The breakfast on the roof terrace was fantastic, the staff was very warm and helpful and at that very moment I convinced myself it was going to be a fantastic day. And so it was.
The bus stop was already occupied by a small group of tourists and hikers and I happened to meet a very nice backpacking couple from Milan on their way to B&B in Scopello. We split up upon arrival to the village and while they went to get a breakfast and leave all the luggage, I followed the road directly towards the reserve.
My feet hurt much less, so I could maintain a normal pace and soon I reached the entrance. I got slightly scared by the amount of cars and tourists over 60 going in the same direction. Fortunately they left the trail 20 minutes later so I could actually enjoy it the way I was hoping for.
Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro is a mountain strip going parallel to the coastline, richly cut with paradise-like coves, covered with a surprisingly thick layer of diverse vegetation; also a home for an army of lizards. I remember reading, it was actually a very first nature park in Sicily. People come there for various reasons — to spend some time on a beach away from the crowds, to hike and enjoy the views, like I did, or to observe nature — apparently a fair amount of rare and unique bird species decided to settle down in this specific part of Sicily, but even if I tried I wouldn’t be able to tell, as my bird knowledge ends with a roasted chicken.
It was supposed to be my last nature hike so I didn’t rush it. I actually spend much more time taking photos for a change, had a break for a book, chatted with few fellow hikers — simply enjoyed it. I also must disappoint you here, because nothing weird or wrong happened. It was your regular, boring sightseeing experience(;
I eventually came back to Scopello, just in time to meet with Italian cycling team in training, accompanied with a 2 cars of equipment and technicians. It was also a perfect occasion to stuff myself with a scary portion of delicious gelato. And, while waiting for the return bus, I even met a senior British couple with Polish origins! Can someone tell me what on earth is it with me attracting Polish in Sicily?
Anyway, we shared few travelling stories of our own and, after biding them farewell, I collected my backpack from the hotel and forced my legs to the bus stop, from where I was supposed to catch a coach to Palermo, at least according to the timetable given by the hot receptionist.
When the bus did not arrive I stopped another one from the same operator and asked the driver whether he knew anything about it. He actually laughed in my face, and only after repeating my question, he gracefully informed me the coach ran only in the summer time. Why was that so funny, you retarded frakk?!
I started thinkings — sure, I could stay there for another night, the problem was I had B&B pre-booked in Mondello — a seaside resort of Palermo — for the last few nights (starting that day), and due to some technical difficulties, which I’ll describe a bit later, I had no way of contacting the owner.
Suddenly I remembered that there was also a train connection between Castellammare del Golfo and Palermo! My enthusiasm quickly faded as I learned that the station was somewhere 3km away and there was one last bus to get there, with guess-who behind the wheel. Yes — the king of pricks.
Not having much of a choice I took my chances and ended up in the middle of nowhere, with no ticket, opposite your usual horror-movie-like shady bar with traditionally shady guys occasionally sending me I-want-your-wallet-and-brains looks.
I decided to wait at the platform.
The train came more or less on time, which was not bad considering the state it was in (still better than Polish though), and I arrived in Palermo 2 hours later. My plan was to get to Central Station first and find a bus to Mondello from there, but when I reached the bus stop and rather than a bus I got a series of surprised looks from the passers-by, I realised that the bus was not coming after 10PM. It makes perfect sense, when I think about it now — people simply don’t travel that late in the night. Especially in capital cities… In the end I had two choices – try to find a place to sleep or catch a cab and reach 20km distant Mondello. The latter sounded cheaper and more reasonable, so I started waving my limbs at everything that looked like taxi.
After being ignored by few, I was eventually noticed by an off duty chatty guy, coming back home with his friend. They were kind enough to give me a ride and the fact of my poor looks, massive backpack, temporarily enhanced non-English accent, and non-hotel direction, guaranteed a user-friendly price. I also mentioned that it was my last money, something that he must have heard quite often, I imagine, and although he laughed he gave me 20% off. I can’t remember his name but my faith in Sicilian drivers was slightly rebuilt after that.
Anyhow, I found myself in front of small mansion gate on a rather dark, residential street. I could see the lights inside the house and a name matching my itinerary, so relieved I pressed the intercom button.
I kept pressing for few long minutes, tried shouting owner’s name few times, even threw few stones at the windows (which I actually have serious difficulties finding, WTF?)!
Resigned I sat down, left few messages on the owner’s phone and decided to wait until the lights go off and repeat shouting and throwing stones then. A wild idea of climbing over the fence and approaching the window directly went to hell, when a rather large dog decided to move his body to the other side of the gate. It was 11:15PM.
You may remember when I mentioned technical difficulties with contacting the owner? He send me an email few days earlier, saying that he had to go to Australia for a week, so he won’t be able to welcome me personally, but his wife should be at home. The problem is, his wife was a bit unorganised (in a cute, female way, I suppose)…
Exactly at midnight one of the windows opened and I heard ‘Hello?’. I was saved!!! I imagined angelic choirs singing and fireworks lighting up the night sky! Francesco’s wife told me she must have misunderstood her husband and she’d believed I was arriving a day after, so she’d conveniently switched off all the buzzers and went for a relaxing bath. Good for her, not that great for me.
