Posts tagged ‘SICILY’

Sicily- A Mediteranean cake of culture April 2011

So Sicily is basically a province of Italy.  Yes it is an island, but legally it is linked to Italy like any other area.

In reality however the people are a hybrid of various cultures making up a Mediterranean cake full of interesting ingredients.

Sicilian culture cake:

*Take one part Greek

*Take one part Roman

*Take one part Byzantine

*One part Germanic

*One part Arabic

*One part Norman

*Two Parts Italian

Mix in a football shaped island and leave to set in the Mediterranean.

Mt ETNA tallest volcano in Europe

The result of all this is what at first appears to be an Italian settlement.  Quickly however you start to see the differences in the nature of the people, the food, and the way of life.

Normal Italian food is of course, pasta and pizza.  There is an abundance of such food, but suddenly you start to see spiced rice dishes.  Saffron, nutmeg and cinnamon appear in a variety of dishes and baked goods.

The Arabic influence moved the food more than any other, there is also a seafood element that simply came from the geography and practicality of being on an island.

Perhaps the island Mediterranean thing also brought about a more relaxed approach to life as compared to the mainland Italians.

Some would say a little too relaxed which has led to the current crisis of over 30% unemployment, compared to the 25% in Mainland Italy.

But what does Sicily have to offer the tourist?

First thing that hits you is the impressive coastline.  Flat coastal settlements that go for miles are broken up as soon as you head inland.  Merely a few hundred metres will have you colliding into huge cliff lines that run the line of the coast and give you impressive views of the ocean and the settlements throughout.

As mentioned, amazing coastline!

The small towns and old forts planted precariously on top the huge peaks give the impression of a tough fight ahead for any would be conquerors.

Not too tough obviously as the island has been conquered by no fewer than four different peoples since the Romans were forced out in the 400’s AD.

Moving around Sicily, the history of these past conquerors jumps out at you.

In Agrigento, the ancient Greek temples speak of a time of total dominance.  The flat harsh landscape is broken up by various temples, some intact, some not so.

Agrigento Temple

The old temple of Zeus is in bad shape (it was so big that the foundations couldn’t support the roof!) but the grandeur of the temple is still apparent today.

One of the surviving ‘sleeping giants’ that stood about 7 metres tall gives a glimpse at its size.  There were over thirty of these statues all the way around the temple, ironically holding the weight of the roof that eventually collapsed.

When you climb to the ‘cliff side’ settlement of Taormina and you look down on the spectacle of Sicily whilst sitting in the actual seats of the Greek-Roman theatre, you find your breath escaping, and it’s definitely not the altitude.

A massive theatre carved into the side of the cliff, what amazing showcases were on display two thousand years ago?  What plays and events would have been seen by the Sicilian paying public with the most stunning views behind the stage?

The combination of Greek-Roman architecture and truly amazing nature is unique to Sicily.   But one thing that overshadows the whole lot is MT ETNA, the largest volcano in Europe.

It stands 3329 metres above sea level and towers over the local fertile farm land as it smokes away almost constantly over its snow-capped peaks.

The last significant eruption occurred as recently as August 2007.  Driving up the mountain now you can still see the rebuilding process going as the lifeless craters of volcanic ash still lay there, stretching off, far out of sight.

Waistland after the 2007 eruption of MT ETNA

Sicily is a visually spectacular, historically significant and very interesting part of Italy.  The people are as different from the mainlanders as they claim to be, whilst still keeping that charming Italian appeal and zest for life.

The infrastructure is still catching up, but if you can get a car to make up for the lack of public transportation, then you will see an incredible part of Europe that is more than worth the effort of getting to.

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Journey To Sicilia April 2011

In terms of Italy being a boot, I am currently at the ‘heal’ and am seeking a train that will take me to the ‘shin’ before training it down to the ‘toe’.  From there A ferry will take me to the ‘football’ that is being booted into the mediteranean.

Sounds like a groovy journey of anatomy and adventure.

Firstly a drive from the ‘ankle’ town of Matera where I have been spending a wonderful weekend with my couch surfing family.  My hosts drive me to the train station about twenty minutes out of Matera, where they proceed to ask the attendant about trains, times and also civil war.

Well that’s what it sounds like as my two companions get in a shouting match with the attendant, two men sipping their espressos then start waving their hands and begin to bellow out their objections.

‘No no, Belesconi is going to destroy our country!’ One man is yelling (I assume).

‘No, I believe the unification movement is dead and buried’ shouts the other.

‘I think the quality of pizza in this country is depreciating,’ says the attendant.

This maelstrom of conflict leaves me spinning out, translation is not an option, I just have to go with it.

The dialogue abruptly stops, my friend turns to me and quite calmly asks if I’d like a coffee for breakfast.

‘Ummm, ok.  Is everything alright?’ I ask nervously.

‘Sure, the lady just said that we’d be better off heading to the next station, it’s just a ten minute drive.’

I’ve just had one of those ‘We’re not in Cansas anymore Toto,’ moments.

When a shouting match that consumes the entire room is required to simply ask for directions, you suddenly become aware that you are surrounded by Italian stereotypes.  I Love stereotypes!

After an espresso and baked sweet, a quick drive and a farewell from my lovely hosts leaves me on a train.  Then another, then another.

View from ONE of the trains

I have a one hour stopover and a sudden change of platforms nearly leads me onto the wrong train.  The announcement is in Italian, all the attendants are Italian, their English is bad or non-existant.  My Italian is even worse!

I have to leg it over the train tracks to make it onto the other platform in time, but I get there!

Then, another stopover and another train and I finally reach the ‘toe’.  A ferry takes me to Messina in the island of Sicily.  Finally I am here!

Another delayed train and I finally reach my destination.

The end result.  As the crow flies I travelled a path of about 350kms in about twelve hours.

This piece of crap would have been quicker then the Italian train network

A word of warning, if you are travelling in Italy, heading away from the west coast (Naples, Rome etc) is a great deal of fun, but logistically it is a nightmare!

Haven’t said that, it was well and truly worth it!

Now bring on Sicily!