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2017 Cefalu Blog

Pre-trip Gathering 


This year our travel group will be in Cefalù, a gorgeous seaside town, on the island of Sicily, not far from Palermo. As with our previous educational trips, students enjoy learning Italian in the morning and traveling to the nearby towns and attractions in the afternoon.  A two-week itinerary has been planned which will take them through Saturday, Oct. 14 when they return to the US. 

We asked our students to contribute a few thoughts and reflections of their daily experiences. They will be posted here along with their pictures. Follow along as they recount their adventures, inside and outside the classroom.

Day 1 - Sabato, 30 settembre

 Siamo arrivati!  Saturday in Cefalù was like stepping into the set of an Italian movie. The streets were bustling with shoppers, families and, of course, tourists. And then there was the beach!  The intense blue sky melted into the deep blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was alive with activity and children's laughter. I ate lunch under the warm Sicilian sun and enjoyed a gelato on my walk back to the hotel.

By evening our group had arrived at Hotel Belvedere and was welcomed by una gattina. Our school, the Solemar Academy hosted a delicious and abundant dinner at a local pizzeria.

In the taxi, on our way back to the hotel we stepped into a different movie set. The streets of Cefalù are narrow and we encountered oncoming traffic. Neither driver was willing 
to accommodate the other resulting in an operatic show of shouting and arm waving. And as quickly as it happened, they stopped, returned to their cars, made way for each other and drove on. A perfect ending to a perfect day. Janice N. 

Day 2 - Domenica, 1 ottobre

Dick H. 

Great first-day start.  Today’s tour took us to Le Madonie, a natural park reserve located in the mountains outside of Cefalù. Located within this rugged mountain range are the small towns of Gratteri, Castelbuono and Pollina, a charming town that sits at 2,400 feet above sea level. Since our bus was not able to drive to the very top, our group reached the top on foot where we were treated to a breathtaking view of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the entire Madonie range. The photographer who will be filming our Sicilian adventures for the next two weeks offered my first Italian lesson while walking down from the top of the mountain.  "Non è colpa mia' " he said "It's not my fault", a phrase that can be useful for getting out of sticky situations. Funny. 

Our bus driver, Saro (short for Rosario) was also our tour guide. Saro provided lots of interesting information about the terrain, the vegetation and the animals of this unique area. He talked slowly and repeated the Italian words and phrases letting them sink in. Excitement lies ahead learning a new language!

Day 3 - Lunedi, 2 ottobre

Joan N.

Andiamo a scuola! Oggi è il primo giorno di scuola.  Today was the first time we studied at the Solemar Academy.  We walked to school as a group, down the hill, across the railroad tracks, through downtown and toward the sea. 

The school is in the lower level of a large apartment building. We were welcomed to the outside patio while the neighbors above watched us arrive. We chatted and enjoyed coffee, juice and biscotti while waiting to be called for conversation with a small group of teachers for our entry placement.

And so we began. There are four levels of study, from beginner to advanced.  Some movement occurred in the pausa mid-morning as students sorted themselves out, moving up or down a level.  The teachers are skilled, young, intelligent, and encouraging. The upper class has ~7 students including two from Germany. The next level has 4-5 students and includes learning about nouns that end in “e” and their corresponding adjectives based on gender and count.  The beginners class has 9 students.

We were a lively group excited to meet one another and to learn. But we were a bit too noisy. An older woman, una signora anziana, a few floors above us yelled down from her balcony after an hour of being patient with our conversation.  “Vergogna!” (For shame) among other colorful phrases.

Our program included a tour and history of Cefalù in the late afternoon, an important overview for the coming two weeks.  It was raining, but we did it. Ce l’abbiamo fatta!



Day 4 – Martedì, 3 ottobre

Pat B.

3rd day at school in beautiful Cefalù pronounced chef a lu....Wow!  Trying to learn a new language as one grows older is a real challenge... but is a lot of fun.

Being by the sea has many pluses; the best is the opportunity to eat great fresh fish. Last night we went to Ristorante Qualia and had a delicious dinner of various fresh fish in pockets of ravioli with an amazing fish sauce dribbled over it.

By the sea, by the sea, by the wonderful sea.

I brought some clothing to be cleaned to the hotel front desk and discovered people in Cefalù (and also in Italy) have washing machines but do not have dryers!  Since It is usually sunny  they hang their clothes outside to dry. Because of this there are no self-laundering places and I will have to wait for two days to get my clothes back!

Va bene, aspetto.

Day 5 – Mercoledì, 4 ottobre

Kristine A. – Early evening we all boarded the train to Palermo for our evening passegiata. It is about an hour ride and the train was totally full so we sat wherever we found a seat. It was a fun experience.

We were met by Thomas Grüssner, the founder/owner of Solemar Academy and father of our Director, Valerio. His Italian was of course perfect and he spoke slowly and I thought he was easy to understand.

