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Friday, 26 April 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Monreale to Trapani

21st March.
A night in Monreale tourist coach park. We slept… fitfully. Around 0500 the bin men arrived: Crash! Bang! Heave... Just getting light at 0630, still half asleep, keep hearing voices... 

A drowsy peep out of the window: white vans, people setting up stalls, chatting, heaving boxes… “Sue – wake up! They’re setting up a market, we’ve got to go!”

We only just made it. A quick recce revealed there was still a passage through, but by the time we got to the perimeter our escape was in jeopardy: some more trestles and a canopy had been set up, blocking our path. The marketers were good-natured, waving us on, but the gap wasn’t big enough. Sue got out again, pleading, and they shifted some trestles and held back a canopy – but only just enough.

Back into the traffic – the nerve shredding, morning rush hour traffic – in Palermo! At some junctions so many cars were jumping the red lights it just became a mad, frenzied free for all. Trying to carry straight on at one set of lights, I was squeezed to a standstill by a stream of cars on my right side crossing in front of me in order to turn left!  I felt like a lonely wild dog cut off by a herd of racing wildebeest. Eventually I just moved stubbornly forward, inch by inch, until somebody gave way and finally freed us from this nightmare.

At last we made it onto the autostrada – physically unscathed, but nerves stretched to snapping point. We saw a hypermarket and pulled off into the vast car park for a sanity check. After some breakfast (and paracetamol), a quick nap and a refreshing shower, we eased ourselves back onto the autostrada, then re-joined the S187 near Terrasini.

At Alcamo Marina, the road eventually crosses the railway line and follows the seafront, and in bright sunshine we pulled into a dirt car park that runs along the whole stretch of beach. The rhythm of the crashing waves was music to our ears and after a leisurely lunch it was obvious we were going nowhere – we had found our pitch for the night.

A welcome pitch at Alcamo Marina

Beach-side stopover
GPS: 38.0251 N, 12.9138 E

Joggers and cyclists came and went, a few cars and dog walkers; nobody gave us a second glance, despite being the only motorhome in sight. Around midnight however, a stream of cars came off the road and sped past our side, tooting their horns in unison – what was that all about? Peering out we saw a car parked right underneath our back window, a couple blissfully snogging with the light on. (No use hiding behind us my lovers, your mates will find you!)

22nd March
The sun popped over the mountain skyline at 0630 sharp, blasting through our rear window and casting a long Rapido-shaped shadow across the sand. Rejuvenated after a good sleep, we had an early breakfast and then continued on the S187, skirting around Castelammare del Golfo. The cool but brilliant sunshine, clear sky and light green sea lifted our spirits – this was more like it! At the west end of the town there is a panoramico with fabulous views along the coast and a birds-eye look over the little harbour and new marina under construction.

A new marina takes shape at Castelammare

Then onto Capo Puntazza, where we found a Swiss and two German vans sunning themselves on a waterfront car park after a free night.

Beach-side stopover
GPS: 38.0563 N, 12.8399 E

After a brief chat we followed the road onto Scopello, an ancient little hamlet overlooking the Gulf of Castelammare. There is a cute paved square which formed the centre of the 8th Century Baglio and is dominated by a large water trough and fountain . We wouldn’t recommend driving in here – two large vans would virtually block it up, but there is a bus park just before the square you can use, and in season a large car park opens up in a field. The village’s inhabitants were busy painting and refurbishing, gearing up for the summer season. There are several restaurants and a small hotel, as well as some newly built holiday apartments.

Early season tranquility at Scopello

The road through the village is too narrow for a van, so we went back to the fork and followed the road as far as it goes along the coast. There is no road route to Capo San Vito on this side, but lovely views and a couple of camping sostas  (not open yet). On foot however, you can enter and explore the Zingaro Nature Reserve.

Retracing our steps slightly past Castelammare, we did a quick spell on the toll-free autostrada and then the S113 to Segesta: the site of a magnificent Greek temple placed in a beautiful hillside setting; also an amphitheatre – the latter a 1.5 km trek or bus ride up another hill, but worth it for the views alone. Entrance to the site is €6 and the bus ride another €1.50, but parking is free. About 0.5 km before the main park is an overspill park, which would do for an overnight; if you got up early enough you could visit the site for free as well!

Segesta stopover
GPS: 37.9442 N,12.8384 E

Segesta's splendid Greek temple...

...in a glorious setting

...with the usual suspects!

