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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Trapani to Seccagrande

28th March
The bus into town failed to show up according to timetable again and after giving it a (Sicilian) 30 minutes grace we trooped back to reception to beg another lift. The patron willingly obliged once more, pleading that though in Sicily “systems bad” the “Sicilians good people”

From the bus station we had a 15 minute ride to the gondola station for Mount Erice. After a short wait we were gliding silently upwards on the cable; in bright sunshine the view over Trapani bay revealed itself in all its splendour.

Trapani reveals itself 

Erice is certainly worth a visit. In early season it was still quiet and its maze of hilly streets had plenty of unspoilt charm and a few surprises. The castle unfortunately was not yet open but we stopped for an early beer at a small terraced café and enjoyed the strange new experience of sitting outside in the warm sun! Not warm enough yet for one of those huge folding umbrellas that cafés use, but Sue managed to create a scene by falling backwards over its concrete base lurking in the middle of the terrace!

Erice has a well preserved  'ancient' atmosphere...

and a fine view from the castle road

Later in the day, the bus back to Le Saline took a tortuous trail through the town and was soon packed to its tiny ventilation windows. At one stop a hoard of young Black Africans boarded and lent a tense atmosphere to the bus – their eyes were everywhere and I felt that they had memorised every detail of the camera slung over my shoulder. They may well have just been envious, but they were certainly making people nervous.

29th March
The big day, the Processione dei Misteri. For nearly 24 hours, accompanied by brass bands and marchers bearing flags, flowers and icons, volunteers will carry twenty excruciatingly heavy tableau around the town, changing over bearers  every 100 metres or so to give their aching backs and shoulders a rest.  Most of the old city streets will be cordoned off and in the evening the main Via Giovanni Battista Fardella and surrounding area will be filled with market stalls festooned with lights and decorations. The festival and celebrations will continue well into the night as the volunteers still trudge around the old streets with their fabulously ornate and heavy burdens.

We were frustrated yet again by the non-appearance of the bus and once more the owner graciously provided a chauffeur to drive us into town – a pain in the butt for him, when he had no control over the reliability of a public service, but a crucial part of his business plan being put in jeopardy.

To put ourselves back in the right frame of mind for the day’s marathon ahead, we treated ourselves to another lunch at Le Mura: a different chef – a different dining experience, but it did the trick.
We strolled back into the town centre and by good fortune placed ourselves on the Via Garibaldi just as the escorting motorcycle police and marshalls led the the parade through.

No 2: La Lavanda dei Piedi

The haunting sounds of the approaching brass bands raised the hairs on our necks, the smoke from incense and firecrackers picked out by the rays of bright afternoon sunshine. Each tableau was beautifully decorated with flowers, the marcher’s uniforms impeccable. Older men orchestrated the “shift changes” of the bearers with wooden castanets, the distinct and brittle sound ringing out above the music and the hubbub of the crowds.

No 3: Gesù dinanzi ad Hanna

In between each tableau were countless other groups of marchers – some enchanting young children, barely realising what it was they were part of; some young teenagers, immensely proud and disciplined in their progress. The prettier young girls had to endlessly endure street photographers shoving lenses right into their faces, even halting their progress to get their picture, but took it all with amazing dignity and stoicism despite their obvious discomfort.

All ages participate with apparent pride

We watched all 20 go by, moving just a few feet up the street and refreshed only by one cup of coffee; it was well dark by the time “L’Addolorata” made her stunning candle lit passage through the packed street.

No 20: L'Addolorata

Finally we made it into the area around the Via Giovanni Battista Fardella, a wonderful carnival atmosphere without a hint of trouble or disturbance, albeit that every third person seemed to be wearing some kind of official armband or uniform!

After some street snacks, realising there was not a hope in hell of a bus service we headed for the taxi office in front of the train station.

