Tag Archive | villages

Sizzling Sicily part 2

We arrived in Trapani to our best stay of the whole trip. As we drove up to the Air bnb I was a bit nervous. The area of the city looked a little run down and slummy. It was about 15 minutes drive from the historic centre and did not look promising. The actual street was narrow, but I had already checked with our hostess that free street parking was available (always a big issue in Sicily). I had Whatsapped the hostess 30 minutes before arrival and she was outside waving at us and showing us where to park. What was hidden behind the modest exterior was astounding. The spacious apartment with fully equipped kitchen was quite lovely. But the glorious garden with fruit trees and tortoises roaming around was just delightful.

Teresa showed us how to use the a/c , the hot water boiler, the mosquito zapper,and directed us to the nearest minimarket, 5 minutes walk away. Everything was perfect. And all this was achieved through Google translate, she didn’t know a word of English.

After settling in and walking round to the store to get stuff for supper and breakfast we went into Trapani centre to have a mosey around. The centre was about 15 minutes from the air bnb, and there was paid parking on the main square. We found a lovely little , mostly pedestrianized old city full of lovely churches and surrounded by sea views. It was very quiet but there was a long main street with restaurants and coffee bars, and it was all much less touristy than the other cities we had visited. We enjoyed it very much.

 

The following day we drove to the interesting Salt Museum about 20 minutes drive south along the coast from Trapani. It was quite interesting, with a good English guide who described the process of anicent salt harvesting and transportation to the mill. It was staggering to think that workers had to transport the salt in baskets on their heads in sweltering heat. We could hardly stand up it was so hot!

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Salt fields

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Salt Museum

 

The next day we walked to the Funivia station (about 20 minutes away ) to take the Cable car up to visit Erice, a medieval town which is on the hill overlooking Trapani.

The views were wonderful, and despite the heat , a short walk around Erice and the gardens was quite lovely.Not surprisingly, considering the heat, the place was almost deserted. The most impressive part was the view of Trapani from the Gardens and the view of the castle, which didn’t look worth visiting inside, but the outside was great.

 

In the evening we went back to walk around Trapani again and said it farewell, as the next day we were continuing ( a little regretfully) on to Palermo.

To say that I was disappointed in Palermo would be an understatement. The capital of the island, a city full of history, and beautiful buildings, I found it to be dirty beyond belief. We had seen mounds of plastic bags full of garbage strewn all along the highways, especially in the rest areas, all around Sicily. But driving in to Palermo we felt the pollution reached a new high. After walking around the streets for one day, my sandals were covered in mud, and I really don’t know where it came from. The buildings down town were indeed beautiful, but the overall feel of the city was not overly welcoming. I don’t know why this was exactly, but it felt as we had felt in Catania but there we had not spent a lot of time. I did enjoy the area around the Cathedral, but otherwise I don’t feel that my photos really convey how I felt about the city. We took a one hour tourist train around and saw little of interest. The main pedestrian drag also was not overly fascinating, despite being packed with great architecture and tons of churches. Maybe in the winter time it has more to offer. The Norman Palace (we did not venture inside) is of course a wonderful building. The Catacombs were gruesomely fascinating. These are my main impressions of Palermo, where we spent only two nights.

After two nights in Palermo we continued on to another faboulous stay at Villa Rosa b and b in the village of Castelbuono. This place was maybe even more wonderful than Trapani. The view reminded us a lot of the Galilee or the Jerusalem hills. Lots of olive trees and vines dotted the hillsides. The house itself was divine, with a hill view and a beautiful garden where we had the most amazing breakfast of our 18 day stay. Rosanna ( who spoke French) made us home made croissants, with home made lemon and pumpkin jam, omelettes with home grown herbs and everything was just perfectly serene.

In the evening we drove into the village of Castelbuono to have a pizza. Big mistake. The thing that had worried me was finding the turning back into Villa Rosa at night. I took a screenshot, I noted it on the map etc. The thing I had not foreseen was that driving out of Castelbuono was impossible! The Google Map navigation took us around and around the village and twice took us into a no entry street. The second time a woman who was trying to drive out of the street, stopped and, despite having no English attempted to help us find the way home. She called someone on the phone who spoke English. He directed me to the highway by way of the cemetery. Apparently because of the one way system and the narrow alleyways you have to drive below the village to then drive above the village, if you see what I mean. Anyway we eventually made it back.

After only one night at this wonderful place we continued on to the last leg of our trip, Milazzo.

