Bicycles!

We find it hard to walk up some of the Sicilian hills, but there are indeed people who brave this by bike! Biking is a big sport here – there is an over 400km long cycling route along the Southern coast! Generally, you won’t see an Italian on a bike unless fully clad in Lycra, so when we see people in normal clothes, we know they are foreigners – or immigrant workers who use a bike not as an instrument of leisure but as an essential means of transport. On one of the beaches which we have to approach creeping down a steep hill with Emma in first gear, we meet Frank, a German, on tour for a few years now, having been to Spain, Portugal, France, Marrocco etc. He doesn’t seem to think much of transporting about 50kg of bike and luggage, plus himself, up and down these hills. He prefers mountains to wind – wind only takes away, he says, whereas a mountain will give back what it took. If you go up, you’ll come down again!

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Then there is the beautifully shaped remake of a very old bike – a Pedersen – which his owner transports to nice places to go on a stroll with (that’s a bit more like what we are doing..).

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One morning, we meet a Belgian family with two sons, aged 4 and 7, who’ve been on the road for 7 months now. They have everything with them to camp on beaches etc.

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Last but not least, in San Vito lo Capo, one of the most far-flung places in Europe, we find Daniele, a bicycle magician, who repairs Frank’s broken spoke and does a maintenance check on my lovely dutch bike, a Gazelle. I trust him with it – he’d lived in Holland for a year!

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Sciacca Carnival and Fish Auction

Here are some pictures of our day in Sciacca, yet another really steep hillside town. We went all the way up to the top square in the hope of finding a view of the sunset but were surrounded by houses. On our way down, we caught the last rays of sun over the harbour…

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The next day, Frank chanced upon a fish auction, and together we braved Sciacca Carnival. There are times when I wish I could, like Frank, just switch off my hearing aid…it was LOUD!

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To enjoy the photo album – click here.


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The Turkish Steps

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Onwards and westwards from Agrigento, we spend a day by the Turkish steps. we haven’t found out why exactly they are called Turkish Steps, but they do look like a big pile of turkish delight, that’s maybe why :-)

enjoy the photos!

(they include a couple of Random pictures too – one of a family taking a selfy from a drone, a couple of photos showing an odd pile of slurry between two residential high-rise buildings, and last but not least for our little friends at home and abroad (Eva, Emily, Mila, Nadine, Leo!!!), some pictures of a beach playground.)

 


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Beach findings

The amount of rubbish on beaches varies greatly with different regions in Sicily. San Leone is one of the cleaner beaches, where a stroll along the 2 kilometres of sand only yielded a small plastic bag full of rubbish. Nevertheless, one can find some amazing things, and even people, on the beach! The Italians love to hear me practice my violin – it’s a real boost to my confidence, they always give me compliments when they pass me, or even divert their route by up to a hundred metres just to chat :-)

The first morning, I get chatting to the water controllers. San Leone’s sewage used to just flow into the sea, untreated, but now this has stopped. However, the old system had to be rerouted in a complicate way: everything from the town still arrives at the beach, where it gets collected in a great underground tank and then pumped back up the hill to a sewage treatment plant. Two people come along every morning to check that everything is working well. One of them stands and listens to me for a long time. Eventually he starts talking to me – he plays the guitar he says, to exercise movement in his hands as he had an industrial accident, an electric shock, which burnt him and severely restricted movement in his arms and hands. It always gets me, to hear such tragic life stories coming from a smiling face. He stands there, enjoying the music and the morning sun, happy with his life, happy to take one little step at a time to recover from a near fatal accident.

The next morning, I meet Bruno, the retired Italian teacher and his little dog. He makes a detour to tell me that the beach is always a pleasure to see in the morning, but today it was especially beautiful in combination with my playing. Ahh, honey to my soul… I tend to get quite frustrated with my playing; to me, it seems so fickle and often still out of tune, scraping, and my vibrato still tight and nervous. Well it obviously looks and sounds different from the outside… we chat for a while and he invites Frank and me to a local traditional bar and plies us with copious amounts of local pastries. We are treated to a ‘Genovese’, a pasty filled with fresh ricotta, incredibly tasty! We have conversations about language and about our recent experience in Favara. Bruno is originally from Favara and he has tremendous respect for how this one couple has managed to throw a life line to an otherwise deteriorating city. We hear this repeatedly in the next few days, from various sources. This one example is creating waves, giving hope and inspiration to old and young alike. They may think that some of the projects are too crazy, but they like the effect it has, bringing Favara out of obscurity.

