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Italy - Sicily, April 2014

Sounds like a very full day! Glad your persistence at the Modica caves helped you find that hiking trail. The weather was fabulous in Ostuni this morning, too - and we had a good seafood lunch on the seafront near Bari airport. But now we're home...

Those beans are brined, but raw: Lupini in Italian, and Tremoços in Portuguese (where we first met them). We often buy them loose from the market stalls in the summer, but didn't have any on this last visit.

Yes, they do like their coffees very short in Southern Italy! And that early afternoon closure that you found in Punta Secca is pretty typical - even in winter, most things shut around 1pm and often don't open until around 5! It makes afternoon sightseeing a bit tricky...
Great picture of Montalbano's house, Pauline.

I really love all the Montalbano TV shows. The characters are so much fun, and are so perfectly Italian in the intonations, gestures, etc. Also, Luca Zingaretti (who plays Montalbano) looks a lot like my older son.

In the US you can see them on the MHz network, which has an Internet stream, and also is on some public TV stations. Where I live, in the San Francisco area, they are on KCSM, which is the San Mateo station. Here is the website for the MHz network mysteries.

They just started a new series set in Vigata (which I guess is actually Scicli) described as follows:

Andrea Camilleri’s The Vanishing of Patò

If you thought Detective Montalbano’s hometown of Vigata could get a little nutty sometimes, wait til you see it in 1890! Based on the historical mystery novel by Andrea Camilleri, The Vanishing of Patò takes place on Good Friday. As the town enjoys its traditional Passion Play, the local bank manager disappears. Is he dead or in hiding? North meets South as a local Carabinieri officer (played by Don Matteo’s Nino Frassica) teams up with a Neapolitan police inspector to solve the case. Outstanding performances, quirky humor and sharp social commentary on Italy’s class system highlight this Sicilian treat. 2010. In Italian with English subtitles.​

Unfortunately we missed the first one, which was on last night, but we will try to catch the second in the series next week. Apparently this is based on one of many Camilleri novels which have never been translated into English.
I don't think it was afternoon closure in Punta Secca, but probably that was part of it, and I didn't think of that. I think these places come to life in summer. We were there around 5pm.

Okay someone is outside on a loud speaker. Must go see!
Snacks on the terrace after a big day out. Jonathan introduced us to these snacks. Some kind of cooked bean.

View attachment 259
Hi Pauline, Just check out lupini on your handy Italian menu decoder...

On your comment about why google maps and the GPS might throw up wildly different estimates of travel times: I suspect Italy is like France in regards to a GPS—they are incapable of recognizing big fast roads from little diddly diddly roads that go over hill and dale; the route the GPS chooses may technically be shorter but will take forever. Happens all the time around here to unsuspecting newcomers!

Looks like you're having fun.. Michael and I have such great memories of that part of Sicily. First place we went together to write- on the job training for him!
I have been cursing the GPS, but after using it for a few days I realize it is doing a good job. The main roads here either go down to the coast or run along the coast, so you have to take small country roads to get places. It felt like we were always on narrow country lanes, with stone walls, but we needed to be on them. And now I know each way in and out of town, so that makes things easier. The traffic is very light here, which saves you on the narrow roads. I have not come close to hitting one of the stone walls that run along the road, yet.

But we got a parking ticket! Our second time in Italy (and only one in England and none in France). This was completely our fault. We were driving into Noto and the streets were busy. I could see the central pedestrian area ahead, but there were no signs for parking lots (a concept not used here - a nice big parking lot for tourists, no we don't need that here), and I saw a space with blue lines (which I KNOW means you have to pay) and we parked and I looked for a payment machine or for a sign saying something. Nothing. So we set our parking disc and thought we would only stay an hour. Idiots. We returned to find the parking police writing a ticket for the car ahead of us, and we had a ticket. If we had not stopped to buy a postcard to mail to ourselves, we would have beat him.

