Saturday, 13 September 2014

Trapani and Erice, Sicily

Monday 1 September 2014. We got up early to watch the Thomson Majesty pull elegantly into the port of Trapani in Sicily. Thomson Dream was also in port for the day and although they weren't able to park side by side, I did manage a photo of them both from the dockside which we'll see later. What? Park? Yes, these nautical terms just trip from my tongue as though it were a slipway...

The coaches for all the ship's excursions were lining up and behind the ship we can see part of the large area devoted to salt pans.

Most of the salt pans seemed to be in the early stages ie filled with water. One pan was being cleared of it's salt and another, in the near left corner of the salt fields, was blindingly white and obviously to be harvested following the completion of the one being worked. Four or five small trains were laboriously being filled and chugging around their rectangular circuit to deliver the collected salt to the saltworks also on the near left. This is an ancient industry. The first mention of salt pans here dates from the Phoenicians. Just two or three thousand years then...

However, enough of industry! We are off on an excursion! We are heading up to a hilltop medieval town called Erice ("Er-reech-ay"). We pile on a bus and are dropped at the end of a fairly long queue for the cable car that will take us up the hill. Whilst it was fairly long it also moved fairly quickly once it got going and there was a spot of entertainment when one of the other coaches crunched into a bollard trying to get onto the car park...

Unfortunately the coach firm had not used a lot of imagination. There were two Thomson ships, both presumably doing the same excursions and they had numbered each set of coaches from No.1 ... Thomson Dream's coach number 4 pulled up directly behind our coach which was also No.4 and the resulting confusion with two guides trying to count their passengers reminded me of the British public sector...

The cable car took 8 of us at a time and fairly whisked us up the hillside which in places was quite steep. Our guide turned out to have a really annoying gratering voice and a manner of saying things really slowly. Luckily as we arrived at this church she told us our meeting time straight away and we took the opportunity to duck out of the tour and wander around on our own.

The streets were paved with cobbles and all had this same square-based pattern. We saw a sign for the castle and followed another group of people who also looked as if they were trying to get away from a guide with too many dates to tell.

It was quite warm on top of the hill. Mind you, there were so many phone masts ringed around it that I reckon the inhabitants are kept warm all winter...

There are lots of shops selling ceramics. No large shop windows - just lots of lovely displays on walls and stacked in front.

I saw this in a particularly shadowed street and wondered whether old legends and superstitions are still alive and well. A string of garlic bulbs hung outside this shuttered house.

Whilst we saw the occasional car go by as we flattened ourselves against a wall, they were very few. The town was quiet and peaceful and lovely views could be found around every corner.

We came to a small piazza as the sun came out and took a seat outside one of two street cafes. Fran stuck to the orange juice, causing me to rack my brain before the word arancio stuck its hand up. I had a bottle of Peroni - which of course did the thirst no good at all...

The bikes from the ship were just taking their leave from the cafes of the piazza as we sat down. Done it once and that's good enough for me. Definitely enough, considering those cobbles...

We had a mooch round this ceramics shop. Some gorgeous things. You just want to buy them all really, but we limited ourselves to a small dish to drop teabags into and the inevitable fridge magnet. I'm thinking of hanging steel plates on the wall now to hold them all... If we took them all on holiday and threw them over the side, the ship would serve after them in a flash...

We met up with the guide and the other folks from our coach, all the other coaches, and all the other ship's coaches and queued to go back down on the cable car. The wind was getting up and some dark skies threatened rain, but never delivered. There were 7 of us in the cable car and one of the guides from another coach got in to make up the 8. She was lovely and far more understandable than our own guide. We had a great time in the cable car coming down until all of a sudden it stopped dead, causing our car to swing wildly for a couple of minutes. It had either gotten a gust of strong wind that some automated part of the system decided necessitated stopping operations or (more likely) someone getting in or out at one end had blocked an automatic door closer and that had caused it to stop. Anyway a couple of people were not happy about it, even when I pointed out how lucky they might be as few people got to have a helicopter rescue from a cable car... It started again in about 5 minutes and they didn't seem at all disappointed at the non-appearance of a helicopter.

Arriving back at the ship park (I know, it just gets better and better...) I managed to get a photo of the two Thomson ships.

That evening as the Captain made his daily announcement before sailing, he warned us there was a Force 7 gale and rough seas ahead and so there proved to be. We found we were on a rather quiet ship that evening, but then it got to Miss Franny a bit too and we retired to our cabin to read and lie tossing about and fending off sliding objects.

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