Sicilia – The What, the Where and the How (Part 1)

Route_1A

4.078 km = 1.737 km München – Capo Milazzo + 1.662 km Siclia Φ + 680 km Palermo – München

Let’s start with the base line: It is so worth it! Every km, every moment. Sicilia is a wonderful destination that offers you almost everything. Except for good surfing conditions, but that is another story of another holiday.

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Perfect vanlife, even without being even

With Martina, I joined two weeks of a fantastic road trip. We followed the sun and the cultural attractions, we tasted local delicacies in all kinds of restaurants and faint sulphur smell on the volcanos. We shared Hector’s space, doubts where to find the next bus stop and wine with a view.

The peak of the entire trip was the peak of Stromboli: Lucky us, we were spontaneous and in time for perfect conditions, five weeks before an unusual strong eruption caused death and danger. We are grateful for our harmless, yet impressive-as-hell experience on top of the volcano.

Apart from that, every day and every place offered various highlights:

(1) Kaltern am See: Nice region, especially with good weather. We compensated endless rain with good company and tasteful dinner (special greetings to Michael!).

Day2

Happy Feet, Heading South

(2) Baia Domizia: Probably a boring place with a neat campsite. After 24 hours constant rain, we worshipped bright skies and sea view. Price: 31,60 € for 1 Hector + 2 Ladies.

(3) Tropea: Beach, a relaxed campsite (18,- € and well-located) and the first of the most beautiful sunsets during the trip, accompanied by wine and snacks and the view towards Stromboli.

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(4) Capo Milazzo: Arriving on Sicilia! Camping Riva Smeralda might have seen better days in the late 80ies, however, it is the ideal starting point for an excursion to the Aeolian Islands. With sunny weather, low expectations and with 20,- € (per night) you can enjoy sea view all over.

Day4

Camping Riva Smeralda, Capo Milazzo

(5) Stromboli: Terrific!!! Count in at least 4 hours on the boat, 40,- € for a charming bed & breakfast and unconventional volcano guides. Most people tend to see everything on Sicilia except for the Stromboli – what a mismatch, given that it has been the outstanding sensation of the journey.

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(6) Taormina: Hector is well-located on Camping Paradise at Letojanni (23,73 €/night) while the crew is well-located in the general setting of Taormina – ancient theatres, vivid city streets and mouth-watering restaurants included.

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Happy Travel Girls at Taormina

(7) Siracusa: Not the simple parking (20,- €), but the famous peninsula Ortigia seemed worn-out at first. Hour by hour, though, it turns out to be interesting, old, young, touristic, vivid and delicious.

Siracusa

Siracusa

(8) Noto: Public bus transport is a bit of an adventure between Camping Sabbiadoro (28,80 €/night) and Noto. The baroque town of Noto is all worth it, including a cathedral and further churches, food and arts. If you think that Avola might be fine for a stop over: it is not and we are proud having it found out all on our own.

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Noto

(9) Etna + Catania: Hard, very hard to catch a cloudless day on the 3.000 m peak. Although we failed on that part, we still claim being the lucky ones as we decided against an overnight-stay on the 2.000 m parking at Etna Sud – we would have been shaken with the eruption happening a mere three hours later. Instead, we can confirm that even outside of Catania downtown they have fantastic seafood!

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Etna

…more to come in Part 2

Monreale

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Three weeks on Sicilia. Uncounted Baroque buildings, ancient ruins, mosaic tiles, cliffs and nature. You tend to believe that you have seen everything.

Then you reach Monreale.

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Welcme to the Cathedral Monreale

Where to look first? At the ceiling! And the biblical stories that spread in golden mosaic over the main nave. Ahead of the storyboard, sunlight falls through high windows, embracing the oversized Jesus in gleaming colours.

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I let my eyes wander along the inner walls and it is like reading a delicious comic version of the bible. There are Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and all legends of the Christian scripture. My favourite series show the embarking of the ark, where people and animals gather together in that tiny mobile home.

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Hard to tell which facet wins the excess of attractions: Richness? Artistry? Storytelling? I dare to say that the composition of it all is unique.

