Saying goodbye to Trapani was difficult. Josefine (Ambra) hugged the stuffing out of me, tears were shed. Then it was back to Palermo by bus to catch another bus to Piazza Armerina and one of my favorite B&B, Dimora del Conte.
Let me say that buses seem to be replacing trains in many parts of Sicilia. Much more efficient and cost-effective, I am sure, but it is sad to see these century-old grand stations reduced to a ticket vending machine, the first words of which are "Beware of pickpockets" in the language of your choice. The words echo in the deserted station. Bus stations tend to be adjacent to the train stations, so it was easy to find the bus ticket office in Palermo (which was very busy).
On the bus out of Palermo, we passed the monument to Giovanni Falcone, who was assassinated (along with his wife and three bodyguards) on that spot in the road, 25 years ago today. He was the anti-mafia magistrate who gathered enough evidence for the "maxi-trial" of many mafiosi. His comrade, Paolo Borsellino, was assassinated some 50 days later. As we passed the monument, a couple of women pointed it out to their companion, and made the sign of the cross. Falcone's group was killed by a remotely detonated bomb, which destroyed the two cars and caused a crater in the road. A solemn reminder that Sicilia's recent history is as tormented as its past.
Filippo the son of the B&B met me at the Piazza Armerina bus stop, and drove me "home". The ground floor is a tiny office and a staircase, with a suit of armor displayed on the landing to the first floor. I always smile at "Il Conte" when I walk in. The next day, I remarked to Filippo the father that I saw the count was still there, defending the stairs. He said that those were his Palio clothes, and showed me a photo of him and his horse at the Palio a couple of years ago. The horse had since died, well-cared for and content for his whole life, and Filippo has not replaced him.
The whole family remembered me from two years ago. Filippo the son was leaving for Siracusa the next day, the daughter Giorgianna the day after. She will study to become a nurse, and at breakfast the next day her mom proudly showed me a photo of her in her uniform.
The minibus to Villa Romana only runs once a day now (taxi drivers may tell you it does not run at all), so Filippo drove me to the Villa and picked me up three hours later. The Villa is a work in progress, so more (or fewer) rooms may ne accessible at any given time. More ramps have been added for wheelchair access, an encouraging sign.
Thoroughly tired back at Piazza Armerina, I stopped by Caffe del Centro, owned by Filippo's brother. His wife prepared an enormous Pasta Alfredo with zucchini and pancetta. They offer a few home-made first courses, prepared fresh, rather than microwaving food, which a lot of bars/cafes do that offer food.
After more tearful goodbyes, and a promise to return for the Palio in two years, I was back on the bus - or, rather, at the bus stop - for the 2pm bus to Caltagirone, but the bus never came, so after 50 minutes I hired a taxi for €50. My B&B was two-thirds of the way up the 142-step stairway, Caltagirone's landmark. I walked that stairway twice that day and live to tell. The B&B was lovely, but that is where my cold symptoms began, so I didn't see much more of the town. At first I thought it was allergies to all the flowering plants strewn up and down the staircase. But it was worse.
I learned a few things about myself in Caltagirone, which is the point of traveling, isn't it? I learned that I can climb 142 steps, even if it means clinging to walls (no handrails). And that I am overly concerned about my personal sense of being "on time". The B&B owner drove me to the bus station, and I already had Plans B and C in mind, but he was right, I got to the bus in plenty of time. I also learned...