He led a very interesting walking tour of the Centro that has been and continue to be restored by the EU. The very old buildings have been renovated one by one and each contains apartments that are for sale. Thomas explained that since Sicilia and especially Palermo is quite poor, the EU is subsidizing 70% of the purchase amount so the buyers only have to cover the last 30%.

We walked on marvelous ancient large cobblestones that were polished shiny due to people walking on them for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Everywhere we walked people were out enjoying themselves. The bars were full of young people.

Among many well-known squares surrounded by Palazzos, I especially enjoyed the Fontana Pretoria located in the middle of Palermo's most intriguing square. The fountain was designed by Tuscan sculptor Francesco Camilliani in the 1500's and is surrounded by many nude statues. Because of the nude statues it was known as "the fountain of shame".

Several of the magnificent old palazzos and churches have Arab architectural elements as well as Norman style. In addition, there are architectural influences from the Greeks and also from the Spanish Gothic style and later baroque. We walked by the Quattro Canti and ended at the Teatro Massimo. We recognized the stairs and scene in the last Godfather movie where the daughter of Michael Corleone was shot and died.

Teatro Massimo was closed for years due to renovations and has become one of the symbols of the rebirth of Palermo.

We ate outside at a long table on the piazza outside Palermo's oldest and most famous ristorante: Antica Focacceria San Francesco. They serve only very traditional Sicilian food and among other things we ate a spleen sandwich (Pani ca meusa) !!! It was all very good and we enjoyed the red wine from Mount Etna.

The owner was the first one who refused to pay protection called "pizzo" to the Mafia. The Mafia retaliated with bombing his restaurant but he had courage and called the police. Many more followed and we saw signs several places in windows that said "addio pizzo " meaning no more bribes to the mafia.

We have heard lots of Mafia stories and all the big problems it has caused and is still causing for the Sicilians. I was a bit surprised that they talk so openly about it.

It was an interesting and happy evening!



Day 6 – Giovedì, 5 ottobre

Dana N. - Ciao. Saluti da Cefalù.  Today was a busy day for the ICC group. We started with our morning class at the Solemar Academy. I have never studied Italian before so I am in the beginner class. The beginner class is taught by Simona and she is great!  She is very patient and includes a great mix of instruction, conversation and games. 

Class ends at 12:15 each day and we are usually on our own for lunch. This is always a fun part of the day for me. Cefalù is such a  great town to explore and there are so many fun restaurants to try. The current favorites are a little walk-in deli with great arancini, which is a Sicilian specialty, and then a little outdoor pasta place called Pasta e Pasti.  After lunch my mom and I took advantage of the incredible beach that's just a 10-minute walk from our hotel. The water is crystal clear and you can walk out 100 yards into the sea and still only be waist deep with nothing but sand and water between your toes. The best part is being able to look back towards the beach and see the beauty of the city and La Rocca that makes up the backdrop of the town.

We ended the day with a group activity at a little wine shop Enoteca in the city. We had a wine tasting of four different Sicilian wines. Two white wines and two red wines.  They also had prepared a large plate of local food, which included three different types of cheese, two different salamis, fresh anchovies on bread, salmon pate, local honey, olives and more.  Great food, great wine and great company.


Day 7 – Venerdì, 6 ottobre

Deb N. - Today was a free day for everyone after classes so it was relaxing for most of us. I have discovered that l’arancina (a rice ball filled with ragù coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried) is my favorite Sicilian food.  I remember early in the ICC classes learning the word for rice ball thinking that was a useless word. Wrong! Mi piace molto.

In the evening, my daughter Dana and I had a special opportunity to attend the Rotary meeting in Cefalù.  We contacted the president in advance so he was expecting us. We arrived at 6:00 pm when the meeting was scheduled to begin and fortunately the taxi driver helped us find someone to let us in. What I discovered is that Sicilians have their own standard of punctuality which is apparently that the starting time is only a suggestion. We were the first to arrive and waited for 20 minutes for the second person and another 20 for some others to arrive. They finally started the meeting at 7:15 with the anthem of Italy, the European Union and then Rotary. Our introduction followed. Then, the presentation about the hospital began with the administrator followed by 5 doctors. Unfortunately, non ho capito niente. They talked as fast as humanly possible. At 9:30 we had dinner with a wonderful assortment of appetizers followed by risotto and dessert.  Fun to spend an evening experiencing a slice of life in Cefalù.

Day 8 – Sabato, 7 ottobre

Joh C. - What better way is there to study Italian than to be in Italy? ICC provided a group of us the opportunity to travel to Cefalu, Sicily for two weeks to study at Solemar Academy (and to experience scenic tours, land and sea excursions, and shopping during our free time). Yes. Learning and living "la dolce vita"(the sweet life) in Italia. 

When I arrived at the Palermo airport, I went to a car rental agency to get some information. The clerk leaped up and greeted me with an exuberant "Boungiorno!" Startled, I hesitated for a second. She then quickly said "Hello!" As I was thinking what to say, she shrugged her shoulders, threw her hands in the air as to suggest "What are you?" Now that was service! I said "Howdy!" She responded, "You want an Audi?" Welcome to Italy!