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Monreale is not just an architectural leftover, representing glory days. It is a well-used church, with praying nuns among the tourists and with a fairy tale wedding the very same afternoon. It is a pity that some of the tourists show a profound lack of sensitivity when visiting a holy building in funny raincoats. (Note from the author: Some people consider themselves being clever using a knee-long raincoat as “decent clothing” to cover bare shoulders and legs inside the church. Just guessing, but they might have sources in a North-Western land, separated from Europe by the Atlantic ocean.) I look at Jesus in the cupola and think he probably dislikes it as well.

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I crisscross through the cathedral, admiring everything around. A part to the left is virtually separated from the rest by an additional entrance control. No extra fee gets charged, yet the control works as a filter that separates interested visitors from others.

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Happy Feet on Holy Ground

Art and beauty is almost exaggerated here and it begins at the feet: Stone mosaic covers the ground with a certain base pattern, but inch by inch with different interpretations of it.

The beauty in this aisle exceeds the main nave and it is on the edge of being overloaded.

 

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2019_06_12_A6cI wave goodbye to Ezechiel and the other prophets as I turn towards another ticket counter in the rear part of the church. For some Euros extra, I enter a narrow staircase that leads up and left and straight and up until the corridor spits me out on a small platform. The cathedral, the view on Palermo and on the landscape, the cloister beneath – once more I stare around, stunned with beauty.

With entry charge and the dark, tiny stairs that lead up here, few other tourists reach the small balcony. The access only works for a small percentage of visitors: those who are curious. And slim.

While the stromboli has been the outstanding highlight of our trip, Monreale is the perfect conclusion to it.

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Peaceful and Calm

Palermo, right around the corner of Monreale, will be a good reason for future visits on this wonderful island. For this afternoon, I am fine with the choice of cafés around the (now closed) cathedral, spending my time lazily until it is time to get Hector on the ferry.

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Cefalú II

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Back to where we belong

Three-and-a-half-days until the ferry will carry us back North. I could use the time and cross off my list all outstanding highlights: Trapani, hikes through national parks, Erice, rivers and ravines. Instead, I get back to my favourite spot with Hector’s rear tires almost getting wet and salty.

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Déjà vu? Wonderful Remake!

Lazy but sporty days are up: admire the golden morning light with a first coffee. Then find some place close to one of the campsite’s WiFi spots and lay down the yoga mat.

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After about 30 minutes online-yoga session, I add some handstand kick-ups as a direct consequence from the Scala dei Turchi, aiming to pimp future tourist pictures. The rest of the day is a mixture of meals (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and a bit in between) and sun-vs-sea.

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Place to be: my Bay

With so much relaxation, I could do with some company. Lucky me that I am down at the “base level area” of camping Sanfilippo, with rough ground instead of neat gravel and with hippie travellers instead of RV campers. A chat here, a warm welcome there, motorbike talks with young tent campers and quiet evenings – so far, so good. The only thorn in my flesh is the driver of a white VW van who stays next to my Hector with two young sons. He is so much of a lookalike to “my bartender” (a dear friend for years) that I wonder what to do first: a) Order a cocktail or b) Give him a kiss? I try do play it decent and invite him over to a glass of wine for my last evening. It is around 11 PM when I realize that most probably he will not show up anymore. Anyway, at this point the wine bottle has not much left to offer…

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Then the next morning…

The next morning, I feel awkward. For about 30 minutes. Then I pick up my regular yoga routine, ending it on the beach today with some last handstand trials. Having exercised the kick-ups for a mere three days, it comes as a nice surprise (even for me) when I manage to get up easily and stand straight upside-down for 2-3 seconds before falling over light as a feather. How cool!! I jump around, all excited, find somebody to take a video from the sensation, and grin widely at the world.

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Tadaaah! That’s where I get after 3 Days of Training

Minutes later, I find a confirmation mail on my smartphone, telling me that I successfully applied for two reserved tables at the Wiesn (“Oktoberfest”). All out of a sudden it becomes obvious: That Karlsuhe-daddy-guy with his hilarious, brand-new VW car (ever heard of Diesel-Skandal, how dare you still drive that one?!), he will certainly rack his brain for days and years, wondering why he has let it slip away, that great opportunity of good wine in best company. A girl with 2 Wiesn-tables and the skills for a neat handstand – is there anything more you could ever ask for? Yeah, see!

