The Hendersons Calabria and Sicilia
2013 Trip to Italy
17 September 2013
Back on the road. We had booked a B & B in Tropea, a beautiful little seaside town in Calabria. The drive was uneventful, although our GPS on the cell phone isn’t completely reliable. Every so often it loses its little mind and starts babbling nonsense. This usually happens at an important moment when a particularly tricky turn is just ahead.
Tropea is lovely, but it is off the Autostrade a fair bit. Our B & B was beautifully furnished, except for some strange reason the hostess didn’t supply bath soap or glasses and at first it seemed the you could only get internet on the terrace (later resolved when our hostess gave us a router for our room). This is a highly touristic town – seems to cater to Germans especially.
We had dinner at a restaurant that was on the main street – it was acceptable, nothing particularly exciting. I ordered gambaroni, was chagrined to find that they were served in the shell, so a heaping plate looked like and enormous amount of food, but my the time you got rid of all the shell, it was pretty sparse.
18 September 2013
Well, Tropea certainly is off the beaten path – it took nearly an hour to get back to the Autostrada, and the GPS consistently lost its way.
We managed to get to San Giorgio where we caught the ferry to Messina. The ferry trip was expensive! €79 for the round trip, the voyage lasting less than ½ hour, mostly spent loading and unloading. Tom says if it weren’t for the shipping traffic a reasonably decent swimmer could swim the channel. The unions and ferry owners are fighting putting in a bridge (at these prices, who can blame them?) but it makes sense to put one in and help Sicily with more tourism.
We made an unfortunate turn just after leaving Messina and ended up on surface roads for miles – slow traffic through little villages. It added a good ½ hour to our travel time.
We drove to Sciacca, on the south coast of Sicily where we were supposed to have our lodging. What a surprise. We met a young man who showed us the way to the apartment. The apartment was lovely and very nicely furnished, but it was very isolated and there was no internet connection. In fact, we discovered later, the apartment as listed on AirBnB wasn’t the apartment we were shown at all. We cancelled the reservation and drove around for an hour trying to find an internet café where we could contact AirBnB. Eventually we found one in a district frequented by students. It was really noisy and smoky, but we managed to send an email to Airbnb and find a listing for a hotel nearby. We called the host of the apartment to tell him that we had checked the listing and the property we were shown was not the one described on Airbnb.
We had been in Sciacca in 2005 and recognized a restaurant close to the hotel, so we walked there for dinner. It is another family owned restaurant. The son manages the operation and the father sits around and directs. The food is wonderful. We were the first customers, arriving at 7:30 pm. By 8:00 every seat was taken and there was a couple waiting for a table. There were a couple of Americans, but everyone else was Italian. Tom had pesce spada (sword fish) and I had a pasta dish with frutta di mare (seafood). It was wonderful, but more food than I could eat.
The mosquitoes continue to be a problem. I have taken to carrying around my insect repellent. In just a few minutes at dusk I had four or five very nasty bites.
Back to our hotel, we started looking for a place to stay for the remainder of our time on Sicily, and decided to cancel our second night reservation in Tropea. We found an apartment near Palermo which had good recommendations and sent a message to the owner, Tom found a particularly nice resort for our first night back on the mainland and made reservations.
Our room was right next to the street, so the motorini were up close and personal. Tom says that Italy has 60,000,000 people and 62,000,000 motorini.
19 September 2013
The problems of being in a foreign country with no reservations. Well, fortunately we were able to overcome them. We made arrangements to rent a place near Balestrate, west of Palermo. The host was willing to rent to us on short notice but needed to be paid in cash. So, off in search of a Bancomat (ATM). Eventually we found one and headed toward our new lodging.
The countryside in Sicily is beautiful – the vineyards appear to be prosperous and this time of year the melons are ripe in the fields. We both really like Sicily, despite the huge amounts of litter.
We stopped in a town not far from our new digs, Pinitico, for lunch. Cheap and good – we each had a small pizza and a mineral water and the total cost was around $6.00
We met our new host and were shown around the place. Very nice….too bad he closed the pool last week because of the rain. We had to wait for the apartment to be cleaned, so we had to leave for a few hours. That was OK as we had shopping to do.
We are fortunate – the price for our new lodging is about the same as the place in Sciccia, so we aren’t out much. It could have been much worse.
Our host directed us to a Carrefour super market and we got supplies for the next five days. We still had some time on our hands before the apartment was ready, so we went to Balestrate. How strange – at 3:45 the place was a ghost town. By 4:10 the place was packed. We can’t get over the afternoon siesta. It seems like a stupid system when people no longer make their living by working in the fields – instead they work in air-conditioned offices.