On the third morning, I strike really lucky – as I’m playing ‘Lark in the Morning’, an Irish tune which helps me to practise the changes from one string to another, trying to relax but at the same time to control the movement of my bow, a man arrives with an elastic band and proceeds to do stretching exercises not far from me. So we each happily do our thing for a while, before he finishes his exercises and comes up to me, by which time I have arrived at playing the theme tune to ‘Schindler’s List’. You know, he says in Italian, if you want to get a smoother transition from one string to the other, it would help if you held your bow a little differently, if I may give you some advice? I’m looking at him, taking in what he said and translating it into English in my mind. He interprets my pause as reticence and says I play the violin…. he trails off, probably not sure if his advice is welcome. I push my violin into his hands and he proceeds to magic the sweetest sounds, taking off exactly where I’d left from Schindler’s List. Oh, my violin can sound so beautiful when it’s played well! Something to aim for… Naturally, I soak up all advice he is willing to give that morning and ask him for a lesson the following day :-)

I’m quite fussy about teachers, but Antonio’s got just the right way for me, and so we spend 90 minutes, sitting on the beach in the sun and I receive enough practise material to keep me busy for the next three months. I wish I could kidnap him to have regular lessons!

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Back to the Coast

From the Villa Romana, we take a route across the countryside on little roads to drop down to Agrigento where we are hoping to find the lovely family we met last year. We can’t remember their names or where they live but only the fact that they have a wolf as a pet. We are planning to park up on the same beach as last year and just wait a couple of days to see if any of the family come down to take their wolf for a walk. We stop off at a Lidl on the way to stock up with Rice milk, and there in the car park, we bump into a friend of the family who recognises us from last year! So we get the low-down on names as well as a phone number. How easy was that?!?

By ringing the daughter Irene, we get hold of Guiseppe and Gina, the parents, and arrange to meet for tea the next day.

Mudra, the wolf, has grown slightly and become more thick-set than she was last year. Guiseppe and Gina show us the changes they have made at their house, including a newly installed infinity swimming pool in their back garden and a terrace on the roof of their bungalow from which one can see the land sweeping down to the sea.

Maybe it’s that we came at short notice and they don’t have much time to spend with us in their very busy daily schedule. Maybe it is that in Guiseppe’s presence, Gina doesn’t feel free to say what she thinks, but somehow the atmosphere is a bit tense and lacking the magic we had with each other last year…but it was still nice to see them again.

In the afternoon, we drive up to visit the Cultural Park in Favara, another typical Sicilian town, tightly packed houses perched on top of a steep hill. Apparently Favara was quite desolate about a decade ago, with young people draining to the bigger cities for want of work. It says on their web site: Farm Cultural Park was born from the intuition of Florinda and Andrea, a young professional couple who decided not to move abroad, but to remain in Sicily; not to complain about what is not happening, but to become protagonists of a small but significant change – to return to their pups Carla and Viola, and to their community, a little bit of a better world than they received.

Seven interlinking courtyards in the historic centre of the town house a multitude of projects, the most inspiring for us is the architectural school for children age 6 onwards. Famous international architects come to teach at this school. What better tool for transformation of a crumbling city than to give its young residents the know-how and creative energy to transform what they have, into a sustainable future.

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It will be interesting to see Favara in 10, 15 years’ time. It is still very dilapidated now, but it has a buzz about it, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, bohemian cafes and many, many beautiful old buildings. It is exciting to imagine how this city will lift out of its slumber through regeneration from within.

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We roll down the hill to San Leone beach for the night, inspired by the energy we felt in Favara.


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