All in a good mood now, I pack my belongings and get Hector ready to go, while every now and then people come by for last greetings, a warm good-bye or help with renitent marquee pegs . With a light sigh I leave my wonderful bay behind…

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So long and thanks for all the Fish

>> Next Destination

San Vito lo Capo

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Expectation = Rough, yet Romantic Ccoast with Concrete Platforms for Swimmers

Some places look wonderful on pictures. Even on the map. And descriptions point out the wonderful setting of a simple campsite at the shore with a nice village close by. Then you arrive and it is – different.

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Reality = Uninviting for Activity in the Sea

With 37°C, I arrive at San Vito lo Capo and start learning. First, the campsite I have been looking for does not exist anymore. However, the very same GPS address once shared by two campsites now leads to the survived one = Camping Village El Bahira. It looks like old camper places have been abandoned. Which is a pity as they have been located close to the sea – and which is comprehensible as they had been very small and very basic, worse than most simple camper parkings. There is no real sea view from the remaining camper slots, so being close to the shore does not get you the expected buenavista. Next learning is about the “beach”: It is a dry and sun-burned mixture of gravel, stones and outworn deck chairs.

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Not my Kind of Beach

At least I manage to get the spot closest to the pool and with a bit of body work there is even a glimpse on the distant sea.

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So this is our View for the next Days

The plan was to spend some relaxed days here, surrounded by beautiful nature and the village of San Vito lo Capo. During Thursday afternoon, I am fine with the pool and it’s reasonable size. I swim and show off with experienced style, getting me in touch with the pool attendant. He is a typical young Sicilian with the typical accent, meaning I hardly understand anything he says. It sets limits to our conversation, as there only is a small overlap of Sicilian language to the Italian I once learned in Liguria. I try my best to give senseful replies to what I interpret as questions from his side, accompanied by a helpless smile as faint coverage of my cluelessness.

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What you see is a nice Pool. What you don’t see is the Colour Change in my best Bikini after 45 minutes in it’s Water

In the evening, the view from the restaurant close to the pool is wonderful, while my next learning is: Today is Thursday. The restaurant is closed on Thursday. The only option is the pizzeria, but no, they do not have gluten-free pizza. Fortunately, I got several packages of potato chips – before I leave this place, I will have eaten up all 3 of them.

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Friday comes and with it the arrival of the weekenders: all around me, resident campers appear out of the blue and take over – everything. It is not only that all caravans to my left and to my right are now inhabited by families. It is the fact that each family owns several places and I happen to be in the middle of them like a foreign body. The pool is no place for sports anymore, it has become an immense playground for kids of all ages, chasing one another and swimming around the legs of their chatting grannies. Still, I am grateful. It would be worse being a family member of those strident 10-12 heads-parties, but perhaps it feels more natural when you are born into that kind of life.

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Making my Way

Time to go! Knowing that all campgrounds will be full with weekend families by now, I flee by foot, making my way on a small path that seems to lead to San Vito “downtown”. Temperatures reach solid 38° these days and the distance is slightly exceeding my expectation. However, it is nice to be all alone and silent here and even the landscape develops a certain charm.

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In the early afternoon, I reach the beach of San Vito lo Capo.

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Central Beach of San Vito lo Capo

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so best is to look out in the blue of the shimmering water or towards the lighthouse.

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Now, isn’t it Beautiful?

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Same same, but Different

Looking at it from another angle, the white sand is hardly visible beneath all the deck chairs and parasols and thousands of people. I leave the crowded beach behind and try out several bars and cafés. First try: beverages, food, it is all there, at least on the menu. After 30 minutes of waiting for a waiter, I give up and try the café next door. No food, just ice cream – seems like San Vito works best with an unhealthy life style. Being a brave girl, I give in and enjoy ice cream, coffee and Campari-Soda. All with the aim to bundle my forces for the 4,5 km way back.

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San Vito, Downtown

I look around some more, but do not feel like spending the evening here. The town is okay, but not as inviting as Cefalú. It is all very focussed here: 2 or 3 streets close to the beach, the promenade + the small line of sand take in all inhabitants from Sicily’s inlands, at least on weekend days. The rest of the town fades out with hardly anything to offer, so due to the lack of appealing restaurants, I skip my plans of wonderful seafood and turn back to another round of potato chips with Hector.