Yes, there was a payment machine - about two blocks back and hidden. We bought an hour (80 cents) and went back into town to the post office where we waited 15mins and then paid 28 Euro. Really - I know better! :)

Today was sunny and warm (72F). Noto is supposed to be the best of the Baroque towns, but I did not like it. Too many tourists, too many shops for tourists. A few very nice buildings along one main street. And we stopped at Café Sicilia as Kelly recommended in the notes she gave me and had the best coffee of the trip (and a gelato - my first of the trip).

After our post office adventure, we headed to the coast, to the Vendicari Nature Reserve (recommended for walking in the Sunflower guide Jonathan loaned us), paid 3 Euro to park and went into the reserve. We walked on a trail between marshes and the sea for just over an hour (lovely), then debated going for a swim. People were on the beach (all Northern Europeans I suspect), but only a couple were in the water. We rolled up our trousers and walked in. The water was not cold but it was not deep. So we walked around for awhile and did not swim. We would have had to go way out to get to deep water.

A long drive "home" on narrow country lanes. We drove near Pachino, where those lovely small tomatoes are grown. A sea of plastic. None of them get direct sunshine or feel the sea air. They grow under plastic, get put into plastic and end up in the Stroud Waitrose. The vast fields of polytunnels look like lakes, until you realized it is plastic glowing in the sun.

Other than this blight, the countryside is beautiful. Olive groves, fields of artichokes, some cows and sheep, fields full of read poppies, no forests - open spaces and rocky gorges.

Driving through Noto we smelled roasting peppers - just like in August in Santa Fe - the exact same smell. People were roasting them in a few different places.

We had to "check out" this morning (get our deposit back, pay for cleaning and heat), even though we leave on Saturday, because the apartment owner Giovanni is the local representative for the area at a UNESCO conference in Puglia. We have enjoyed talking with him. His English is good, but he likes to learn new phrases - like what is "piano, piano" in English? Steve thought "at a snail's pace".
It's fun to follow in your footsteps, Pauline. I'm impressed with all the cooking you're doing! And thanks for the Montalbano pictures ~ I've been a fan of Andrea Camilleri for years & have read most of his Montalbano books. Great to see his house.

Funny how I forget some of the negative details over time ~ garbage, "hideous modern Modica", industrial coast line...
Did you know that the coast between Siracusa and Catania has the highest concentration of chemical plants in Europe?

It's all there, the unattractive filth and the beautiful ruins; the modern intrusions and the historic wonders. I know Sicily can be a difficult destination, even for seasoned travelers, like our friends who fled Palermo. I only dipped my toe into Palermo for a few hours, then happily returned to Cefalu' :cool:

I too loved the duomo in Siracusa, built into the Greek Temple. It was stunning and indicative of the layers of history on this unique island. In the end, I loved Sicily, worts and all, but I do wonder how much I filtered out to maintain my romantic view....

Your weekend visiting the Greek temples at Agrigento and Selinunte should be rewarding... Enjoy!
We saw our first (on this trip) hookers yesterday on the road to Noto. Eastern European women in spike heels and pretty dresses.

We went out for pizza last night, to a place recommended by the apartment owner. It is used for filming the Young Montalbano scenes.

Sunny and beautiful this morning. Our laundry is drying on the terrace.
Thursday April 10, 2014 - the day I officially fell back in love with Italy. Being here brings back memories of the wonderful trips Steve and I did to Italy in the 90's and 2000's. When everything was new and exciting, and we were (gasp) nearly 20 years younger. And it brings back memories of the early SlowTrav days, in the early 2000's when we were writing all those "how to travel in Italy" notes, and it was so much fun.

I think Sicily was a good choice for our re-entry. A new place for us and very different from Tuscany and Umbria. But if I hear "I'm only alive in Italy" I reserve the right to laugh.

