Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Day 25 - Erice: another medieval hilltop town

When talking with Mum and Dad in Brive for some highlights we should aim to see while in Sicily, one of the first ones they scribbled onto my tiny guidebook map was Erice, just outside Trapani. It was also one of the closest ones to where we were staying, after Palermo. The Michelin guide book I'd acquired in Palermo gave the town three stars, rating it as highly recommended.

At my insistence, we set off reasonably early, around 10am, and following the bizarrely circuitous route demanded by the GPS system, we eventually got to the A29 freeway. The GPS shut down periodically, freaked out if the cable was slightly askew, and insisted that it would send us to Via Erice in Trapani. With the help of the map in the guidebook, we were able to bully it into sending us to a street in Erice instead. The only really useful service the GPS provided was to advise the speed limit for various sections of the freeway.

We climbed the hill into Erice (~750m/2500 ft above sea level), arriving about 11:30 (our parking meter ticket was stamped 11:47am), and then set off to investigate the town.

Erice is an old town perched on a triangular outcrop overlooking Trapani in one direction, and the Tyrrhenian Sea in another. I overheard a guide tell a group that on a very clear day, one could see Africa (specifically, the port of Libya) some 80km to the south across the Mediterranean Sea. As someone who has lived mainly in NZ and the south of Australia, the concept of seeing another country, let alone another continent, by standing on a readily accessible hill is gobsmacking. Today was not a crystal clear day, so we couldn't see Africa. Instead, the sea blended into the sky, the horizon barely discernable, like one of those photographer's backdrops, but made of shimmering shades of blue.

[Pretty pics of buildings on blue backdrops]

The origins of the town are steeped in legend, but long associated with Venus and her predecessors (according to my guidebook). It was reputedly named by Eryx, king of the Elimi, for the temple thereon dedicated to his mother Venus Erycina. It was later associated with Astarte by the Phonecians, with Aphrodite by the Greeks, and later still with Venus by the Romans. It still styles itself the 'Mountain of Love'.

The Elimi-Punic wall, built ca 8C-6C BC, runs along the northeastern edge of the town. It protects the only exposed side of the town - the other two are precipitous cliffs. Within the three sides of the roughly equilateral triangle, the are some 60 churches and monasteries, in various states of repair (several presently undergoing restoration), as well as a scattering of piazzas, connected by a maze of cobbled streets, some potentially wide enough for two cars, many barely sufficient for one car, some barely wide enough for a large person.

[More pretty pictures of walls, churches, and cobbled streets]

We enjoyed an excellent lunch (the 'Antipasti Rutica' was outstanding, a selection of local salami, cheese, and mixed baked vegies), and a bit more of a walk, making it back to the car just before our parking display ticket expired at 3:47pm. The boys were both knackered - Ky was asleep before we were halfway down the mountain - but we  wanted to have a squizz at Segesta on the way back.

Segesta has an exceptionally well preserved Doric temple, built ca 430 BC, but likely never completed. There is also a well-preserved amphitheatre, as well as some other, Norman, remains at the archeological site. Unfortunately, the boys were too tired (and stayed in the car), so we couldn't visit either of the structures. [Pics below will be borrowed from the interwebs.]

Back on the road, it was already 5pm. We weren't sure what time the little local supermarket closed, but it would likely be before we got back. With no internet with us, and a bloody useless GPS system, we decided to pick an exit from the freeway, and just ask for directions to a supermarket. Quite by chance, the exit we happened to choose was right next to a large shopping complex, whose primary tenant was a massive supermarket. We stocked up on requisites (speck for the cabonara for dinner, more bread and cheese and wine, some toothpaste, a couple of large coffee mugs (the demitasse in the holiday apartment not really sufficing for a large cup of tea), some cannoli for the kids to try for dessert, and some oranges (JD is missing his daily megadose of vitamin C). We also got a bottle of softdrink for the boys, and a couple of bottles of water, although the latter turned out to be 'frizzante' (lightly sparkling) and therefore barely acceptable to the kids.

Once past Palermo, we again had to put some faith in the GPS system, which again freaked out (ie turned itself off) at inopportune moments. The GPS's main use when in town is to help identify a path through the warren of one-way streets and to give the driver sufficient confidence to push into a stream of on-coming traffic which has right of way, being the only way to get across some intersections.

In Bagheria, at the end of the exit ramp, we again encountered the single worst intersection I have ever had the misfortune to drive through. It has five roads, all of them two way, with nothing more than a couple of give way signs, and a heavy volume of traffic, into and out of each. In the morning, we had to turn sharp left across five different lanes of traffic to get onto the on-ramp, where as best as I could tell, we ranked lowest for right of way. On the way back, we only had to deal with other cars trying to do what we did that morning (oh, and in peak hour traffic). Such an intersection in Australia would have both roundabouts and traffic lights, and would still be hideous, but nothing compared to the clusterf**k of this one. Still, it worked, we didn't see any prangs, and we got through relatively unflustered.

Of course, the GPS then flaked utterly, having decided we weren't going to Solunto, but to some random street in Bagheria, and then shutting down completely. At that point, I went with my gut and said, I'm going that way, let me know when the GPS agrees with me. Thankfully my gut proved more reliable than the GPS, and we were soon home.

Dinner was linguine cabonara, followed by cannoli, with a lovely ginormous mug of tea to take with me to bed.


Tomorrow is JD's choice, and he's not telling anyone yet where we're going (but he is threatening Ky that we might go to the catacombs in Palermo where mummified, dressed bodies are interred and on display).

The day after, Thursday, we're up and out early as we have a 11:30am flight from Catania, and not only have to drive back, but also return the car (a process that may take an obscene amount of time given our experience a week before).

We then have two nights in Naples (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Vesuvius), and finally will head homewards, departing from Rome on a 10pm flight via Dubai and Singapore

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