After 2 days relaxing in the off-the-beaten-path island of Lampedusa, the gang took a direct evening flight out to Palermo, capital of Sicily, afterwards.
Founded by Phoenicians under the name of “Ziz” and later renamed by Greeks “Panormos”, which means “all port,” Palermo’s golden age was during Arab rule from 9th to 11th centuries AD when it became one of the most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean and Europe.
It was referred to as the “city of delights” for its gardens, mosques and palaces.
After the Normans conquered Palermo, they destroyed most of the palaces and mosques, but replaced it with a unique architectural mix of Arabesque, Romanesque, and Byzantine influences known as the “Arab-Norman Style of Sicily.”
Modern history, however, would make Sicily infamous for cosa nostra, aka the Mafia that now predominate the popular culture consciousness whenever Sicily is referred.
Starting from the west side of Palermo, we tried to visit the unique Catacombe dei Cappuccini filled with 8000 dressed up corpses and skeletons, but it was closed at the time of posting. So we walked by the 9th century neo-classical era Norman Palace instead, where the ancient chapel Cappella Palatina is also located; you can find elaborate Byzantine mosaics and paintings inside.
While here you might as well also peek inside the red-domed medieval church San Giovanni degli Eremiti:
Then working your way beginning east towards the harbor, pass through the symbolic and landmark Porto Nuovo, built in 1570.
Weave around Teatro Marmoreo and through Villa Bonanno park
As you walk east towards the water, stop by 12th century Cattedrale di Palermo:
If you pay the 12-15 euro ticket to access the rest of the cathedral, there’s the gorgeous roof:
…and the underground tombs:
Take a detour at the open-air Market Ballaro:
Head into the winding alleyways further east to find the baroque Chiesa del Gesù, built in the 1630s:
There’s also Church of San Cataldo, built in 1154 and featuring landmark Byzantine mosiacs, including Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio which lies next door.
…and equally beautiful Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria:
Inside there’s a monastery you can stroll through for a few euros:
Then swing around Genius of Palermo Statue:
…past Fontana del Garraffo:
…past Fontana del Cavallo Marino:
…and as you approach Porta Felice, you know you’ve reached the sea:
There’s also an abandoned UNESCO World Heritage Site Ponte dell’Ammiraglio (“Admiral’s Bridge”) to the south, although there’s nothing much else to do around here:
Donna and I are taking it easy from here on out, because from here it’s a long way home. Brian knows it:
Palermo to Rome to Brussels …to Paris
The original plan was fly from Palermo to Rome to Brussels to NYC. So after Donna and I parted ways at the Palermo airport, I did just that. Once arriving into Brussels, however, it felt like …something was pulling me to Paris. I don’t know why since “I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains” …but I trust my gut.
MXMS and Carla Bruni play on and on in my head.
Passing by the very same piano that caused us to miss our flight to Lampedusa 3 days prior
While arriving into Brussels, I got on the chat with United and asked if I could change my economy Brussels to NYC flight to a free business class upgrade at no extra cost. The answer: Sure, but you’ll have to get from Brussels to Paris and take a flight from there instead. Furthermore…
Evie also left her ONLY charger back in Palermo, and she was going to be in Paris that night.
Gina and Priscilla decided on a whim yesterday to extend their layover in Paris an extra day.
Priscilla had something personal of mine. And her foot, which had been injured during Yacht Week and became taken under my medical attention, appeared to need extra care.
Gina was still probably annoyed Evie, Sabrina, Sampson, Donna and I all barged to crash in her room 5 days ago in Olbia. It was a bad goodbye; I owed her a drink.
We would all be in Paris after a united last minute extension of all our trips. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.
These were enough signs. And so I booked the next Brussels to Paris Thalys 9388 train at 9:16pm, arriving into Paris at 10:38pm where I would crash with one of them before all our morning flights back to the USA at 10am. It would be perfect.
But as we all know with travel, “perfect” may always involve a snag where the universe tests your will: Soon after booking my train ticket, I would get emails from Thalys every 15 minutes informing me of significant track delays up to 2 hours long. Every email indicated a longer and longer delay, to the point I was worried they were going to cancel the train entirely.