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>> Hello sheep!<<  >>määähhh!<<

The return route is familiar and nice in the warm light of the late afternoon. I greet the sheep along the way, enjoy the calm and the panorama, and decide to design my last Sicilian days a bit more thoroughly. I abandon the idea of a daily trip to Trapani (39°C and it will be overcrowded even without me and my van) and instead look forward to my favourite place on this island.

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The resumé of San Vito is that I might have been better on another campsite. However, I can easily accept that there are places that touch you with beauty and comfort (Scala dei Turchi with it’s sosta camper, Cefalú with the small bay) and others that don’t. Over all, I prefer independent or alternative places, where people are more travellers than (resident) campers.

>> Next Destinaion

Agrigento

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Phoenix (already fallen) and Concordia (front – or back?)

Taxi services, parking fees and all kinds of souvenir shops mark the importance of a touristic site. Agrigento certainly ranges among the top 5 on cruise ship’s standard scale, but that is only one out of two reasons for early-bird-sightseeing. The second reason is the topography of the areal. Already at 10:00 AM = opening hour, the sun heats up the shadow-less terrain to 30°C (still rising) and I note a cross-correlation of temperature vs. cultural ambitions.

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Anyway, I am here, it is culture and hence I clench my teeth and make my way to Roman buildings and their leftovers. It is similar to Paestum, yet more fallen apart.

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The site is vast. With hardly any trees. And hot. Well, not in the “yeah, hottie!” way, but rather reaching 35°C before 11:00 AM. Most of the former temples are sized down to mere fragments, but even in that state it shows better quality than today’s average rental apartments.

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Quite some stony puzzles to sort out…

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… at least they have the equipment for it!

Eventually I make it to the most outstanding of all: Tempio della Concordia. Sito messaggero della cultura della pace nel mondo. Which means that it is old, important and forbidden to walk in. Fine by me, with the roof long gone it would not offer shades anyway, so why bother.

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Tempio della Concordia (backside – or front?)

While the front looks exactly like the back, the side view shows the substantial size of the building. Must have been important Gods they worshipped in there…

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39,42m – side view on Concordia

When I think back of Paestum and my survey a couple of years ago, I remember that I frankly admired the beautiful architecture, backed up with some accessories and decorations shown in the adherent  museum as well as a bit of description of how life once has been. Here in Agrigento, it looks all dead. Indifferent, I leave it to busses of tourists that start to stroll in and move on to more appealing places.

>> Next Destination

Scala dei Turchi

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Sometimes the way ahead does not lead anywhere. Departing from Villa Del Casale, the navi leads more or less straight towards Agrigento. Like the Princess of the Pea, I favour comfort and hence big roads with Hector, but today the first trial turns out dead end. Typical Sicilian, there is no detour nor early warning, just a blocked road. From 3 possible directions, this has been the best, but flexible as I am I switch to second best. Fifteen minutes later, another road barrier shows up. I study my detailed map of the island and the options are:

  • Main road towards Agrigento: blocked, no way of trespassing
  • A more indirect tour: blocked right in front
  • Go North, then East, then all South, then West. For hours. Honestly??
  • Go back to where I have started and stay there, possibly forever
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Hard to believe and yet: Today’s best Way towards my Destination

Finally, I go for the best option which is ignoring the blockade, circle Hector’s tires around the barrier, marvel at Sicilian’s biggest pothole and, later on, gently wave at the construction workers I pass by. Fortunately, most people accept the disabled road and leave the one and last existing lane to us with hardly any oncoming traffic.

Based on the recommendation of the French couple I met the other day, Hector heads on South. Leaving tiny little mosaic stones behind and approaching massive rocks: Our destination is known as the Scala dei Turchi, which is slightly misleading as it does not refer to Turks but rather to pirates, all named “turchi” in former times and demonstrating ancient preconceptions.

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Favourite Vanlife with an acceptable distance to the Sea

Around noon, Hector rolls on the ground of Punta Piccola Park, a simple and likeable sosta camper at the beach of Porto Empedocle / Realmonte. 2 toilets, 3 showers and space for some dozens of camper vans with sea view. I tend to like those simple but well-located places.

The restaurant right around the corner serves delicious fish, wine, espresso and whatever else you need for your comfort: get out of the sosta’s gateway, turn left, walk max. 50m, get into the restaurant and out to the terrace, ask for fish of the day, enjoy! This being set, I take off my shoes and promenade on the beach for relaxed two kilometres.

