It was a coolish morning when we left San Vito Lo Capo on the 11th June for Trapani. This side of the island is made up of beautiful seaside areas, very high mountain villages, the ancient Greek city of Akragas now Agrigento and a very high and vast plain around Ragusa and the lovely port city of Pozzallo.
In Trapani we visited the salt museum on the coast right beside the salt flats. From Trapani to Marsala and around the inland western part of the island were many hundreds of acres of grapevines, tens of thousands of hot houses and fields full of hay bales.
We made our way to the city of Agrigento where several wonderful archaeological sites were dotted around the hills with well preserved Greek temples. Someone said that these were more impressive than the Parthenon in Greece (and much cleaner). We all spent the night in another well set up camping site where the girls stayed in a cabin directly behind us.
We spent a couple of hours the next morning wandering around the sites before driving down to the beach to have lunch in the van.
After lunch we made our way through olive and lemon groves and wound our way up a very high mountain to the old village of Ragusa and then onto a surprisingly vast and high plateau with a large modern town and a semi industrial area.
There were many marble works with enormous blocks in their yards. Leaving the town we travelled through rugged mountains with more olive groves as far as the eye could see.
We were making for the city of Syracuse but the time to travel to various places in Sicily is often underestimated by “Tammy the Tom Tom” our navigator. Even taking the fastest route sometimes is not fast because the speed limits around towns drop to 50 and 30kms an hour so a short distance can take quite a lot longer than anticipated. Added to that Italian drivers either have a death wish or otherwise some of the very old drivers around their villages creep along in their ancient Panda cars. It makes for a very interesting driving experience with many intakes of breath. as few drivers indicate when they are going to turn and pull out in front of you at a second’s notice.
Maurice has done extremely well even in the narrowest of streets in which we have found ourselves. Only once was it a bit hairy where both side mirrors touched the buildings on either side of the street but no damage was done.
In Cefalu we drove down into the old part of the city before many people started indicating (well waving their hands in the air)that we could not go any further. An extremely helpful policeman helped hold traffic all along the street while Maurice backed the van a long way out of the village. The policeman had a book in his hand and we were certain we would get a fine but after we thanked him profusely he just waved us on. On another occassion in Avola I got out and asked directions to the camping village of a man who had just walked out of a coffee bar. He proceeded to drive in front of us all the way to the camping ground. Most people have been very helpful with directions and advice of where to park or eat.
Parking is another wonder. Double parking is quite common and sometimes people park on a crosswalk or a few feet away from the kerb at any angle that they choose.
The ticket we bought for parking in Agrigento was designed by a civil servant. It was like a lottery scratchy. We had to scratch out the month, date, hour and minutes according to the amount we had paid. Each ticket was worth 60cents and so we had to buy 3 tickets and scratch everything on each one.
We spent the night at a wonderful camping village at Avola. Whenever we check in we ask where we can eat good local food. This can take some time as the very helpful staff go into great detail of what we should eat and then proceed to tell me what the ingredients are and how each dish is cooked. To this end we have had some wonderful meals. Fish and Seafood is very popular and because the sea is never very far away it is a natural choice. There is a lot of swordfish as well as most seafood which is very tasty.
It takes a bit of time to get used to the shopping and working hours in Italy. Ninety nine percent of shops open from 9-1pm and close then until 4.30 or 5pm and stay open until 9pm. There is the odd gelateria selling ice cream or coffee bars which stay open otherwise each town appears totally deserted between 1-5pm.
So many factories have closed and it is common and sad to see large empty factories or abandoned buildings.
Near Palermo I spoke to a man who told me that there were seven factories employing hundreds of people in the area where we were staying and in the last couple of years there is now only one in operation.
After our stay in Avola we travelled up on the 13th June to Syracuse a beautiful and clean city. Most of the villages/cities other than in and around Palermo were rubbish free and very clean.
Syracuse consists of a part of the city on the mainland and three bridges connect it to the island of Ortygia which is part of Syracuse.
The four of us took a 50 minute boat trip around the island which was very relaxing and then we walked around Ortygia before going back to the city on the mainland and walking to the ruins of the Teatro Greco and a fascinating former large cave which had been planted with all kinds of palms and trees.
Three of us ventured down to the catacombs of San Giovanni. There was only the maze of empty graves (over 10,000) scattered over 10,000 sq metres. It was very cool underground and a fascinating place to visit. It had been a cistern carrying water centuries ago before being used as catacombes.
All the bones were removed to a modern cemetery before the 2nd world war and it was used as a refuge from the bombings during the second world war.
We ended up that day at Pozzallo a lovely seaside village and port for various places including Malta. We had a nice meal in town before farewelling Helen and Francoise who were going on the catamaran the next morning to Malta which was a trip of only an hour and a half from Pozzallo.
Maurice and I stayed in a nice little camping site right on a lovely sand beach and left the van and walked the couple of kilometres into town. We shopped for a few things and generally relaxed. It was a good break for Maurice who was driving most days and for me navigating and checking the navigator with the map book.
Maurice and I spent three days in Pozzallo a lovely seaside port and we were the only non Italians at the Camping site. Some of the Italians them looked as though they had moved in for good with BBQs fancy annexes with curtains, dogs (two per bay allowed) and every convenience.
The bread van and a separate van selling fresh ricotta, various cheeses and salamis came by every day as well as the man selling vegetables and watermelons.
I have cooked a few meals and was surprised at how one can cook quite successfully with two little burners and a small grill. On the Saturday it seemed that every little hobby farmer came into town with melons and all sorts of fruit and vegetables loaded in their small cars. They just stopped wherever they wanted to in the narrow streets and locals would come down and buy their wares.
As well as the local produce there are two enormous supermarket chains and several smaller ones. We bought some supplies from a little shop selling a variety of food. There were several small boxes stacked up of sweets near the till and I saw a chilli on the front of the box and was about to buy some to try until I read the small print. They were condoms. I didn’t expect to see them in a delicatessen selling meat, cheese and vegetables!
We had a relaxing Saturday with a walk along the beach which was about 50metres from our van, a quick swim (it was a bit cool getting into the sea) and doing house (van) chores like getting the washing done at a laundry where the clothes were washed, dried, folded and put into three bags all for 8euros.
We found an excellent bar with a garden overlooking the sea so that every morning we walked there to have our coffee.
In the evening we walked the length of the town and found a great seafood restaurant called “La Piscina”. I had fresh pasta with small prawns in a pistachio sauce and Maurice had a seafood risotto. Pistachio nuts are widely used in Sicily with everything from Salamis, cheeses, bread and cakes and they are also used in many sauces.
The town is gearing up for a festival next week and on Sunday a flotilla took a statue of John the Baptist out of the port and along the seafront where hundreds of people (including us) had gathered to see this.
Everyone comes out in the evening to parade up and down the huge promenade along the seawall. It is people watching at it’s best and Maurice believes that a lot of people don’t have mirrors at home by the way some of them dress.

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