Monthly Archives: May 2017

Urban Adventures in Sicily – Trapani

Trapani is a very cool port town on Sicily’s western tip that still shows its fortified origins and role as a trading port between North Africa (cous cous being a local specialty), Spain and mainland Italy. It has ferries to Pantelleria and Tunis and a pretty extensive fishing fleet hangs out in the port. It’s a great base for Western Sicily and to explore the Egadi islands – and a short bus ride from Palermo. Trapani is one of those places that look right on the map and it turns out that you chose well.

Old Town Trapani

The old town is quite compact and can be well covered in a day. It’s a nice place to cool your heels for a few days.

North Sea Wall, Old Town

Most of the old town originates from the 18th and 19th centuries and it has a small town feel.

Corso Vittorio Emanuelle

Head out to the southwest end of town to see the large fishing port with visitors from North Africa.

Libyan Fishing Boat, Trapani Port.


Erice is a nearby walled medieval hill town reachable by a 40-minute bus ride, that makes for a scenic day trip. You have stunning views over the coastline and get to understand why the Normans put a castle here.

The Duomo was originally built in the early 14th century by the Normans.

Duomo, Erice

The 12th/13th century Norman Castello di Venere was built on the site of a Temple of Venus and was the center of a Roman cult. Erice is mentioned in Virgil’s Aeneid, so there you go.

Castello di Venere

Castello di Venere

Erice Castle, Mediterranean Coast and Bird

If you’re based in Trapani, AST buses leave from the Porta Trapani stop near the ferry terminal and set you down at the Erice Duomo. The Caffe Maria on 117 Via Vittorio Emanuele is a good place for a coffee and the associated Pasticceria Maria Grammatico a few doors down is well known for its pastries – don’t leave without picking some up.

The Egadi Islands

Trapani is a convenient base to ferry out to the Egadi islands, either for a day trip or for a longer island exploration. Schedules and tickets can be obtained at the Liberty Lines Ferry Terminal ticketing offices, on Viale Regine Elena Of the three islands, I decided to visit the island furthest west, Marettimo, which is about an hour each way on the hydrofoil. Marettimo is the wildest and peakiest of the islands and a great place for a day hike.

Marettimo Harbor

Italian hiking trails are well marked and maintained, with distinctive red-flashed signage. I picked up the trail toward Pizzo Falcone, the peak at the north of the island. There are trails that run west out of the Marettimo town although I took a more southerly roundabout route – heading south of the town along the coast road and then cutting west on a trail that led into this pine forest.

Breaking out of the pine forest, you head north along the east side of the hill range with views towards Sicily.

A notable stop along the way is the Casa Romane, an abandoned Roman settlement, alongside which is a Byzantine-era church.

You finally start to get some altitude and are high enough to look west as well, into the cloud base.

The view from Pizzo Falcone is stunning – the largest of the Egadi islands, Favignana, is in the center, and you can see the hills around Trapani beyond.

Marettimo town with the ferries docked at the ferry terminal, lies below the trail. The tideless Meditteranean permits the back-in “Med Moor” which saves a lot of wharf space.

You can make out the other islands and the Sicilian mainland beyond – along with the next ferry.

Marettimo Town

I didn’t go on this day trip but there are also good hikes to the 17th century fort at Punta Troia (northeast tip) or to the Punta Libeccia Lighthouse (southwest tip). I’d recommend 2-3 days if you want to get in some beautiful day hikes in pristine and wild island country.


Trapani is easily reached by bus from Palermo (and direct from Palermo airport). The long- and short-haul buses stop off by the Liberty Lines Ferry Terminal ticketing offices, on Viale Regine Elena. Certain of the long-haul buses require you to buy the ticket at a nearby cafe or travel agent – you can buy AST bus tickets from Egatour Viaggi opposite.

There are plenty of lodging options in Trapani. I stayed at Trapani In Appartamenti on Via S. Francesco di Paola 4, which had excellent apartments with a good nearby cafe for breakfast in the square just east.

