We awoke at first light, I took photos of the run rising out of the sea from the terrace overlooking the Guardiola for a second morning running, only this time it wasn't raining. Breakfast, clean-up, packing, then returning the keys to the Sisters in time for the 8h45 bus to Catania. Suore Sylvana and Suore Tarcisia walked us to the bus station. It was very moving, there was still so much we wanted to share with them as well as our expressions of deep gratitude for their hospitality and friendship. As the bus pulled out, they stood waving us off from the school gate. I've been so blessed by the time spent with them, not just in the past few days but throughout the past month.
After a twenty minute wait in Catania we were on our way along the autostrada, first to the Airport stop and then West around the southern foothills of Mount Etna towards Palermo. The view was truly spectacular.not just because of the great snow capped peak presiding over the region, but because of the seemingly endless vista of citrous groves, neatly arranged, laden with ripe fruit, orange and yellow. Being winter, and a rainly season, the trees had a carpet of bright green grass laden with pale primrose yellow flowers stretching as far as the horizon, or so it seemed. I was conscious of the change from limestone to sandstone terrain as the road rose into the mountainous central region, with occaisional hill towns precariously perched on very steel escarpments.
Sicily's mountain valleys being so far south were never excavated by glaciers, and retain their v-shape, so that few have much flat terrain at their bottom. For most of the journey in the uplands, the autostrada runs on stilts thirty metres above the valley floor. A long series of viaducts represents the lowest impact on the environment, as well as the least expensive with no lengthy cuttings, and only a few tunnelled sections. As we climbed, the orange groves gave way to pasture lands, with grazing sheep and cattle, although the further from the coast we went the fewer and further between were trees, settlements and individual farms. This land has lost a great deal of its agrarian population by migration, not only to the cities but to other parts of the world. Here, with such extremes of weather, rural poverty is harsh. Yet, it is hauntingly beautiful as barren looking places go. I'd love to spend more time exploring the Sicilian interior.
We get to Palermo at lunch-time and changed on to our third bus of the day for the three quarter of an hour traipse through quieter suburbs to the airport, named in honour of two murdered anti-mafia judges: Falcone and Borsellino, where we had an hour and a half to wait before checkout opened. There were no problems attached to Clare's temporary travel document, so we were able to deposit our bags at the EasJet desk and relax with our second picnic meal of the day before going through to the departure lounge, just as the sun was setting on a day of travel just half way through.
There were no problems arriving at London Gatwick either. The Borders Agency official was sympathetic when Clare told him how she came to lose her passport. We had time for a drink before boarding out coach at ten past ten, and slept most of the way back to Cardiff, via Heathrow and Bristol. We got a taxi home from the bus station, arriving on the doorstep at twenty past three with do much to unpack, so many different experiences to digest. And a Sicilian recipe book to experiment with in months to come.
We'd both love to explore Sicily properly, but will there ever be another opportunity to return to St George's Taormina? We were asked this. It's so very popular with clergy it may not happen again. But if we do return we'll be sure to stop off and visit the Sisters whose kindness and hospitality confirmed all we've ever known about the Franciscan spirit in the life and mission of God's church throughout the world.