The first sights of Sicily were of low hills. The trip was on a fast hydrofoil and had taken about two hours: we were going quite slowly because the seas were somewhat heavy. Lots of people were sick, luckily, not us. The bar was open but the barman did not have any change so Peter was forced, against his will of course, to have about six espressos. Certainly something was needed to compensate for a 3am departure!
We were on the dock just before 8am in Catania, which is half way up the right side of Sicily.
We had a car booked with Hertz but there was no sign of a car store. I guess Hertz goes to airports, not ferry docks. With a lot of gesturing with people who spoke only Italian we found out that the store was a mile into town so we decided to get a cab. It was going to be $15. (The currency was Euro, not Dollar and one Euro is worth $1.20. From here on we will call them dollars and let you do the conversion yourself. Just take the amount and add a bit. We found the easiest conversion to be reasonably accurate was to add one tenth and then add another tenth). We had US Dollars, English Pounds, Maltese Lire and old Italian Lire which we quickly found produced a laugh whenever we tried to use them - shop prices are now listed in Euro and in Italian Lire but the Lire is merely for old folk who can't convert and only Euro are useable. I figured that we could talk our driver into taking us to an ATM to get some REAL money.
So it was. He found a bank but the ATM told me that it was unable to make connection to my bank. A second bank had the same problem. And a third. And a fourth. Finally the driver, who was beginning to get fed up of visiting all the ATMs in Catania started waving his arms. We gave him a twenty US dollar bill and he drove off in a cloud of dust muttering Sicilian curses under his breath. By this time, luckily, we were within a block of Hertz.
The Hertz people were delightful. No English, but arm waving works. We got into our car which was a hatchback Ford a bit bigger than a Fiesta.
Driving should have been quite simple - Five blocks north, turn left and find the freeway. After twenty minutes we found the beltway going the wrong way. This was the first of many, many times we got lost - Italians apparently believe that directional signs are a luxury and they have so many places to point to that there is usually a sign every five miles, if you're lucky.
The freeway was fast and arrowed across the central, relatively flat part of Sicily. The rest of the country is quite mountainous. We had ideas of visiting Agrigento on the South coast where there are magnificent Greek and Roman temples, but we decided that it was a slow road that way and we would be better off following the freeway. Good decision. As we found out many times later, the non-freeway roads in Italy are very slow. Very pretty, but very slow. We also needed to get money.
The freeway took us to Palermo, the Capital, where there was an American Embassy. At least they could explain the mystery of the ATM machines and maybe help us out. We got there and dived into the mess of one-way streets filled to double their capacity with scooters and race cars. One good thing about roadsigns is the "bulls-eye" in black and white marked "Centro" (that is, Chentro). These signs are used very frequently in every City and always point to the governmental center of the City. We followed it and arrived at the railway station which should have had a Tourist Information counter. After finding out that there is a difference between Information (which is for trains) and iInformation (which is for tourists, we got a map and directions to the Embassy. By this time it was the beginning of Siesta time which is still taken very seriously. The Embassy was closed. After hanging around for an hour and getting the local police all riled up because they maybe were thinking of terrorists, Peter decided to try another ATM just on the off-chance that Siesta would have unloaded the telephone lines and it would be able to get through to check the bank balance. It refused. As a last resort, Peter tried to get $50 instead of $200. Magic. It worked. This was the last time there was a problem - machine would spit out $200 or $300 with gay abandon from here on. Maybe it was Eastern Sicily. Maybe it took a small transaction to prime the pump. Maybe it was the way one held one's tongue. Anyway - we had MONEY.
Good bye Palermo, it's now 2pm and getting toward bed-time - we had had eight hours' sleep in four days. We jumped on the freeway and hightailed it for our booking at Anna Maria's at Trapani (stress on the first A). She had given us directions in Italian that included a traffic light that turned out to be a traffic circle, and a sort of sports palace. We found a bowling alley and asked to use their phone to call her. No. We went next door to a gas station and the owner asked my name - Peter - and happily made the call. Busy. He asked where we were going and we gave him the address (all this was in arm-waving, of course) and he directed us to Anna Maria's. We went straight to the door.