And yet when there’s a will there’s a way: although I had considered giving up on the idea of Paris as the logistics seemed too prohibitive, the prior Thalys 9376 train that had been due to arrive at 7:13pm in Brussels Midi Station instead pulled into the platform in front of me at 8:50pm. It was also running nearly 2 hours late, but oddly did not show up on the departure board as a possibility.
I immediately asked if I could board this one instead, but the agent at the station informed me that my ticket I had bought for the 9:16pm 9388 train would not apply and I would not be allowed onboard 9376. Once she left, I stowed away onboard the 9376 anyway, staying in between cars looking for a place to put my bags, pretending to wait for the bathroom, and hanging out at the café until the bullet train was well already in France.
Eventually my ruse would be noticed (I’m the worst spy ever), but after a discussion with the onboard police, playing stupid showing them I had already purchased a ticket but for a different train, a copy of a negative test for COVID-19 (with a BivaxNOW self-test kit which I had done with Donna the day before…thanks Donna!), that I was fully vaccinated, and a USA passport to accompany my vaccine card, they had no legitimate reason to throw me off the train when we were already 10 minutes away from Paris Gare du Nord station. Checkmate.
Evie would have travel issues of her own: her flight from Valencia almost would be cancelled by a tornado there. Nevertheless it was a false alarm as she arrived, although 45 minutes late. Then from her hotel room we both set out to meet Priscilla and Gina, surprising them both (well, really just Priscilla; Gina had said she always knew I’d had it in me to make it work) that we’d make it in time right before they went to bed. And so our goodbye 5 days ago in Olbia was extended in none other than a midnight in Paris.
Having stayed up for our third sunrise, we felt the third time is always the charm.
Then at 8am Priscilla, Gina and I then coordinated a cab together back to CDG where we would be all leaving at similar times back for our onward connecting flights home. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.
And of all the business class flights to be upgraded to for free, United would choose SWISS Airlines, with the exact same layover in the exact same city of Zurich . . . WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.
. . . and in the exact same 7A seat I had flown to begin this trip 16 days ago. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN…
The magic of the universe has and shall continue. Whether in circles or forward, probably the next step for us would be time travel.
- At time of posting in Palermo, Sicily, it was 30 °C -
Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
Definitely didn’t look nearly like this 24 hours prior to taking this photo…
After a week rampaging throughout Sardinia’s coastline including a pitstop in Corsica — with a final night belonging in a 90s teen prom movie (I really can’t describe it in any other way … it was that … perfectly bittersweet) — we tried to take it easy the next morning with a spa day relaxing in Olbia.
Some of us having pulled a second all nighter for our final sunrise, we returned to the yachts, quickly took the trash out, made one final camp check, gave our goodbye hugs to Mihaela, Ann, and Jeanette from the marina, and walked over to the hotel Priscilla, Gina, Alex, etc. were staying in.
All I can remember it was a dreary struggle of a morning, especially after coming down from a high of the night before. Once I saw a bed, my body fell hard without even realizing until later how the marina arrivals — Sabrina, Donna, Sampson and I — were likely pissing everyone else who booked the hotel as they graciously still let us use their rooms to crash in for an hour (I’M SO SORRY).
After Priscilla, Donna, Sampson, Sabrina and I got a quick hour’s sleep in thanks to a late check out, we tried to look for a quick brunch before the next round of goodbyes with Priscilla, Gina, Sampson, and Raubern. I then felt like I was living through the entire ending scene of the movie “The Half Of It.”
I don’t know how we eventually made it so underslept but Donna, Sabrina, Evie, and I then managed to take a cab over to Jazz Hotel by the airport where we then both ran into and said goodbye to Song at the Jazz Hotel, and then had an early dinner with Daisy, Ihita and Radhika before taking advantage of the hotel sauna afterwards.
The next morning Donna, Evie, and I said our goodbyes to Sabrina after breakfast and set off on a morning flight back to Rome, where we would transfer to a quick flight to Lampedusa.
