Sicily is: a beautiful Mediterranean island, rich in geographical diversity, saturated in the varied histories of its many conquerors. Sicily is not: a place for pedestrians. Watching the Grecian Temple of Concord glow in the morning sun it seems impossible that anything could mar its magic. These buildings, which have stood for two and a half millennia, can’t help but give you a reassuring sense of your own place in time. You walk away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site feeling enlightened. This sense of enlightenment begins to evaporate surprisingly quickly as you find yourself waiting two hours at the ‘coach stop’ (unmarked and unshaded from the fierce midday sun) for an un-air-conditioned bus that spontaneously decides not to stop at the destination you have bought a ticket for.
We are told repeatedly by friendly Sicilians that no, it will be no problem reaching the Scala dei Turchi, or Turkish Steps, from Agrigento without a car, just get the bus no. 11 and you are practically there. One can only assume they have never tried it themselves since they didn’t seem malicious. It turns out the bus doesn’t go to the Scala as such but rather a small village called Realmonte. It also goes so infrequently that is almost impossible not to arrive at some point during the five hour afternoon siesta no matter what time you depart Agrigento. Realmonte, like much of Sicily, is deserted between noon and five o’clock. The few old men who remain on doorsteps watching the tumbleweed roll by do not speak Italian and my travelling companion, who does speak fluent Italian, insists Sicilian is incomprehensible. We eventually find someone who tells us to follow signs for the Madison hotel. There are only two of these over the course of the sweltering 5km walk. A couple of cars drive past and look at us like we are clearly mad. They’re probably right.
We, rather to our surprise, eventually stumble upon the Madison hotel and catch our first glimpse of the Scala. They are astonishing. The vast and sparkling white stairway, formed from limestone curiously eroded by tides and winds, rises surreally from the turquoise sea. There are a handful of tiny figures sunbathing on the stairs that were once utilised by Turkish pirates. There also doesn’t seem to be a way down. We creep cautiously to the edge of the cliff and peer over but decide that, given the crumbling chalk of the rock face and our lack of abseiling skills and/or equipment, a direct descent isn’t an option. 500m in both directions and no way down and, of course, no informative signs. Slightly tearfully we realise that if we don’t abandon the Scala dei Turchi immediately we are going to miss the one bus back and that is not an option. So close and yet so far.
However, for all that one can fault the Sicilian public transport system and believe me I have barely started on it, there is no denying the friendliness and generosity of the general populace. Having calculated that we probably couldn’t walk the 5km back up hill into Realmonte in the ten minutes before our bus was due we crawled into a B&B, the only vaguely open looking building within sight. We begged them rather incoherently to book us a taxi. Once the owners understood our predicament and the fact that we didn’t actually want to stay at the B&B they laughed gently at the idea that there might be taxis. They gave us water and popped us in the shade while they decided what they were going to do with these hysterical foreigners. We were told that if we waited until the evening they would drive us directly the hour into Agrigento, otherwise they could take us to the bus stop at once. Feeling we had inconvenienced them enough already we opted to catch the bus. They dropped us at the station and waited to see us aboard. They waved merrily as we slumped relieved into our seats, crisis averted. This pattern becomes familiar to those travelling around Sicily by foot. There are amazing things to do and see and eat and you really have to go to Sicily but specifically you really have to go to Sicily with a car.
There will be more to come on Sicilian food, WWOOFing and my chosen reading matter over the 'holiday'. There is unlikely to be anything on Sicilian 'fashion' because frankly it was rather lacking...