I had booked 3 nights at Milazzo because one full day was intended to be a trip to the active volcano of Stromboli, on the island nearby, which is reached by taking a full day boat trip (until at least 11pm) . I booked a place with a pool so we could also relax after the walking we had done in the heat. On the way to Milazzo we passed stunning coastal scenery, including the town of Cefalu and the amazing vistas at Castellamare Del Golfo.

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Castellamare del Golfo

In the event, we decided that 70 Euro a head for the day trip to schlepp around some other islands in 35 C to wait for Stromboli to erupt was not really what we felt like doing. Imagine my amazement when after returning home, my friend informed me that the exact day we had intended to go (there was only one possible day available) was the day of a huge eruption which killed one climber, and caused vacationers to jump into the sea to escape the steaming lava!  I am so happy that we decided to spend that day lounging by a pool (with no other guests) eating and reading. So we concluded our Sicily tour without seeing either Etna or Stromboli in all their glory, but with many fine experiences and memories. Hope you enjoyed this. Stay tuned for Japan in November!

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Trip to Yongding- the Hakka Tulou villages

Trip to Yongding Hakka Earth houses (TULOU)

 

This was a trip I had been wanting to do for ages,but which got postponed because of the hospital trip(see previous post). We decided to go with two student friends of ours Sue and Echo who don’t study at our university but are English majors from nearby Jimei University.

We met up with them at the BRT station to go downtown to the Hubin Nan Lu bus station where we got a bus to the village of Hukeng,a trip of 3 and a half hours through progressively more picturesque scenery hillsides dotted with villages, persimmon trees,and tea terraces. On arrival in Hukeng we were met by Stephen,the guest house owner who was holding a sign with “DAN” written on it!

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inside the guest house

Stephen explained that we had to buy entrance tickets to the village,which is a preserved Unesco heritage site,and then took us on two motorbikes (3 people on each) to the village and his Fuyulou Changdi Inn where we had booked two rooms. The guest house building is 130 years old,and built in traditional Hakka style. There is a central courtyard surrounded by rooms on three levels.This would have been shared by several different families. There are apparently thousands of these houses in the area,but nowwadays many of the Tulou houses (made of earth) are empty,or inhabited by only one or two families who maintain them as the children have moved to the city. The whole of the surrounding area is used for cultivating tea,rice,persimmons,and other different fruits and vegetables.

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Tulous from above

After checking in,Stephen gave us a map of the village. The plan was to walk around the village for the rest of the day and the following morning we would have a car and driver to take us to visit the surrounding villages and see different styles of Tulou houses. Some are round and some square,but the basic idea is the same,an earthen house with several floors and shared by several families,who use the communal area in the middle to cook,sell stuff and generally hang out.

The village was serene and relaxing,with the houses dotted along the length of a river. There were many tea houses, and huge fat chickens running around everywhere. After eating a great lunch of local Hakka food at the guest house,We walked around the village,and found a temple area where the girls explained the important families had tombs. We also went to a tea house where we sat for a long time with the tea grower who filled and refilled our cups. His great grandfather had originally built the house,and had been a fighter in the Kuomintang. We also bought something which Sue described as a “tea pet”.I thought she meant “teapot” but she was insistent. Itis a small animal made of artificial jade (mine is a frog) used to check if the tea water is hot. When you pour water onto it,it changes colour.

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Hukang village and countryside

In the evening we saw dancing outside in a square,returned to to the guest house where we met a group of Russians from the far eastern part of Russia. One said his grandfather was Jewish,and another said he was Jewish himself ,from Birobidjan,and that his brother was a teacher of Yiddish in New York.

We went to bed as we had an early start in the morning.

The next day we set off at 7.30 in a minivan with 3other people and the driver Mr. Wu, to tour the area.

The other people were Mike,a young guy from Hong Kong and a retired couple from Beijing whose names we don’t know as they didn’t speak any English. We drove to a number of different tulou villages and admired the scenery. It was very peaceful and pleasant. We stopped to pick persimmons on one hillside. The whole day was highly relaxing and enjoyable.Some tulous were huge,and some smaller. All had the same basic design of tiered floors made of wood,walls of earth and a central area. We had lunch in a village restaurant, in the traditional Chinese way of sharing all the dishes,and we shared the bill to treat Mr Wu the driver. We saw the last “King of Tulous” which I found disappointing and overcrowded,full of tourists and too many people selling trinkets. It had cost an extra 25RMB each,and I would recommend skipping it. Its supposed attraction is that it has over 200 rooms .But I found other tulous more atmospheric and interesting. At 3pm we got the bus station to return to Xiamen which dropped us at a different bus station but fortunately Sue figured out how to get to the BRT station to go home.

Old lady inside Tulou