Tuesday we stopped in Trapani, Sicily. This was the first time any of the four of our party had been to Sicily (1) and I was looking forward to getting a bit of a sense of what it was all about. In American culture, Sicily is all about the Mafia and the Corleone family from “The Godfather”. I think I already knew that this was not really the full story, but didn’t know much else.
We booked a private tour guide through a website called Tours By Locals that I found. TBL acts as a broker, allowing individual guides to post their tour options, and taking a commission from them for each booking (I suspect 20-25%). Mimmo responded to my inquiry, and after an exchange of messages, I booked him for a full day tour of some sights in and around Trapani. Of particular interest to us was the town itself, a nearby medieval hilltop town of Erice, and something called the salt flats.
The day starts perfectly, with Mimmo meeting us as planned at the dock and loading us and our gear into his car. We headed out of town and soon found ourself at the salt flats. Salt is an old industry in this area, where Mediterrainian seawater is pumped into shallow pans and allowed to evaporate, leaving behind the sea salt. The Mediterranean is a very salty sea, and the dry climate and prevailing breezes make this a good business. The water was originally pumped by windmills, but almost all of these have fallen into disrepair.
From there we headed up into the hills, eventually coming to an archeological site called Segesta. This was one of the major cities of the Elymian people, one of the indigenous peoples of Sicily (2). The Greeks, who were not indigenous to the area, took over the culture, although not the DNA. What we are left with today are ruins. There is a partially reconstructed amphitheater and a reconstructed temple. There are also all kinds of ruins of the original city, of buildings and roads of various sorts.
Actually, we had no idea we were going to see these ruins. And we were a bit disappointed in that viewing the site involved waiting for and then taking a bus up to the hilltop, walking a significant amount on ancient stone paths, and seeing what the four of us have seen many times before: the remains of an old stadium, the ruins of an old temple, the ruins of unidentified buildings. In fact, after making the trek to see the ampitheater, we rebelled and refused to make the 1/2 mile walk to and around the temple. I actually find this stuff somewhat interesting in general, but only if the site has some particular significance or is in some other way special. Segesta doesn’t pass this test. And we’ve all seen ancient Greek ruins many times.
We had a frank talk with Mimmo about the situation, which was sad because we had all started out great, and he brought some delicious cannoli which everyone enjoyed. The next ride, up to the hill town of Erice, was a bit quieter, as I believe he was embarrassed by the missed communication (3) about what we wanted to do, and what we didn’t want to do. And we didn’t want to do a lot of walking on uneven surfaces.
Erice, once we finally got there, was a delight. It’s an old city, originally settled by the Phoenicians, at 2,500′ above the sea. It was subsequently conquered by the Greeks, the Cathaginians, and Arabs. The Normans took it in 1167 and created the town we see today. Post WWII the town went into decline as its remote location and limited modern facilities caused a population loss to lower and more easily accessible communities nearby. However, the structures survived and it has now been reborn as a tourist destination for local people as well visitors.
We had an excellent lunch in a very small restaurant and wandered (4) through the old cobblestone streets. From Erice, we headed back down the hill to Trapani and the Silver Muse.
Dinner Tuesday was in Atlantide, the same restaurant where we had the run-in over my lack of a tie last week. But because I’m a go-along, get-along kind of guy, I bought a tie in Aix-en-Provence, and so we had no problem gaining admission to the restaurant. While we were waiting, the ladies took the opportunity to work with Theresa – one of our favorite crew members – on dining plans for the upcoming days. The show this evening was a violinist who plays well known songs on electric violin with the ship’s trio backing him up. Enjoyable.
(1) But not the last time – we’ll be in Taormina, Sicily on Thursday.
(2) What does “indigenous” really mean? It’s meant to imply that a group was in a place originally, before some interlopers arrived from elsewhere. But all peoples in the world, except for some in Africa where humans arose first, came to where they are from somewhere else.
(3) Apparently Mimmo didn’t get, or didn’t focus on, the email I sent him via TBL describing what we wanted on the tour. We never did see anything in the town of Trapani, but it turns out that most of the monuments and public buildings there were closed for a holiday.
(4) I don’t know if you can actually be “wandering” when you have hired guide telling you when to turn left or right.