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Erice and Trapani

The bus ride to Erice confirms the traditional Italian reliance on the grace of God. The bus was ten minutes late to the pickup point near the Liberty ferry dock, so I wasn't surprised when the driver hurtled through the morning traffic (not much, on a Sunday) to make up the time. That won"t be possible to do, once he comes to the hairpin turns on the mountain road near Erice. Or so I thought. He shifted down one gear and continued speeding, around and up the mountain. The importance of having a horn with an intimidating sound cannot be overstressed. I was in the "view" seat, first row on the right hand side of the road. So I saw every close turn up close. It was when I noticed the driver looking through his rear-view mirror at the cars going in the opposite direction that I realized there was no Plan B.

When we got to the Erice stop, I had a double espresso to calm my nerves.

This was my third trip to Erice, and comparisons are inevitable. My first visit was in November 1985. It was so foggy that I only took three photographs, since I saw almost nothing through the viewfinder. Those were some of the best photos I ever took, one of a wooden church door with fog swirling around the threshold. I stopped at the one bar that was open, and was captivated by the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was probably seventy, long white hair twirled into a bun, bright blue eyes that lit up the tiny room, smooth, alabaster skin, and the confidence of inner beauty and wisdom. I knew nothing about Erice, Eryx Felice to the ancient world. Later I read that a very important temple to Venus had dominated the site, drawing pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean, and that the women of Erice were renowned for their beauty. I felt that I had met one of Venus' descendants.

The temple site eventually became a castle, Christian churches multiplied. The grounds of the castle today include restful gardens, fabulous views, and a couple of paths back to the centro. Good restaurants have multiplied, too, along with a number of fast-food places. Every pastry shop seems prefaced with the word "Antica", and if you like sweet sweets, this is home. Lots of schlocky souvenir places, with trinkets stamped "PRC" (People's Republic of China), although you can find local crafts as well.

Note: at the Info kiosk, you will be offered different types of passes and entry tickets. I bought the €15 one, which I used about half of. Churches require a €1 or €2 entry fee, but a couple are closed for restoration or hours of visit are restricted. Museums are €2 or €3, so unless you plan to visit almost everything, you may want a different pass, or pay per sight. In my opinion, the gardens are the best part of Erice, and they are free. But I don't mind contributing a few extra euro to Erice's maintenance and restoration projects.

Trapani: I am on day 4 of a 6-day stay here. My B&B is on a street in the centro storico. It's called "Secret B&B" and I found it on booking.com. Apparently it is a secret, since the phone number has changed. And it's not that easy to find. My method is to get a map and then start asking people for directions. This worked well until I got to a street where I had to choose a direction, left or right, and I was flummoxed. I stopped at a barber shop where two men were talking in the doorway, and asked how to find the street; they both motioned to go straight and turn right at the next street. When I got to the intersection, I turned to look back, knowing that the barber would be watching to make sure I took the correct turn. He was.

The B&B is charming, my single room is small with balcony doors but no window. Interior steps adjacent to the elevator are carved out of stone. There is a very slow elevator, and a panoramic terrace above the third floor. (Continued)

Posted by
11613 posts

But the best part is breakfast. Josephine (who spoke five languages to various guests) bakes several cakes every day, and says, if you don't make it with love, it doesn't turn out well. She makes eggs and omelette to order. Fresh fruits, juices, meats, cheeses, rolls, butter and jam, yogurt, round out the buffet. Coffee and cappuccino to order as well. She is alone for breakfast service, so be patient, your coffee and eggs will arrive, prepared with love.

If you rent a car, there is public parking near the port with a free bus between the port and the parking lot. During the week, there is also the #10 free mini-bus that makes a circuit through the old town. Bus #23 goes from the parking lot to the funivia for Erice, if you prefer being suspended above the ground rather than taking the AST bus. On Sundays, #202 also goes to the funivia.

The more modern parts of Trapani are like most cities, some beautiful piazze and fountains, garden and parks, restaurants and shopping.

Trapani's old town is real, not quaint or Disneyfied. People live and work here, it's not chockablock with tourism infrastructure, although you can find anything you need. But with the right roof over your head, and lots of love, you will find a real piece of Sicilia here.

Posted by
11658 posts

You write so beautifully, Zoe. I can almost picture your "Venus".
Very glad you survived the bus ride!

Posted by
14003 posts

Ah, Zoe, your reports are bringing back so many memories. I drove to the funivia, which, alas, was closed - high winds. With no choice, I drove that switchback road, quite slowly, and luckily I did not meet a bus on any of the hairpin turns. Your description of the drive made me even happier that I drove the Amalfi Coast instead of riding the bus - though the drivers there seemed to be more careful, perhaps because they know there could be tourists around the corner. I don't remember which antica pastry shop I went into, but the cannoli (yes, two) were terrific.