Bronte is synonymous with pistachio nuts which were brought to Sicily by the Arabs. It is also home to Nelson’s castle, although it isn’t really a castle (more like an English coutry house); Nelson never set foot in Bronte (not sure why); and it is located in Maniace which is now an independent municipality (but people will tell you it is in Bronte). Bronte is also home to a Sicilian Cart Museum and last Sunday the town held a celebration of the Sicilian Cart due to its inclusion as a candidate for recognition by UNESCO for its intangible cultural heritage. I found about this event at the last minute and by chance, which is normal for events in Sicily. At least I didn’t find out about it after the event, which is again, the norm.
I have seen Sicilian carts before, with horses attached and everything. I have been to Bronte before too, but it rained and I didn’t stay long. When we first arrived, I saw a cart all on its own. A little further along, another cart, and so on. My first thoughts were ‘is this it?’ and, ‘where are the horses?’. There were a few people milling around, a lot of old men mainly, it felt a bit surreal. Soon, however, more people arrived (still lots of old men and few women) and then more carts. There was even a horse, although it was made of plastic. We also passed a very interesting photographic exhibition on a wall. Then, we arrived in the main square and saw more carts than I could ever have imagined. So many carts that it was hard to take it all in. There were even a few women milling around but these were still outnumbered by old men who I have noticed are very good at sitting or standing around doing nothing.
You could spend hours looking at a Sicilian cart. Richly decorated, full of intricate details, they are each an example of amazing craftmanship and are themselves a sort of storybook. They depict religious scenes (less keen on those ones) and historical scenes. Think, knights in shining amour! They are a wooden, cart version of a pop-up picture book. They have been cleverly thought out too, there is a place for a wine jug, an umbrella, a bag and an oil lamp underneath. They are a feast for the eyes but your eyes won’t be able to take everything in, they are moving works of art and are definitely part of Sicily’s cultural heritage. They scream ‘Look at me! Aren’t I beautiful!’ Actually, they were the Ferraris of their day, which means you had to have had money to have them. Yes, there would have been more simple carts around but those highly decorated ones must have cost something. Who knows how much those on show today are worth. As I later sat in traffic, I wished they could be the main means of transport today, I wouldn’t care if it meant being exposed to the elements and going slow, it would be far more extravagant and romantic. However, I soon came to my senses and realised that it is far better to speed past the vast amount of rubbish which is strewn along the roads all around Bronte, I even saw a back brace at the side of the road. If only people took as much pride in their surroundings as they do in their carts! Time will tell if they make the UNESCO list. They sure impressed me!
Around every third Sunday in May, Noto holds a flower festival. Now, I am familiar with Cities in Bloom in the UK but this festival is something else. It would knock every city I know out of the competition. I first went two years ago and was taken aback by how colourful the display was and amazed by how creative the designs were. This year was even better. There were flower displays everywhere! Noto is a pretty city anyway but the festival really brings it alive. I would go as far as saying that it is the best festival in Sicily and that says a lot as there are many.
We arrived early in the morning to beat the crowds. I am so glad that we did as we were the first up through a narrow and winding staircase to get a bird’s eye view of this year’s main display. The theme changes every year and this year it was ‘Ospiti il Mondo’ or ‘The world is our guest’ (or close enough). The displays are made up of soil, petals, flower heads and even vegetables. I have posted a photo which shows the damage a bit of wind can do but these ‘temporary works of art’ are taken care of and any dying flowers are quickly replaced. The main display takes up a whole street, there are churches either end where for a small fee you can admire the displays from their rooftops (worth it) and withoutany fee whatsoever you can walk alongside the flower displays but patience is a must as everyone wants to stop to take photos and who can blame them? First time visitors should take note and not forget to look up from the eye-catching art as the baroque balconies are outstanding. This year there were further displays near to a church and along another street further along. There were also lots of craft stalls, some traditional entertainment and lots of refreshments on offer, including some lovely craft beer which was I could go on and describe in detail what I saw but as a picture says a thousand words, I will post a lot of pictures instead. Although if you can get here and see it for yourself next year, even better!
I have just returned from Lampedusa. One of the many islands that make up Sicily and one that is actually closer to Tunisia than it is the Italian mainland. It is well-known among Italians as a holiday destination, especially those from the north of Italy but less so among other nationalities. I didn’t hear any other language spoken bar from Italian (and of course Sicilian) the whole time I was there although I was reliably informed that a few Canadians were on the island. And you know what? I loved the fact that this island has not succumbed to mass tourism! Although as RAI 24 were there reporting that tourism had suffered a significant fall in recent years it would be better for the island if more people knew about it. Of course, Lampedusa is never off the news due to the desperate plight and continuous arrival of migrants from Africa. Lampedusa is an island of tourists, fishermen, migrants, turtles and dogs. All of which will be covered in separate posts as this island left a lasting impression on me and I have so much to say about so many of the issues it faces.
