Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sicilian impressions

I have admit that Sicily was a whim.  There were cheap airfares straddling the route between Maastricht and Stansted, the weather promised to be warm(ish), and I was ready for a long weekend free of Boards and Contracts. Living in Europe means Doing Europe when the opportunity presents, spending a bit of treasure on Experiences rather than Things in pursuit of happiness.

Sicily delivers.

The countryside is incredibly varied, from sparkling Mediterranean shores to cloudy snowblown mountain peaks.  It’s not a large island and the motorways that cross the interior put the entire province within half a day’s drive.  Coastal roads take longer, but I’d be slowing down anyway just to admire the views or to pull off into a village

Motorists are something else: one guidebook described them as driving like ‘dogs on drugs’.  That’s kind.

Signage is somewhere between intermittent and misleading: a sequence of pointers to a town suddenly end miles short of the destination, others lead to closed roads.  I don’t know if Sicily never had good signage, or they let the labeling decay when car navigation arrived.

Not that TomTom is much better: I found myself perched at the top of a flight of stairs leading down a village street one hapless night.

Sicily looks like a place that should be heavily forested, but there are none.  Articles suggest that when the Romans converted the island to agriculture, the rainfall declined and the rivers dried.  The potential for desertification seems real, and is a major  concern for Sicily’s future.

Today’s problem, though, is Garbage.  For some reason, the locals throw it *everywhere*.  It lies in haps along the roads, piles in drifts at rest stops, crowds the alleys and fences.  It is absolutely beyond me why people allow this, although I suppose that once some do, then everyone will.

There is also a creeping blight of unfinished cement buildings, just columns ad floors with no further work ongoing, and the “Spanish disease” of white plastic greenhouses force-germinating tomatoes and fruits.

The people are incredibly friendly, quick with a smile, a welcome, a recommendation, or a story.  English was generally good,  better than most of the rest of Italy, never a problem in hotels, only occasionally difficult in restaurants.  People are masterful line jumpers, who can advance through a queue at twice the rate of anyone else. 

Food was outstanding: local cuisine leans heavily towards hearty fish dishes, whether salads, appetizers, or mains. Wines were full and fruity, very cherry: the house wines were almost always excellent.  Prices were moderate, generally about 20-25 euro for sit-down lunch or dinner.

A good introduction to both the culture and food of Sicily is “Sicily Unpacked”, a 3-part BBC special with British art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon and Italian chef Giorgio Locate.  (I would much rather be traveling with Giorgio than Graham).

Pictures up shortly at my Flickr site.

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