The Island of My Other Ancestors

Trip Start Jul 14, 2007
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Trip End Feb 05, 2008


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Flag of Italy  ,
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We left Sorrento early in order to take an 8 hour train ride from
Napoli to Palermo Sicily. I managed to read and entire book on the
train ride down, leaving nothing for me to read while I was in Sicily.
We got into Palermo late at night, and had a little trouble
interpreting the directions to our hotel. Thankfully a taxi cab driver
pointed us in the right direction and we found it. We went to bed to
get an early start the next day.



We set out on a walking tour
that I created over breakfast. We walked towards the ocean and stumbled
upon an open air market that lined an entire street. Unfortunately we
found the fish market part first and were surrounded by huge
decapitated sword fish. Walking quickly down the street we found the
fruits and veggie section, which was much more tolerable. We eventually
reached the water after walking through a small little park. The water
front is not a beach, as it turns out. It is a jetty. But there is a
large open field and a board walk that lines it, making the area very
appealing. There was also a lot of really random art lining the walk
ways. There were literally hundreds of gigantic multicolored chess
pawns. We set our sights on the Cathedral next and walked inland. We
didn't take a main road and ended up in the narrow streets of the
neighborhoods. Completely unaware that this is the birth place of the
mafia, we didn't fear for our safety. But after reading the  history of
the mafia later on, I think we should of been. The architecture and way
of life here was completely different from any other place in Italy.
Half the time it felt like you were walking down a quaint Italian city
and the other half felt like a third world Moroccan town. Very strange.




On our walk to the cathedral we found the government buildings
and the most famous fountain in Sicily. In the courtyard of the
government buildings is a large fountain with 20 nude figures and a ton
of different animal heads. The pope banned this fountain because of the
nude figures and now it is permanently covered in scaffolding under
"reconstruction".  We got to peak at it through the metal and it would
of been a really nice fountain. Continuing on down the narrow and
school children filled footpaths, we eventually made it to the
cathedral. This was one of the most interesting cathedrals we had seen
yet. It was a combination of Moroccan and Norman styles, on a huge
scale. The inside was just like every other cathedral, except that
there were more incenses tins hanging from the ceiling. Thankfully they
weren't all on otherwise we probably wouldn't be able to see 5 feet in
front of us. We took a bit of a rest in the pews before continuing on.



We
followed the water until we went beneath Porta Nuova. This was a very
elaborate bridge over the road that connected the military building to
the Parliament building. What they forgot to build was a sidewalk
through this bridge/tunnel building. We had to squeeze against the wall
and poke our heads out the other side to see if there was traffic
coming. We were nearly taken out by a fleet of scooters. Having no
desire to walk on the main road, we turned in and headed towards the
theater. This was a longer walk that took us, again, off the beaten
track. We walked through a part of the city that looked like it was
build in the 70's unlike the rest that was built in the 1700's. Winding
our way through the wider streets we came to the circular theater with
the same statue as Berlin's Brandenburg gate. To conclude the walking
tour we walked up via Roma until we came to our hotel. I was in
desperate need of new jeans, so we decided to have a shopping outing.
Unfortunately Sicily functions the same way Spain does: siesta.
Everything was closed between 1 and 5. So we continued to walk until we
found a restaurant that was open. We ate a nice dinner/lunch and then
just called it quits. I was too tired from the all day walking affair
to shop for jeans, since the shops had finally opened again.



The
next day I made sure we got up early and headed to Agrigento. We didn't
have clear instructions on how to get to the place we booked online,
because they said we needed to have a car to get there. Thankfully we
arrived there about 10min before the tourist info desk closed. The lady
spoke enough english to figure out what we wanted, but had no idea
where we were staying. We thankfully had the phone number and she
called them, or as it turned out to be, him. She pointed us in the
direction of a bus and told us to ask the bus to stop at a pub. I guess
asking to be dropped off where ever is a common occurrence, because the
bus driver smiled and said,"Si, Si". Once we were at this pub we were
instructed to wait to be picked up by the hotel. We waited for a while
and then a guy in a beat up little white car came. He spoke literally 6
words of English and we spoke about 6 words of Italian. He drove us
into the middle of nowhere down a dirt road. To our relief we turned
into this little bed and breakfast. This turned out to be one of the
most incredible places we stayed. There were no other buildings around
us and we had our own little room with a TV and a bathroom. There was a
little pool, nice outdoor eating area, bbq, and every since domestic
bird ever. There were peacocks, cockatoos, chickens, rosters, you name
it, it was there. There was also the cutest little white fluff ball dog
named Mario, who had an obsession with my shoelaces. This place also
over looked the valley of the temples. Ancient Greek temples lining a
cliff top. Absolutely stunning. All for 17 US dollars a night. Oh yeah,
breakfast was included.