So, where do I start when I have so much to say? I guess with tourism and what there is to do and see. Well, the main draw of Lampedusa HAS to be the sea and its coastline. That obviously includes the famous ‘Rabbit Beach’. The island itself is small, easy to get around but doesn’t really have anything of interest. It is hugely devoid of trees and gets blasted by the wind in winter so it looks desert like, a huge slab of flat rock floating on the sea.
The town is very small, most of the action is centered around Via Roma which is where you will find boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. There are the old and new ports which I loved just walking around at different times of the day. The island is geared towards to the tourist. You will find bike, jeep, scooter, car hire places in the new port and boat trips in both ports. Don’t expect the scooters to be top notch or for everything to work. This is an island after all and they are much more relaxed about everything. The speedometer on our scooter didn’t work and the brakes squeaked like mad but the price was reasonable and the island is small so it doesn’t really matter. Petrol is expensive and on the day we arrived the petrol station had run out. This meant HUGE queues the next day when the tankard arrived on the island so bear this in mind when choosing which type of vehicle you want to hire, also make sure you aren’t running on empty as you can’t guarantee the petrol stations will have fuel. The island is dotted with coves and small beaches.
To help you decide how to spend your time, here are my top ten things to do:
1. Hire a day boat
Ok, so we were a little anxious about this as we had never piloted a boat before but it is a great way to see the coastline at your own pace. Strong winds on the north of the island meant that we could only visit the south of the island but the best swimming spots are on the south so it really didn’t matter. Having your own boat means you can avoid or keep ahead of the crowds. If you are lucky, you’ll have a cove to yourself for an hour or two. Dropping anchor causes the most stress as in the coves if you anchor in sand you will drift, you’ll get thee hang of it but keep an eye out on the boat when you go for a swim. We had to return to our boat when someone else hadn’t anchored properly and were drifting towards our boat. There are a number of companies who hire boats. We used DAG and they gave us a little test run first to make sure we knew what we were doing. They provide a handy cooler for drinks. Cost depends on how much petrol you use. The hire of the boat is 50 Euro plus petrol. We ended up paying 80 Euro for a day’s hire.
2. Dolphin Watching
It is possible to see dolphins off the coast of Lampedusa. We took an organised tour and went on the lookout for dolphins. It was a memorable experience and the sunset on the way back unforgettable. We spent a good hour, perhaps more, watching the dolphins with La Perla del Mare. The cost of the trip was 20 Euros a head.
3. Round the Island Boat Trip
Yep, yet another boat trip but a nice, relaxing way to spend a day and meet some fellow tourists. There are loads of boat operators offering pretty much the same tour. We went with Perla del Mare and were not disappointed. We got to the most popular areas before the other boats and left when too many boats came. The food was excellent, plenty of it including some leftover for the fish. Giovanni was a gregarious host and although we had slightly more people on our boat than the max of 12, we didn’t really notice. At 40 Euro per head it was definitely money well spent.
4. Rabbit Beach
Most people would be surprised that Rabbit Beach, named best beach in the world in 2013 by travellers on the TripAdvisor website, would come so far down the list. Well, the thing is, it is too popular. We headed there early to beat the crowds but as the turtles are laying their eggs there at night you are not allowed down to the beach until 8.30am. By then, quite a few people had arrived. We were lucky to be among the first to lay out our towels and walk into the crystal clear sea but after an hour or so Italians being Italians we were surrounded. Now, this wasn’t just the inconvenience of having a family or couple close by, they were on top of us. Towel touching towel so to speak. One family plomped themselves in the shade of our parasol advising us that the shade would soon move. There was space further back, but everyone wanted to be as close to the sea as possible and they would have plonked themselves on our towels if they could have. Some Italians like to stand around in the shallow of the sea which also meant that I was staring at an old man’s bum for quite some time. We enjoyed the beach and the water is amazing BUT two hours after arriving we left. If you can’t beat them, leave them to it! Seriously, go early morning to make the most of it (8.30am) or outside of the months July and August.
5. A sunset aperitivo
An aperitivo at O’scia whilst watching the sun go down is a MUST. Drink a cocktail or two and take advantage of their buffet and you won’t need to eat out later.
