Lesson 1: always stick to the main roads
Lesson 2: make sure you have a Greek around who can do the driving for you
Lesson 3: invest in a Tom Tom
Lesson 4; hire the smallest size car you can
After a blissful three nights living the island life in Favignana, we returned to the mainland, Trapani, ready to pick up our hire car and explore Sicilia. First stops: Erice and Segesta – both places date back to 6th century BC – yes peeps, BC, more than 2500 years ago.
The lady working at Auto Europa car hire had the misconception that her job was THE most important and stressful job on the planet. She would not release the car to us without a print off of the car hire voucher. I tried to show her on my iPhone email that I had the voucher there with all the information – NO! Not acceptable. “I muuuuuust huv the prrrrrrrint-tt outta of de voucherrrrrr” GRRR. I offered to email it to her so she could print it out from her computer – NO! “I dontta huv an emaile herrrrre”. BullSHIT is what I wanted to scream. In the end, I called the booking agent in Ireland who faxed the stressed out car hire chick the voucher. She quickly went over the Fiat Bravo to point out the existing scratches, and handed us the keys and said, “bye” and trotted off. “Wait wait wait!” I called out. “are you going to give us a map or anything? or can we get a Tom Tom?” There were no Tom Toms left, and she threw me a map of Italy (useless) and said very curtly, ‘bye”. Yeah, f-off to you too lady!. Luckily the mechanic was there and must’ve seen the look of bewilderment on our faces – he was lovely and helped us by asking where we were going and giving us directions out of the city.
The first shift in driving was mine. I nervously got us out of Trapani and up the twisty windy roads of the mountain to the beautiful ancient town of Erice. Zorba was quite a nervous passenger, and I was a pretty nervous driver. Not because of the car, but because it’s so hard to judge the distance of the passenger side of the car when driving left hand drive. The windy road up to Erice was pretty narrow, which made it interesting when a big bus or truck came screaming around the corner.
Erice is gorgeous. It has an imposing castle on top of the hill which is also the site of the temple that was built for the Goddess Venus back in the 6th C BC. During the Roman era, Erice remained a sacred town devoted to Venus and in the castle, sacred prostitution was practiced. Trust the Romans to make prostitution a sacred practice!!
The town is hilly and has lots of narrow streets made from stones – not flat stones mind you, round ones, so walking on them is not very comfortable. Tip: if you ever go to Erice, wear runners. Erice was baking hot – stifling hot. The sun was blazing down and there was no shade and no breeze to provide any relief. After a salad for lunch, we decided it was too hot to stay there any longer and made our way to Segesta where the most perfectly preserved Greek temple stands. Before leaving though, I bought a decent road map of Sicilia.
I asked Zorba if he wanted to drive and he said yes, so off we went, with the Greek at wheel. Zorba then understood the difficulty in judging the passenger side of the car, but did a good job getting us to Segesta. Segesta was pretty spectacular. There’s nothing else there besides a tourist shop, ancient amphitheatre (2km up the hill – take the bus) and the ancient temple. After a lemon granita and a look around the monuments, it was 4pm and we thought we better find a place to stay.
Zorba at the wheel and off we went towards Palermo with the view of finding an agriturismo (farm stay) to stay in not too far from the auto strada. To find a farm stay we had to get off the autostrada – and did. I was following the map very closely as Zorba was driving. We decided Zorba was better at driving and I was better at giving directions and reading maps. Off the main road we went, onto a smaller highway. Then Zorbs decided we should take the smaller road to where we wanted to go. Ok cool! I envisaged open roads, flanked by farmland, dotted with cute agriturismi every so often – instead we arrived into automobile hell.
Here we were driving in narrow narrow pot-holed streets, buildings lapping the curb, cars, vespas and scooters carrying whole families, trucks, buses, and the three wheeler mini utes – apes – everywhere. Cars would tear past us, shaving our duco without giving it a second thought. I was terrified!! Every five minutes I would see a truck coming straight for us with the road barely wide enough for it, let alone
wide enough for the truck and us in a Fiat Bravo, a car about the same width as a Holden Astra or Toyota Corolla.
I just braced myself and shut my eyes, expecting the hear the sounds of smashing glass and our Fiat Bravo being crushed every five minutes. To top it all off, we were hopelessly lost. The little streets were not shown on the road map I had, so Zorba would ask me in a panicked voice, “which way?” and I couldn’t help. After about 30 minutes of being trapped in automobile hell, i got my iPhone out and used the map on it to get us out of there – stuff the cost, this was a crisis. My knuckles were white, my lip blistered it’d bitten it so much, and my nerves wrecked. Thank God for the Greek. If he wasn’t there driving, I don’t know how I would have coped. I would have pulled into someone’s drive way and waited until 2am until the madness stopped and attempted to drive out of there then…
The iPhone helped, but it took several attempts. That stupid blue dot that tells you where you are kept jumping from street to street – so i thought we were somewhere, then the ball would jump to the parallel street to say we were there. So i’d look up for a road sign and see a bus coming straight for us and Zorba swerving as close to the parked cars on my side of the road as he could. Aaarrrrgh we are going to hit the car on my side!! I kept freaking out, which didn’t help him – but it was a reaction i had no control over. I thought our time was up and we’d end up dying in automobile hell, leaving our families with a massive car rental damage bill in the process.
Two hours of sheer nervous frightened terror later, and we were back on a ‘super strada’ or high way, and heading to the beach side town of Mondello, an outer suburb of Palermo. Phew, we made it out of automobile hell alive. It was 8.30pm before we arrived at the very comfortable B&B Baglio – which for 80 euro per night, with an extra 5 euro for parking, was exactly what we needed. It was secure, new, and for now, our little oasis of calmness.
Mondello is a big seaside city beach town with amusement parks, loads of expensive promenade bars, Moroccans selling cheap jewellery, and a very lively atmosphere. For a night, this place would do just fine.
For dinner we choose a pizzeria away from the promenade and had the best pizza in Italia to date. Better than Di Buffa in Rome, better than the place we waited an hour for in Palermo, better than all of them. I had a pizza I’ve never seen or had before. It was called a Cattevio – or something similar – and only the pizza base was cooked, the rest of the ingredients were placed on top – rocket, proscuito crudo, shaved parmesan, cherry tomatoes – my god it was YUM!!! Washed down with a beer, yay! We turned in about midnight. I was not looking forward to being the car again the next day, but as they say, I had to “toughen up princess”.