Woke early in a sweat! OMG! I am going to drive a car in Sicily! I must be insane; whatever possessed me to dream up an idea like that!
After breakfast we walked for a last time down the Via Roma and noticed that it was quieter today, perhaps because last nights revellers were still in bed nursing hangovers. The streets were already impressively clean so the local council had obviously been working hard throughout the night. We arrived at the Piazza Giulio Cesare and missed the bus to the airport by just ten minutes. That gave me further thirty minutes worrying time while we waited for the next one in the railway station bar (nowhere else was open).
Once on the bus we slipped out of Palermo as it was beginning to wake up, first through the faded elegance of the city centre and then through the middle class suburbs with streets and streets of unattractive apartments which looked as though they had been put up in a hurry at a time when neither style or good design was considered especially important.
A short distance out of the City was the town of Mondello, which was busy preparing for Sicily’s untidiest town contest. (A bit like Britain in Bloom, but without the flowers and without the clear up). I was so pleased that we didn’t go there yesterday. The streets were grimy and strewn with litter discharged from overflowing rubbish bins and the fly-tipping was appalling, especially in one natural gorge which the residents clearly use as an open landfill site for all manner of old scrap including cars and redundant kitchen white goods. What a mess! This place clearly stands a very good chance of winning the competition.
There was little improvement outside of the town and on the beach that was adjacent to the road. It was scruffy and crowded and the scrubby sand was lined with tatty beach houses. It was filling up quickly though and I noted with consternation that the road was very busy indeed with Palermitani flooding out of the city for a day at the seaside.
Hiring the car was straight forward enough except I wasn’t sure whether to be delighted or delirious when the clerk allocated us a brand new Mitsubishi hatchback with only six kilometres on the clock. Usually when hiring a car I robustly decline the invitation to buy the additional insurance packages but on this occasion I decided that it was probably a sensible option and I gleefully signed up for maximum comprehensive cover.
We collected the car and drove out of the airport and onto A29 heading west, first of all clinging to the coast and then swinging inland and south towards the interior of the island. I immediately adopted my Mary Poppins driving style, which I save for motoring in Europe, and settled down in the inside lane and well within the maximum speed limit for the road. Once again we were trying the driving in an unfamiliar place without an adequate plan routine and we were relying on an A4 photocopied map of the entire island so this made navigation somewhat difficult due to the total absence of any helpful detail.
Predictably under Kim’s instructions we took the wrong option for our intended destination at a motorway intersection and found ourselves travelling further south than we should have been.
The countryside was much more attractive than I had imagined it would be with sweeping green fields full of ripening crops, wooded hillsides and tall majestic cypress trees standing proud and defying the intense midday heat.
Just off of the motorway was the town of Salemi, which was where Garibaldi proclaimed himself ruler of Sicily in 1860, and which the guidebook assured us was worth a visit. Sometimes, let’s face it, guidebooks exaggerate and this was one of those occasions because after a long climb up a steep hill the place was closed and there was nothing especially attractive or appealing about it so we returned down the steep hill and by chance picked up directions along a minor road to where we really wanted to go, the ancient Greek ruins at Segesta.
Along the way we took a detour to an elevated war memorial with excellent views over the pastoral Sicilian countryside and we stayed for a while enjoying this peaceful moment. This was in complete contrast to the hectic and noisy city and it was good.