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Sicilia – II

13 Mar

The weather reports indicate each day will be rainy. Luckily for us, the rain has held off until the afternoon each day, so as early risers we are able to seize the best part of each day.  Since Sicilia is such an outdoor-oriented place, we are blessed, because an entire week of museums was not the plan.

Mozia windmills

Windmills near Mozia, in the salt pans of Western Italy.

We ventured to tiny Mozia, once an important site for Phoenician traders and a very affluent city in its time, today it is an uninhabited island in the midst of the salt pans of western Sicilia.  Once again we are awestruck by the history – the truly ancient history – of this part of the world. You know the old saying: “A hundred miles is a long distance to a European and 100 years is ancient to an American.” When we encounter a place where construction was begun in the 8th century B.C., it gets our attention. Reached by a small launch in a 10-minute ride from the mainland, there’s a fine little museum and the opportunity to explore the island’s many excavations.

Tufa elephant

Little tufa elephant carved by Peppe Genna.

Perhaps the highlight, though, was meeting Peppe Genna, the “craftsman poet of the saltworks.”  Peppe keeps alive ancient traditions of hand-making palm brooms and carving tufa animals, holding court alongside the lagoon, selling his crafts from the trunk of his car. What a character! You can Google him and hear him recite his poetry in Sicilian dialect.

Across the lagoon from Mozia is Marsala, where the Phoenicians retreated when Mozia was destroyed by Siracusa. Of course Marsala is famous for its wines, and it is heavily influenced by North Africa, resulting in a city the looks quite different from any other we have yet encountered in Italy.  It has a lovely old center, very clean, with beautiful iron-work balconies. Perhaps not s huge vacation destination, but interesting if you are a) in the area, and b) a fan of Marsala wine.

Runis at Mozia

Ruins at Mozia; Yes that’s me in the photo.

Erice continues to hide her head from us. As we returned to Tràpani in the afternoon, she briefly cleared, only to be socked-in again before we could mount an approach as it is quite a long drive to the top.

The food here makes amends for the marginal weather. Luckily we are walking enough to indulge, although we are not filling ourselves with pastries; rather with fish, beautiful vegetables, and fresh pasta. (There’s wine, of course, and some pizza. I am, after all, traveling with Ric.) On Mondays and Tuesdays many restaurants close in low season. Tuesday night we tried three places, in the rain, before we found one open near our apartment. Although light on

Melanzane torta

Torta di melanzane, carciofi, pomodori e formaggio. Yum!

customers this dreary night, the staff was gracious and the food divine. We feasted on octopus salad, a layered eggplant/tomato/cheese torte, pasta with sea urchins, and pasta alla Norma, prepared with eggplant and artichokes. All washed down with a fine local white wine and the meal rounded out with an almond semifreddo. We slept well after that meal.

Wednesday held a greater threat of rain – and still no view of Erice – so we braced for traffic and headed to Palermo. I was a bit worried about the reputation Palermo has for bad traffic, gritty neighborhoods, and tough characters. Nothing could be further from the truth. We encountered thoughtful, sweet people who helped us at every turn. (N.B: The drivers in Palermo are even less courteous about pedestrians than Roman drivers. That’s the only negative thing I have to say about the city.)

We navigated to a parking lot near a metro station so we did not have to drive through too

Parking chits

Parking chits look much like lottery tickets in Palermo.

much of the city. I knew parking had a “scratch off” system but really didn’t know what to expect. There are no automated ticket vending machines, so I entered a bar and inquired as to where I could buy a ticket. “Da me, signora,” said a soft-spoken, kind man who proceeded to quiz me about our plans for the day and how long we’d park, then explained the system: one ticket per hour paid, free from 14:00-16:00, so I would buy 4 tickets, one for each hour from 11:00-14:00, and 16:00-17:00, then scratch off year, month day and time, and place them on the dash. Interesting system. The parking lot was filled with cars that looked like they had lottery tickets strewn across their dashboards. As far as I can tell, the sweet man in the bar makes €.25 per ticket he sells. Plus the €1.60 we spent on caffé.

Cappella Palatina

Gold mosaics, Middle Eastern influences, the 12th century Cappella Palatina.

Proceeding by metro to the historic center, we browsed Palermo, had lunch, and visited the brilliant and beautiful Cappella Palatina. This is a 12th century masterpiece that combines Byzantine mosaics and Islamic carvings with Latin Christian tradition. Amazing.

Retracing our steps to the metro, we planned on buying tickets at an automated ticket machine, but the two in the station were broken. Figurati! With trains only every half hour, we were desirous of taking the train that was just pulling in, and not having to go to the street again and search for tickets.  So we jumped on the train and I went immediately to the Capotreno and reported our problem. (My Italian serves me well for these little transactions. I felt almost fluent in my fervor to get my problem across. To fail meant a big fine!)  I asked if we could buy tickets from him. He asked me our stop, and told me to be seated, then left. Ric thought he was going to go get his book and write us a ticket for a fine, not for transit. But at our stop, he came out to ensure we were indeed leaving his train, wished us well, and with a smile encouraged us to buy tickets “la prossima volta.”

BTW, no rain until we were returning to Tràpani. Still no Erice in sight.

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8 Responses to “Sicilia – II”

  1. Anita March 16, 2013 at 01:34 #

    Luv the little elephant! So glad you are getting to explore so many beautiful and interesting places to share with us. 🙂

    Like

    • gooddayrome March 16, 2013 at 05:50 #

      Glad you are enjoying my journeys….and food exploration. I’ll make *polpette di pesce *for you when I come to Portland.

      Like

  2. graciamc March 14, 2013 at 06:37 #

    The windmill picture looks like a painting! So beautiful!

    Like

    • gooddayrome March 14, 2013 at 06:50 #

      Thanks Gracia! The light was so soft because of moisture. It has that old-world feel.

      Like

  3. Nicholas DiStefano March 14, 2013 at 02:30 #

    I also loved Palermo!! If you are in the neighborhood where all the ships come in to dock that is the area my family is from! It was my mother’s paternal line that was from there and they were all fishermen!(I did not get that gene)!! Have a wonderful time!! Love to you both!!

    Like

  4. Mary Henry March 13, 2013 at 23:43 #

    Laurel, You’re missing all the hub bub in Rome over the new Pope, I understand he was chosen today , from Argentina. Miss you this Spring with your monthly pedi’s. Angela says hello, and Sugar is still as it was when you left. Love your blogs.

    Mary

    Like

    • gooddayrome March 14, 2013 at 06:10 #

      Hi Mary! We caught the announcement on TV last night. We would not have been in Piazza San Pietro anyway, so the close ups on BBC were enough. This poor man has a huge challenge ahead of him.

      Say hello to all at Sugar. I miss your pedis, too!

      Like

  5. OwlMcCloud March 13, 2013 at 22:50 #

    I love windmills!!

    Like

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