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Around October, I started to think that it was about time I moved on.
I'd been in Yorkshire for about five months, and it had been lovely, but my beloved daughter had gone back to University now, and the pleasant scent and experience of summer had long since disintegrated.
I was low, energetically and mentally. I was bored and fed up. My bones felt like pieces of ice - I no longer knew what my body looked like due to the ridiculous number of layers that I had to wear to keep warm. I wanted to wear pretty vintage dresses again and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.
Where's the warmest place in Europe in Winter?
Sicily. I could picture myself now: drinking Macchiato's, exploring gothic churches and fragrant gardens in the sunshine and all without a care in the world. Sicily was the place to be; I could feel it in my frozen bones.
I prebooked a small apartment on the northern coast of Sicily, on an island called Lipari - the largest of a chain of islands in a volcanic archipelago situated in between Vesuvius and Etna. A small place about 40km square with a population of about 10K. It sounded perfect.
I flew from Manchester to Milan and practised my Italian at the airport while waiting for the onward flight to Sicily.
I'd been learning Italian for three months on the free app Duo Lingo, I had also been reading Italian phrasebooks and even taken some private Italian lessons.
"Pizza Margherita per favore?" I said to the waitress - excited to be using my newly learned language skills.
"Checosa?" (What?) she replied.
"Pizza Margherita?" I said in a quieter and less confident voice.
"Scusa, cosa" (I'm sorry what?). She asked again.
The queue behind me was building up, I could feel my temperature rising and my cheeks flushing, so I hurriedly pointed to a pizza in the cabinet, and she said:
"Ohhhh Pizza Margherita!"
"Si Pizza Margherita." Hmmm.
A new friend
I arrived at Catania airport late at night and took a shuttle bus and then a taxi to my accommodation for the night, Giuseppe's. Admittedly not the most expensive room on Booking.com but not the cheapest either. Giuseppe is a tall, grey-haired Italian dude, wearing grey skin-tight skinny jeans and a protruding potbelly. He was eagerly waiting for me on the doorstep.
"Si Si. Buongiorno."
The hotel was grand but decrepit, and the faint smell of old cigarette smoke packed my nostrils as we entered. It was strangely reminiscent of the scent of the girl's toilets at high school - smoke in a cold empty place, which resurged a flood of memories about spitting and swearing and dreadful 90's clothing. How I wished I could go back in time and tell that Hannah and all of the other girls wearing turquoise eyeshadow and Revlon pink shimmer lipstick so many crucial things about life that unfortunately they would need to learn the hard way.
I'm not sure if Giuseppe's even was a hotel. Whatever it was, it was all on the 4th floor, with no lift and a hefty 23kg suitcase. Not to worry, Giuseppe came to the rescue and lugged it to my room. What a doll.
"Will you be going out tonight?" He asked.
"Tonight?" I queried.
"Yes? He replied.
"It's 11 pm," I said puzzled.
"Oh ok, no I won't be going out tonight."
Or any other night ever again Giuseppe, I thought. I'm guessing he doesn't come across many female middle-aged introverts travelling alone.
The room was enormous, although there were no mod cons or comforts of any kind. It had a large double bed, it was clean, and I was exhausted, so I got in appreciatively.
After a terrible night's sleep due to the cold, the air-con blowing in the room next door and the echoing of banging doors, I woke up early to see what beauty the balcony might hold. What visual delights might be bestowed on me? What Italian quirks and fancies? Sadly I found myself looking at an alleyway of dirty rubbish and withered plants in broken pots.
I was still waiting for the high to come. The high one gets from travelling to a new place, indeed when travelling alone. It wasn't going to happen here that was for sure.
On the floor of the balcony was a large silver men's ring; obviously one of the previous occupants had dropped it. It was heavily engraved with religious iconography,
The language was foreign with no alphabet I recognised. I thought about keeping it and investigating what the symbols might mean and what the story behind it was? I romantically imagined finding a series of clues and maps that might lead me to a strange and exotic land.
I begrudgingly handed it over to Giuseppe, but he didn't want it. I didn't want it then either. I'm always intrigued by such religious items but also feel uncomfortable around them. That feeling of not quite knowing what something is, but being too scared to ask so as not to offend. Equally, being repelled by organised religion due to the damage that it has done to human beings since the dawn of time.
The real reason I came - Italian pastry
For breakfast, Guiseppe brought me a warm croissant filled with rich dark chocolate and a large red beaker of steaming Italian coffee. Although the room was dingy, Guiseppe was so kind, and the breakfast was so delicious that I couldn't help but feel nourished and I wrote him a decent review.
I continued on my way to Lipari, and it took me a further eight hours, three buses and a ferry to get there.
Thoughts going through my mind on the journey:
Did I remember to bring my swimming costume?
Am I insane?
Will I be able to buy any plant milk?
Why can't I be happy in a 9-5?
Am I doing the right thing?
I wonder how my daughter is?
Will I be able to buy any wholefoods?
Luckily my thoughts mellowed as the buses soared through piercing bright sunshine, terraces of enormous spikey green cacti, countless citrus orchards and breathtaking snow-capped mountains. I could see lush greenery in abundance, and it filled my heart with cheer.
By the time I arrived in Lipari, it was getting late, the sun was retreating, the beaches were dull and grey as is the nature of volcanic sand, and the tiny port had an unkempt feel. I still needed to get one more damn bus to get to the apartment. I walked over to an empty little kiosk in the middle of a small junction that said: bus.
A skinny man wearing jeans and a full-length grey woollen trench coat who had been sitting on a nearby bench approached me.
"Are you waiting for the bus?" He asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"Where are you going?"
I wasn't sure if he worked for the bus company. He certainly wasn't in any uniform, but he was hanging around the kiosk.
We've become a closed, insular society in the UK, engagement or even eye contact on the street is low or non-existent. When anyone approaches me, they usually want something. Typically money, or, in my younger days, perhaps to sexually harass me. The certain perks of getting older. So if anyone approaches me in the UK, I'm immediately suspicious.
While in Asia, I had the refreshing experience of being approached by human beings who simply wanted to say 'Hi' or see if they could help me, and my defensiveness eased somewhat while out there. But as a woman travelling alone, I am always cautious.
"There won't be a bus for an hour. Sit down, go to the bar, have a rest, have a smoke." He added.
I sighed. I looked at Google maps, it said my apartment was only an hours walk, but I couldn't manage it with the 23kg suitcase. I sat, and I waited at the empty kiosk as the cold, grey evening drew in and began to feel rather glum.
Thoughts as I'm waiting:
I wonder if I'll miss the bus?
I hope my apartment is nice
Why am I here again?
Why is everything so grey?
I wonder what my daughter is doing?
As if on queue she text me - she'd made a meme of me which I won't share here because it's for another story. I text her back:
"Oh my god, I was just thinking about you, the meme is hysterical."
"We're just so in sync Mum, great minds. I think I'll think about the picture frequently for the rest of my life - it's hilarious."
The meme had me laughing out loud; it really was hysterical; my daughter has a phenomenal sense of humour. Everyone was looking at me, but I didn't care.
I was sat on a wooden bench, exhausted, alone, in the dismal cold and the dark shadows of the Sicilian island of Lipari, feeling content, lucky and warm and fuzzy inside.
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Hannah Anstee is a former British Wellness Journalist turned Women’s Midlife & Wellbeing Coach.
You may know her from her work as Beauty Editor at YOGA Magazine or her contributions to The Independent or Psychologies Magazine.
Hannah uses a kind and candid approach to help women rewrite their stories.