So we settled in and then hitched a
ride back to the pub with our hotel owner guy. The archeology museum
was right across the street as well as the entrance to the valley. We
bought our tickets for both the valley and the museum and then had some
lunch. The museum was amazing. There were so many artifacts they dug up
in this area. From perfume bottles to sarcophagus's, it was all there.
They also had battle helmets and swords which is something I've never
seen before. The gem of the collection was the 18m tall stone man that
used to be one of the pillars of one of the temples. He had a twin
which was still lying in the valley. After exploring the museum in the
limited time we had, we walked down to the valley. We went into Zeus's
temple area first because it closed at sundown. This was the least
intact of the 4 temples we saw, but it was still really neat. There
were piles of ancient stones strewn with grass and shrubbery. You could
make out the foundations of the smaller buildings surrounding the
temple. Moving along we came to someone else's temple. which had its
entire front face still standing. There were 6 towering columns with
stairs leading up to the temple floor. The floor was now covered with
rubble, but this is the only temple we could climb around in. Walking
up the hill we encountered the most intact temple. It was almost
entirely there. All the columns were supporting a roof and the inner
row of columns supporting the secondary roof was still there as well.
Of course we couldn't go inside this one, but it was spectacular. It
was in better condition than the Acropolis in Athens. The sun was
beginning to set so we continued walking see the last temple. The last
one had all of its columns up but no roof. However, this last one was
up on the top of a hill and provided a spectacular view of all of the
temples as well as the ocean. A rain storm was beginning to come in so
the clouds were obscuring the sun, shooting rays of light onto the sea
and land. It was truly as spectacular sight. Despite the threat of
rain, we stayed on top of the hill to watch the clouds and sun change.
Once the clouds completely obstructed the sun, we hustled back to the
hotel. It was about a 2k walk and we didn't want to get stuck in the
rain. We made it back to the pub and decided to have an early dinner.
But they weren't serving dinner because it was before 7:30pm so we had
to grab stuff from the take out area. They were nice enough to let us
sit inside and eat. Our hotel friend came an picked us up and we spent
the rest of the night watching the MTV European Music awards.



The
next morning we ate our breakfast overlooking the temples in the warm
sunlight, before going to Syracuse. We boarded the train to Syracuse
and ended up in the middle of no where. After much confusion due to the
language barrier, we jumped back on the terminated train and got off
two stops away from where we started. We had to wait there for 3 hours
before our train that consisted of one cart came to get us. We were the
only people on the train for a hour so we were up walking, playing
games, and singing different songs. Eventually more people boarded the
train and our train conductor almost got in a fist fight with one of
the guys that was trying to board. Needless to say, we made it to
Syracuse much later than planned. Thankfully we had an extra day to
explore the city.



Our first order of business was to arrange
our overnight passage to Bari so we could catch our ferry to Greece.
Once that was out of the way, we walk over to the island that makes up
the historic part of the area. This is the town where my Mom's dad came
from. So we wandered through the rather pristine streets admiring the
fountains and Greek ruins. We came across the main square and it was
blindingly white. The ground and the buildings were all made from the
light sand stone and the sun was in full force. I went in to the
cathedral to escape the glare, but couldn't go to far because there was
a service going on. So we decided to just come back to the church
later. We found the waters edge and were pleasantly surprised to find a
nice walk way lined with restaurants overlooking the harbor side. We
continued following the water until we came to a fortress build on the
point, designed to guard the harbor. Unfortunately this was closed to
the public because of renovations, so we just walked through the
neighborhoods to reach the ocean side of the island. The water was a
beautiful blue and there were a handful of people fishing from the
street. We turned back into the narrow streets until we made it back to
the cathedral. I went back inside since mass was finished and was
surprised at how simple, but beautiful the cathedral was. It was made
from the pillars of an ancient Greek temple and had very few lavish
decorations on the walls. We decided to go have lunch on the water
front, celebrating our last big meal in Italy.



We wandered
down the main shopping street after lunch and managed to find and open
store that sold jeans. I was very relieved to find a pair because the
holes I had worn in my old ones were very inappropriate. We also found
a little book store where I purchased Costra Nostra: The history of the
Sicilian Mafia. We spent the rest of the day reading until we boarded
our 7pm train to Bari.



The over night train was pretty crumby.
The "beds" were really the chairs with a sleeping bag like sheet draped
over them. I got very little sleep, especially since we had to be up by
5am to get off the train at Napoli. From there we took a little train
to a little town, and then waited 2 hours for our 5 hour train to Bari.
Unfortunately this train was an hour late. We eventually made it to
Bari and the ferry well before the ferry was scheduled to leave. Our
Eurail passes provided us an amazing discount on a room in the ferry,
and since the ferry was very empty we each had our own room . While we
were waiting, I decided to go have a wander and check out the city.
This city is apparently where my mom's grandmother was from. So I made
the long walk from the docks into this little neighborhood enclosed by
this tall stone wall. I found stairs that put me on top of the wall and
then slowing wound my way around and down the wall until was in the
main square. I proceeded to randomly walk through this neighborhood in
the direction of the ferry. I walk through endless streets filled with
the sounds of family. It was dinner time, so everyone was inside, with
all the washing hanging from the balconies. Sound of dishes clanging
together and pots on the stove mixed with tvs and children playing. It
was a really nice feeling to be surrounded by so much life. Touring
through city so fast seeing on the highlights, makes you forget that
people actually live there. So it was a nice reminder to slow things
down a bit and examine things a little more closely. I eventually came
out of the neighborhood right in front of a pizza parlor. I grabbed a
pizza and headed back to the ferry to relieve Braden of his bag
watching duty. He went and grabbed a pizza as well and we sat in the
ferry terminal eating our dinner. There were two other girls waiting,
unfortunately for a different ferry, who we started chatting with. One
was from Northern California and was headed towards Turkey the other
was Russian and, I am pretty sure, completely insane. The Russian one
has been hitch hiking through Europe for the last four months. All she
has is a back pack with camping gear, so when she doesn't have a ride
she just pitches a tent on the side of the road and sleeps there.
Apparently she has no fear.



We finally allowed to board our
boat around 5pm, and quickly settled in. We  explored what the boat had
to offer, bought some ice cream, and then went straight to bed. I was
excited to get a better nights sleep than the over night train. Plus
when I would wake up in the morning, we would be in Greece!
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