Thursday, November 17, is our last day in Balestrate, Sicily which is located in the Palermo Provinciale. We have spent 15 days in the ‘baglio’ (Italian courtyard farmhouse) which is surprisingly the longest that we have stayed in one place since starting our journey 2-1/2 months ago. We now have visited 4 countries (Portugal, Spain, Germany & Italy). Living out of suitcases with a relatively small allowance of space for each of us + school supplies has been challenging and exacerbated by the fact that we are acquiring more things to pack every time we visit a new place. Girls like to shop after all! As many of you know who have traveled, there are certainly no shortage of places to spend your money wherever you find yourself in the world. In order to maintain the delicate ‘balance’ and to avoid buying more suitcases to ‘lug’ our stuff around we have had to send items back home in every country so far. This would seem to be an easy task, right? Just go to the local post office, get some boxes, paste an address label on the box and off it goes! Not quite so simple as we have found out. The post office in Italy (Poste Italiane) has not been an exception and was actually the most challenging so far. We originally set out to find the nearest DHL service center after using the website ‘store finder’. In Germany, DHL (international package courier service) is now aligned with the German post office (Deutsche Post DHL) and we found it very easy and affordable to mail several packages. So we figured that DHL would be our best option in Italy as well. We were unsuccessful in finding any of the DHL stores in the addresses listed on the website (which I suspect has outdated information). On one of these adventures (yes, every simple outing is an adventure when you are a ‘stranger in a strange land’), we stopped at a neighborhood café in the local
village of Alcamo to use the WC (toilette) and to get a snack. The proprietor had not heard of DHL (at least not in the vicinity) of the café but offered to check on his smartphone. Everyone in Sicily (or so it seems) has a smartphone. He found a ‘pack and ship’ nearby – about 600m. He tried his best to give us directions but our limited Italian and his limited English was just not enough. Meanwhile, the girls who were eating on one of the café’s outdoor tables spied a playground across the street. I accompanied the girls across the street to the playground while Tiffany continued the ‘conversation’ with the friendly café proprietor. A couple of local residents stopped in at the café and had an animated conversation about the ‘pack and ship’ store. The cafe’ proprietor then offered his companion (compagno) Louis to us, he would ride in our “macchina” (car) and walk back. A series of complicated directions with many hand gestures were offered on how to get to the nearby ‘pack and ship’ store. We were not parked nearby so we felt that this was not our best option. Notwithstanding the fact that our car only had room for five and Louis looked like he had just walked off the set of the Sopranos. I came back to extricate Tiffany from this exchange and was relieved to find that she wasn’t being held for ransom.
It has been our experience thus far that when asking for help from the locals, one needs to exercise the necessary patience and see the process through to avoid being labeled a “rude American”. We graciously thanked everyone for their help and left the establishment still unsure as to our next move. I decided to walk the entire surrounding neighborhood determined to find the ‘non-existent’ DHL store while the girls played at the park. I was unsuccessful. Meanwhile Tiffany had struck up a conversation with a mother in the park on the topics of homeschool and world travel they were conversing with limited Italian and English. After a few minutes it was established that both women spoke Spanish. She and her 5 year old son, Christiano were playing at the park as well. Tiffany explained our dilemma and failed attempt to find the DHL center. The woman Liliana had not heard of DHL either which really puzzled me. She suggested using the Poste Italiane (Italian Post Office) to ship the packages. The local post office was only a few blocks away. We had actually been there a couple of hours earlier to mail some postcards. We incorrectly assumed that we could just go the counter and buy stamps (like we have done in every other country so far). Not the case in Italy. The post cards are weighed and stamps electronically applied. The cost was €2.20 per post card. Not cheap compared to the states!. At this point, we kind of dismissed the idea of using the post office to ship anything home since we figured the cost would be exorbitant and communication impossible. Liliana convinced us that the post office was our best option and offered to take us and translate, to inquire about pricing, boxes, form, etc. Tiffany while extremely grateful for this offer felt like this was an imposition on her time. Liliana thought nothing of helping us and spending whatever time necessary to help us accomplish our task. So off we went. Tiffany went inside with her new friend, Liliana and came out over an hour later with several bright yellow boxes and a fistful of forms (€14.50 for 3 boxes) to fill out (all in Italian, of course) while the children played outside on the Lion Statue.
