TRAVEL TALK - - VOLUME 4 - - SPRING/SUMMER 2012
AGRIGENTO SICILY - THE VALLEY OF THE TEMPLES
We have made multiple trips to Sicily as we have met Ginas Sicilian family but this trip blog is about our overnight adventure to Agrigento to see the Valley of the Temples. We depart from Cefalu about 9:45 in a light rain and we are on our second day of rain for this trip. Agrigento faces North Africa so Cicero said the clear sky does not know a sunless day. We are hoping Cicero was right as we are ready to see the sun again.
As it is raining, we abandon plan a to take the back country roads from Castlebuono to Piazza Armerina so we pick up Bill and Regina and head back to the coast. The A-20 is closed for a roadblock from the rain so we have to take the coast road back through Cefalu and then pick up the A-20 the other side of town. Maybe we should have braved the mountain roads in the rain. We head south on the A-19, paying at a tollbooth as we enter by Cefalu. We are heading south towards Villa Del Casale which is a UNESCO World Heritage Center to see the mosaics from 300 AD. By the time we had arrived in Piazza Armerina a cold sun had finally broken through the clouds. Sicily has some very good roads called super-stradas where the speed limit is 100/km an hour and the only dangerous time is when you have to enter the passing lane you have to look back for the Mercedes doing 140 km/hour. When departing the super-stradas, there are a lot of detours from construction that seems to go on forever according to the local population and going through towns can be confusing with the traffic, round-abouts and signage in Italian. In the hills meat dishes are more prevalent than fish so the lunch menu included pork roasts, wild boar and little tiny cheese filled pockets with nuts and pesto.
We arrived at Villa Casale (click here to see a slide show of the mosaics) about 3PM and the site was filled with tour busses and groups of people. We keep switching buildings to get a view of the mosaics around the tour bus groups. This was a hunting lodge for a rich man in the 3rd century AD and a multitude of mosaics told the story of African trips to bring back animals to hunt. This must have been a very, very large villa from the size of the dig site. There are four or five buildings open on our visit but another three or four was an active construction site as they worked on securing the artwork and rebuild some of the building facade. The entire floors of the villa were done in mosaic and about half of the buildings are open to the public as this is a very active dig. This must have been a huge villa as the site is very large but the mosaics were not as well preserved as some I have seen in Italy. It did make a nice combination with the overnight in Agrigento since we started from the north coast of Sicily in the AM.
Villa Cassale is about an hour or 1.5 hour stop so we have a coffee and head out to look for the B and B before sundown. Tonights stop is about a half an hour before you get to Agrigento and with with the construction Bill has made a good choice as I did not want to keep driving at this point into the city anyway. The B and B was called Tra l Frutti in Racalmuto and it was great, cheap and clean, It was run by a young family from Milan that had escaped from the big city to the country in Sicily.
It was suggested that we eat dinner early as the restaurants closed by 10 on a week night. This seemed like farm country so everybody must be up at 5AM. The choices were the restaurant above the Esso station that was quickly nixed and a 3 mile drive through the darkness to Canicotti. We were not expecting much but were pleasantly surprised at the quality of our meal including wild boar choices, mushroom filled pasta and even a wonderful veal Marsala. Many of the locals were eating huge pizzas that we skipped but also looked absolutely wonderful. The meal was finished off with home made lemongello which was kind of high test and wonderful.
In the AM after a very full continental breakfast featuring toast, yogurt, box juice, coffee of your choice, prosciutto and cheese we headed off to see Agrigento. The City has all the hustle, bustle and traffic of Palermo and Bill was right, we were correct to stay outside of the city. As we pass through the city and work down to the Valley of the Temples we see the topography sloping towards the sea. This is why the site was chosen in 581 BC as it had rivers on two sides and was profitable Carthage to Greece to Syracusa trading route and was a very successful city during early Greek history.
When we visited, we were lucky enough to go at a time when Igor Mitoraj, a Polish sculptor that specialized in mythical Greek busts had an exhibition in the valley. Eighteen super-sized works of art were displayed along the mile long Valley of the Temples site. Works of art are displayed at the Church of St. Nicholas, Sarcophagas of Phaedra, The Phalaris Bull, The Temple of Heraculinia and the Temple of Concord. We take about two hours to walk the Valley down to the bottom and then back up the hill. It appears that most of the escorted tours and ship tours drop the people at the top of the hill and then pick them up at the bottom. This is a spectacular site and very well preserved Greek ruins with a panoramic view of the Sea below. The day we are there has burst out blue and clear making the walk most enjoyable.
Even though we have had a large continental breakfast, with all the walking and driving, we are ready for a seafood lunch at the sea. We picked the appropriately named Trattoria Del Pescatore or translated to the trattoria of the fisherman. Everybody agreed that they had wonderful lunches, but the most adventurous award went to Bill and John who had pasta with clams mussels and octopus or pulpe in Italian. It is agreed with enough salt and good olive oil, even pulpe is wonderful in Sicily.
After lunch, we head across the the archeological museum to see the rest of the Valley of the Temples exhibition and the Ekkle Siasterion or Citizens Theatre where all the male inhabitants of the ancient city got together daily to discuss the important affairs of the day. The museum had a pretty good collection and we are even allowed entry into the coin museum that Bill was unable to see on past visits. When we explain to the guard that he has been here before and that room was closed then also, it is opened specially for us to see. When we depart Agrigento we take the most round about detour we have ever been on in our lives and expect that we are very lost when we pop out at the north end of the city pointing towards our destination of Sicilys North Coast. Johns long training of driving in the Caribbean is tested as we work our way out of Agrigento towards the A-19. If you are going to drive in Sicily, you will have to keep up with the traffic.
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