How can you speak about Italy without mentioning the food? Every type of food tasted delicious (even the raw seafood). One night I decided to try the gelato, all 16 flavors (the "Coppa special"). I ate it all. At the time, I thought I deserved an award. In retrospect, enjoying the gelato was reward in and of itself. 

No matter where I visited, the local people were very friendly and volunteered to help me with my Italian grammar and pronunciation. One day I walked many blocks following a "Tourist" sign. When I finally arrived at the location, I discovered that it was not tourist information but a tourist hotel. What a lovely conversation with the hotel staff!

While at the language school, I was encouraged daily by the wonderful instructors and staff. They challenged us, laughed with us and became friends with us. In a short time we were family. Sadly, and all too soon, we had to say goodbye. Overall it was un'esperienza piacevole (a pleasant experience).

And what about you? What are you waiting for? Why not decide to make a special lifelong memory by traveling to and studying in Italy?

Day 9 – Domenica, 8 ottobre

Excursion to the Aeolian Islands of Panarea and Stromboli

Day 10 – Lunedì, 9 ottobre

Andy H. - The first week of school at Solemar Academy has been successfully completed.  On the first day of class, all of us were interviewed in groups of two or three to help determine into which level we should be placed.  After a little bit a tweaking, we all seemed to be happy with our classes and placement.  In addition to our group, two women from Germany joined us. 

Each day consists of conversation in Italian, discussing various elements of Italian life including holidays, magazines & newspapers and even the Mafia and anti-Mafia efforts in Sicily and time to concentrate on various elements of Italian grammar.  Our teacher, Eliana is very competent, well organized and extremely personable.  She really does make class a pleasure.

A busy week including numerous excursions was followed by an even busier weekend.  For me it included a Friday evening dinner with relatives who live in Cefalù, the Saturday excursion to Palermo to the markets and cultural sights and the Sunday excursion to the Aeolian Islands of Panarea and Stromboli.  I am looking forward to our second week in Cefalù.

Day 11 – Martedi, 10 ottobre

Sandra H. - This afternoon, our Cefalù group took a bus to Solunto, an archeological park near Palermo. The ruins of the city of Solunto lie on the slopes of Monte Catalfano.  It is a breath-taking site overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was one of the first Phoencian colonies in Sicily and was later occupied by the Greeks and Romans. Our knowledable guide, Tomas, provided us a tour of the streets, the residences, the Gymnasium and the theater.  We had a 2-hour walk and climb on Roman pathways, with a panoramic view of mountains, sky and sea.  Beautifully preserved mosaics and parts of Doric columns, cisterns, waterways, steps and paths gave us clues to the fascinating lives of people who lived before and were conquered by the Romans in 254 BC. Shortly after, the citizens abandoned the city and left it deserted. 

The temperature today was in the 70's with a cool breeze from the sea.  It was an incredible afternoon of living in ancient history.

Day 12 – Mercoledi, 11 ottobre

Nancy F. - A day in the life of our Cefalù adventure: we enjoy breakfast at the hotel, choosing from a satisfying array of fruit, meats, cheese, yogurt, cereal, breads, pastries,  and, of course, caffè. Then it is off on our usual 15 minute trek to school, starting with the descent down our favorite collina. The hill, which we walk up and down at least twice and usually more times daily has built our muscles, our character, and our sense of humor. Today, due to a heavy rain that started right during our morning "commute", it was a rushing river that stranded some of us part way down the hill mid-journey for about 20 minuti (sorry, no pics).  But we arrived at school, safe and sound (and wet). Nancy F.

Every weekday we spend 3-3 1/2 hours in class at Solemar Academy. We have 4 levels with great teachers. We are learning a lot and having so much fun. Today after class was "free day", leaving unstructured time for shopping, napping, exploring, etc. Dining options abound of course and some nights a nice glass of wine and a light dinner in the hotel lounge area with a few fellow travelers is a relaxing end to the day. But we always do i nostri compiti before lights out!

Day 13 – Giovedi, 12 ottobre

Carol M. - Thursday was a most perfect, beautiful day in Cefalù.  The sky and ocean clear and blue, and the temperature,una perfezione!  We all attended our morning classes, and then, in the afternoon, took a wonderful boat tour of Cefalù.

For a change, an ocean perspective. Our captain, Fabrizio, delighted us with his hospitality and knowledge of the geography and history of Cefalù.  The trip lasted about 2 1/2 hours; some of us swam off the side of the boat and others just relaxed. 

In the evening, the group ate at Ristorante Il Normanno.  The food was delicious, and the owner proved to be very entertaining. He provided special music, after dinner digestivo, as well as dancing!  A fair amount of wine was consumed, and, we all floated back to Hotel Belvedere quite happy and completely satisfied.

Day 14 - Venerdì, 13 ottobre

Sicilian cooking class and farewell dinner at Villa "Le Magnolie"

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