‘Godfather’ legend, but it isn’t Disneyland. Siciliani, Palermitani, Corleonesi have paid with their own blood (of their families, even of their small children) the crimes of the mafia and the very idea of ‘embracing’ the mafia, as you suggest, is EXACTLY what they have been fighting against for decades. They want to and hopefully WILL defeat the BEAST that is called mafia. The mafia isn’t a movie, it isn’t a fable. The mafia is destruction. Period. And don’t think these things don’t exist anymore…….people in Sicily (and not only, organized crime has lots of names and is EVERYWHERE) live with this nightmare every single day of their lives.

Here are a few initiatives that might be interesting (sorry, they are only in Italian), but I’ve found them to be quite interesting – all involves confiscated land or property and their ‘reinvented’ uses:


I hope I don’t come across as too sharp; that is surely not my intention. Maybe if you decide to stay longer in Italy, you will have a little better understanding. And I AM SURE you are not alone in your thoughts. That’s exactly why I decided to reply to your post, which I really never, ever do.

Posted October 13th, 2012

Patrick Johnson

No it's not at all too sharp, I appreciate the input. And I want to emphasize the fact that I do know that this is a sharp and painful subject, and it is not my intention to diminish the seriousness of the mafia.

But I disagree that my idea is one that should be abandoned because of ongoing fear of the Mafia. As the Mafia moves into Northern Italy, the people of Sicily are wrestling power over their own lives. This week Sicily voted Rosario Crocetta Governor of Sicily- an openly gay anti-Mafia campaigner. It is a powerful statement of the diminished power of the Mafia. In hand with moving on from the mafia politically is moving on from them economically. The Mafia has extorted the population for years- it would be a bit of retroactive justice is the region experienced economic growth brought from increased 'mafia curious' tourism. Additionally it's an opportunity for the region to teach exactly as I was taught, that the truth behind the Mafia is very different than anyone outside of Italy can imagine.

I called this 'my idea' but really the idea has already taken seed in Corleone: the most popular bar in the city was one that sold wine with the Marlon Brando image on it. They, in seeming contrast to the rest of the city, were in constant business.

Posted November 17th, 2012


A new post on Sicily outlines why this destination should be on every Italian traveler's list: http://www.insidersabroad.com/italy/blogs/tourist-blog/posts/best-cities-for-food-wine-in-sicily

Posted January 27th, 2017

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