I did a count this week and in our 19 months in Sicily, we had 29 people come visit us. 29! Someone should be giving us frequent flyer miles for getting all those people over there. We had our last three visitors in August and September, and now we are just focused on closing things out in Sicily before moving back home on November 7th (well, except for my brief trip back to the US, but that will be another post).
Grover and his fiance Katie came out in August. We saw the festival in Catania for St. Agatha, did some touring around our part of the Sicily, visited the Aeolian islands (our favorite!), did some hiking, and drank a lot of wine.
We have hiked to this part of Etna before, but never saw it when it was clear. This is a huge valley from when part of the volcano collapsed. It now serves to catch the lava that erupts from this crater, and protects the cities below it. The black you see is from a recent eruption.
For Sean’s (very belated) birthday, he and I had a little alone time and took a trip down to Ragusa, a town a few hours south of us. Ragusa is famous for a few things, but in particular its Ristorante Duomo, which is considered one of the best restaurants in Sicily. We stayed overnight and dined on delicious food and wine.
We took our time coming home and checked out the Donnafugata castle, complete with a rock maze and catacombs.
My friend Alanna came out as our last visitor. She and I took a trip over to the western side of the island. I’d never been, so it was a real treat for me. We stopped at Grotto Mangiapane, a village in a cave near Trapani that’s been inhabited since paleolithic times. The town hasn’t been inhabited in the last few decades, and is now a museum.
I loved staying in Trapani. We had a great hotel on the waterfront with a stunning sunset and rooftop bar. For such a small island, it’s amazing how different parts of Sicily are from each other. The food, driving, building materials, and so much more are so different from Catania, just a couple hours away.
We were fortunate with our timing leaving the East coast for the West – our first day in Trapani, Sicily was hit with a cyclone. The East coast got the worst of it (think cars getting washed down the streets and water levels three feet deep in the low roadways), but it stormed pretty bad where we were. Not being in a hurry, we just pulled over when the rain became heavy and the roads turned into streams. It’s amazing what people are willing to drive their little Fiats through – water rushing, storm drains overflowing, and bags of garbage floating down the streets.
When the storm finally passed, the weather cleared up into a beautiful day. We spent the afternoon in Marsala (where the wine of the same name comes from). They have wonderful, if poorly explained, museum housing the wreck of a Phoenician ship (from the 3rd century BC), tons of Phoenician pots, and an archaeological site with the remains of an old Roman villa. I love the layers of history you find in one spot.
The highlight for me was seeing the salt flats between Trapani and Marsala. I’ve heard about and seen photos of these ever since I’ve moved to Sicily, and they’re so cool to see in person. Sea salt is harvested from acres and acres of flat marshland next to the ocean. Water is pumped in and then evaporated out, after which the salt is collected and stacked to dry for six months under terracotta tiles to protect it from rain. Salt has been harvested like this for centuries, at least. The fields may even go back to Phoenician times when they were used for preserving fish.
Just above Trapani sits the town of Erice, on a mountain about 2500 feet above sea level. Erice was founded by the Phoenicians, after which it fell under Greek, Arab, and Norman rule. It’s a medieval looking town with castles, walls, and tiny stone streets. It’s full of little shops and restaurants and 360 degree breathtaking views of the land around. We took the cable car up from Trapani and spent a few hours wandering, eating arancini, and trying out their famous bakery.
We left the west coast and headed home, but not before making a quick stop at Segesta to see their famous temple. The city is believed to have been settled around 1200 BC by people who came from Troy. The temple, however is Greek and was built around 450 BC. One theory about the building of the temple says that the town of Segesta was rivals with the nearby town of Selinute, who was allied with the powerful and nearby Syracuse. Segesta turned to Athens for alliance and built the temple to impress the visiting Athenians. The temple was never completed, lacking a roof and the fluting up the columns, but is wonderfully preserved. It claims to be the best preserved Doric temple in the world, it very well might be true.
Like many of the sites in Sicily, the temple sits out by itself, is a little hard to find, and lacks much signage. However, to see history like that, away from the shoving crowds and in such a serene setting, makes it worth the effort.