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  1. We were woken up at 07.30 this morning by the bells of the church outside our apartment ringing rather loudly! The price of our room included breakfast, which had been arranged for 9am. Promptly at 9, our hosts arrived with a tray for us. We had a big croissant each, plus some sugary little pastries which are a local speciality, and more coffee than we could drink After breakfast, the lady who owned the apartment had promised to give us a tour of Naro. Although it was only about 09.30, it was already extremely hot when we stepped outside. We started with the church just opposite where we were staying. This was the Chiesa di Maria Santissima Annunziata and it was really beautiful inside. It had a really old baptismal font, I think from the fifteenth century. Our guide Francesca was speaking in Italian with Tim translating for me and there were a lot of dates, so I may not have them all right. The font had previously been in another older church before it was brought here. Once we'd finished admiring this church, we stepped outside into the sunshine again. We passed this balcony, which has four masks carved on it, looking in different directions to ward off evil spirits. We walked down from there to a second church, which Francesca had the keys for to let us in. This was the Chiesa di Santa Caterina. It's normally only opened for weddings, so we were really lucky to be able to see inside There were some beautiful scraps of frescoes on the walls here. Apparently the entire church had originally been covered in them, but that style of decoration went out of fashion and at some point the church was white-washed. Years later, people have scraped the white paint away in the hope of finding frescoes underneath. The church was also home to a chair which Pope John Paul II had sat on when he visited Sicily. The third church we visited was the Chiesa di San Francesco. The church is situated in a square called Piazza Garibaldi, but apparently the locals aren't too keen on Garibaldi (because they would have preferred to keep their independence rather than be unified into Italy), so locally they refer to the square as San Francesco rather than Garibaldi. Although we have seen a lot of baroque buildings on this holiday, this church is very special because - unlike most of the other towns we have visited - Naro wasn't destroyed by the big Sicilian earthquake in 1693. Whereas most of the other churches we have seen were designed and rebuilt after that date, this church was built before then and survived. This means it is older than all the baroque architecture we saw in Noto earlier this week. It was really stunning inside. The most exciting part of the visit was that Francesca had keys to the sacristy and opened it up for us. It was very grand, with the most amazing paintings on the ceiling... ...and lots of intricate wood carvings around the walls. It was such a fascinating tour and we learned so many things that we definitely wouldn't have done without the benefit of a local guide There was more that we could have seen in Naro too; we didn't have time to visit the castle, for example. That means we'll have to come back one day and stay at Casa nel Barocco again. We couldn't have hoped for more helpful hosts; when it was time for us to leave, Francesca's husband even volunteered to drive ahead of us and show us the best route out of town to the main road. We would have been completely lost without that, because some of the roads in Naro were closed today for a market. Our ultimate destination for today was a town called Enna, but on the way we wanted to stop off and see some mosaics outside a place called Piazza Armerina. There was about an hour or so to drive from Naro, but as we progressed through the hilly Sicilian countryside we realised that there was a problem with the rental car. Ever since we picked it up, an intermittent warning had been flashing up about us needing more of something called "AdBlue". Tim realised while driving today that the warning was actually a countdown, telling us how many more kilometres we could drive before our lack of "AdBlue" meant we would no longer be able to accelerate. Neither of us had any idea what AdBlue might be, so when we next passed a petrol station Tim decided to pull in. Our rental car runs on diesel, and the people in the petrol station (who thankfully knew what AdBlue was!) explained that it's some sort of fluid which needs to be poured into diesel cars. Having now googled it, it seems to be some sort of diesel exhaust fluid. Luckily they managed to find some and poured litres of it into the car, after which the error message went away and we were able to continue our journey. We had to pay €13 for it though, which we'll be taking up with the rental company when we return the car, because according to the car instruction manual (which we had some fun reading while we tried to figure out what the error message meant!) the warning about AdBlue first appears when you've got 2,400 kilometres left to drive, and then when you've only got 1,000 kilometres to go it pops up every 20 kilometres, which is what was happening to us. We'd only driven about 400 kilometres on this trip so far, so the notification had clearly been showing for ages and the rental company should have sorted it out before giving us the car. Anyway, with that problem solved we continued towards the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale. Villa Romana del Casale is fourth century villa, with one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world. We parked, bought our entrance tickets for €10, and then made our way along signposted paths towards the mosaics. As we got closer to the entrance to the villa, there were some beautiful pink flowers We passed through the entrance gate... ...where we could see the remains of some