Fantastic views from the ampitheatre

Leaving Segesta, we took a minor road to Bruca and then onto Busetto Palizzolo, passing a couple of Agriturism vineyards and a pizza restaurant that would probably provide a pitch for the night. After Bruca the road almost disappears – probably where jurisdiction for the two townships meet – but it soon returns to a passable stretch of tarmac, despite some unfinished repairs.

After returning a merry wave from an old shepherd with his sheep on the road, we came across a parking area and picnic site at Mt Scorace. This European Community registered site is noted for the biodiversity of the woodland: rare mushrooms, wild boar, rabbits and hares. Amazingly there is also a large laid-out seating area, built-in BBQ pits, games areas and toilets – even an outside tap!

We couldn’t resist this one, settling ourselves easily on the largely flat parking area. As the sun began to disappear behind the far hills, the sound of cow bells tinkling grew steadily louder – soon they were milling past the van, one young bullock turned his head round for a long stare, checking us out!

The tinkling of cow bells as the herd goes home

Rural stopover
GPS: 37.9788 N, 12.7705 E

At nightfall the sky was still clear with a half moon and bright stars, and eerily quiet, just the beep…beep… of a Scops Owl filtered through the trees, evoking memories of Croatia.

23rd March
At dawn we suddenly heard the howling of wild dogs and the anguished cries of some other animal – young wild boar perhaps? By sun-up we saw two young hounds, fast asleep, curled up against each other at the foot of a pine tree – sweet as could be, like family pets.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from such a great spot, but the sun was starting to get some real heat in it, and our plan was to get to the campsite at Capo San Vito and do some much needed laundry. Almost immediately we came across another parking area in the forest and then a roadside spring pouring bright clear water into a trough.

Roadside water spring
GPS: 37.988313,12.761604

Some great views along this road, so rural, it felt wonderful to “out in the sticks” again on such a beautiful day. Rounding a corner, our passage was completely blocked by a herd of goats, some with huge and spectacular horns. The shepherd nodded his thanks for our patience as they tinkled past, a postcard-sized smartphone pressed to his head the whole time! Shepherding’s obviously not the lonely job it used to be – though wasn’t that half the point? As with the sheep the day before, the herd was followed up by a motley collection of mongrel dogs, though it didn’t look as if they had their work cut out – the goats knew exactly where they were going.

Just another goat herd... with a little modern technology!

On the broad, wide main street of Castelluzzo we parked easily to get some provisions. The woman in the bread shop quickly spotted me for an English speaker; amazingly she was from California – her parents had emigrated from the town, brought up a family and then returned, leaving her the bread shop – for which she had left her life in America. Interestingly, she didn’t recognise the rubbish-strewn Sicily that we had seen so far.

La Pineta is a four-star ACSI site just outside the resort town of Capo San Vito. Almost all the pitches are under dense pine trees, which afford superb protection from the sun in the height of summer, but it was a little chill at this time and not ideal for drying the laundry! The wi-fi was not site-wide as shown in the ACSI guide, but is free in the bar area.

On the service bay we grabbed the first hose that came to hand – big mistake: this was the non-potable desalinated water which supplies most of the plumbing on site, it is very slightly salty and hence undrinkable – and we filled up our tank with it! I always used to test the water that came out of a long hose to make sure it was sweet  – funny how you have to keep re-learning things!

Free camping is obviously the norm around here, and the campsite wisely makes the camper service bay (for which you pay €10) accessible directly from the road. On the way into Capo San Vito there are huge areas of beachside parking – peppered with just a few motorhomes as we passed.

There would be plenty of shade under the pine trees at camping La Pinetta

GPS: 38.1738 N, 12.7480 E

Capo San Vito is a pure resort town; it was just shaking off the cobwebs for Easter, prior to the key months of June, July and August. We wondered about the prevalence of German and Swiss vans in the campsite, but a walk into town in the evening explained all: there were literally dozens of Italian vans parked up all along the beach front, outside still-closed hotels and restaurants, and in any spare parking. One group on the beachfront even had a large wooden brazier blazing away and their children had turned the car park into a playground.

In the last week of September the resident population of just four thousand plays host to a mind-boggling 200 thousand visitors for the annual Cous Cous Fest – a three day celebration of local food, music and dancing and, naturally, a couscous competition – entered by some of the best cooks in the world. Typically, €10 will get you a plate of couscous topped with what ever you fancy, a glass of wine and a dessert.

24th-25th March
The sunshine of our first day disappeared and the weather deteriorated: cold, howling winds, occasional spells of rain; nothing else to do but get the laptops and Kindles out and batten down the hatches!

