I was just chatting to a lady who has booked a villa in Sicily. East Sicily. This is where I want tourists to go. Go to Etna, Catania, Taormina, Siracusa, you stay there. Leave the west and its beauty to me.
Because west Sicily is where most of my childhood memories are and it’s hands down the best part of the entire island.
Sicily is gorgeous. It is. Full of great food, gorgeous beaches and weather to rival the Caribbean (which had rubbish weather when we went) it’s possibly my favourite place on earth. Scratch that, it’s definitely my favourite place on earth.
What made me so, so sad though was that after the lady left, clutching a torn strip of paper with a few of my favourite towns and beaches, I decided to google the places I’d spent as a child. Beaches, towns and villages. After searching a few photos, I noticed a hidden bay by a beach we used to spend our lazy days on and thought, ‘I can’t wait to tell dad about that!’
The thought lasted a literal second in my head, before that telltale drop in the pit of my stomach when I realised that, no, I’d be exploring alone. Dad brought out the curiosity in me. He was the adventurer, always looking to explore, and the best thing is that, with him, I felt safe. We all did. Totally and utterly safe.
So, instead of focusing on the sad this Monday morning, here are some of my most favourite memories, memories which prove to me and everyone who hears them that, damn, I have a wonderful family and an enviable childhood.
1. Playing cats in the surf
My sister and I were cat fanatics as children. As mum and dad refused to let us have one for fear of us getting all excited and then forgetting to, y’know, look after the living creature, we pretended to be cats.
More specifically, MERcats. That’s right, cats who lived in the sea. We’d scramble on all fours to the surf but of course, even mercats are scared of water, so we’d run backwards trying not to get wet. We must have looked so special.
2. The pepperoni pizza
As we stayed in nonna’s village, which has a population of about 300 people, we’d always end up eating at one of the local family-run restaurants over the course of the six weeks we’d be there. Can you imagine growing up having lived on freshly cooked Sicilian pizza all summer? Then coming back to the UK and being stuck with Pizza Hut? Insanity.
Once place we went to, sat right on the edge of the mountain overlooking the villages below, was our chosen haunt. Dad ordered a pepperoni pizza. There was confusion in the kitchen. ‘Peperoni? Sei sicuro?’ Are you sure? Yes, of course!
Half an hour later we were still waiting. We asked the waiter what was going on and he said they had to go out to get the peperoni. No problem. Ten minutes later, and the pizza arrived. Without meat. With an abundance of green pepper. We burst out laughing much to the surprise of the confused waiter. Mum explained, in Sicilian, we wanted salsiccia, sausage, not pepper!
Peperoni in Italian means… well, green pepper. We ate it anyway, of course. Can’t let good pizza go to waste.
3. Fresh ficudinnia and spikes in my tongue
Mum was a pro at picking prickly pears and knowing just when figs could be eaten off the trees. Thinking I could be just like her, I reached out to grab a ripe, pink ficudinnia tuna, which is basically the fruit of a cactus, and subsequently ended up with hundreds of the finest spines known to man in my hand. They looked so tiny and soft, like hairs, I didn’t realise each one was as sharp as a needle.
Being the moron I was, I tried to ease the pain like a literal dog and lick them off – which meant they were now stuck in my tongue. There was nothing I could do except try to pull each tiny spike out manually. They were in my clothes, hair, mouth, and all over my body.
Never tried that again. I ended up throwing away the spine-infused t-shirt.
4. The oil debacle
As we couldn’t afford to fly – with cheap flight carriers only stopping at Palermo in the late 90s – we used to drive. Well, dad used to drive in our Austin Montego. One year the olives had been exceptionally good and the village we stayed in, my uncle’s hometown, had produced some of the most flavoursome, peppery olive oil I’ve ever tasted.
It was so good you could drink it. Knowing we’d never be able to get anything close to it at home and knowing it was being sold off cheap thanks to there being a great supply, dad bought at least six cans of oil.
These cans are about a foot and a half tall and half a foot wide and the oil is decanted into jars when needed. Given our luggage was taking up the boot of the car, dad had no choice but to store it in the back seat’s footwells. Meaning for three days while we drove home, my sister and I sat like little Buddhas cross-legged, our feet resting on the tins. Oh the cramp. The olive oil pasta was so worth the rheumatism.
5. Family time
No phones to distract us. No iPads or laptops. Not even my tamagotchi – our holidays were about relaxing for six weeks, and spending time together.
Can you imagine, spending quality time with your dad as he taught you the history of the Greek ruins, creating in you an insatiable curiosity of what’s behind every door, locked gate, or buried pathway?
Or how he’d cook the most delicious steak, so mouth-watering you remember the taste over two decades later?
How mum would barter with a fruit seller at the side of the road for the biggest watermelon which we’d bury in the sand at the beach to keep cool?
How as a family we’d dig wells and moats and create mountains and peaks in the sand, protecting mum, the queen, from the sea and trying not to get her feet wet? There were no distractions. And even though we drove each other insane sometimes, I look back and think that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’d love to hear your favourite childhood holiday memories, leave a comment below and let’s get nostalgic!
Images via Shutterstock, because all of mine are on 35mm.