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Half-way in between Hector and the Scala dei Turchi

The more I turn West and thus away from industrial Porto Empedocle, the more beautiful is the shore. I give up looking back and continue my way along the coast line.

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View to Porto Empedocle – Wrong Direction

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…but then: Approaching the Scala dei Turchi

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Almost there

Soon enough I spot the white cliff made of soft limestone and a blinding white marl. These days, only the tough reach it, as recent rockfalls required to close a part of the beach. The only way leads through the water stirred up by hundreds of tourist legs and with invisible stones and rocks beneath the feet. A rope indicates the safest passageway where you will always find helping hands of elderly poeple along the queue (or the other way round).

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Once you are there, it is impossible not to pose for Instagram, friends and your own vanity. With the scenery as fantastic as it is, here come the inevitable “bella figura” pictures of the day:

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…and in the opposite direction

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Such a nice and peaceful spot – and then you end up surrounded by tourists!

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See? Without me, it looks entirely boring

I spend quite some time on one of the highest “steps” of the so-called stairway. There is so much to see from here! The changing colours of the sea, all kinds of people passing by and then there is a group of Dutchmen that is keen on showing off with their youth and their muscles. After an hour or two, I turn around and leave this wonderful place behind.

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Just one pity comes with todays excursion: my handstand skills do not match this place. Not yet. It would have been marvellous to pose in a free-floating handstand on top of that glistening white platform. One of the last thoughts before falling asleep that night is: “What if I exercise more focused?”. I wonder if this will get me somewhere someday…

>> Next Destination

 

 

Villa Romana del Casale

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50 Ways to Leave your Lover, much harder to Leave this Bay

It takes days to get me leave Cefalú. One day after the other, I decide to move ahead tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, it comes with yesterday’s repeating: tomorrow… Finally, with my Müsli storage being almost empty and being billed with five nights at Camping Sanfilippo, Hector turns inlands towards Piazza Armerina.

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Bye Bye, Cefalú

Along the way, Sicilia changes it’s appearance: prospering plants fade out and give space to hills coloured in all shades of green and brown. The frequency of villages goes down, leaving it all up to lonely roads and endless landscape.

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First stop of the day is Enna. I find a perfectly legal parking spot for Hector, switch on google maps and start walking towards the centre of this mountain village. Turning right, asking locals, moving on, turning left, checking my cell phone and finally: giving up. I learn that global internet companies fail when it comes to the very south of Europe. Not only that a lot of apps come with worn-out information (if any), the map shown on my little screen indicates that the centre of Enna was located on another hill in 14km of distance. Which, in fact, is not true. Truth is, that I cannot imagine Enna being that attractive and decide to move on towards further destinations.

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Enna. Sort of.

Today is superslim-Hector day. Would he be bigger with just some millimetres more, we might have been stuck in the narrow streets of Enna downtown, where I eventually find the churches, restaurants and cafés I had been looking for. However, it does not look that much exciting or inviting, and with a sigh of relief I continue my way. In the afternoon, we arrive at an overnight camper parking that is highlighted in one of my travel books.

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Sad, so Sad

The place “Agricasale” is strange. And empty. With the latter being true especially for the huge outdoor pool that looks so inviting in my book. With a cold and rainy May, the owners are not yet done with the ready-for-season works. At least, they have stable WiFi and reasonable prices, showers and toilets and electricity and, above all, a lot of nature.

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Dogs run around, making friends with Hector and proving the friendship by peeing in front of my main door. Horses come by, their heads covered in clouds of black flies. In the distance, some sheep hang around and at least they have no intention bothering me – sure enough the opposite is true for the mosquitoes… The place is beyond clear definitions. A hotel? Not really. A camper park? Only as a side business. But besides what? Does the conversation with the owner lead anywhere, circling around free love?? The situation gets a bit less absurd when the RV of a French couple arrives. We sit together with wine and soft drinks and exchange tips and experiences of our Sicilian travel.

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Next day is culture day! Villa Romana del Casale is the touristic hot spot in Sicily’s inland, like the Italian version of Neuschwanstein. Endless floors are covered with all kinds of artful mosaic tiles. Some are just decoration, some tell stories of heroes and glory, of hunters and cruises, beasts and beauties.

