Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Next Stop, Agrigento

03/23, Friday
It's a day for bus travel to the northwest coast. We had originally planned to stop in Siracusa for a day, but inadvertently I made reservations at a B&B in the plateau town of Agrigento, much further north. So, we won't get to see the Greek town of Syracuse this trip.

The bus ride is several hours, and gives us a view of the center of Sicily. It is quite hilly, lots of orchards blooming with what appear to be cherry blossoms? Maybe apples? There is major new highway construction. Unemployment in Sicily is high, so infrastructure work is good for the economy.

Called our B&B Kerkent, and after several moments of "lost in translation", the woman said, we hoped, she would pick us up. Thank goodness, since it is straight up hill and doubtful we would have found it, even with the IPad map. She is delightful and studying English. We have a very nice room with a large balcony. The sea is in the distance as well as the Greek temples, which are lit at night. Almost a surreal view.

Walk down a wide set of stairs to the main street of the old town. Settle on a cute little restaurant, named Manhattan, for a very authentic Sicilian dinner.

03/24, Saturday
A leisurely breakfast with two Aussies, the woman works for Cambridge Academy (I think this is an online school that prepares students for international education), the man works for the Federal court system as a data base manager.

We have settled on our next destination (Erice, a town near Trapani), and need to make sure we can get there by bus on Sunday. Our hosts help, but Ippy comes to our aid again. It is funny how technology, mainly information on the Internet, has really surpassed human capacity to communicate. People put their B&B out on trip advisor, BB Planet or Booking.com, many with help, but then speak little English to answer questions or more or less "close the deal". Of course it would help if we spoke some of their language too !

Then we take a local bus to The Valley of the Temples, only a few miles away. Agrigento (aka, depending on what culture was currently in charge, Acragas, Agrigentum, Kerkent, Girgenti) is famous for the ruins of several temples dating to the 6th century BC.

They remain today in relatively good condition even though constructed from sandstone. They were built by the Carthigians, and resemble the same kind of structures in Greece. One, here, is supposed to be the best example, better than any in Athens. Not crowded, sunny day and we just ambled down among the temples like they did 2500 years ago, but we were listening to an audio.

The magnitude and preserved state of the Temple of Concordia just blows you away. This is a much more manageable area than the vastness of Pompaii. We wonder if the water was closer long ago. Keep hoping these audios are going to answer all our questions.

Of course, they were originally for worship of Greek gods, and for animal sacrifice. During the rise of Christianity, the Romans converted them to churches. The audio listed 11 different cultures (Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Italians) they have survived to present. The sophisticated design, impressive size, and unbelievable manual effort testify to the knowledge of people over 2500 years ago.

Sulphur mining had been the region's main economic activity for centuries until the 1970s. It also served as an agricultural center for the surrounding region. Nowadays, Agrigento is one of the poorest towns in Italy (close to 20% unemployment), has a long-standing problem with organized crime, particularly the Mafia, and suffers from smuggling of illegal drugs. (A lot of guys look like members of the brotherhood to me.)

We had a tipico Siciliano dinner of pasta and fish, red wine, and pannacotta with ciocolloto. At 8:30 we walked a few blocks to the Piazza Purgatorio to hear a choral concert performed by l'Associazione Filarmonica Santa Cecilia, a cappella and with piano. The music was very good food for the soul. The performance was in a beautiful old church.

We took all kinds of winding side streets home and avoided about 100 steps up to our B&B. Very quiet area once you are off the main street and we felt pretty confident we weren't lost, but it was nice to come to our little piazza. Another great day.

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