After a long and vaguely barfy 7-hour ferry ride from Naples we reach the island of Lipari, just off the northern coast of Sicily.
The B&B Salvatore in Lipari was the first thing that we booked for the trip, so it felt like we had arrived at the destination that made our adventure official. We reflected on all the things we didn’t know when we left home, all the weird mistakes we’ve made and all the lessons we’ve learned. Arriving in Lipari also made it abundantly clear that our past-selves had adorably delusional visions of the comfort level we’d have during our travels. The B&B Salvatore is luxurious and beautiful – exponentially nicer than anywhere else we’ve stayed. At this point in the trip we’ve lost toenails, subsisted on peanut butter for days, and had diarrhea in a floor toilet at an Uzbek train station (no photos of that, sadly). It’s cute that we thought to book a lovely well-appointed B&B, and we got to spend the week in comfort thanks to the plans laid by our past selves.
Well, not total comfort. Despite our lovely surroundings and the expected ease of an ‘Italian holiday’, we actually found Lipari to be quite a challenge. There’s no transportation, many hills, and a surprising lack of English speakers. Of all the far-flung and obscure places we’ve been on this trip, I think that Lipari was the hardest place to be a foreign tourist. I say foreign because there are actually tons of tourists on Lipari, they’re just all Italian and don’t speak English. There is shockingly little information online about local sites and day trips, so we kind of just wandered helplessly for a few days. By day 3 it became clear that the way to figure stuff out is to just chat with people on the street or in cafes (in Italian, or course). We could tell people were swapping notes on where they’d been and what to do, but aside from some basic places names we couldn’t figure what they were saying. How to navigate the bus system, visit beaches, and see stuff – you know, normal travel stuff – remained quite a mystery for us during our time in Lipari.
Taking pity on us, our B&B owner Marcello helped us arrange a boat excursion with his friend Barney, which turned out to be our favorite day in Lipari. Barney has a small boat that he somehow crams 14 people on for day trips that circumnavigate the island. He knows every nook and cranny of Lipari’s coast, and we visited some really fantastic isolated swimming and snorkeling spots. Because the island is volcanic there are also some incredible caves to explore. I’ve never swam through caves before and it was spooky and magical at the same time. Barney knew of one cave in particular where the afternoon light streams in at just the right angle to reflect upward – illuminating everything with a shocking bright blue glow.
Predictably, we didn’t understand a thing during the boat trip, except for 10 minutes where everyone seemed to be enumerating in Italian all of the characters of the Flintstones. “Eeee Weeelma…. Eee Dinooo… Eee BamBam.” I can only assume that this was a reference to Barney’s name, but it did please us to understand a handful of words coming out of people’s mouths. For the most part, though, we had no way to communicate and basically spent the day like giant children, imitating everyone else’s actions. If people jumped in the water, we jumped in the water; when people came back to the boat, we came back to the boat (frantically). We didn’t get left behind so I guess it was a successful day.
After thoroughly exploring the island on Barney’s boat, Jeff and I gave ourselves permission to do absolutely nothing for the rest of our time in Lipari, and frankly this is when we finally got into the sweet spot of this place. We just hung out at our awesome B&B, ate the fabulous breakfasts that Marcello’s wife Paola prepared each morning, and looked at the sea. Perhaps it was our fault for trying to ‘do stuff’ in paradise, but once we gave up that notion Lipari was quite delightful. Nonetheless I don’t think it would kill anyone to have a usable public bus service for the island… but I’ll leave it at that.
Arriving at the place where our trip planning began felt significant, and despite the unexpected challenges we were sad to leave. We took another slightly-less-barfy ferry from Lipari to Palermo, where our Italian adventures continued.