Trapani not surprisingly has excellent seafood – seafood cous cous (cuscus con zuppa di mare or cuscus alla Trapanese) is mighty fine and has to be tried. These places were great:

  • La Bettolaccia
  • Hostaria San Pietro

I also came across Il Barbagianni, which was the only craft beer bar in town as I could tell, and well worth the stop.


The Baroque Hill Town Trio: Noto, Modica and Ragusa

The Baroque hill towns southwest of Siracusa are worth a visit and are close enough together to base out of one and day trip around. They were all heavily damaged in the 1693 earthquake and so rebuilding occurred around the same time, giving the main iconic buildings around the center a similar character. I stayed in Modica, in part because it was in the center of the three. It turned out to be a good choice as it had good eating and sleeping options.


From Siracusa, I took the bus to Noto, which took a little over an hour. Noto goes way back to the Romans and was modified on a grid pattern after the 1693 earthquake.  Since then, it has become a honey-tinted UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bus station is close to the center and you are greeted by a 19th century archway.

The main cathedral is quite grand and dates from the early 18th century.

San Niccolo Cathedral

Noto’s a pleasant place to walk around with a pedestrianized main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and the main sites are the most centralized of the three towns.

You can get as much baroque architecture as you want much of the time.

Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore

Baroque 3D angels and other celestial phenomena.

Lunch was at the streetside Arancini Planet on Via Ducezio. You only need one.

Cafe Costanzo on Via Silvio Spaventa is a good place for a stop off and their ice cream is excellent.

I spent half a day in Noto which was about right. The tourist office (Info Point) on Corso Vittorio Emanuele 135 are very helpful and will keep your bag for you if you want to go walkabout.

Departing Noto for Modica, I took the train, which is walkable but located further from the town center.


Modica is situated across a large valley with the commercial center in the low ground to the south, around the intersection of Corso Umberto I and Via Marchesa Tedeschi, which is a busy street that makes for an interesting stroll.

The old town is reached heading up the northeast side of the valley off the main thoroughfare.

St George’s Cathedral is a waypoint on the upward walk, and it has the usual ornate interior that you see in Sicilian baroque churches.

Duomo di San Giorgio

The view from the heights of the old town are worth the walk – this is looking southerly towards Corso Umberto I.

The Pizzo Bel Vedere has a good overlook.

View from Pizza Bel Videre

Chiesa di San Pietro

The Rappa Enoteca on Corso Santa Teresa 97/99 is a great stopoff for wine or microbrews in the old town.


Ragusa is the largest of the three hill towns. Its main working center is Ragusa Superiore, much of which dates from post-earthquake construction. The old town – Ragusa Ibla, is located to the east over a saddle along the hill line. The rail and bus stand are located in the newer town to the south of the Ragusa Superiore, so it’s a decent walk to the old town. But worth it.

Ragusa Ibla

The old town is good for a wander punctuated by the usual church and palazzo stopoffs.

Chiesa Anime Sante del Purgatorio, Ragusa Ibla.

Palazzo with Lemon Tree

From time to time you come across brutalist fascist architecture, which isn’t necessarily surprising given that they governed the country from 1922 to 1943, although the regalia often remains.

The Delicatessen in drogheria on Via Archimede 32, in the new town is a good place for a panini and a microbrew.

Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, Ragusa Superiore

Logistics and Tips

AST is the regional bus line that bets gets you between the southeast cities  Click on “Linee e Ori” to find the schedule.

Keep the train in mind if the bus schedules don’t work out – it was convenient Noto-Modica You can also buy your ticket online anytime if your smartphone is set up for Italy.

Unless you are fine with roaming costs, you can purchase a SimCard as long as your phone is 3G compatible and you are able to unlock it. I went with Telecom Italia Mobile – seek out a TIM store when you arrive in Italy. Mine was 20 euro for 30 days of wireless and voice, not unlimited but it was sufficient.