Today we didn't leave Scicli. We had such a good parking spot, it was impossible to give it up. We climbed the hillside of houses that we look at. The paths to the archaeological site were blocked by locked gates, but we found one open and got close to the caves where people have lived from prehistoric times until the 1950s. We tried to hike up to the church at the top of the hill but it is being restored and everything was blocked.

We walked all over town. The little lanes going up ten hillsides have abandoned houses, but also renovated houses. It is not a town of old people only, there are lots of younger people and kids.

I like this town and am happy this is where we ended up for the week. Noto would have been too busy. Modica would have been good, and probably Ragusa (we will go there tomorrow). And Ortigia (Siracusa) would have been good.

On the next trip we will stay in another area, but we will come back here I think.

Photo of cannoli :) one with cream, one with ricotta.

Bleeck! Those cannoli were too sweet, especially the ricotta one. Sweet things are VERY sweet here. A cornetto con marmellata has too much marmellata, way too much.

I did try the locally made almond drink (first ingredient is sugar) and I liked it, not too sweet.

That fabulous chocolate bar from Modica had a piece of hard plastic in it! Steve bit into it. They will be receiving a letter from me.

Watched part of another Young Montalbano tonight and realized most of it is filmed in Scicli.

Tomorrow Ragusa. Saturday we leave. This week has gone quickly. Saturday we drive to Sciacca, seeing Agrigento on the way. I wonder if that part of Sicily will be busier? It is quiet here.
Like others have written, I am in love with your trip report! I feel like I'm right along with you, thanks for taking the time to share your vacation with us. :)
Friday! Nearing the end of this quick trip. We wanted a short trip because we were not sure how we would like Sicily and we did not want to be here over Easter. Now I think it would be fun to be here for Easter. Our town, Scicli, put up lights on our street today for the celebrations.

Today we drove up to Ragusa. It is closer than I thought - just over 30 minutes to get there. We had to drive over a few huge bridges. This area is steep rocky hillsides with deep gorges. Both Modica and Scicli are built at the bottom of a valley, almost in a bowl surrounded by hills. But modern Ragusa is built on the top of a hill, with the old part tumbling down a steep hillside and out on another cliff top.

We both liked Ragusa. We drove through the modern part (very busy) and followed signs to Ragusa Ibla, the historic part. We found a parking lot (a parking lot!! for us tourists!!), did not have to pay because the ticket office was closed (it is still early in the tourist season here), found the tourist office (closed), found a sign with a map but no indication of "you are here", so winging it and, as we do about 80% of the time, went the wrong way.

We found Via Scala, Street of Steps, and climbed and climbed almost straight up to the modern part. The tourist office at the Duomo was open and we had the most helpful tourist office person we have ever had in Italy. She commiserated with us for having gone the wrong way, showed us the interesting things we could see here, gave us a map and marked exactly how to get to Ragusa Ibla and even phoned Ville Romana del Casale (I may have that name wrong) where we are going to see the famous Roman mosaics on Monday to be sure they will be open (many things are closed Sunday and Monday here).

We walked back down Via Scale and realized we had missed the incredible views. I remember seeing this view in one of the old Montalbano TV shows.

This steep middle area, between the modern town and the old, is very interesting but many of the buildings are abandoned.

Then we walked up into the historic part of town. This part has mostly renovated houses, several hotels and B&Bs, restaurants and a few tourist shops. It is a beautiful area. We walked and walked and then stopped for a very good lunch (grilled vegetables, pasta with porcini).

Now it was 3:30pm so we headed out and stopped in Modica on our way home. We actually went to the chocolate place and showed them the hunk of plastic that was inside the chocolate bar we bought from them. The woman at the counter apologized, made us wait while she called the owner who was too busy to talk to us, and gave us a replacement chocolate bar. I should have asked for our money back instead.

Walked around Modica and then back to Scicli, which was surprisingly busy. Now we have to get packed up and leave tomorrow. Big day ahead. The GPS says it is a 3hr 15min drive to Valley of the Temples at Agrigento. Then another 1hr 45min from there to Sciacca, our next stop.