30th - 31st March
Feeling like a break from the city, we checked out from Le Saline and headed to the salt pans south of Trapani and the little settlement of Nubia. Here we found a lovely spot by the side of a nature reserve, the car park graced by a wonderfully quirky weathervane of a man fishing and a marlin. The glorious sunny morning soon faded, but suddenly Sue spotted a Spoonbill just 50 metres away, feeding in a pool. We have looked for these migrating birds many times on the Isle de Ré but never managed to see one so clearly.

A Spoonbill hunts for a few morsels

Apart from a few fishermen, sightseers and dog-walkers it was just the wildlife and us. We stayed an extra day because it was just so hard to leave.

A fisherman lights his pipe as the sun goes down

Stopover carpark
GPS: 37.9763 N, 12.4954 E

1st April
Continuing south towards Marsala and Birgi Novo, we spotted a couple of closed camper sostas on the coast and plenty more free camping areas, it was hard to say what it would be like in the season but this time of year – no problem.

Stopover carpark
GPS: 37.9084 N, 12.4594 E

Birgi is at the north end of the biggest lagoon in Sicily, Marsala’s Stagnone. Formed by the 7km long Isola Grande it holds within it the islands of Scola, Santa Maria and San Pantaleo, the latter known as Mothia from an ancient town founded by the Phoenicians during the 8th Century BC. The town’s original connection to the mainland, the “Punic Road”, is now submerged up to a depth of 1 metre but can still be used by a horse and cart.

The salt pans lying along the mainland coast are still worked by traditional methods, including small windmills to drive the sea water pumps. There is a rich variety of flora and fauna in the warm shallow water, and it is an important habitat for migrating birds.

The harvested salt is covered with terracotta tiles

We pumped ‘n dumped in a scruffy sosta/boatyard for €5. We couldn’t contemplate staying there – the junk and debris lying around was off putting certainly, but the singing from a band laid on for the holiday BBQ was bad enough to send the cats running for cover!

Camping Sosta
GPS: 37.8466 N, 12.4653 E

Instead we went back to a parcheggio by the quay and tourist office. A very keen Capo Gruppo went out of his way to explain security; for €5 overnight, we would be fine to leave the van next day for a boat trip to Mothia Island.

Traditional boats and windmills still in use

Parcheggio Sosta
GPS: 37.8560 N, 12.4783 E

2nd April
The boat trip from the quay (Arini e Pugilese) costs €5 for the round trip, running every 30 minutes. They seemed to like to arrange a return time for you so that once all their punters arrive back at the jetty they can get back for an early break – our boat left 15 minutes early! Entry to the island itself, and the Giuseppe Whitaker museum, costs another €9.

The boat ride out to Mothia

The museum is small but has a nice model of the original Phoenician settlement and a good selection of stone and pottery artefacts, interestingly different in character to the usual Greek and Roman stuff.

Walking around the island can be done easily in 45 minutes, but if you want to linger at one of the archaeological sites, or in the museum, or indeed have an alfresco lunch at the little café, then it's probably best to tell the boatmen what time you plan to go back – we managed the whole thing in an hour and a quarter.

Most of the island is left to scrub, but when we visited, the spring flowers were out in abundance and it was a joy just to wander around. Only some abandoned early wind turbines, broken and bladeless, spoilt the ambience – they were still relying on a couple of diesel generators to power the few buildings, the strong sea breezes evidently too powerful for the wind machines!

Beautiful wild spring flowers everywhere

On the road into Marsala – the town noted for its fortified wine, the Sirocco was whipping up a stiff chop and we were spattered by sea spray as water and seaweed were driven onto the coast road. Marsala is also famous for the landing of Garibaldi on 11 May 1860 – it was intended to bring about a united Italy, but ended achieving independence for Sicily. It has a historic centre and Duomo, as well as a large Phoenician archaeological site and museum, the latter housing a recently discovered (1971), preserved and partially reconstructed Punic war galley. Some of the other exhibits are also worth a look for the well-preserved sections of fresco and a female statue.