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Itty-bitty Tiles, Well-Sorted

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The area, consisting of several buildings (more true: their leftovers), is large. Even in 4th century it must have been a surreal experience to live here. Like inhabiting a temple of arts and craftmanship. Historically, it is a glance on ancient ideals: Fame and beauty were interpreted in a different manner than today’s selfies on Instagram.

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Mental Note for my next Visit: Dress in my best Bikini, Pose for a Selfie right in front!

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Big as an Elephant: Area of Villa Casale

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I manage to be through with all rooms and floors before thousands of tourists arrive. I get a cup of coffee and fancy about cheap mosaic specialists offering their works in the traditional German “Gelbe Seiten”  phone book… Probably I better move on, especially with all extras and unforeseen obstacles that lay in store for me on Sicilia’s roads.

>> Next Destination

 

Cefalú

…then you follow recommendations of people along the way and you end up in a picturesque bay with a dog. In fact, the dog belongs to the girl who takes the picture, but the rest is as it is: just wonderful.

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At, even: in! my wonderful bay close to Cefalú

Hector hops on the best spot of Camping Sanfilippo with only inches between his rear tires and the sea. If you prefer a big pool, hot showers and modern sanitary facilities, choose Camping Ponente which shares the bay with Sanfilippo. If you are more like me, looking for beauty in simplicity, this might be your spot. As long as your van is as slim as Hector, that is.

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I spend hours in front of my super van, doing nothing but watching the sun dive into the ocean.

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Hector, being romantic with gorgeous sunsets

When I wake up the next morning, it still looks like this:

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I leave it up to Hector to take care of the beach today and get on the public bus, offering comfortable connections from the campsite to Cefalú downtown. I like places like this, with touristic life embedded in the historic centre, inviting enough for a coffee between palm trees and a cathedral from 13th century.

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Norman Cathedral, opened quite a while ago (back in 1240)

A rock with a view, deep blue sea, sandy beaches, historic architecture, all kinds of gelato and food – Cefalú has it all. It is a bunch of holiday facets, tempting to spend hours or days or even weeks here.

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It is not only the beach with its beach towel merchants, with sunbeds and enough free space in between. It is not even the cathedral, ordered by Sicilia’s first Norman King and linked to Monreale (= built by the very last Norman King – same same, but different). Even the choice of restaurants, wine bars and ice cream is far from being solely responsible for the attraction of Cefalú.

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How to spend the Afternoon here

It is the combination of it all, situated between rocks and mountains and the splendid sea.

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If you are keen on instagrammable spots, you will find them spread along the coast line. Here, you do not even have to fight foreign tourist groups with their selfie-sticks – among all positive facets, one of the best is the relaxed atmosphere, at least in the first days of June.

Personally, the charm of my days in Cefalú is the ideal spot for  perfect van-life. Even though the city is close enough, I love spending time at “my” little beach, starting with some yoga into the days and reduce sightseeing to a mere staring-at-the-sea.

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>> Next Destination

Gole d’Alcántara

After some Sicllia-style traffic, I wave goodbye to Martina and continue the lonely part of the journey. Only me. And Hector. And thousands of tourists. And Sicilians. Guess, I won’t be that lonely after all.

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Dead End at Etna Nord – Mr. Lava-Lava = Hector

The first impression, however, is: empty spaces. Seems that there is no one around at Etna Nord… Might be because of yesterday’s eruption. On my way from Catania to a vineyard north of Etna, Hector decides more or less on his own that we should check if everything is still ok up there. And, strange enough, apart from a huge sulphur cloud, we see blue skies all around us.

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Looking at former Eruptions

Next stop is the famous Gole d’Alcántara: a gorge with artful, yet natural basalt rock and ice-cold water. And a Disneyland of tourism around it. I had an idea about nature, maybe an uncomfortable tour with marching through hip-deep water, stunning views on cathedral-like stonewalls and such things. Instead, it is all about boring pathways, blocked ways to the gorge and picknick-forbidden-all over.

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Hidden River

At least, some of the facets become visible by holding up the camera and taking pictures on the assumption that the angle + distance might lead to some photos worth my memory’s space.

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Finally, I make it to “the beach”. If you want to see the Gole d’Alcántara, believe me: going down (by elevator even) to the beach is all you need. Do not let yourself get talked into any further than this… Silly enough, it might be no problem at all to wander through the water to further sections around it and find even better paths then the ones created by the tourist-machinery here.