We got settled into our new apartment – and plugged in the mosquito repellents – and had dinner on the terrazza. The owner has 8 or 10 cats in various sizes – many without tails. They jump onto the terrazzo and beg for food, which they don’t need, as the owner gets scraps from a nearby restaurant to feed them.
20 September 2013
Tom needs a day off from driving – we have had a couple of days of intense driving. So we did laundry. Clothes dry quickly in the Sicilian sun and breeze. We stayed around the apartment most of the day, but late in the afternoon decided to try to find the Terme Segestane. Well, that was a lost cause. We wanted to visit the thermal springs and get some relaxation time in, but we couldn’t find them to save our soul. Later we concluded that we had merely been driving around them
21 September 2013
Back on the tourist route. We went to Palermo for a walking tour. Little did we know that Palermo’s streets would be torn apart with construction. A 45 minute trip took 75 minutes. Eventually we found a parking lot which was supposed to be close to the tour meeting point, but, in fact, it was two or more kilometri from the spot. We raced to the spot, but couldn’t find the guide. We were about to give up when we found a guide with one patron and we asked him if he was our guide – huzzah – connection. The guide’s name is Zaro and he took us on an extensive tour of the center of Palermo, including the market called Barlerȯ.
Palermo is fascinating to me – lots of history – Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Arab, Norman- you name it, everyone has invaded Palermo. The Cosa Nostra started here and our guide took us to a church, St. Matthew, which he claimed was where the Cosa Nostra began. There is an underground passageway where the men of honor could have made their way from one part of the city to another. And there is a passageway that connects the nearby nunnery to the nearby monastery – and a crypt where there were found many skeletons of small babies. I hate to think that the holy men and women engaged in such activities, but it probably happened.
Barlerȯ is quite the place – I guess it is about as close as one gets to a souk. You can buy meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, spices, home ‘things’, cheese….just about anything except major appliances and furniture. It is loud (naturally) and crowded. Very strange to us was that people were trying to ride their motorini in the market – there really wasn’t a lot of room. It would have been far more efficient to leave the motorini outside and walk in, but I have concluded that Italians are becoming lazy – they don’t walk anymore.
The cathedral in Palermo isn’t really all that beautiful – the inside is rather spare and the outside is a hodgepodge. But, Pino Puglisi, a Catholic priest who was murdered by the Cosa Nostra is on the verge of being recognized as a saint. It makes you angry that the Cosa Nostra is so brutal.
The tour was very interesting, but a bit tiring. We had lunch then made our way back to the car. On the way home, Tom concluded he knew how to get to the Terme Segestana. Amazing – he drove straight to it. We looked around a bit – very clean and nice. We decided to come back the next day.
22 September 2013
A leisurely morning then off to Trapani. A bit of a disappointment – the harbor is lovely, the town isn’t. We drove to Marsala, which is very beautiful. Along the way we saw several salt flats where there are facilities for drying salt from the Mediterranean waters. Salt is piled alongside the road in great heaps.
I would like to go back to Marsala – it is clean and charming. There are several beach areas, including a couple where people wind sail.
We had lunch at a small ristorante next to the sea. Being Sunday, there was a party of 12 having a typical Sunday lunch. The antipasti were primarily seafood – I don’t think I could eat sea urchins – they look pretty disgusting. I had involintini (little meat balls, these on a skewer and wrapped in bacon) and some grilled eggplant and zucchini. Tom had sausage and French fries (patatine).
We drove back to Trapani and then to the Terme Segestane. The pool was beautiful, filled with water from the hot springs, so a bit too warm for doing laps – we did slow laps, then just soaked for a while. Very good for working out the kinks.
23 September 2013
I wanted to see Cefalú – it was a couple of hour drive, but the traffic, even in Palermo wasn’t too bad. Cefalú is trying to be a new Taormina, but just doesn’t quite make it. The Cathedral, the only really interesting site, is interesting, but needs a lot of maintenance. There is an altar in one of the chapels that is made of silver – beautiful, but we are becoming more disillusioned with the grandiose spending when there are people in real need.
We had a light lunch in Cefalú – it was good enough, but the service was terrible and the restroom wasn’t very clean. How can the cooks and servers wash their hands properly with no soap and no towels or dryers?
Back at our little apartment, we started packing for return to the mainland. We stopped to chat with our host, Antonio, who is a professore at a university in Palermo (economics). He also owns a small paper mill. His tale of the difficulties of establishing a business in Italy were eye-opening. One business he has been working on has taken 40 years to get through the permitting and court process. Is it any wonder this country is dying?
We had a Skype chat with one of our Language Exchange contacts – an amiable young man who wants to be a priest. The training he has to go through is quite rigorous – I am surprised anyone would stick it out.