I stayed at the B&B Palazzo Il Cavalliere in Modica which was perfectly

There are plenty of food choices in Modica, mainly in the new town – I recommend these places which covered local specialties very well:

Osteria dei Sapori

Trattoria Ristorante Il Girasole Di Colombo Corrado

Urban Adventures in Sicily – Siracusa

The ancient Greek town of Siracusa (Syracuse) is an atmospheric port town that is well worth a visit to see the remnants of one of the largest cities of the ancient world. I took the train from Palermo via Catania to get to Siracusa. It’s a nice way to see the wild interior of Sicily.

Enna from the Train.

Siracusa is a great walking town and is one of the better preserved old cities of Sicily with a significant medieval center dotted with ancient artifacts.

The old town, which was founded by the Greeks around 730 BC, is contained on a separate island, Ortigia. You’ll walk it in a day, although spending a couple of nights in Siracusa gives you enough time to absorb the place.

Isola di Ortigia, Siracusa

If you enter Ortigia from the north, the first major site is the Temple of Apollo, a large open ruin from the 6th Century BC.  Further south is the main square and cathedral, another early 18th century baroque example.

Piazza del Duomo, Siracusa.

The site has had previous lives under Greek, Roman, Arab and Norman inhabitants. Here some of the interior and exterior Doric columns come from the 5th century BC Greek temple to Athena originally on this site, which has a mention by Cicero in the 1st Century BC.

Duomo, Siracusa.

5th Century BC Doric columns, Duomo.

As well as the tight streets of the old town and a beautiful waterfront, other things to see include the 13th century castle at the south tip of the island, and the old Jewish quarter of La Guidecca.

About 2km northwest of Ortigia is the Archaeological Park, which contains a Greek amphitheater from the 5th Century BC and a later Roman amphitheater from the 1st Century AD. This is worth a small expedition as a break from walking around Ortigia.

Roman Amphitheater, Siracusa.

The park also contains some old quarries and a large cave, the Ear of Dionysius, which was also quarried out and used to hold prisoners. Dionysius was a Greek ruler of Siracusa who is said to have used the cave acoustics to listen in on his prisoners.

Ear of Dionysius, Siracusa.

There is a large market on Sundays in the Piazza Santa Lucia, to the east of the new town.

And as ever there are interesting markets in the old town for browsing and buying. The main market area in Ortigia is around the north of Via Trento and Via Emmanuele de Benedictis.

Tito’s House of Fish.

Logistics and Tips

I stayed at the Grande Albergo Alfeo which is a good 19th century hotel in the new town, and just 5 minutes to cross over the bridges into Ortigia. Good breakfasts and very comfortable. It is also closer to the bus and rail stations located in the new town.

These places were good –
Osteria del Vecchio Ponte. Small place just outside the old town, killer seafood. Seafood’s the way to go in Siracusa.

…and Taberna Sveva, a more local place at the south end of Ortigia.

Barcollo has a great bar where you can also sit out in the courtyard.

Two good and popular lunch places next to each other: They do some nice antipasti plates which I didn’t try, have micro beer and you can sit down. Go early for this one, sexcellent panini – I got there at 2:30 having just arrived off the train and there were about 25 people in line. The owner makes the panini on a table outside. I gave up.

Previously: Palermo

Read about the Palermo trip here

Next: The Baroque Hill Town Trio

How I Started Photographing my Food and Hated Myself for Doing So

How did this happen? I used to not do it, I just ate it all up.  Now I’ve become one of them, clicking away. Traveling to Sri Lanka, Sicily and Sardinia and finding stuff that tasted pretty damn good just drove me to photography, ultimately.

Inflight Catering

Like this for example. Singapore Airlines standard breakfast. The bread roll, meh of course. The green beans, not exactly flavorful but just right on a plane. But the dim sum (lower left) was pretty good, hard to mess up and salty and fatty enough to work at 38,000 feet.

Breakfast SFO-SIN on Singapore Air.

Of course, when you get to Changi Airport 17 hours later…Satay!! This was excellent, chewy beef with a spicy caramelized bbq’d crust dipped in peanut sauce essence and countered by raw onion/cucumber crunch (lower right). Shockingly, very few Malaysian places outside southeast Asia recreate the real peanut sauce seen here…it’s usually a creamy sweet goop that hasn’t got within 10 miles of tamarind paste, garlic, chili and freshly hammered peanuts, as happened here.

