Published: March 22nd 2010March 22nd 2010
Weather: A couple of days into this week, the sun started peeking through, the rain diminished and eventually stopped, and it gradually got warmer. Ah! On the physical front, I’ve been sleeping well and the bruising, after spreading over to the area around my left eye, to more or less match my right, is now slowly dissipating.
Last Saturday, I moved to a shared apartment (there’s two of us, each with our own room), so I can do my own cooking -- when I don’t eat out with some of my school friends -- and allowing me to more closely follow the paleo diet that works so well for me. The apartment location is also in a logistically better part of the town than my previous residence, in closer proximity to markets, the school and where “the action”, in general, is.
The time at the school has also been good.
This weekend, three of us rented a car and buzzed around some of the south to central middle-eastern part of the island, to Agrigento, to see the ancient temple ruins as our furthest point and then to pick up a few sights on our way back. Max, who is French, did the driving and did it like the European he is, zipping here and there, shifting gears - vroom, vroom-- making instant, impulsive decisions about which roads to take or turns to make, virtually never slowing down to assess the situation So, there were a number of times of "whoops, that wasn't it" and the need for a correction and Max would just suddenly whip into someplace, flip into reverse - vroom -- and back into forward -- vroom, vroom -- or do a U-turn and zoom in another direction. In any case, it was worth it, since he was happy to do all the driving, even though we registered me as a driver as well.
However, as we headed back to stay the night in Ragusa and do some touring around there on Sunday, he missed all the turns for the town from the limited-access highway we were on. At this point, it was already dark and we, hungry and tired from all the walking, riding and other stuff we did, much of it in the hot sun at the ruins and then around the archeological museum, were forced to continue on kilometer after kilometer waiting to reach another exit and wound up looking for lodging further down the road - first in upper Modica and then, after asking people where we could find a place to say, down to Lower Modica. Still asking around, we eventually wound up at a four-star hotel, at which, because we were so tired, we were almost tempted to pay the very high price. But, I asked them what other options we had in the area and they very kindly called a B and B nearby for us and arranged for us to go there and we happily went off to dinner.
One particularly enjoyable experience occurred shortly before that. We had been going through multiple narrow winding streets in the two Modicas, stopping time after time to ask for directions. Max was getting increasingly more tired and impatient, as Italian drivers would honk at us to keep us moving at the normal breakneck pace or otherwise make the confusion of our trying to figure out what we needed to do a bit more difficult. Finally, when we thought we were in an area where there might be a place to stay, Max saw a rare open parking spot and zoomed over to it. Then, as he tried to back in, the driver behind honked his horn and pulled up close behind, preventing our access to the spot. So Max, angrily honked back and held his ground until the other driver backed off. Then, he worked to maneuver into the very tight spot and just as he managed it, a police car pulled along side us and stopped, obviously with something to communicate. We rolled down the windows and asked if it was ok to park there, thinking that it probably wasn’t, since he was there with something on his mind. He just smiled and told us that we had pulled into a police parking spot and we all then looked out at the sign and said “Oops”.
Max then started to work to move out of the spot, but the officer smiled at us and said not to worry. We could stay parked there for the night and, since the next day was Sunday, it would be fine then too. Very nice guy and his kindliness was particularly welcome at that moment.
After knowing we had beds for the night, we had a real nice dinner at a restaurant recommended to us by one of the locals and then retired for the evening. In the morning, after breakfast and an exploration of Modica, we headed out again, stopping at Villa Romana del Teffaro, where amazing ancient mosaics have been uncovered. Then, on to Siracusa (Syracuse) where we spent several hours exploring, eating lunch and generally enjoying ourselves.
The last stop was up to Forza d’Agro, an old town way, way up a winding road on the top of a mountain, north of Taormina where, we were told, some of the movie, The Godfather, had been filmed. The drive up and the view on the way and then in the town was spectacular. Although there were many tourists - mostly Italian - we wandered up into the older, back streets and alleys, having them almost all to ourselves, except for a few local residents (and one guy from Messina on the northeast tip of Sicily, who had some sort of intense speech defect and who became increasingly more understandable the longer we chatted, as he decided to hang out with us for awhile).
Then, back to Taormina. It was a delightful weekend. We were really great traveling companions, enjoying each other, finding places to eat and explore and sharing all the experiences.
Some impressions: It’s amazing how developed Sicily is. There are roads and houses up and down mountains. Anywhere a road might be able to go, into the seemingly most inhospitable regions, they go. Since the island has been populated by many, many different people, with untold numbers of invasions of different parts of the island back through ancient antiquity, by Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, the French, Spaniards and many others, there has been all those times for people to go wherever they could to survive, and they did, it seems.
One other notable thing: as we looked at cities from a distance across valleys or from heights above them, I couldn’t help being astonished at the immense density of the populated areas. You could see mile after mile of high-rise and low-rise apartments, ancient and modern houses and other structures covering huge areas on distant hillsides or along shorelines in coastal areas. Of course, this is a superficial impression, since we saw only a small part of the island. But, those parts were notable for how differently than we are used to that the interrelationship of ancient and modern play out in this part of the world.
One other thing: After returning home, I went out for an evening walk around the central area of Taormina. The weather was newly warm, the first day of Spring had arrived and the walkways were newly packed with a surprisingly large numbers of people strolling, chatting, eating gelato, sitting in restaurants and cafés and the like. Previously, most of the much smaller numbers of people passing time around town were older northern European tourists, most notably German, as well as some Japanese. But, this evening they were vastly outnumbered by Italian-speaking people in their teens, twenties and thirties, along with a lesser number in their forties and up. Interesting.