Thursday 19th March. Last night we stayed at what looked like a nice hotel at quite a nice price (!) but were disappointed at the plumbing and the bed. The laundry next door had a two day turnaround so that did not help matters either. Today we pressed on towards Sciacca but by way of a change via mountain roads with recommended good views. The day was almost perfect with only occasional clouds but the long views did have some mist, not the best photography weather but great for sightseeing.
The countryside here is quite beautiful with steep mountains and wide flattish valleys. Wherever possible it is productively farmed and the valleys have vineyards in large solid blocks, lemon and orange groves covered in brightly coloured fruit, cherry and plum trees covered in fluffy pink and white blossom and masses of regimented olive and almond trees chequer boarding the scene. Now and again the ground is more suitable for cereal crops or even grass for sheep especially on the higher steep ground. But the most surprising thing is the profusion of flowers growing in the verges, between the crops and in any available space. From marigolds, thistles and daisys to flowering cacti and holyhocks they were all there. What is it like in summer? The villages and towns seem to take the mountain tops where crops might not grow but this means that the little narrow streets are a nightmare for us namby pamby British chaps. We also felt a little concerned when traversing the mountain roads, some would say tracks, and finding whole sections of the road had dropped maybe 6 to 9 inches. The effect could be likened to driving down one kerb and up another just 10 feet apart. The other scenario that again gave Judy kittens was to be driving on the outside of a bend and finding that the side of the road including the edge barrier had slid down the mountain. Well as the Italians say che sera, sera or was that Doris Day.
Our best moment was, however, when we entered Cianciana and were stopped by a very well dressed lady holding a silver tray followed by a large group of well dressed gentlemen also carrying silver trays with important looking chains around their necks. They were then followed by a corps of drums and then by a brass band. A Rotary convention? They stopped around our open windows chattering and making with the hands in the true Sicilian manner. When they determined that we were English a very distinguished gentleman was summoned, the village interpreter! He then told us that this was their villages Saints day and they were there to celebrate him and as we were lost he would put us on the right track. When we said we were not lost and showed him Norah he was mightily put out and marched off. The lady explained that the town was decorated and to look for the table in front of the church. The whole village was truly well decorated with very light painted wooden frames covered in large fairy lights and would have looked magical once the daylight had faded. The table in the town centre on the steps of the church was full to overflowing with all the produce that they were thanking the saint for. A magnificent harvest festival that the whole village celebrated together. In fact there were so many people that it took some time to get through.
We loved our mountain trip and will do another very soon. On now to Sciacca a large seaside town that no one without a map and local guide should try to drive through. Even Norah got lost in the one way systems and dead ends. Here we visited a supermarket and Salvatore took us in hand. He had lived in Watford for four years and felt it incumbent on him to find us accommodation. His mate had a holiday villa with three bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and terrace overlooking the sea and we took it. He then sent us to an internet point where we sent our last epic from. The laundry we missed out on thinking an autolavamat would answer our prayers but it only washed cars!!!