However, while walking over at the gates in Rome airport I had mistakenly assumed “Palermo” was Lampedusa (we’re actually heading to Palermo the day after) and therefore was misled to the wrong gate. And the whole time we just sat, chatted and watched Evie perform on a piano nearby without realizing we had all the time in the world to go to our actual gate.
By the time we began to board at 1:06pm, it was already too late: the agents told us we had the wrong tickets, I then realized Palermo was not Lampedusa, and that the 1:10pm Lampedusa flight had already taken off. I took a deep breath, consoled myself it was only fair after a week of successes in flying 34 people into and around Sardinia, and walked over to the last flight out to Lampedusa in another part of the airport. Then leaving my bags with Evie and Donna at our new gate with only 2 hours to spare until that backup flight would take off, I ran out of the airport with their 3 passports and vaccine cards in hand looking all over for the ticket offices.
This particular Wizz Air flight out to Lampedusa from Rome was not showing up on my searches online, and the Wizz Air website did not allow me to buy a ticket on the same day. I therefore had no other choice but wait 30 minutes physically in line, sweating out everything I had drank and ate the past week wondering what my alternatives would be if I couldn’t buy this flight. After another 20 minutes at the counter figuring it out and finally getting our new flights, I was directed back to the check-in desk (thankfully having been allowed to cut in front), where I had the awkward task of explaining to them how I wanted check in 2 passengers who were already past security at the gate itself. By the time I had returned back through security to rendezvous with Donna and Evie, they had already began to board.
Crisis barely averted.
And the whole time I could recall how this near exact scenario had played out 4 years ago when I was trying to get to Slovenia, where Rome airport was also involved and I barely made it work (Mihaela was part of that experience, and it would be the same trip where we would meet Ashley Jia, who had just joined us for Yacht Week! …you never know…).
Yet what I find even more remarkable about this particular incident afterwards, was that everyone else in our Yacht Week group were also going through missed connections of their own AT THE SAME TIME: Priscilla and Gina were also led to the wrong platform for their train from Rome to Florence, and ended up instead on a wrong train to Bologna. Ashley missed her flight home in Rome. Sabrina would find out last minute her flight out of Sardinia would be canceled and would have to spend an extra night there.
I began to wonder whether these comedies of errors was emblematic of something bigger; that no matter how frustrating or random these inconveniences would seem at the time, they serve to remind us they’re just detours — or even required pit stops — that eventually get us back onto the paths we’re supposed to be on. They seem like mistakes at the time, but they might be anything but. Either way we all felt some sense of farflung interconnected camaraderie despite being separated by hundreds of miles of land and ocean knowing we were all going through the same thing…and instead of feeling frustrated at our present predicaments, we actually got a laugh together out of them. That’s a special kind of kinship.
Furthermore I wondered had we picked the right gate to Lampedusa, we wouldn’t have be sitting next that piano for Evie to play on, which could have inspired a random onlooking passenger, that mom dancing with her baby behind Evie, or even our social media, to look at life in a new light as if we became part of a greater ripple effect…
…and yet these are also thoughts I consider when I pull 2 all nighters in a row. One can dare to dream.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming:
Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea as the southernmost island of Italy, Lampedusa is the major island of the Pelagie Islands and considered to be part of Sicily. We arrived around 2 hours later than planned at 4:30pm.
This island has been inhabited by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. You can tell it has Arabic influences to moment you arrive into town.
After a week in the very Wester European influenced old towns of Sardinia and Corsica, I felt immediately at home here.
With population of 5800 people, the island is 12km long and 3km wide, boasting a Middle Eastern-influenced capital “town” full of charms and vibes.
Fun fact is that we’re not really in Europe; this island geologically belongs to Africa.
For the average visitor who must go somewhere “unique” to the island, they should head straight to L’isolotto dei Conigli (the Island of the Rabbits), regarded as the “world’s best beach” on an official TripAdvisor poll.
We took the hourly 1 euro per person bus from the center of Lampedusa’s central town which gets to the beach on the west side of the island within 15 minutes.
What we did not know was that you need to make reservations ahead of time via your accommodations to visit the beach, otherwise expected to be placed on a waitlist (aka sit on an uncomfortable rock wall) where you could wait up to 2 hours to get in.
