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Tue Oct 07 2014: Greek Ruins in Italy

As we leave the Val di Noto, we visit another one of the Baroque towns on our way out. Scicli (pronounced Chick-Lee) is only a few kms away from the farm that we were staying at.

Tan brown buildings of Scicli greet us

The church of St. Bartholomew is the centerpiece of the town

Our AirBnB hosts told us that although not as well-known or as popular as Noto or Modica, Scicli is perhaps more picturesque and accurately reflects what Mediterranean life might have looked like on the Sicilian coast 150 years ago. Lots of Italian TV program and movies are filmed here for just that reason.

I liked the towns in Val di Noto because they didn't need to slap on pastel paint
on all the buildings to make them look appealing to tourists

Because Scicli is built in the V of two different valleys, there are many places you can walk up to get some nice views of the town

Another point of interest are the Chiarafura Caves, which are carved out of the rocks of the hills overlooking the town. I don't know when they were actually built, but they say that the poor people in the area inhabited these dwellings as recently as the 1950s. We tried to visit a few as they are part of an archaeological exhibit, but the entrance looked like it had been closed for a while, probably a victim of budget cuts?

Close-up of the cave dwellings above the Baroque buildings of Scicli

View of Scicli as we were riding away

From Scicli, we rode down to the southern shore of Sicily and tried to hug the coastline as much as possible as we headed westwards. Neda, being a flora and fauna buff, pointed out all the olive tree orchards we passed by. In a lot of areas, the roads were narrow and in poor condition, reflecting the neglected nature of the island. Once again, waves of deja vu rushed over me, as if we were riding back in Latin America.

Agrigento, outside the Valley of Temples. Our free parking spree in Europe continues!

The ruins of the Valley of the Temples stand high atop a hill overlooking the city of Agrigento. This is one of the things I really wanted to see in Sicily, so we gladly paid the €10 entrance fee and ran into the park like little kids rushing into Disneyland.

Valley of the Temples is kind of a misnomer - the ruins are situated on a ridge overlooking Agrigento

When I was a kid, three things scared the crap out of me: 1) Poltergeist, the movie, 2) Pet Sematary, the novel by Stephen King, and 3) Medusa, the snake-haired Gorgon who turned men to stone with her gaze. Despite the latter, I devoured all the books I could find about Greek mythology, read all the stories about the jealous and philandering gods and their heroic half-mortal offspring. Images of Ancient Greece filled my child-hood fantasies as I pictured myself slaying three-headed dogs and one-eyed giants.

Temple of Concord

There are seven temples in the area all in differing states of preservation. Most were built around the 5th century BC. The Temple of Concord is the most-well preserved and is considered one of the best examples of Greek architecture even though it's in Italy. This really brought home the fact that the geopolitical lines on today's maps are just a current snapshot and territorial disputes (Ukraine, anyone?) constantly move and blur the borders over time.

Sitting in front of the Temple of Hera

Temple of Juno. I always pictured Greek temples as being made of white marble!

Temple of Hercules

Greece has always been on our bucket-list of places to visit, so it was the highlight of our visit in Sicily and a bit of an advanced screening to see these Greek ruins here in Italy. This whole trip has been about making my inner kid jump up and down with glee!

Town of Grotto

Accommodations in Agrigento were a bit too expensive for us, since the Valley of the Temples is one of the most visited sites in Sicily. We found a cheap place, again via AirBnB, about 20 kms to the north in the sleepy town of Grotte.

Old Sicilian men gathering in the square in Grotte

Paolo and Lucie were our AirBnB hosts, and they took us out for drinks when we first arrived in Grotte. We thought that was really nice of them, so we invited them over for a home-cooked meal. As Neda was preparing dinner, I told her she was very brave to attempt making pasta for an Italian. Her eyes widened. The pressure was on her now!

Thankfully, the meal passed muster. Paolo told us that the most difficult part of perfecting pasta dishes was not the sauce but the consistency of the pasta. Most people overcook the pasta and that it should be slightly al dente.

Paolo and Lucie over for dinner

It was really nice getting to know them over dinner, and the conversation was very interesting because Paolo doesn't speak English, just Italian and Spanish. Obviously, I only speak English and a little Spanish. Lucie is from the Czech Republic and only speaks Czech, English and Italian. So between us, Neda was the only one to speak all the languages. It was like a UN conference, all of us switching languages and translating to communicate with one another. It was all made easier as the night wore on and the bottle of home-made red wine that Paolo brought with him disappeared.

Lucie was very interested in trying her Czech with Neda to see the similarities with Croatian. It seemed she missed speaking her mother tongue.

I know now that there are many different dialects of Italian, and some regions are so different that someone from another part of the country wouldn't even be able to understand the regional differences in speech. Since my Italian is not so good, the only thing I picked up was that Sicilians pronounce spaghetti: "Schpagetti".

A very entertaining evening!

Scala dei Turchi (Stairs of the Turks)

On Paolo's recommendation, we rode back down to Agrigento the next day to check out the Scala dei Turchi, a rock formation right on the coast. It draws a lot of attention because of it's made of a white rock called Marl. From a distance, it looks like it's made out of marble! This is what they should have built the temples with!

We found a nice spot right on the edge overlooking the Mediterranean Sea

Here we were, sitting on the southern shores of Sicily, having traveled the entire length of Italy. Bare feet on the warm rocks of the Scala, and looking out towards Africa only two hundred kms away, it was nice time to reflect on our journey while soaking up some UV light while it lasted!

The striations in the white rock made of limestone and mud were very photogenic

Did you know it's against the law to take any the Marl rock away from the Scala? Thieves face a €500 fine!

The white is so dazzling in the afternoon sun, you need sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare

A great spot for wedding photos!

Greetings from the south of Sicily! Where to now, Neda?

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