Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Erice, Sicily

This part of our journey was one of the surprises of the trip. One of things we love about Go Ahead Tours is that they stop at places you have never heard about and wouldn't think to stop and see if you were planning this trip on your own. 

Erice is a medieval town perched up high on Mt Erice, 2400 feet above sea level in the province of Trapani in Sicily. The area was conquered in 831 so many of the buildings here date back to that century. 
The drive up to the top of the mountain, and to the city of Erice, takes about a half hour up very steep and windy roads. The view is simply amazing! Every time we would come to a left curve all of us would strain over to the right hand side of the bus to be able to see the incredible views. If you decide to stay in the city there are plenty of wonderful little hotels that would allow you plenty of time to explore and see the wonderful views from the top of the city!
 From the parking area there is a small walk up the path to the walled entrance. The walls do not extend all the way around the city but you will see remnants of them here or there.
 We had a beautiful, sunny day in the 70's. Lovely blue skies added to the beauty of the city. Walking through the archway was like walking back into time. As with many of the places we visited, Erice has kept the buildings carefully so that all is preserved for visitors. 
 When you come through the archway turn left and you will see the bell tower of the Mother Church of Erice. You can actually climb this tower to the top if you are not claustrophobic (like me) or afraid of heights (like my mom). You can now guess we didn't do any climbing! But the view from the ground is quite romantic!
 The church itself is said to be quite stunning inside. A few days before we arrived they had experienced a storm which made part of the roof collapse inside so the doors were locked and the inside off limits to visitors until repairs were made. If you visit make sure to take the opportunity to enjoy the outside and the inside of this church.
The city streets are all you could possibly imagine for a medieval city. We were immediately swept away and back in time.
 I discovered a lot of hidden courtyards which revealed a whole new world of family life and family space from the narrow city streets.

 After I discovered the first courtyard it made me wonder what the homes were like behind all of those big wooden gated doorways. I think this was a way to allow the individual homes to be held safe in case of invasion but now it holds them private for the families now. 
The pathways are not just flat stone. I was charmed by the mosaic patterns of the streets and walkways of Erice. So very beautiful!
 The details on some of the doors, so many I could make up a blog of just door decorations, were usually charming but sometimes they were bizarre. I stood and stared at this one for a long time trying to make out the details...and trying to figure out why they were all mashed together into one door knocker. 
 The charm of these cities is that they pay attention to detail. This door pull isn't really antique. You can buy it on Amazon if you like it. Obviously the bolt lock (with the key in it?) isn't old but the vintage looking pull makes it fit into the overall decor of the city.
 And details abound in this town. Each doorway has some sort of decoration and then the doors also have their own special touches as well. This was just a random alley way that led to a few homes and look how ornate it is!
 My absolute favorite doorway was this one. With it's Juliette balcony, amazing details in marble and in the wood it just swept me away. I love every single detail. And, yes, it's sits on a rather steep hill so there had to be some great determination involved to create this work of art!
 If you turned around, directly around, from that amazing doorway you would be instantly charmed by this tiny cafe. Outdoor cafes are everywhere in Italy (and Europe) and promote the art of people watching while creating businesses, and livings, from the tiny spaces inside the buildings.
 But, before lunch, we had some shopping to do! I'm in love with kitsch. From here I brought home a little, ornately painted, fish. Several of our fellow travelers bought many items and then, when we reached a larger city, shipped them home! I tend to just buy very small items that I can fit into my carry on luggage but we definitely saw travelers who bought quite a bit of the local goods to ship home.
 One of the specialties of Sicily, and of Erice, is Marzipan. This candy confection is made from almonds and sugar or honey.
 It is truly an art form. They can make any shape from this "dough" and the artistry is simply breathtaking. We were given samples of it and, while I consider it too sweet in such a large dose, for my own tastes, many of our fellow travelers loved it. I love the art!
 Here or there on the streets were these great archway decorations. Remember to always look up so you can see the decorations that many miss on the top of these shops and homes.
 My favorite shop was this wine shop. For some reason it just says "Italy" to me. Filled with lots of wonderful bottles of wine, along with many other snacks and foods to go with that wine, this store is just so charming.
 We finally decided to stop for lunch at Rustichella. This little outdoor cafe is located on one of the little squares in Erice. In Europe the restroom availability, and what they look like, is a dicey situation. While we never encountered the floor toilets that we did on mainland Italy, we did find some that were smaller than coat closets. That was not the case here. In Erice we found lovely availability and accommodations for their public toilets. A great travel tip, though we didn't need it here, is to carry tissues with you, just in case. This is a great idea no matter where you travel.
 While we enjoyed our wine we discovered that we had a bit more company than we thought. There were a few cats that lived in the square and they were very happy for our company. This one was still figuring out if we were friendly.
 After ordering I decided to walk the small square to photograph some of the details. You can see electrical wires everywhere here. With buildings built long before electricity was available, they have to run the wires on the outside of the buildings. I found that it doesn't detract from the views.
 I adore the iron work in Italy. Often it's what behind these ornate gates that draws you in. I love the gate but the tiled bench behind it is simply wonderful! (click on the small photo to see the larger version for a better view!)
 Lunch arrived and we were treated to amazing Sicilian pizza! This one, filled with fresh veggies and cheeses, was wonderful.
 Not a veggie lover? That's ok. We had a prosciutto and sausage pizza with fresh shaved Parmesan that was divine as well!
 All of a sudden we were reminded that we were on top of a mountain. Clouds settled on the top of the mountain and enveloped us all in a fog. Our beautiful sunny day was suddenly very cold and misty! While we were cold we didn't really mind the fog. It was such a cool effect!
As we left through the same archway, which was drenched in blue skies and sunshine when we entered just a few hours before, the fog got even deeper! I really wanted to get a photo of the town enveloped in the clouds but by the time we all made it back to the bus and back down the mountain the clouds had moved on and the city was back in sunshine again.

This was such a lovely time and a wonderful way to spend our morning. If you get a chance to explore some of the smaller cities of Sicily I highly recommend taking the time. It was a highlight of our trip. Don't forget to click on the small photos so you can get the larger and better view!

Next week we are onto Siracusa, Sicily. I'll share with you our favorite hotel on this trip as well as our wonderful time on Ortigia Island over the next two weeks!

In the meantime you can always find me on Facebook or on Instagram! See you then!


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