Thanks to a kind Italian nuclear engineer named Claudia (and her parents!) from Naples living in London, her watermelon themed umbrella kept us sane for our 2 hours underneath the sun.
Once our 2 hour wait was up and after the folks with reservations having been let in first, we finally got to see what the fuss was all about. I also needed to stretch my legs after that.
For sustainability purposes, they only allow a maximum of 550 people at a time on a beach, with a maximum of 2 hour shifts at a time before you’re expected to leave to make room for another group to arrive. The beach opens late morning and closes at 7:30pm.
Once you’re in you have to hike down a rock path 15-20 minutes to finally reach your destination.
And once you do, it’s baptism by paradise.
Wait this long to get in and you just want to flip your hair:
Lampedusa was also a location for many film shoots, so movies fans may also recognize some locations and film stars here. We recognized one:
After our time here was up, we headed back into town for a cab pickup at our lodgings for our onward 6:40pm DAT direct flight to Palermo.
- At time of posting in Lampedusa, it was 30 °C -
Humidity: 63% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
After some of us struggled with our land-sickness, heading back into and returning from Olbia to regain our bearings, we dressed up for one last time for our beachfront closing party at Mama Beach Club:
Taking black cabs to the venue, we kicked off those shoes with a “Can’t Hardly Wait” / “She’s All That / 10 Things I Hate About You / Superbad / Booksmart / Mallrats” kinda night as we danced outside under the rain to the conclusion of a rollercoaster week of adventure with new friends. As if all the narrative threads and variables generated in the past week converged into a singularity: This night is one for the books.
So much happened tonight I really can’t think of any other way to describe it other than the aforementioned perfect 90s teen prom movies, or the entire music video plot line for Martin Jensen’s “Solo Dance.” I just wish we got to dance.
And for the record, the final after-after afterparty took place on our very own OG “The Kraken” yacht as we threw down the final beats before another storm came our way. I think a few people liked me as the DJ.
Ahhhhh, who am I kidding here: That night there was best DJ session I had since my college days… and I won’t forget us running out into the rain, walking our final lap around Olbia, staying up afterwards to watch the sunrise together afterwards on a second attempt, and fully appreciating how the best sunrises come after rainstorms.
The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
After all, we’re a culmination of the tiniest of random decisions that neither seem to matter or add up at the time, until they do.
…The hangover and withdrawal begins. So however delirious I am after two all nighters in a row, I still want to write this thank you.
Thank you to each and every one of you for placing your trust in, and taking a leap of faith with me for nearly all of our first Yacht Week experiences, especially as we emerge from a pandemic. This is my gratitude to your seemingly bottomless supply of patience and energy. This is a thank you for embracing that big giant question mark with me. A thank you to your courage in flying out of old storms and sailing into new storms, figuratively or literally.
I know the many of you who have traveled with me before had expressed concerns about how opposite from monsooning Yacht Week could be. It has now been made very clear after our week together that Yacht Week definitely does not appear to be monsooning … and yet the more I think about it that statement lies only at the surface level. No matter what expectations we had to manage the highs and lows, from our disappointments to the thrill of the unexpected as the week went on, I think we all realized what we had was unique and special.
The irony is not lost on me that traveling in a completely opposite style can evoke the spirit of an original style even more. When you dare yourself to throw yourself into something so big with open hearts and minds, you more appreciate how the spirit of “monsooning” isn’t just a spontaneous style of traveling, but also the act of leaping into the unknown with the type of kindred souls most people spend lifetimes looking for. This is the act of following through; a quality many of us have learned is hard to come by in so many. We now leave knowing so many good people who actually follow through; while other boats still had plenty of their diamonds in the rough, our 3 catamarans didn’t have to look very far to know our entire family was still the prize of the party. As if we were a special group of souls hand-picked to collide with one another on the crossroads of the Tyrrhenian Sea, this trip reminded me that a monsoon is who you share it with.. and happiness is best shared.
