We are now into the deep south of Italy on our way to Sicily. The topography has changed from hilly to mountainous and in some areas we are quite high but the temperature is still warm. The agriculture has also changed from vineyards to olive trees, orange trees and pastureland. The vegetation is now all deciduous - primarily poplar but also eucalyptus. There is also a lot of bamboo growing along the roadsides and pear cactus.
The car has been running fine as long as we disconnect the battery anytime we are parked for more than an hour. But today, new problem. The check engine light has come on. However, it is orange so we have decided to keep driving. We have lost enough time.
Over to Sicily via ferry. Very similar to our BC ferries but not as big. We decided to take the coast road but after making very little headway because of all the small towns, it was back onto the toll road. BUT, we have encountered more tunnels in Sicily than in Northern Italy. In fact most of the way has been in a tunnel with a 5 second glance between tunnels.
Just passed a driver on the highway with neither hand on the steering wheel. He had his cell phone in one hand and was gesturing as he spoke with the other. Only in Italy. Our friend Enzo in France said the penalty for distracted driving in France was you lost your license for six months. Then, to get it back, you have to start at square one. However, this didn’t stop him and I guess it doesn’t stop the Italians either.
Sicily, the football of Italy, is a world unto itself. It has been conquered 18 times and nowhere is it more prevalent than in Palermo. Palermo is a melting pot of cultures and it is reflected in the the dress of the people, the languages, the lifestyle and, disappointingly, the garbage and decrepit buildings. Some buildings, damaged from bombings during the war, still have not been repaired. It felt just like being in Mexico.
Our research told us not to attempt to drive in Palermo. I don’t know how we got turned around when booking a place to stay, but our place is right down town. It has been very interesting driving in and out of Palermo but between Robbie and John they have done a great job maneuvering a large vehicle in trying situations. Italians, and in particular, Sicilians make their own rules as they go along. There are no lane markings on the streets, but then nobody would follow them anyway. Don’t leave space between you and the car in front, because if you do, that is an opening for someone to squeeze in. If there is no parking space, no worries. Just double park. Or if there is room to get your front end in but not your back end, that’s good enough. Or, have a smart car then you can park vertically in a horizontal parking space.
Our home in Palermo is very old and very unique but huge with lots of space. 3 gigantic bedrooms, huge living room, big dining room, two other rooms and one tiny kitchen. Our first day, John and I took a street food walking tour while the others did the hop-on! Hop-off bus. Street food we tried was an Arancina (a meat stuffed rice ball), a chic pea pancake, potato croquette, Sicilian pizza, and a spleen sandwich, finishing with gelato. I liked everything but the spleen sandwich. I just couldn’t eat it. It was actual boiled spleen that was sliced and piled into a bun. John took one bite and handed it to me. I managed two bites but that was it.
During our walk, we were taken through the Arab market. It was explained to us that it is a dying market as are all the markets. The guide said people want to shop at the supermarket not in the markets and based on our experience at the supermarket I would concur. It was a zoo. This market has also not changed to selling to the tourists. It is for the locals and if the locals don’t buy there, but in the supermarket, it will die. We were taken through the back alleys and every little alley seemed to focus on selling something different. Eg. Material, clothing, kitchen items etc. We bought olives and cheeses. Mmm. Excellent. They have a cheese here called salty cheese that is very good. While walking the back alleys, our guide explained this was where her grandmother lived. She phoned her and had her come out on the balcony. She explained that none of the buildings have elevators and it is hard for elderly people like her grandmother to go out to the market every day. So she showed us how they drop a bucket on a rope over the balcony down to the street. The delivery boy takes the money in the bucket and leaves the bread or whatever was ordered and she pulls the bucket up. Just like in my younger days when the bread bin or milk crate with empty bottles was left on the front porch.
Today is Tom and Audrey’s 49th Wedding anniversary so we started the day with Tom reading a touching poem he wrote for Audrey. Today, we head out to Agrigento on the west coast. It was a long day trip but we had to do it this way as we do not want to leave our van with all our stuff in it as it is very visible. Visibility of tourists’ belongings results in broken windows. Did not want to go there. Agrigento is known for the Greek ruins that have been preserved there. The Greeks were one of the first conquerors of Sicily and actually was planned to be the center of the Greek empire until they were conquered. The preserved ruins and the story behind them was interesting but most interesting was the remaking of the machines and how they made the columns. Also, the machines they used to raise up the big pieces. A complex system of pulleys and levers. On the way back, we stopped at the Turkish Steps - chalk rock that has eroded to look like steps. It was a long walk down viasteps and an even longer walk back up. We passed a group of people who seemed to be talking Italian but one old guy beside me suddenly said ‘son of a b...’ I said ‘I understood that’. It turned out they were from Winnipeg but originally from Sicily.
The motorways in Italy and Sicily are masterful pieces of engineering and they must have a plentiful supply of the ingredients for cement as they use a lot of it. All of the tunnels are lined completely with cement. Most are over a kilometer long with the longest we have encountered to be 5 kms. The bridges are all built on cement posts and I don’t know how high these are but it is often a long way down. But then, especially in Sicily, the road is built above the ground. As Robbie calls them - highways on stilts. No wonder they have tolls on them. The road system in Sicily is quite good as they have been receiving a lot of money from the European Union. They say the EU feels they are only as strong as their weakest link and that is why Sicily, Portugal and Ireland are getting money from the EU.
So, on to Syracuse, on the east coast.