6. Explore the island by scooter
The coastline is just as spectacular from above. The roads may be a bit bumpy now and again but you will get almost empty roads when you leave the town and stunning views out to sea.
7. Visit the turtle hospital
The turtle hospital is located in the old port and is open Mon to Fri in the evening. Informative volunteers are on hand to tell you about each turtle they have in their care.
8. Cocktails at Turkez
Another great place to have an aperitivo and close to town. You will find it at Cala Croce.
9. The Sanctuary of Our Lady
Worth a look as there are some old previously inhabited caves and a little church.
10. Archivio Storico Lampedusa Whilst the museum in being reconstructed there is a very interesting studio to visit with old photos and newspaper front pages which tell the story of the inhabitants of Lampedusa.
Today it is oppressively HOT. The first time this year that I have really struggled with the heat. Yes, it has been in the 30s before today but not ‘I can barely breathe hot’. It is probably the Sirocco/Scirocco that is causing this extreme heat, a wind that comes from Northern Africa and brings heat and a bit of the desert with it. Every time it is hot and there is a wind I get told it is the Sirocco. Not good to have a pile of sand dumped on your house when you have just cleaned the windows, balcony etc
In August we expect it to feel this hot. This is why you will find nearly all businesses are closed in August and everyone is in the sea cooling off. Tarmac melts, people are half comatose and wear very little but manage to muster up enough energy to utter ‘Che caldo’ (It’s hot) every now and again. Apparently today it is only 36 degrees centigrade. Believe you me it feels much hotter. In August temperatures hit the 40s and you leave buildings feeling as if you are walking into an oven. Hence why people try and fry eggs on the ground or on top of their cars. I cope with this kind of heat by doing very little and walking around in a constant doze or by running into the sea, especially at Fiumefreddo where the sea is ice-cold and so refreshing.
Today, I am not by the sea or a swimming pool. Today, I am hot and sweating buckets and feeling exhausted without doing anything. I will have to toughen up and get used to this again. I prefer to be warm than cold anyway, or so I keep telling myself. We only have air-con in one room so I expect that room will become my refuge over the next couple of months. Problem is the electricity tends to go off when too many people use their air-con. Blackouts by the energy suppliers in summer are also not uncommon. Different areas of the city have their electricity cut off at different times as there isn’t always enough to go around. Best not to buy too much food for the fridge during July and August. I remember once returning home in a blackout using the light of my mobile to see up the stairs to my apartment, no electricity meant not fan and therefore, very little sleep that night. In fact, the electricity is going on and off right now, house alarms everywhere are blaring.
The midday heat brought by the Sirocco today might just have started a fire near our home, or at least it helped spread a fire which was probably started by some idiot throwing away a cigarette end onto extremely dry, straw like grass. It has been burning for a while and worryingly it got quite close to a petrol station at one point. The smell of smoke has permeated through the apartment and the sound of sirens would tell me that they are still trying to contain it. I suspect that this is the first fire of many as the the abundance of wildflowers that carpeted the ground in spring have now become tinder-dry. The fire moved up hill very quickly due to the wind, throwing flames high into the sky. It is now burning something which is producing intense black smoke and they are sending planes with water to try and put it out. It is still close to the petrol station which is why they have probably sent in the planes. There is a sewage works in that area so I really hope it isn’t the sewage that has now caught alight. I cannot imagine how hot it must be where the fire is burning or how the people in the houses right next to the fire must be feeling.
Back to the hot weather…
If you do find yourself in Sicily struggling with the heat like me may I recommend the following:
Keep hydrated by buying a lemon seltz from the nearest kiosk. The most refreshing drink ever!
Obviously try and be by the sea dipping in and out of the water as often as needed or if not near to a pool.
At night if you don’t have air-con or if it goes off sleep naked on your balcony or if you are worried about what the neighbours might think lie naked on the floor (marble is best) preferably in front of a fan.
Eat a granita for breakfast and an ice-cream for lunch. You won’t need anything else.
In the evening get to higher ground and therefore fresher air.
Walk around with a plant mister. There are water taps everywhere so you can fill up with fresh, cold stuff frequently.
Don’t wear grey – I truly do not understand why people choose to wear grey t-shirts, shorts etc. They show up the sweat more than any other coloured clothing I know.
Become a night-owl. There is a reason they have siestas. Night-time and the early hours of the day are the best temperature-wise in the summer.
Put a bottle of water in the freezer the night before you go to the beach. It will stay colder and therefore, more refreshing for longer.
Always have something with you to provide shade. In the heat shade, a breeze and water are your best friends and should be sought out at every opportunity.