26th March
As we left La Pinetta, it was still dull and windy but the rain held back, all the Italian vans in the town had disappeared and the car parks had been blocked off. We moved along the coast, past the formidable mount of Erice and into Trapani.

By happy accident we realised that we would be in time for the world famous Easter processions, the Processione dei Misteri: an archetypal Sicilian event in which twenty excruciatingly heavy tableau are carried around the town by volunteers for nearly 24 hours, accompanied by brass bands and marchers bearing flags, flowers and icons – then followed by a festival and celebrations that take over much of the old town, well into the night.

In the large central Piazza Emanuele car park (supposedly free) a tout tried to wave us in and charge us for the privilege. It was packed anyhow and we certainly didn’t fancy it for an overnight so we headed for the waterfront. Here we witnessed some more atrocious driving – just run into somebody’s path at a junction and if they swerve to get round you then move to block them again until they give up – unbelievable…

Sue had tracked down a sosta called Le Saline about 4km out of town – it is in fact the car park of a small hotel tucked behind a busy fuel station, but as it turned out, with good facilities. When we arrived most of the spaces had been taken with cars, but as the only motorhome present we squeezed ourselves into a corner.
€15 per day, free wi-fi in the bar.

Le Saline, an unusual but well equipped sosta

GPS: 37.9820 N, 12.5308 E

27th March
Primed up and ready for an assault of the town, we crossed the road to wait for the No 31 bus that should arrive according to the timetable we had been given – give or take 15 minutes or so...!

After a 20 minute wait, the owner of Les Saline suddenly appeared in his 4x4 and offered us a lift into town – thank you kind sir! He dropped us off at the Piazza Garibaldi on the waterfront and we strolled along the waters edge and around the fish market. The inner harbour was packed with the type of small fishing boats that you hardly see anymore in the UK – perhaps just a few if you live in Cornwall or the west coast of Scotland.

Fishermen, from dozens of boats, repair their nets

On the pleasantly paved Vialle delle Sirene we observed the strange spectacle of workman digging holes to plant a grown tree with no roots! Apparently the winter winds had broken or felled the existing palm trees and these were the replacements; I’m no horticulturist but it looked like a grim fight for survival for the poor tree to me!

Looks like a tough new start in life for this specimen!

Lunch was in the nearby Le Mura restaurant: grilled fresh swordfish with salad, baked rosemary potatoes and two beers came to €44 – not cheap perhaps, but superb quality and very enjoyable.

A good swordfish lunch at Le Mura

Moving towards the old town centre we picked up the sounds one of the warm-up processions: soon it was passing by, the slow haunting music of the brass band instantly recognisable as the inspiration for the “Godfather” theme tune.

Our first sight and distinctive sound of a procession

Some small adjustments necessary

We nipped into the tourist office and purchased two Trapani Welcome cards: for €9 you get a three day pass for all the urban bus services, a return ticket for the gondola up to Mount Erice (worth €7), plus various free entries and discounts for other attractions, city map and guides.


Next was a walk through the Villa Margherita gardens, dedicated to Queen Margherita of Savoy, the first queen of Italy. The amazing Moreton Bay fig trees were planted in the late 19th Century.

The Moreton Bay fig trees in the Villa Margherita gardens

The ornamental pool is home to large terrapins and wildfowl

Finally we headed back into the old town and the Purgatorio Church where the tableau for the main procession on the 29th were on display: all dramatic, some artfully lit and the whole space glowing with large candles – a very reverential atmosphere.

L'arresto – one of  the 20 tableau to be carried on the shoulders of volunteers

After a coffee in a waterfront cafe we tried to identify the bus stop for the trip back to Les Saline. Despite some enthusiastic and willing advice – one woman even entered a nearby travel agent on our behalf – nobody seemed to be sure where to get the bus (or even if there was a bus!). In the event, we picked the wrong side of the road and watched our 18.20 bus disappear into the night!  (It enters the town first by the fire station before leaving on the other side of town)

We headed for the nearest bar – which happily, was next to a take-away Pizza parlour! Sorting out which size pizza to order was confusing as the other customers all chipped in with their explanations, so in the end we settled for the fairly obvious “Medio”. All the other customers had long gone when we were finally presented a large oblong box containing the best part of a metre of pizza! A family size pizza for €10? The chef was “aving a larf” and took great enjoyment from the look on our faces. When I offered him €20 he shook his head, still laughing, and gave me €10 back – the Sicilian’s humour was growing on us; and we snacked on pizza for days!


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