I’m overwhelmed by the joy of learning how many of you took this week to dig deeper into yourselves, establish profound connections with complete strangers, and nourish intimate spaces for the renewed sense of promise of “what could have been” many of us craved and were denied during the pandemic. And while this week may be over and the 34 of us will never be together all at once at the same time again, these memories and relationships will persist long after that last dance and goodbye embrace under the rain. That last sunrise. Our final laugh together. Nobody but us will truly understand what we just went through the past 8 days. That’s something special. That’s a monsoon.
So maybe you are or will be on your flight home enjoying the first alone time you’ve had in a week, feeling overwhelmed by …something, or maybe you’re already home, noticing everything familiar feeling a tiny bit different. Maybe something is stirring inside you as if you were still land-sick, emotions washing over you in wave-like undulations as if you were back at sea. Or maybe you’re beginning to realize what just transpired was as real as anything back home, and these wonderful extraordinary memories are actually yours to keep, and you are not alone. For I am also thinking of you, giving you a hug and sending you love from afar to reassure you that you’re not by yourself in suspecting that perhaps a needle really has been shifted. So perhaps monsooning is also suspecting — even if it’s for a fraction of a second — that millions of small random decisions ripple and add up to create happenstances that are not so random after all.
Wherever you are in the world, or whatever someone you become, we will see each other again. And knowing this, may you return home with clearer eyes and fuller hearts. Because right now my heart is full. I would never have wanted to do Yacht Week any other way, or with anyone else.
yours to the end,
- At time of posting in Olbia, it was 23 °C -
Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
Our 6th morning saw us sailing towards Porto Cervo along the coastline of Costa Smeralda, but not before recreating TYW legendary circle raft:
Get out your floaties again here! It’s your last chance to enjoy the festivities of a floating festival:
As we got everyone to jump in at once to the tune of Galantis’ “Peanut Butter and Jelly” and partied it up in the middle, we felt the winds beginning to pick up.
Ending the party earlier than usual due to the conditions, all 3 monsoon catamarans sought shelter, eventually joining on ours for a Mexican-themed lunch fiesta.
We eventually arrived into safety of the nearby marina of Porto Cervo an hour earlier, not knowing we were also sailing right in the middle of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup festivities.
Dock here and you might find yourself instead swimming among shops that belong more along Champs-Élysées or 5th Avenue.
Later that night we took advantage of the local festivities going on at the Rolex Cup and crashed their afterparty at Just Cavalli While otherwise a great outdoor nightclub space, don’t bother coming here early for dinner: It’s not a restaurant. It’s a nightclub.
We then returned to our yachts where some of us stayed up chatting until sunrise, again.
- At time of posting in Porto Cervo, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 20km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
This morning we kicked off with the Regatta; a TYW tradition where we race other boats for the coveted award of bragging rights and a free pair of Blenders sunglasses.
Our group’s chosen theme for Regatta was Burning Man/Mad Max so we constumed up appropriately:
After an epic image of all 21 yachts sailing together side by side — competing against one another for the best energy and vibe . . .
. . . While some of us spent the rest of the morning enjoying the peace of natural tranquility and a cooked meal onboard . . .
. . . I was instead summoned multiple times to treat the wounded (when Alice couldn’t be found). But ultimately we made sure the show would go on:
Eschewing docking in a marina today, our yachts arrived into the isolated inlets of Spargi and linked up in two rows for “the tunnel” to create a floating outdoor festival:
This is where you start taking photos for everyone back home to be jealous of:
No land? No problem. I get out my camera when childhood introversion hits me as the floaties come out:
Because even when I feel withdrawn at times during my travels, this is nevertheless a vibe in of itself:
After a few hours diving and lounging on the water, we retrieved back our floaties and relaxed by sunset:
Time to really really get to know each other:
As the stars came out, some of us went to other yachts to party, some stayed on our yachts to party, and some just lied back and watched shooting stars until we slept into the next morning.
I felt it was at this point a “splice” occurred where the universe would intercede on our behalf. Whether by divine intervention by way of a rabbit’s foot or that shooting star we saw, this was when we set platitudes aside, conventions and insincerities would evaporate, and true potentially everlasting bonds would begin to form. This was the night when monsooners and yacht weekers began to connect.
I mean “how could you not”:
- At time of posting in Cala Gavetta, it was 26 °C -
Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear