25 June 2013 Reflections.
Italians, in what I can only assume is another effort to thwart authority’s control, have invented the ‘Electronic cigarette’. This product, designed with typical Italian flair and creativity, when smoked gives off only an odourless vapour. There ends passive smoking. It can be charged with varying strengths of liquid nicotine which also comes with flavours. The items themselves are available in a range if fashionable and stylish designs with rechargeable kits that can even plug into your computer’s usb port should you want. There is also a pipe version. Amazing. Check it out on the net.
We chose Cinisi, in Sicilly, for our first few nights for no other reason than it was close to the airport of Palermo where we were to land. At first this seemed like a big mistake, but we soon came to understand that, given we weren’t going to cover all of the island, it was a small and typical slice. Our accommodation was comfortable, private and recently renovated in beautiful Sicilian tile, ceramic and wood work, and included generous amounts of croissants, home-made tart, espresso coffee and other sweet delights – we don’t do ‘breakfast’ but the coffee was great and I did get stuck into the tart on a couple of days. Cinisi rests at the base of a huge rocky massif with only a couple of tranquil piazzas and one main street running down towards the coast – but is not a coastal village. We walked to nearby Terrasini, which is a fishing and beachside village, to enjoy its ambience and once again struck gold. Over a couple of cooling drinks at a small bar above the harbour we explained what we were looking for and the owner had his friend deliver us (in a 4WD BMW) to a fabulous seafood restaurant where we were both feted. I don’t know what has happened to me, but for one who doesn’t eat mussels I demolished a large bowl of mussels in spaghetti very pleasurably and even managed to finish a plate of the local small clams and some octopus with an absolutely delectable (and cheap) local white wine. This somewhat large restaurant was set up for, and used to catering for, many more guests than were evident that day, and we find this elsewhere in the larger and long-established restaurants. Like in Spain, they were never the cheap eatery but were always well frequented by locals who would travel for miles for a good feed. I always make a point of raising the Crisis and its effects with the owners when I am able and this one, like all the others, confirmed the bite that the economic downturn is having upon them. Put simply, people are not spending as the used to – and it isn’t over.
The steep and high massif that looms over the village of Cinisi dominates the scenery and reminds us of Gibraltar. It extends over much of the western end of Sicily. It is very hot (apparently most of the year) in Sicily and we were well toasted again – but still enjoyed covering the long distance on foot.
For some reason we seem to be doing this trip completely without prior research, unlike our previous travel in Europe. It works out OK in the end though – we play it by ear, so to speak, taking hints and advice from locals.
I’m writing this time on a train from Palermo to Agrigento. We moved yesterday from Cisini to Palermo so we could range more widely by rail on day trips. This is our first. Agrigento has been pointed out as a ‘must see’ for the remains of its Greek Temples.
On food again. We have found restaurateurs here (even in small bars) very keen to provide us with a range of little local and/or regional edible delights. They are given gratis (free) along with whatever else we are ordering and it is always a pleasure to have them presented – and with such pride.
Also, in our encounters with folk in the accommodation or food and beverage business we find they are invariably family businesses – some going back generations. This is something that I have always admired and it is pleasing to know that Roman has established one of this ilk.
260613 Agrigento and back
On alighting from the train in Agrigento there was no Info centre to tell us non-researching people where to go or what to aim for so we had a coffee and started to wander. Hmmm, picturesque, though not too photogenic. Then we stopped for a drink, enjoying the parlance of voluble, chatty Sicilians. Leaving there we soon passed a little Men’s Barber shop with a little old hairdresser snipping furiously away and, as my now long hair had become a bloody nuisance I decided (with Rachel’s encouragement – ‘tis a fearful thing to get your long hair snipped) to sit and wait my turn. A handsome father was before me, and his equally handsome son joined him, only to ask us in broken English if he could get his hair cut before us. Being apprehensive anyway, I didn’t mind, but he asked where we were from. It turned out that he’d been living in Brisbane, on a work visa, for the last 4 months but had returned for his brother’s wedding. Long story short: he offered to meet us after lunch to take us around Agrigento’s famous ruins. After our pasta and wine lunch we found him waiting for us and he took us there (in his BMW) and we spent the rest of the day in Marco’s excellent company. It was a cultural exchange, if you like, of his practicing English with us but, as he knew the vast, ancient Greek site well, I think we profited more. But he professed delight in our company and invited us to partake of that typical and extremely popular afternoon delicacy, gelato – but at his parent’s place in the seaside suburb of San Leone. He had actually tried to persuade us to stay overnight there, but we declined (and that took some doing) as we were feeling grubby by the end of our walk and had no change of clothing. We had a delightful chat in broken English and, oh yes, that gelati in brioche – that’s the preferred way. They tend to eschew the cone . Marco’s father just happened to be the Chief of Police for Agrigento. Interesting. Anyway, Marco will be returning to east coast Australia and we just may be able to meet up with him again in Melbourne. He has a degree in Geology. We returned late to our pad in Palermo (not a bad hotel room actually) after having an exceptional day. The next day was spent laundromatting, more eating and drinking – well the Italians do that too you know.
280613 Day trip by train to Cefalu, about an hour and a half east along the coast.
We have extended our stay in Palermo, a city of one million people, as we are beginning to appreciate it more each day as we discover more of its quaint and interesting parts. We are also using it for day trips out on the rail.
What a delightful little town Cefalu is. The old town is built at the end of a bay right at the foot of a massive rock which they call The Rocca (hmmm, interesting). Once again, in its bulk and height it is reminiscent of Gibraltar and we walked up it to its ruined castle at the top after circumnavigating it by its still-existing old defence wall. Stunning views all around over the old town, out over the surrounding countryside and out to sea; necessary for the inhabitants of this siege-proof village that they built up there long, long ago.
Prior to our hike we ate at a great little tavern built right at the sea’s edge at the western end of the bay. I find I am eating more and more seafood since being in Sicily. I had some local clams (cockles) again in spaghetti and Rachel a seafood risotto, all washed down with a half-litre of crisp, local white wine. Delicious, and with our elevated view right down over the water in and along the bay it was picture-postcard perfect.
That’s enough for you for now, I’m sure you have other things to do . . .
Thanks for tuning in.