All the major sights of interest of Trapani are concentrated in the historic quarter, and, in keeping with the luck we’d had so far on this trip, our wonderful hostel was also right in the heart, steps away from elegant baroque palazzi and stunning churches. I like to be very selective when putting in a plug and here I will pass the name along because it was really worth it: Albergo Messina. A little old man greeted us weary travellers when we arrived in the early morning. He wore a plaid bathrobe, his hair was sticking out in all directions, and, shuffling along in leather slippers, he brought us to his office to check us in. It had been quite a trial to make the reservation. From our hotel room in Palermo, we logged into Skype on the laptop. Armed with only a condensed translation section of our travel guide, we frantically leafed through the pages and barked out the occasional Italian word, speaking loudly and primitively into the monitor. We hoped desperately that the elderly gentleman on the other end understood us but we had absolutely no idea whatsoever if that was the case. No deposit, no confirmation nor credit card number was exchanged. He just asked for a name. Totally old school! We took a chance in going to this town with the hopes that a room would be held for us, for it was peak season after all. As it turned out, the pensione was lovely, kinda grandma-style, and a real insight into 1950s Italy. It shared a leafy courtyard with a more expensive B&B next door.
Our first order of business was to take a nap out on the beach in the early morning light. After exploring the gritty city of Palermo for the last few days, we ached for more typical ‘vacation’ activities. Something that I was enjoying very much in Sicily was the evening passeggiata (stroll) when everyone, young and old, is out and in full swing. Following the lead of the locals, we stopped for a granita (flavoured crushed ice). Typical flavours are almond, coffee and lemon, but we took advantage of the seasonal delicacy, gelsi (mulberry), which is only eaten from July to September. That night, I watched a talent show on the boardwalk – animated, though completely unintelligible to me. Encouraged by a friendly local artist to check it out, I thought I was going to see a musical performance – you know, violin, bass, maybe even a dude with an acoustic guitar – but it turned out to be what I think was a local talent show, though I question the ‘talent’ part of it… Guess that explains the fellow I saw pacing the boardwalk earlier that day, gesturing wildly to himself while reading aloud. Ah, but you never know with the Sicilians…
We made a day trip to Erice, a medieval town situated 750m above sea level, on the mountain of Eryx. When the wind is low, you can take the funicular up/down the mountainside. The funicular’s schedule is not ‘cast in stone’ as the closely monitored weather can change at the drop of a hat. We took the bus up to the mountaintop and strolled through the town’s picturesque alleys and courtyards. In retrospect, it would have been cool to photograph Erice and its commanding views of the valley below either at sunrise or sunset, but we happened to go smack in midday. Seeing as we were there at lunchtime, I tried the staple pesto alla Trapanese (pesto made from fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and almonds) with busiate, a small pasta that is hand-twirled in Trapani. I couldn’t possibly be one more day in Sicily and not have a cannoli so I bought one from a café run by Maria Grammatico, Sicily’s most famous pastry chef (excuse another plug). An especially alert reader might have picked up on a theme here: it is undeniable that a significant part of our trip revolved around food.
If we’d had more time in Trapani, I would have loved to have taken a ferry to Tunis, due to its proximity to North Africa. We certainly witnessed the Arab heritage of Sicily and Trapani is well positioned on the sea route to Tunisia. That’s ok, though. I’ve left something for next time.