28th April……..Agrigento / Porto Empedocle
We have now moved up the coast and are now at Agrigento. This was the ancient Greek city of Akragas and it is attractively set on a hillside facing the sea which is only 4 kilometres away. There is the medieval quarter on the upper slopes above the modern town and the ancient temples are strung out along a ridge below. The oddity is that this whole area is called the Valley of the Temples yet they feature prominently on the long hill way above the valley below. The most massive, majestic and the best preserved is the Temple of Concord and dates back to the Christian Period (mid -5c).
Again, I will report another scrape we got into. As we approached the area, there was this very temple just begging for me to take its photograph. I pulled into a very narrow lay-by only to find an empty car parked exactly opposite a very large road sign that jutted out across the built up verge. There was no way through! Obviously, having got us in this position I still took the picture and then had to back out onto the very busy road. Elaine jumped out and went to the back of the lay-by and then she started to wave that I had a perfect opportunity to go??????
On the way here we had diverted to go to a caravan dealer to get some essential supplies and we had done a supermarket shop so it was well into the afternoon before we arrived to visit the ancient ruins. We decided to do our ruin visiting tomorrow. So we drove on to park up for the night. The campsite we had decided to stop on was closed so I had my first experience of night driving in Sicily. Very scary! Now we couldn’t see the many potholes in the road. We ended up parked in an empty carpark by the beach in the village of Porto Empedocle.
29th April………. Seccagrande
We made our way back the 14 Kilometers to the ruins at Agrigento and as we drove into the carpark we were met by a small posse of gentlemen who informed us that the site was closed because of a strike. I know……never put off to tomorrow what you can do today!!! We were let into the car park to turn round and coach after coach, full of people, followed us in so they could turn round as well.
We did take the opportunity to visit the “Scala dei Turchi” (the Turkish Steps) and we had to dodge the very high tide to bring you this amazing photo. The Scala is formed by a sedimentary rock called Marl hence its white colour. The whole formation is, as you can see, is in the shape of a giant staircase and is a big tourist attraction.
Obviously our day had not turned out how we had expected so we drove further up the Mediterranean coast to a place called Seccagrande.
We pulled into a campsite and shortly after us an Italian motorhome arrived and parked a couple of places away from us. Being polite, I said “Buon Giono” (good day) to the lady and she replied in English that I must be the man from near Salisbury. We had told the lovely receptionist man that we were from near Salisbury and he told them on arrival there was another couple from Salisbury. It turned out that Brian and Kitty live in Tidworth, just up from Amesbury and they had flown out from Bournemouth airport to Sicily to pick up a hired motorhome for their tour of the island. Even more remarkable is that they go to the Baptist Church behind our house and they know our old neighbours Tracy and Mike.
On a tour of the campsite I spotted a flock of this very colourful bird zooming around the sky at break neck speed. Finally one landed and I managed to get a photo at last. Our bird book showed that they were Bee Eaters and this is the first time I have ever seen this very colourful, long beaked bird variety. Does this make me a twitcher?
30th April………..Mazara del Vallo
The strike is over that stopped us visiting the ancient ruins at Agrigento so we headed for the next large ancient ruins at Selinunte called the Divinities’ Ruins. Originally known as Selinus it was founded in the mid -7c BC and has been destroyed twice in 409 BC and 250 BC by the Carthaginians. The huge ruins of its temples with their enormous platforms are very impressive.
The whole site covers hundreds of acres and they hire electric golf carts for people to get around the huge site. I tried to get Elaine interested but the answer was no. A good walk will do us the world of good! By the time we got round to the exit they could have attached a sign on me as another ruin at Selinunte. We managed to get past all of the stalls selling souvenirs having dodged all the stall holders enthusiastically imploring us to view their wares.
The countryside has changed this side of the island and the mountains that have been our backdrop all the way until now have virtually disappeared and now only a few peaks only can be seen in the distance. The acre upon acre of poly tunnels are also not with us any more as the landscape is of perfectly cultivated fields that are the size that we used to see in England before huge fields with no hedgerows has become the norm. The roads this side of the island are much better than what we have got used to since arriving in Italy and it is strangely quiet as we drive along without the noise of the suspension dealing with pothole after pothole.
We then drove another 35 miles and have pulled into a campsite at Mazara del Vallo. Tomorrow is another holiday day to celebrate Labour Day and the festival is to celebrate meat. The site is filling up very rapidly and it appears families meet up at times like this as there are large groups all around us. I think it is going to be a very noisy night. The family opposite us, for instance, have a large barbeque on the go and no one seems to mind the very large guy in charge of the cooking who has a cigarette permanently on the go, clamped in his mouth. There are kids galore and whilst the men seem to be the life and souls of the party, the woman are all sitting around in a group chatting and being waited upon. Life is the same all over.
The festival day has arrived and was heralded by the loud music coming from the stage. There was no need for the alarm clock this morning. Blearily, looking out the window I was surprised to see people enthusiastically dancing the Merengue on the large area in front of the stage. As the day went on the atmosphere here was really good and the beautiful sunny day with the soft cooling breeze guaranteed a great festival day. The swimming pools were packed and the dancing area was packed for most of the day. The local butchers shops must have made a fortune as the smoke from many barbeques showed that the festival of the meat was well under way.
An Englishman named Charlie arrived and parked his caravan on the pitch next to ours and it wasn’t long before we were hearing all about why he and his puppy Fifi were here. At first he seemed very highly strung and the air turned blue as he described his wife he was in the process of divorcing. As the day went on he began to relax and he joined us for an enjoyable evening later in the day.
Much to the amazement of the Sicilian next door, I took our two folding bikes out of the box on the back of our van. He got very excited and proceeded to run over to tell all his family about the “miracle” of how we could get two bicycles out of such a small box. We cycled all the way along the sea side promenade and then headed into town. We went into a bakers’ shop and bought a loaf and two slices of pizza which was warmed and then olive oil was drizzled over both pieces. We sat on the wall of the building over the road to eat this impromptu meal and at that moment everything in the world was wonderful.
Back at the camp the party atmosphere continued and the big guy came over with a plate of small meat pieces with spring onion inserted each piece. They were delicious and I put out of my mind the added ingredient of cigarette ash that could have been there. Later on a party of the ladies and girls came over to find out about us and with extensive use of Google Translate we were able to have a thoroughly enjoyable conversation. They especially wanted to know about figlio, figlia and nipoti; so the photos of son, daughters and grandchildren came out – there were lots of oohs as we showed them our family. Elaine was filling the water tank this morning and the ladies called her over because they wanted to video her on their phones singing Volare, they think she is beautiful. This is Elaine now – Perhaps they don’t have Specsavers in Sicily!!
I have permission from Jack to write a few words. Those of you who have experienced Jack’s driving will know what a ‘careful’ driver he is. He has driven us safely to our destinations and still maintained his efficient and courteous driving skills. We have driven through Italy and now Sicily. Jack has stopped at crossings for people of all ages and waited for them to cross safely, regardless of on-coming traffic ignoring the courtesy. He has waited patiently for cars to cross in front of us and pull out from their roadside parking. We have seen cars, lorries, HGVs and all other means of transport just pulling out from side roads, doing 3 point turns on busy main roads, coming from all angles looking rather like formation dancers, and have had to listen to endless tooting of car horns. Well let me tell you we may start calling him Guisseppe (John/Jack) in Italian because he has now learning to enjoy this competitive way of driving and is turning into a real Italian driver. He now waits for no one now, does not stop at crossings and toots his horn at the slightest irregularity. He has even started waving his arms about passionately at any driver’s wrong doing, and I bet the Italians think that this British driver must have Italian blood in him!