The main square in Marsala

Despite passing many suitable free camping sites on the coast road south of Marsala, most were untenable because of the sea conditions, so when we came across Camping Biscione – not listed in any of our guides, or even on Google earth – we thought it would do nicely. A pleasant grass-pitched site with its own restaurant, motorhome service bay and free wi-fi near the office. €15 a night, at this time of year.

Camping Biscione
GPS: 37.7011 N, 12.4773 E

3rd April
Back on the S115 towards Mazara del Vallo, we headed into town in an attempt to find the lungomare at its southern end; there is a nice promenade along the seafront but they have made it hard to get to from the north. We picked up the coast road anyhow – which is now undergoing a spot of refurbishment, a new pavement and low wall, effectively blocking vehicular access to the cliff edge. There are still many spots to pull off however and a lovely vista as you approach Punta Granitola and its slender white Lighthouse.

Sticking to the coast as close as possible, we found ourselves in as string of half built, unused and sometimes derelict holiday homes, the sand blown so far off the beach that the road was entirely reduced to a single lane and almost blocked in places. I wondered if and when they would get the bulldozers out! After a couple of dodgy “sand dune” moments we bailed out and found an unused swimming pool car park on the edge of town – phew, those “winter tyres” got us out of the doo doo again!

Blown sand from the beach is taking over!

Barely any traffic passed us and by nightfall it was utterly quiet except for the roll of the surf half a kilometre away; the sky was clear and studded with bright stars. Sue quickly picked up the sound of Scops owls: beep… beep… like the reversing warning on a commercial vehicle, so loud at times they could have been on the building next door; then the unmistakeable throaty call of frogs, presumably colonising the abandoned swimming pool. Surf, owls and frogs – what a symphony to go to sleep to!

Abandoned swimming pool carpark? - perfect!

Stopover car park
GPS: 37.5780 N, 12.7490 E

4th April
The sunshine was still with us in the morning. We found our way back to the “main” road to Selinunte, passing more deserted, falling down homes and half built concrete skeletons, then a stretch of dual carriageway – the central reservation so overgrown and spilling over the tarmac that the tracks of cars went around it! We didn’t see another vehicle for 15 minutes – the whole area was beginning to have that land-that-time-forgot feel about it: everyone had just up’d and left and let nature reclaim what it could!

Selinunte boasts the ruins of an entire Greek city by the sea, with one partially reconstructed temple and several areas of interest. It’s a few kilometres walk to get around them all, but if you really don’t feel up to that, there are the “stretched-limo” versions of golfing buggies to take you around, for a €12 fee.
There was a very stiff sea breeze as we arrived – scudding the plastic chairs around the café – but it was still a glorious walk around the various sites; even if you are not heavily into the history, the sea views, a woodland walk and the spring flowers made it worthwhile. Entry €6

The temples have spectacular settings by the sea

Good way to advertise your ceramics business!

After lunch we hit the road again, taking the rural route through national parkland to the hillside town of Menfi and on to Sciacca – some of the road was in a pretty poor state due to subsidence, but we’ve seen and passed through worse.

Sciacca is a fairly large town, and if you can be bothered to drive through it there is a Basilica and a splendid belvedere to look out to sea and over the port – a tow-away zone for campers though, so don’t hang around!

View from the belvedere at Sciacca

Scenic parking
GPS: 37.5036 N, 13.0887 E

Back on the S115 we pulled off at Seccagrande, where there is an ACSI campsite. Exploring a little further down to the seafront however, we found a dirt car park adjacent to an overgrown beachside seating area – perfect for an overnight at this time of year. There was the inevitable feral dog sniffing around the wheelie bins, but these animals never seem to be any bother – they need to make friends with the hands that feed them!

GPS: 37.4339 N, 13.2375 E

1 comment:

Indianna said...

It's been interesting reading back through your blog. Nice to meet you at Ingrina x