frescoes... ...and then we were inside, getting a glimpse of our first mosaic. We followed a series of constructed walkways, from where we could look down towards the mosaics. Sometimes the walkways were constructed in a way which meant we were looking at the mosaics from slightly odd angles, but they were still really impressive. I thought there would be a few mosaics here but I was completely unprepared by how many there were! Some had geometric patterns... ...while others depicted really elaborate scenes with people. Some of the larger mosaics depicted hunting and, specifically, the capture of exotic animals to bring back to Rome. In this scene I think the animals have been caught and are being loaded onto the boat. It was fun trying to work out what the animals were. This one was definitely an elephant... ...and I think this one may have been a rhino. Another of the most famous mosaics is the so-called "bikini mosiac". This one depicts a number of scantily-clad women engaging in various sports, like throwing the discus... and something which looks remarkably like beach volleyball I think the encounters with wild animals were probably more exciting There was so much detail! Though sometimes it was hard to work out exactly what they were showing. A carriage drawn by pigeons? This mosaic was showing an aquatic scene... ...and I was rather excited when I spotted a mosaic duck There was so much to see, we could really have spent all day looking at mosaics. The reason there are so many and they are so well-preserved is that the site was covered by a landslide in the 12th century and only rediscovered again in the nineteenth century. I think any other mosaics we go to see are going to be a disappointment after these! It was late afternoon by this point, so eventually we headed back to the car to find somewhere to get lunch. We'd passed a restaurant not far away from the entrance to the mosaics so we headed back there. It was a lovely location to sit outside and eat We both had a dish of tagliatelle ragu with some of pork in it. The sauce was really tasty and it was a nice big portion From there it wasn't far to get to Enna. We were supposed to be staying in a B&B near the centre, but I'd had a message from the owner a couple of days ago saying that due to a technical problem she was going to have to relocate us to a different B&B that she owned. We didn't have a lot of choice in the matter, so said okay, but we weren't quite sure what we were going to find when we got there. We also weren't sure where we were going to be able to park. Enna is a hill town and we ended up having a bit of a nightmare, with Google maps trying to direct us up some very steep and narrow streets, which ultimately proved to be too narrow for our car. Some rather stressful reversing later, we found some flat ground to park the car on and climbed up the hill on foot! When we eventually arrived, the room turned out to be really nice and spacious The lady explained that there was a problem with the plumbing at the other property, hence the change. She was slightly horrified at the way we'd tried to get here, as apparently there's a big wide road we should have taken. I guess Google Maps must have decided that the steep and narrow way was shorter We were rather hot and bothered after our exertions, so decided to sit in the air con and do the blog, saving our exploration of Enna for tomorrow!
  2. Tim

    Evening 5: Naro

    Clare worked hard to bring you today's blog and then after a day of 35-degree heat and accummulated sand needed a bath, so I had plenty of time to do some reading. It's a shame that I'm so slow at it though; I'm two pages from finishing so will get there before lights out! Having moved our car from its temporary location to the square recommended by our host earlier (and having conquered again the one-way system and streets which were narrower than the car), I had noticed how pretty the yellow stone looked illuminated by the streetlights and suggested to Clare that we nip out for a stroll. Just standing in the doorway, we were treated to a sight: And our street was very pretty too: After a couple of minutes, we passed our hire car: We knew we'd hit the local hub when the street became wide enough to accommodate cars in each direction. There were a couple of cafes open but I quite liked the sight of a pizzeria on the street corner because there was lots of empty space. We ordered a jug of wine and a large beer: I was feeling a little peckish so ordered a burger. The server called it a 'Luxembourger', which confused me, until I realised on the second occasion that she was saying 'deluxe hamburger'. It was big: So big, in fact, that I couldn't fit it into my mouth. It was sliding all over the place, most of it finishing on my hands and face. Fortunately the waitress had seen it all before and brought me out a stash of serviettes. There was an unfortunate moment when a freak blow of wind blew up the paper sheet she'd added as a second tablecloth, which began a chain reaction starting with an empty beer bottle toppling into a wine glass, the contents of which spilled, with the result that a poor ant which we initially believed had drowned was a few minutes later zig-zagging across the table. We chatted for a while and then I asked for the bill: 10.50€! Yet again, we'd benefitted from paying the price the locals do by speaking the language! I'm not sure it's much of financial return on the hours invested but I always love it when it happens. We then had a slow walk home, culminating in the lovely yellows on our door step: Today was a busy day with lots of road driven and a few towns stopped in. Tomorrow promises to be much easier. Because there's less on the agenda, we didn't have any qualms in accepting the offer of a post-breakfast guided tour from our host for tomorrow. Fingers crossed I'll have finished my book by then.