Girls and Christian in Front of Poste
Tiffany thanked our new friend for her gracious and unsolicited help which required her to translate from Italian to Spanish (which Tiffany could understand) and then to English (for me to understand it). It was not done…yet but we were making progress. We headed back to the car and Tiffany proceeded to fill the yellow boxes and to fill out all the paperwork for shipping from Italy. I headed across the street to get a couple of cappuccino’s to go and a potty break (in Europe, the expression is take-away). We have made many improptu stops at countless cafes in every country whenever we hear “I have to go the bathroom” to use the WC (toilette). Most cafe’s don’t post that the bathrooms are for customers only, but we always tried to be respectful and usually ordered an espresso or a pastry. At the café while waiting for my coffee, a gentlemen at the counter engaged me in conversation. Between his English, Italian and a bit of German, I figured out that he was offering to buy me a drink (a local specialty?). I thanked him politely and declined. He gave me a few lessons in Italian anyway and 20 minutes later I was on my way with the cappuccinos. Tiffany was in the car because it was raining still working on the shipping paperwork. She had a fierce determined look on her face. We waited for a break in the weather and trudged back to the post office with the boxes filled but not taped as the might require inspection. The Poste Italiane uses a queue numbering system similar to the DMV where you have to wait…patiently. As this was our third trip that day we were ushered to the appropriate line. Soon it was our turn at the counter. Some of forms had not been filled out correctly and the very helpful postal clerk also opined that the value for the enclosed items was too high which would be a high VAT tax in addition to the shipping cost. So, Tiffany diligently filled out the forms again, again, and once again. After about 2 hours +, all the packages finally had been weighed and the shipping forms affixed. We paid the fee (€165 euro) for three packages and just to be clear, these packages are not filled with foreign treasure rather miscellaneous crap. I was satisfied that this was a fair amount all things considered and actually less than I had expected. Tiffany was unexpectedy presented with a signature yellow Poste Italiane coffee mug after she explained (not complained) that we had spent ‘all day’ in the post office. The mug was given to her by a very helpful gentleman who appeared to be a supervisor who must have appreciated her determination in successfully navigating the bureaucratic morass.
We left the post office without any packages and felt very good about our accomplishment. Earlier, Tiffany’s new friend had suggested that we try to visit the thermal hot springs (Terme Segestane) which were near Castellmmare del Golfo, not far from Alcamo. She explained that she spent a lot of time there with friends and family members and was going the following day. We parted company and hoped that we would perhaps run into each other at the hot springs. The thermal hot springs are reportedly very therapeutic and relaxing. It was raining the next day and it did not look like it would be a good idea to visit the Terme Segestane. However, after a few hours of schoolwork, the weather improved and we decided to set out to find the hot springs. The road is definitely off the beaten tourist path and was a precarious drive down a seriously eroded and rutted dirt road (we were following directions that we had gotten off a website post!). At the bottom of the dubious ‘road’, we found a clearing where there were several cars parked. As we parked, an elderly gentleman acknowledged us and told us that we were at the right place. I picked up a German accent in his speech as he spoke Italian to us and soon found myself engaged in somewhat of a conversation with him in my limited German. He was from Wurzburg, Germany and had been coming here for 10 years to the hot springs. I am not sure what ailment he claimed he had cured but it sounded convincing to me. From where we parked, it was a short hike across a rock filled stream to reach the hot springs. The natural ‘pool’ was actually quite small but it was definitely hot and there was a pervading odor of sulphur which was not entirely unobjectionable (surprisingly). We all really enjoyed the hot springs. The weather turned again and once we heard thunder we knew that it was time to leave. The road was so steep that any rain at all would make it too slick to drive. We got out just in time and were followed by three other cars who also prudently left when we did.
The trip to the Terme Segestane was a good ending to our Sicily adventure. We returned our rental car (intact) and we promised ourselves that we would return to Sicily and Italy as there is so much more that we would like to see and experience in this amazing country.
Onward and upward.
You can see Liliana’s Art @ http://www.lilianacoppolatrame.com