Moving a cat to a new continent is not an easy task (as we previously learned). My mother had to jump through some ridiculous hoops to get all the documentation and the airline approved pet carrier to move Meka across the pond. Thankfully she was successful. Meka and my mother landed safely in Rome on a hot afternoon in May. Meka traveled most of the 19-hour journey in a soft cat carrier with barely enough room for her to lie down and hadn’t touched any food or water the entire time.
My mom was a bit worried about her, especially since it took almost an additional 3 hours to get through an extremely hot and stuffy immigration room. When she finally reached the desk no one even asked to see Meka’s paperwork that she had tirelessly obtained.
Meanwhile Javier and I had also begun to worry. We could see that my mom had landed hour’s prior and she had not responded to any of my messages. Eventually my Mom appeared with Meka in hand. We quickly scooped them up with relieved hugs and kisses. We made our way out to the car, and I was able to give my littlest love a few pets before she and Javier drove back to Florence. My mom and I stayed in Rome so we could take in the sights, and see the Pope speak. From there the plan was to visit Florence for a few days, spend almost a week in Sicily, and end the trip at San Fillipo hot springs for mother’s day.
This was the first time my mother had been to Italy and she was eager to start site seeing. I was now on my 3rd visit to Rome and I had yet to visit the Vatican Museums or enter the Coliseum, so I was just as enthusiastic as she was. We managed to get through many of the major sights, like the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman forum and the Coliseum. My favorite was Vatican City and its museums. Walking into the Sistine Chapel and seeing Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece was completely surreal. The images had been burned into my mind since I was a child, and I was in disbelief as I stared up at them. I kept trying to imagine Michelangelo walking the same steps as we had and what it was like in his time. My mother and I gazed at the paintings until our necks hurt and then reluctantly left the chapel.
My mom has dreamt of attending mass with the Pope for a great deal of time, and fortunately he was in town for his usual Wednesday Papal Audience while she was visiting Italy. She even brought a number of rosaries and cross necklaces to be blessed by him during mass. We arrived early that Wednesday morning in hopes to find an ideal spot, and so did at least a 1,000 other people. We settled for an area close to a monitor, and just near enough to see the stage clearly. I’m fairly certain I saw a tear well up behind my mother’s sunglasses when the Pope began to speak.
Looking up and seeing the Pope in person was yet another surreal moment that I had difficulty wrapping my mind around. I may not be Catholic, but seeing the Pope in person was an amazing experience, one of which I never imagined possible in my lifetime. After mass we decided to have a typical Italian breakfast consisting of pastries and coffee before jumping on the high-speed train to Florence.
I was able to pack light since Javier had taken the bulk of my mother’s belongings and a suitcase full of goodies for us back to our house from the airport. This helped make our trains ride back to Florence painless. We spent the next few days wandering the historical streets of Florence, taking in the sights like the Ufizi, Boboli Gardens, Piazza della Signoria, Piazalle Michaelangelo and of course stopping in for several cones of gelato.
Time moves quickly when you’re having fun. Before we knew it, we were getting ready to leave for Sicily. Sadly, only my mother and I would be adventuring to Sicily. Javier needed to stay behind in order to attend his “appointment” at the Questura to have his fingerprints taken, and of course to care of Meka while she adjusted to her new life. Having Meka back in our lives truly helped us feel more complete and settled in our new home.
The journey to Catania from Florence is a short flight so, a few short hours later we found ourselves at our Airbnb by the sea in Giardini Naxos. The first stop on our Sicily tour was Isola Bella. We were now in the second week of May and it was beginning to heat up in Sicily, but it wasn’t hot enough to swim in the chilly waters surrounding the small island. We did however walk around it, put our feet in the cold water, and lounged in soft cozy chairs while taking in the beauty of the cove.
The center of Taormina was a short bus ride away, and the first stop on our list once we got into town was the Greek Theater on the hill. The views of Mt. Etna are breathtaking from almost any vantage point in Taormina, but it is especially awe-inspiring from the theater. This particular theater was built in the third century BC and couldn’t have been placed in a more beautiful location. Once again I was overwhelmed. I was looking at and wandering through the ruins of a theater that was over 2,000 years old.
We spent the next several days exploring the Alcantra Gorge, Castlemora, Siracusa, and a few very sketchy backcountry roads in the surrounding hills of Taormina. Everything about our trip to Sicily was fantastic, from the best watermelon I had ever tasted, to the sweet satisfying fresh granitas. It was hard to say goodbye to Sicily, but my mom’s trip was coming to an end. The last and final stop on our agenda was San Fillipo hotsprings.
I was overjoyed to share the experience of San Fillipo with my mother. She and my father are the reason I am verifiably addicted to hot springs. During the trip she reminded me that just two weeks after my birth I experienced my first dip in the healing waters of Harbin hotsprings in Northern California. Apparently I became a local celebrity to all the naked hippies at the springs since I spent my days there floating blissfully in my parent’s arms.
Now it was my turn to bring my mother to a magical place. I had booked us a 3 night stay in the only hotel in Castiglione d’Orica, with massages, facials and body wraps to celebrate mother’s day. The hotel has one giant hot spring pool and a boiling hot waterfall area, but both of us preferred the natural springs outside the hotel. My mom could not believe her eyes when I showed her Bagni San Fillipo. We spent our days in the natural pools, getting spa treatments, snacking on Tuscan meats and cheeses, and relaxing on a level neither of had experienced in quite some time.
We even discovered a small hot spring cave on the rock face of one of the limestone boulders. I was proud my mom was adventurous enough to climb the steep rock face with me. It was truly incredible, and my mom said it was the most amazing thing she had ever seen or done. Our days there passed too quickly, and before we knew it we found ourselves hugging tightly in a tearful goodbye. My mother and I had not been able to spend this much one on one time together in years. We were able to have many wonderful conversations and share plenty of laughs. It will be at least 6 months before we will see one another again. I left the airport feeling melancholy and with visible tears but grateful for the wonderful experience that we had shared.