Anna Maria's turned out to be a three-storey house on a fairly busy street where we had the bottom floor. There was room for another set of guests but we had the place to ourselves. Quite comfortable except for a bed that was like a board and quiet because we faced on to a light shaft between buildings, not on to the road.
After we had settled in we walked down the road to look for somewhere to eat and discovered a restaurant. It was in a sort of Piazza with the main road buzzing along the opposite side, but the tables were on the sidewalk under a canvas roof with a bamboo fence providing privacy. Very cute and very private. The waitress was superb - a pert college student type who was the only waitress. She spoke no English but was able to explain most of the things we wanted to know. Peter had the most delicious seafood spaghetti. Diane had vegetables and we shared a litre of local wine. Very nice.
We collapsed into bed and woke at 9am, Wednesday, almost adjusted to the time change.
The first adventure of the day was drying hair. We had very cleverly brought a 220v hair drier with us from a previous visit to England and this had worked just fine in Malta which was an English colony when electrical standards were introduced, but the plug would not fit into the italian sockets. No problem, crowed Peter, I brought my adapter kit with plugs to fit any socket, anywhere in the world. Except the adapters were intended to take an American plug and we had an English plug on the hair drier. (Slap forehead in a upward motion with an open hand). Sicily doesn't have Home Depot so Peter went down the street to each little shop trying first to explain what was wanted, then trying to ask where a shop was that sold this item. Waving hands are not very efficient when trying to explain a theoretical problem. This was fruitless and we launched a plug-finding crusade.
Meanwhile Diane had temporarily solved the problem; she pantomimed to Anna Maria that she needed to dry her hair and Anna Maria had beamed, saying "Si. Phone, Phone" and rushed off to get her phone. Turns out that Sicily has hot dry winds similar to the Santa Ana's in California. In Europe these are called the Foehn winds and Sicily has adopted the name as the common term for a hair drier. Get it? hot dry wind; Foehn; Phone. We still chuckle.
Anna Maria had croissants and coffee for breakfast and the most delicious, home-made, chunky orange marmalade. Great breakfast.
After breakfast Peter went grocery shopping. Bread, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, salami, cheese and beer for lunch. A bottle of wine for the evening.
The local geography at the West end of Sicily
The plan was to go to Santa Ninfa, the birthplace of Diane's great grandparents and also to visit Agrigento - the place with the temples. This was a trip of at most 150 miles. We started off on the freeway, took the first exit and ten minutes later we found we were on the wrong road. So the plans changed and we wandered over side roads down to Marsala. Yes, that's the place that makes the dessert wine. When Sicily was conquered by the Normans in the dark ages, they were making a wine by adding extra alcohol, i.e. fortifying it. This made it last without spoiling so it was in great demand for shipping up North to Normandy and Britain. The Marsala method is to put wine in a keg, fortify it, draw some off at the end of the year and add more and continue doing this to maintain a constant flavor. It's still done like that.
Marsala is a delightful little town. It's on the sea coast and the central part is medieval with what looks like a fairly recently built (that is - in the last two centuries), very high wall. Inside the wall is a pedestrian haven with shops, cathedrals, etc.
|One of the typical streets||The men gathered on the steps for their afternoon chat. It was only early afternoon so there were not very many yet.|
|The exterior of the cathedral was very clean, very beautiful|
|The inside was cool|
|>||The town hall was on the opposite side of the Piazza.|
We continued on toward Santa Ninfa and went through Salemi which is a small town built on top of a high hill. It was market day so the main street was closed and of course there were no re-direction signs. We wandered about this beautiful little town, discussed routes with several old gentlemen who apparently thought we were aliens from another planet, and finally set our course by the sun. The road got rougher and rougher and eventually became a dirt road, but it finally led to Santa Ninfa!!!
Santa Ninfa is another hill-top town. It was devastated by an earthquake in 1986 and three quarters of the town was leveled. So it's a newly built town and looks quite prosperous.
We followed the "Centro" signs and found the town hall and main square. This had a view over the hills just in time to see the sun beginning to set.
Yes, 150 miles took all day with a smallish bit of sightseeing.
We went back to Trapani and had dinner at the same little restaurant intending to return to Santa Ninfa the next day. This is the subject of "Giaramidas"