Highlight of the Day: Sicily has a Tuscany of it’s own!
Today was the first day of our 3 day tour with our guide Rosy and her husband Miguel. Most parts of Sicily aren’t exactly tourist friendly so I knew we would need a driver and translator to get around. After searching what seemed like forever on Tripadvisor with no response, I found an interesting post about someone originally from the States (so speaks english – check) that tours but also specializes in genealogy and finding historical records. This was perfect for us since we were on a mission to visit the hometown of John’s grandparents (more on that tomorrow).
After months of correspondence and crossing my fingers that someone would show up to meet us – the van pulled up right on time and we hopped in for our first day to the western side of the island. Our first stop was the Monreale Cathedral. Completed sometime around 1200AD, this cathedral pulled out all the stops and whistles. It’s what we like to call fancy. All the ‘gold’ you see are actually thousands of glass mosaics. Seeing it up close was pretty unreal.
Now THIS cathedral has pizazz
We borrowed this cafe’s bathroom before heading out to Segesta. These marzipan fruits were pretty typical everywhere, made from almond paste, they were anything but healthy.
A quick stop to take a picture of an overlook of Palermo from Monreale – slightly hazy but beautiful view.
From Monreale we headed an hour plus through flowing fields of what looked like a mix of the mediterranean blended with tuscan vineyards until we happened upon a temple and amphitheater. A short background on Sicily, it’s location has made it central to many different territory conflicts and influences. As we traveled throughout the country we noticed how absolutely unlike mainland Italy it was. Most parts even spoke their own dialect from one town to the next which sounded more of Spanish and Portuguese than the proper Italian we were used to in the North.
Segesta, the archeological site, has 2 main attractions, the temple and the amphitheater. Built on Mt Barbaro near a trading port, it was one of the most important towns in Sicily from the 7th century BC and on. I would recall all the history behind this settlement, but outside of the history of Greek influence I’m not even going to pretend to understand about this site except the structures were pretty amazing compared to what I’ve seen left standing in Greece. The view from the theater was also pretty breathtaking.
They still hold productions here throughout the Spring and Summer months.
The entire western side seemed very desert like in some areas and other times it reminded me of Southern California. A beautiful thorny thistle.
These agave plants we saw on our hike up to the temple spoke to me like something out of a Dr Suess book… or giant asparagus. (For size comparison, those were probably about twice the height of me)
Random puppy taking a nap
Ah there she is, one of the best preserved Doric temples in the ancient Mediterranean. To be fair, construction was never completed on this temple even in ancient times as the inner alter and roof were never there to start, they aren’t actually missing right?
Posing for scale
Fun fact – right before I took this picture, I have another ‘selfie’ shot of us where my face looks like I’m saying “ouch” as I watched a little boy totally bite it on the rocky pathway.
After sufficient baking in the hot Sicilian sun we jumped back in the van over to the Trapani salt flats to take a tour and eat some of the most delicious bread dip and olives.
Salt used to be a very expensive and precious commodity before modern times. In fact, that is where the term salary came from as soldiers used to be paid in salt. It was highly regulated in ancient times which is why it was used like a trading currency. Salt has many uses, one of the most important before refrigeration was food preservative, and also, it was yummy
Our museum guide was one of the sons that inherited the family business. Since there were 2 children, he took the museum to run and his sister the restaurant. They still produce salt as a family but salt just doesn’t pay what it used to. Here he is demonstrating the song they used to count the buckets of salt.
He informed us just how much hard work was involved in salt production. They still use a centuries old method of moving salt water through stages for evaporation and purification. Once the salt was ready to harvest (which of course was the hottest months of the year – remember natural sun evaporation) men would work nonstop actually running 22-33 kg buckets up the salt hill so they had enough momentum to make it to the top to dump the haul. Below were the many different machines used (successfully or not) to refine the salt for consumption.
A view from the top of the building over looking the very flat flats. Obviously this area of the island doesn’t get much rain or else they would be screwed for the season (of drying out the salt) so I’m assuming by mid July and August this place is on fire.
Old windmill used to turn gears… actually I can’t remember if it was to push water through the stages or grind the salt. Either way it was important to their way of life.
Last stop of the day was the hilltop town in the clouds – Erice (Er-ee-che) This town has 60, yes 60, churches, and I visited 0 of them. I’ll give it to this town, it had that quaint feel of San Gimignano but perhaps 20 years later when all the tourism has left.
The views were the best of the day, and it’s famous for that marzipan/almond paste I was talking about earlier. We were able to find a specific easter decoration for John’s mom by sheer luck. (John’s not really the stay puft marshmallow man, my lens does that to people)
We watched the man in this shop hand paint this pottery, and I wish I had room in my suitcase to bring some home. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t 😉
Another stereotypical Sicilian thing, hand painted tiles.
Last random sleepy dog of the day. It was time for the long ride back into the city before we were to head out to eastern Sicily the next day for some family bonding time.
When we got back to the B & B, we only wanted a quick and easy meal so we could turn in for the night. We somehow managed to find a pizza joint that served American food. My mom was super happy to have fries & wings and not pasta for dinner. John and I were just thankful to eat, shower and pass out quickly. Big day tomorrow.
Go to Day 14 – Coming Soon