Satay, Terminal 2 Food Court, Changi Airport.

Sri Lanka

On to Sri Lanka and the basement food court of the Crescat shopping mall off Galle Road, Colombo. Curry selection, with whole chillis scattered throughout like nuclear confetti. The curry shrimp worked for me, as did the whole green chillies for a while after, in an excellent way.

Breakfast time masala dosa at the Dosai King on Galle Road in Kollupitiya. Dal refills compulsory. Eat with your hands and wash them at the taps afterwards. Sweet milky coffee not shown.

I also did not photograph the crab curry and cashew nut curry at the Riviera Resort hotel in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, and regret that. If you are vegetarian, seek out a recipe for cashew nut curry, and your life will improve. If you ever go to Batticaloa, go there for dinner. I did get a superb mango juice in World of Juice however. It was so dense it quivered when you picked the glass up.

Mango Juice, World of Juice, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.

Halal Sri Lankan chilli chicken and veggie biryani rice at the New Ibraim Eating House in Batticaloa. Frankly the rice (with poached egg atop) was a meal in itself.

Chilli Chicken and Vegetable Biryani, Batticaloa.

Sicily and Sardinia

Moving on to Sicily, you start to get presented with lots of seafood combined with various means to stick it in your gob. Pasta of course, as in the classic pasta con le sarde, seen here. Sardines go ok with pasta, these were very fresh.

Pasta con le Sarde, Taberna Sveva, Siracusa, Sicily

Lots of raw and smoked marine life is a common starter. Lemon, bread and white wine accompany well.

Seafood Starter, Siracusa, Sicily.

Walkable lunches are available – especially arancini, which is a large riceball with a deep fried crust and filling of choice. Here meat ragu. Coke zero bottle cap for size reference, it felt heavier than it appeared.

Pork Ragu Arancina, Noto, Sicily.

Other intermediate items include the following:

Death by pastry. Although this hit the spot wondering around Cagliari having been dropped off early from the overnight Palermo ferry. There was chocolate inside, wrapped around a core of nutella.

Chocolate and Nutella Croissant, Cagliari, Sardinia.

This one may have gone first. Crisp exterior, custard interior. Again, I departed the overnight ferry at 7am so had an excuse.

Cagliari had excellent take out options and elaborate baking practices.

Just look at the crema and the balance between milk and full on espresso. I think they wanted a Euro for this, in Noto, Sicily. Tip well.

If you move inland things get meaty, and the standard appetizer plate covers various dried meats and fried doughy items.

Appetizer, Modica, Sicily.

The paninis of Ragusa are worth checking out, washed down with one of Italy’s many excellent microbrews. This is the Tari “For Sale” pale ale from nearby Modica which  had plenty of amber hoppiness going on

Ham, Cheese and Roast Potato Sandwich, Ragusa, Sicily

This was close to one of the best meals I had in Sicily. Seafood stew. Those are fried bread slices. Inside was crab, prawn and large crawfish, amongst a lot else. The house wine was good and minerally. La Buona Forchetta in Sciacca, which is a nice seaside town.

Seafood Stew, La Buona Forchetta, Sciacca, Sicily.

Sardinia has a similar dynamic of great seafood and solid inland meat stuff. This tuna carpaccio hit the spot with the fresh tomatoes and basil.

Tuna Carpaccio, Fresh Tomatoes with Basil, Cagliari, Sardinia

Another standard was the seafood spaghetti – with black spaghetti. There was a decent amount of olive oil, but this was purely a means to capture the seafood and garlic goodness.  This photo is out of focus.

Seafood Spaghetti Nero, Ristorante el Bounty, Castelsardo, Sardinia.

A Sardinian standard worth trying is Faine, a baked crepe that uses chickpea flour, similar to a farinata. This one had a bacon and onion filling  it and was just right.

Faine, Alghero.

I left Sardinia via the compact and efficient Cagliari airport. Even at 6:05am, the coffee stand was cranking it out. Italian breakfasts are usually quick and light, so the standup approach works well.