  3. The place we were staying in in Ragusa last night was a bed and breakfast, but we weren't entirely sure what was happening with the breakfast. When we woke up this morning, we found it had been laid out for us in the communal kitchen outside our room. It was a very sweet breakfast, featuring croissants and chocolate cake Once we'd finished stuffing ourselves, we went out for a walk to see Ragusa in the morning sunshine. The view towards Ragusa Superiore was much better in this light We walked along the narrow street towards the cathedral again. The cathedral looked beautiful with the blue sky behind it. We hadn't realised when we booked to stay in Ragusa that some of the Montalbano TV series is filmed here. We found one of the views from the show, but I don't think I can quite pull off Montalbano's look We had time before we checked out to walk a bit further through the town, towards the gardens. We passed Ragusa's other church, San Giuseppe. It was already another hot day, so it was nice to get under the shade of the palm trees for a bit... ...and enjoy the views out across the countryside again Then it was back up through the town for a final look at the cathedral before setting off towards our next destination. The main place we were visiting today was Agrigento, but as that was over a two hour drive away from Ragusa, we were planning to break our journey in a seaside town called Licata. As we set off in the car, we had a good view up towards Ragusa Superiore. As you can see in this photo, we managed to get stuck in a queue behind Ragusa's tourist train, so we ended up having longer than expected to admire the view It took about two hours to get to Licata in the end and there wasn't much of a view of the sea because there was a port in the way, but it turned out to have a pretty old town. We walked through some gardens... ...where I found an impressively large cactus... ...and then we caught sight of the town's main church in the distance. The church had a beautiful dome, although like everything in Licata it looked a bit faded. Once we were at the church we weren't far from the main street. We had a view from there up towards the castle above the town. We came to a square, with what I assume must have been the town hall. As we'd been walking around we'd been looking for a restaurant to get lunch, but failing to find anything more than a cafe that was open. We eventually found a place just past the town hall, where the waitress told us that they were the only restaurant open in Licata today. We'd just started looking at the menu when she reappeared to say that there was a smell of gas in the kitchen and so they were only able to offer a handful of items on the menu. Luckily this included pizza, so we were fine They didn't have much on offer in the way of pudding, only something called "semifreddo" which we didn't really understand what it was. Tim decided to be brave and order one anyway; it turned out to be a bit like ice-cream, but not quite. As we were walking back to the car after lunch, I caught sight of a thermometer on a pharmacy which confirmed that it really was very hot! From Licata, we continued onwards towards Agrigento, which was another half an hour or so drive. We didn't actually want to visit the town of Agrigento itself, which according to the guidebook isn't terribly attractive, but an archeaological site outside of the town called Valle dei Templi. Although the name suggests a valley of temples, we soon discovered it's actually more of a hill with temples on it After paying €12 each to get in, we climbed a sandy path uphill and soon got our first view of (part of!) a temple. There were originally seven temples at the site, which were constructed by the Greeks in the fifth and sixth centuries BC. Today they are some of the best preserved examples of ancient Greek architecture outside of Greece, although not all of them are still intact. We followed the path past several ruins, with views in the distance towards the modern town of Agrigento. After a while we came to the remains of the temple of Heracles. This one is believed to have been built in the sixth century BC. From there the path proceeded steeply uphill towards the best preserved temple. This is the temple of Concordia. As we got closer we could see how absolutely enormous it is. Here's a picture with me for scale In the distance we could just make out the tantalising remains of another temple, the temple of Juno. Unfortunately it looked like a bit of a trek and we didn't really have time because we'd arranged to be let into our accommodation at 5pm. We turned around and began our walk back down to the car park. I'd definitely like to come back here one day and explore further, although maybe in October when it might not be 35 degrees! As we started driving back onto the main road, we got a final view of the temples Because the guidebook wasn't very complimentary about Agrigento, we're staying overnight in a nearby town called Naro. It took us about 20 minutes to drive there and another 10 minutes to drive around very narrow streets trying to find our apartment! We found it in the end and it's nice and comfortable inside There's a cosy area with a table/chairs and a fridge... ...which then leads into a bedroom that features a bunk bed as well as a double bed. It's got great air con and the wi-fi is working okay. The lady who owns it was very friendly and gave us a bowl of cherry-flavoured granita to cool us down, which was a really lovely surprise We seem to be right next door to the local church and have already heard the bells ringing a couple of times. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they don't start ringing really early tomorrow morning
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