The weather was lovely today - sunny and warm. We talked to some other Brits in Ragusa about how lovely this sun is and how wretched our winter was.

I am reading Tim Parks latest book about the Italian trains - "Italian Ways" - and it is very good. I have read most of his books and like all of them, but this is now my favorite. He is a Brit about my age (late 50s) who has lived and worked in Italy for 30 years. He loves it here, but sees and understands things that a visitor does not. The perfect book to read while traveling in Italy.

Photo of the view to Ragusa Ibla from the top of Via Scale.

I've just dug out my Oct 2003 journal to see if I'd noted down any useful Sciacca info: not really, except that we enjoyed walking round the fishing port. However, I did write down that we watched TV back in our room, and "finally saw a couple of programmes of L'Eredità (Steve's favourite)". Proof that, before we ever met you, Steve was a legend :)
L'Eredita! Do you think it is still on? We have not turned on the TV yet.

Sciacca is pretty amazing. We drove thru the center of town on arrival (by mistake) and walked for an hour before dinner. The town is busy, full of young people, fabulous looking shops, lots of traffic. Interesting buildings and lovely views of the sea.

Had an odd dinner out where there was no menu and we though we ordered vegetable pasta got me and swordfish in pasta for Steve. I got what I wanted but he ended up with some plain pasta. It wasn't just us, other orders were messed up. But the pasta dishes were good.

The drive went well today and I am enjoying sitting on someone's tail while waiting to pass, then surging past. The main roads are wide and you can make a third lane in the middle. Lots of potholes and rough roads. The driving times ended up being closer to google map times - the gps kept adjusting its times.

We spent two hours at Agrigento. Wonderful. Stopped at another Greek city. A much smaller site with just a theatre.

A beautiful sunny day, temps in the high 60s.

One of the three main temples at Agrigento (Concordia I think). Built by the Greeks in the 6th century BC.

It is greener in this part of Sicily (south central) and we can see larger mountains in the distance. We saw lots of plastic covered fields today, but less here. Many of the towns we drove through do not seem prosperous. Rows of dingy apartment blocks, some never completed. Cheap shops.

Sicily is good for those a little too attached to order (me) because of its chaos. They don't even park in straight lines. And forget about stopping for peds in Zebra crossings!
Hi Pauline, Just check out lupini on your handy Italian menu decoder...
I have been using the menu decoder throughout our Sicily trip - so far I haven't stumped it once. I particularly liked the enticing lupini entry: ".Popular flatulence-causing ancient Roman snack, still eaten in places today."

Somehow reminded me of the entry for planet Earth in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:"Harmless." (extended in the second addition to "Mostly harmless".
We have been so lucky with the weather. We had one cool and wet day a week ago. Since then, perfect. Any hotter would have been too hot walking around the sites.

Today we drove to Selinunte and spent a couple of hours seeing the Greek temples and the remains of the city. Then we drove towards Palermo on a nearly empty Autostrada (no tolls) to Segesta. There were more people there than at Selinunte, but not crowded. Visited the Greek temple and theatre there. Less than an hours drive each leg, including back to Sciacca.

The main three temple sites - Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta - were fabulous. Agrigento had the most visitors. If I had to choose one to visit, any one of the three would be good. We were both thrilled to see them.

Now into Sciacca to see a bit more of the town. Tomorrow we have an evening flight from Catania and spend the night at Gatwick. But we will have an interesting drive to the airport.

Photo of the main temple at Selinunte.

Glad that you are having such a good time in Sicily.....it's great that all seems to have worked out so well. We are due for a return visit to Sicily...it has been 10 years since our last visit. I do have a lot of clients traveling there so I need to get back to keep current with what's going on.

We leave for Milan on May 1--all northern Italy on this trip.

Hi to Steve.

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