Anyway, she led me in to a massive apartment and at that point I realised that actually the whole floor was for my exclusive use! Although she could not understand nor speak a single word in English, she flooded me with series of questions and explanations, which I kindly accepted but eventually gave her a sign that I was really tired and needed some sleep.
I can’t remember anything 15 minutes later after that.
Mondello was probably one of my worst choices in Sicily. It also proves that booking stuff in advance on holidays like this is not the best idea.
The beach was average, there was not much to do in the evening, it was all kinds of boring. After what I experienced couple of days earlier, I also decided to ditch my original plan of a daytrip to Palermo, which left me with a limited choice of entertainment, being a book, wine and a pile of local snacks and fruits.
I should probably also mention my irritating yet quite funny adventures at the local post office. All women working there were the most incompetent bunch ever: they needed 3 people to brainstorm and figure out how much was a stamp to UK, US and Poland, they gave me some random prices in the end, and actually ran out of stamps in the process… Like I never left Poland.
Anyway, no matter how much I’d like to bitch about Mondello, there was one memorable moment that made the whole place worth a trip.
It was my second day there, I believe, and I was on my way to find a nice place for a dinner, navigating through a labyrinth of residential streets, when I noticed a faint beam of light coming from something that looked like a garage. When I approached it, I was intrigued by a view consisting of only 4 things: non-trasparent glass wall, umbrella stand, small screen showcasing deliciously looking food and a buzzer next to it. It kind of screamed VIP-only, secret restaurant, so without any further hesitation I pressed the buzzer.
A moment later the door opened and a very short glimpse inside confirmed my guess! A perfectly English speaking hostess asked me to take a seat in a small waiting area while she checked if they had any available tables. I hoped they would, as the first thing I noticed inside was a full length glass wall completely filled with various bottles of vintage and quality local wine!!! You simply can’t imagine my happiness, when she invited me to a table.
I’m going to be honest with you — it’s one of top 3 best restaurants I’ve been to. Ever. And not even close to expensive considering the quality of food and service. I had fantastic asparagus starter, followed by something that took me by complete surprise — blackened with cuttlefish ink, gnocchi di nocellare — complimented with a brilliant dessert. I also emptied 0.5l of a rather good local 12years old white and refused to leave the rest on the table, so I sneakily kidnapped the bottle when leaving.
If you ever consider going to Palermo, I strongly recommend this place. It’s called Bye Bye Blues, and its name is rather obvious from the moment you enter — your are being spoiled with Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Etta James and many more. They even made me pause eating for a moment, when I heard a long forgotten Night and Day by fantastic Cole Porter from the biographical musical about his live — De-Lovely.
I couldn’t hope for a better ending of my journey.
As usual you can find photos from this part of the trip on my Flickr or in a small gallery below.
I’ve been to Italy few times in my life. I like it. Some places more than others, but I have to give it to Italians — they know how to enjoy life, eat well, drink well and… look well, which I cannot say about English nation, for example.
Sicilians in all this are in strong competition with their mainland brothers — they have a lot to learn in wine department, but they offer much, much better food instead. It probably is the effect of so many external influences — Greek, African or Arab — but still amazing.
Both regions have rather typical laziness and carelessness and they treat it as built-in feature, kind of like IE6 in previous versions of Windows — try removing it and you’ll break everything. Don’t take them for w00ses though — they will go postal in random occasions waving all their limbs and throwing series of offensively sounding words at you. I was thankful enough for not experiencing any metal-to-body mafia references.
They are afraid of distant walking and any other strenuous activity. The sight of me traversing the island with a rucksack attracted their attention every single time to the point of ridiculousness — they were even turning their heads while passing me by in cars, as if the just noticed an army of super sexy swimsuit models.
On average, competency levels are quite low as well, especially when you talk public transport. Do not expect anything to be on time, especially busses, though surprisingly they sometimes arrive earlier but never wait.
Sightseeing-wise Sicily has a lot to offer — from volcanic, lunar landscapes to secluded beaches, challenging mountain tops and bloody cold rivers. If you’re not careful, there’s more than enough various plant and animal species that will assault you ninja style, so try not touching things too much.
Finally there are women. And I’m not talking about Russians and Eastern Europeans, but true Sicilians. They are hot, I tell you. No sloppiness I see daily on the streets of London — they may dress simple but with style and class. They also seemed very proud of who they are, which I liked a lot. And, what’s more important, they liked me back, which was a nice change and a good reason to come back(;
For now I’m enjoying a glass of 35yrs old vintage Marsala, which perhaps is not the best wine I ever had, but definitely something I will remember for a while. As much as I will remember Sicily.
Till the next trip!