Seek Journeys: Embracing Freedom, from Sicily to Portugal with Satbhajan Khalsa
I was fortunate enough to travel for three weeks this summer with my family in Sicily, Mallorca, and Portugal. I had grand plans for this trip; my daughter Juno had just graduated elementary school and was about to move on to middle school, and I wanted her to see how pre-teens in non-puritan countries live. My husband David and I were also celebrating 10 years of marriage. It was an opportunity for us to travel with dear friends, and not last or least, I was yearning to get away from our racist, sexist, Trumpian America for at least one long deep breath. My husband and I filled a literal piggy bank with our hard earned dollars all year long to make the trip happen.
We started off in Sicily, in a town called Noto, which seemed like a good place to begin—it’s not too touristy, and it’s very close to beaches, canyons, towns, hikes, and food that we wanted to explore. It was, in fact, all of those things, and we rented a charming apartment in the center of town. But it was also one hundred degrees. With most of our day trips out of the question due to the sweltering heat, all there was left to do was relax in our beautifully air conditioned apartment, and relax we did. We lay on the tiled floor with amaro spritz in hand, we cooked huge Italian feasts for lunch, we played dominos and danced on the roof, and we gorged ourselves on the most delicious peaches, mulberries, tomatoes, fresh ricotta, and natural wines from the local market. In the evenings we would wander the streets of the beautiful stone city, exploring every corner step after steep step. We ate the most delicious raw sweet shrimp in the tiny coastal village of Marzamemi, with the full moon glowing on our happy faces, and our friends’ two-year-old daughter Paloma flirting with the local seven-year-old boys. The only other day trips that we took were to Café Sicilia, famous for its incredibly fresh almond granita, a miracle invention and possibly the only thing that quenches your thirst in that kind of heat. We were forced to truly take it slow and easy, something that can be so hard for me to do; it was spectacular.
After Noto we drove up North to a beach town called Cefalu, and when we arrived at our Airbnb after the five-hour drive, our jaws dropped. Nestled in a nature reserve, we had a view of the ocean, small separate cabins, a pool, and an outdoor dining area complete with a wood-fired pizza oven. We were never leaving! We explored the local beaches with crystal clear waters, pebble beaches, delicious food, and stores dedicated to lace clothing and handmade jewelry. We decided to extend our stay here and spent the next week eating pasta, drinking cheap and delicious wine, taking boat rides and exploring the incredible markets of nearby Palermo. Featured in all the local shops were ceramic statues and jewelry depicting a local dramatic tale that goes something like this: A Sicilian woman falls in love with a foreign born man only to find out that he has a wife and a family in his hometown. Mad with grief, she chops off his head and uses it as a planter, planting fruits and flowers that flourish with her tears. Drama and lace, wine and pasta, never-ending markets—in Sicily, I had finally met my soul city. Our last evening was spent gathering olive wood from the nearby grove and firing up that pizza oven, no clue what we were doing, only to result in perfect wood fired pizza—a magical farewell to a magical island.
After spending a few days in Mallorca with friends, our family split off and flew to Portugal to explore the Algarve and Lisbon. Juno was beginning to feel a bit homesick, so moving on with our immediate family seemed like good timing. We settled into our charming little apartment in the small town of Aljezur. It was a perfect location for us—walkable, with one or two incredible restaurants, and within ten minutes of at least three beautiful beaches that were not heavily touristed. Some of the beaches had jagged cliffs not unlike Big Sur, the most stunning turquoise waters, and endless stretches of sand. There was a farm directly inside the town and we noticed locals stopping by the fields to gather their incredibly fresh produce. It was easy to imagine living somewhere rustic in the Algarve and giving up our hectic yet exciting lives in Los Angeles. What would it be like, I wondered, if we could stop at our local farm for groceries, and if I was in a town with no body shaming, where I could hang out with my girlfriends at the local cafe? Maybe one day I will know what that’s like, but for now, it was on to Lisbon.
Lisbon had our whole family charmed the minute we finally found a parking spot. We explored the cobblestoned streets and picturesque plazas and parks. Every public space had a bar “kiosk” of sorts where one could grab a gin and tonic and sit at a shaded table watching artists paint and musicians play. Juno was able to enter any establishment with us and saddle up to the bar if we so chose. In the evenings, youngsters sat on the many hidden stairways, enjoying their own music and wine in an impromptu street party. I did not see a single police officer bothering anyone who was trying to enjoy their life, vend their wares, or perform on the street. The city belonged to its people, and as long as no one was being disruptive, they were encouraged to enjoy it as they pleased. What an idea!
One of our most memorable Lisbon experiences was taking our daughter to a Fado Bar called “Tasco do chica” to see the musicians pour their hearts (And saudade) into their music. It was a life changing experience for our daughter to sit in a tiny historic bar with us, so close to the guitarist that their knees almost touched, listening to half a dozen immensely talented singers speak of love, sadness, and longing. None of us could understand the words, but we all understood what they were saying. After crying, laughing, and enjoying wine and ginja (the local cherry liqueur) for over four hours, we decided to give Juno the challenge of leading us back to our apartment. She did so with pride and ease, and I knew then that while she had struggled with homesickness, food cravings (“enough with the ham!” and “why do all the shrimp have to come with eyeballs?”) she had learned so much on our long trip and had become more confident, comfortable, and experimental. This was the greatest sight of all.
Noto: Cafe Sicilia; Taverna La Cialoma
Cefalu: Kalura Beach; Sea land tours with Captain Alex
Palermo: Aja Mola
Aljezur: Aljezur old town apartments; Pont’a’ Pe
Lisbon: Tasco do Chica; Bairro do Avillez
Satbhajan is wearing the Paige Top in sunset ripple silk jacquard.