It has been a long time since we updated our blog…..we have no good excuse for this only that we were enjoying a wonderful winter in Sicily!
Cruisers in the Med generally choose a spot to winter over in, in which they stay anything from 3-6 months to shelter from winter storms and cold weather. Before leaving England, we were quite sure that Sicily would be our winter home. We just needed to arrive there before the end of season weather kicked in. As an Italian island in the centre of the Med, with an amazing climate and culture, Sicily was an easy choice. Our desire to have the boys experience an Italian speaking school also weighed heavily in our decision to make it there.
We arrived in our winter home, Marina di Ragusa, in the south of Sicily in mid November. Arriving was an emotional moment, the culmination of four months of sailing in which we had overcome many challenges and grown as a family along the way. We arrived to the sound of locals on the pontoon, celebrating the ‘vino novello’ or the new wine season. They offered us delicious ricotta filled cakes to welcome us. It was a beautiful moment.
We were very impressed with the marina; a beautiful new facility which is well maintained and with friendly staff. The marina is located in a small sea side resort with wonderful beaches which serves the bigger towns nearby. It is full of holiday homes and where the summer here can be chaotic, the winter months are tranquil. We soon got to know the marina live aboard community, approximately 50 boats with families and couples aboard.
On our arrival, we contacted the local school and they welcomed the boys wholeheartedly. The boys understand a good level of Italian but they were not bilingual on our arrival. They started school near to the end of November and by Christmas their fluency both in the written and spoken word had improved dramatically. It was incredible to see how kids adapt to new situations and cultures.
School in Sicily however is different than at home in the UK. Here there is a strong focus on knowledge acquisition and less on skills building. The kids attend school from 8:30- 13:30 each day. They have one break in this time but there is no outdoor space for them to enjoy, hence they remain in the classroom all the time. I am not sure how the teachers cope with a class full of kids who have no place to let off steam! On a very positive note, the teaching resources used are beautiful, imaginative and fun.
At Christmas both boys took part in their class Christmas play. They did brilliantly and we were really proud of them. Filippo and I were happy to get involved in the Parents Association at the school. We were thrown back into cake sales, homework and fundraising. We were very happy to play our part in helping a school which had been so welcoming to our family.
In the spirit of learning about life the marina kids (Patrick, Sean, Max, Nino and Sara) set up a small business. ‘Croissant Express’ was born shortly after we arrived which consisted of the kids delivering fresh croissants from the local bakery to the boats each Sunday morning. This little business involved taking orders from the boats on weekday afternoons, liaising with the baker and getting up early on Sunday to collect and deliver. The kids really enjoyed the responsibility and freedom this gave them and the sailors were thrilled with the freshly baked croissants!
With the boys at school each morning, Filippo and I were however unexpectedly thrown into down time. We started exploring the local area on foot and decompressing after a busy year of work and sailing. It is hard not to have a project though! It took us some while to get used to.
Nora happily starting singing with a local group of musicians (a big shout out to Mazzarelli Jam!) and Filippo set himself the task of learning how to kitesurf. He befriended Beppe, a local water sports guru, and a good friendship was born out of mutual love of the sea. By March, Filippo had learned to kitesurf and was very much enjoying his time in the water. We spent our weekends exploring the immediate area.
We spent Christmas on the boat. The boys enjoyed waking up to presents in the cockpit, but devising a Christmas dinner was a bit of a feat. As our boat oven heats only to 130 degrees, a turkey lunch was not possible. We went instead for an Italian style Christmas with lasagne and beef slowed cooked in wine. The day went off peacefully. We had a swim in the sea and a party in the marina on the 26th with the other live aboard which was fun.
After Christmas we spent a week in the capital city of Palermo walking, sightseeing and eating. Amazing food is everywhere on this island with signature street food such as arancini (fried rice balls stuffed with fillings ranging from mozzarella to salmon) and amazing sweets such as cannoli (sweet ricotta filled biscuits with candied fruit). You will never go hungry in Sicily…..
In Feb we also spent a weekend on Mount Etna with a group of families from school. Usually there is a bit of snow on Etna in winter and so people ski there. However after an unusually mild winter with very little rain, the snow did not materialise this year. The area is beautiful though and we spent the weekend hiking and exploring. Climbing up the side of the volcano to get a glimpse of an old crater was a highlight of the weekend, especially for Patrick who learned about volcanoes at school.
Nora also joined a local farmers market, getting the very best fruit and vegetables from the local community. The growing seasons in Sicily are short, abundant and varied with oranges, lemons, spinach, rucola, fennel, peppers, tomatoes frequently available, to name a few. We will sorely miss this amazing local produce.
We had planned to do much more sight seeing in Sicily but Covid-19 has changed everyone’s plans. Have a look at our next post giving you an update on our current lockdown and next steps. Regardless, Covid-19 has done little to change our opinion on Marina di Ragusa, a village now dear to our hearts and which has given us a wonderful group of new friends and very many fond memories. We have to leave soon, but I am sure that we will be back one day in the near future.