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The Beach / Alcántara

Perhaps it is some common rule during mixed holidays: The first day alone always is a weird one. Consequently, when I turn to a recommended vineyard, there is neither a possibility for wine tasting during the afternoon, nor do they accept tiny shiny Hector on their front-yard for an overnight stay.

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In the end, I spend a relaxed evening at the well-known camping paradise, about 20km south of the Etna. And only there, sitting outside and wondering why I seem to feel grains of sand on every surface, I realize that the volcano still is active and erupting diminutive grains of lava. They float through the air, invisible except for µ-sized particles in my wine glass… Finally, the happy end of the day is that Hector took me up on Etna North, down to the Gole d’Alcántara and, via a vineyard, back to the sea – without being boiled, drowned or drunk. Now, isn’t that something?

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Etna Sud

On May 29, we decide eventually not to stay the night up on 2.000m / Parking Etna Sud, proving us being smart camper girls. Otherwise, we would have been shaken…

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None of this is predictable when we start on our 12th day from Sabbiadoro towards the Etna. We would love to tell you that we catch one of the rare days when Etna’s peak is clearly visible, but we rather see business as usual: one third of the volcano is covered by clouds. The more we approach it, the less inviting looks our surrounding.

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Approaching the Etna. And the Garbage. And the Clouds.

It gets better, though, as Hector’s wheels climb up and up the mountain. Grey lava and colourful flowers embellish the road and give a first impression of nature’s forces that may be calm, but always present.

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Somehow Beautiful

I suddenly smile, thinking of a friend who comments left-but-slow-drivers on the highway with a reference to common video games: “Die rechte Spur ist Lava”. Right he is… (special greetings to Klaus!).

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Hector meets Lava

Walking around a volcano is like landing on a foreign planet. It is almost irritating to see the regular blue sky above us, a yellow or violet firmament would fit in even better.

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Extra. Terrestrial.

With a few metres of distance, it becomes obvious that Hector is parked right in the middle of a former lava flow. That is what they do here: they observe. They wait. Once the Etna erupts, they wait again (more cautious now). When the lava is cold enough, they re-build the roads and welcome tourist busses.

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Hector = Vulkanaut (Auto, das Vulkane hoch fährt)

The same is true for the funicular: the former one got partly destroyed by eruptions? Never mind, we erect new pylons beside the old ones and start all over again. Danger vs. tourism, money vs. nature.

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Funicular Etna South

We leave Hector for expensive parking fees at the tourist parking and choose early lunch at the local (and very touristic) restaurant. It is only there that I wonder if some parts of the building might be less stable then others – it seems that the walls are slightly shaking sometimes. At that point we still make jokes about possible earthquakes…

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After Lunch, we go up on one of the older craters. While the Stromboli had been extraordinary with its regular eruptions, the Etna impresses by its sheer size. We look south and see the sea in a far distance – like merging Mars into Mediterranean.

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Looking north, we see more craters and the massive clouds that swallow 1.000m of the volcano’s height.

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Etna. And, in the distance, more Etna.

It is fascinating up here, a whole lot of nature jumps at our faces. Partly due to the view and the weird landscape, partly literally with all the pumice that is blown up on us. Volcanos and wind always come as a couple.

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…did I mention the cold Wind??

We consider the option staying the night up here. Yet, 6°C and light rain is not the most comfortable surrounding – hence, we decide to go down to Catania for a relaxed campsite with seaside. Hector is already focused on the destination and off we go.

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Like an Aerosmith Song: “Going… down?!”

Camping Jonio is just perfect for our last common night. Any parking position more than 20m away from the sea is so not our style, and here we have everything we need. Apart from being close to downtown, that is. However, we are in walking distance to a small harbour and detect wonderful fish shops along the way.

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Lava with Summer Feeling: Back to the Sea

It is our last evening together before Martina catches her flight the next morning. Consequently, we find one of the most excellent restaurants of the entire trip and enjoy all kinds of fish, a bottle of Donnafugata Cattarratero, dessert, coffee and total luxury at Nitto restaurant, Porto piccolo.

When we fall asleep that night, we are not aware of the Etna and its erupting activities.

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This Picture was probably taken in the very moment of the Etna’s Eruption. Well – we missed all the Action, but that is not so bad

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