Wednesday, January 8, 2014

7th January – We meet our Airbnb host and human GPS from Agrigento

We’ve been keeping up our record for spending as much time navigating inside towns as between them. Unfortunately our freebie iphone GPS doesn’t distinguish street names between towns or suburbs in the same region. Team this with a lack of imagination with street names then you get chaos. Do you know how many Via Garibaldi’s there are in Agrigento? least 10 and we chose poorly and ended up in a small village about 10 klms from where we were meant to be. Had to call Anna and through a local interpreter (I shanghaied a local from a group of Sicilian men 'hanging out' in the church square) to chat to Anna on my phone to find this out. I must say I was somewhat relieved we weren't staying there. More roads the size of footpaths and a bit of a dump (I mean it had character) as well. However I expect we made one Sicilian man's day as I would think the only foreign tourists they would see would be ones that got lost like us. He was terribly obliging though and was still chattering away to us with directions as we were driving off down the hill. In the back of our minds were Maria's comments in Milan about "Mafia towns" in Sicily. She said you can tell them by how quiet and stealthy the people look. When we mentioned we were going to Agrigento her usual bubbly self went quiet "Rosario...isn't that one of those Mafia towns?". Rosario was less convinced or concerned....but the he is from Naples.... I'm happy to report that the only evidence we have seen of the Mafia is in souvenir shops!

Anna thought up another street name close by for our GPS via 25th April. Now you wouldn't think there would be too many streets called that. Not so… found ourselves driving out of town again. The third time Anna picked the railway station and came to meet us in her car! "I'll be the woman in the pink jacket driving the Toyota".... could not find this one on the POI on the GPS but amazingly Julie spotted her. One thing that Italian drivers seem to tolerate is double parking while you stop to chat with someone you know. We have learn't to not be worried about doing this now. As long as there is some way for them to get around you (footpaths, gardens, front porches) they don't worry so much. We have had to do this once before in pre- GPS days in Florence. We were staying in a convent (that’s another story) and our Florence map ran out well before we even got close to the address. We had to call the nuns to save us that time. They were recognisable by their dress of course and the speedy bambino car.

Anyway Ana proved to be an ideal GPS and found us a park right outside the B&B. We were the only ones there tonight. We were happy to leave the car and walk into town. We took Ana’s dinner recommendation and had a lovely local meal. We were also the only customers. We arrived right on opening time and stayed till 9pm. Julie wanted to leave a good tip as it looked like being a tough night for them. The Off-season is obviously tough in Sicily.

Earlier in the day we visited a restored Roman Villa, near Piazza Armerina, famous for its mosaics. 

One of the more famous mosaics called the "Bikini Girls". You might see something like this in any modern day gym today.... a girl in a two piece working out with weights... but this is over 2,000 years ago! Damn Romans.... what didn't they invent! 

This is a mosaic storyboard about 50 metres long

Part of the story board.....notice the African animals...not too far away from here.
We met a Canadian couple from Nova Scotia while lunching with the local dog. We were both missing our dogs (common topic) plus they were the only English voices we had heard at this attraction.
The Nova Scotians enjoying their "Summer" holiday
The next common topic of conversation is of course driving in Sicily! After hearing about the winter in Nova Scotia we decided this was a summer holiday for them.

The Roman Villa is amazing. Only uncovered in recent times, it has been well restored, with many of the mosaics completely in tact. The stories of the time told through mosaic pictures is fascinating. Again we are but a handful of off-season tourists here.

So after a very frustrating drive to the Agrigento B&B Anna asked if we were planning to drive down to the Valley of the Temples for an evening viewing....."we are leaving the car right where it is tonight....we have enough trouble navigating in daylight!"

We chose to take our first viewing from the safety of a lookout just up the road from our B&B.

Side-Bar – GPS Adventures

Let me say upfront that I think that GPS devices are amazing technology that I've come to depend on to the extent that I can't think what I did without them. That said, no technology is perfect and with any technology, if you become overdependent on it and have no 'Plan B' then life can get interesting. Italy in particular can be difficult to navigate for reasons I've already mentioned. I recall the days when we had to rely on paper maps. We had good maps of city centres and a good map of the whole of Italy, but if you wanted to go somewhere in between, you were on your own.

GPS adventures are a little different. Map errors can prove interesting. More than once, in the UK, we have had the GPS happily announce we had reached our destination when we were in the middle of nowhere. On this trip we have visited some villages by mistake that we would never have seen otherwise. The most interesting times can happen when you miss a turn and the GPS tries to get you back on track. We have been on some pretty scary roads. This trip we have been asked to go on some of the narrowest roads (both side mirrors folded in). In the UK we have driven down roads with hedges scaping both sides of the car. We missed a turn once and had to travel 14 klms on the Heathrow express way before we could turn around. This was after a long day driving already.

On the other hand I'm amazed at how well they can do at times. One winter up near York in the UK we were driving in pitch black, no street lights or signs, only our headlights and it guided us to our remote B&B, which we would never have found otherwise. On that same trip we were out in the country and the GPS announced a toll road. We could not believe that it could be right, but sure enough, in the UK there are still some private roads that the public use and here was a toll booth with the attendant taking 10p for the kilometer or so of private road we were to use.

Who else has had an interesting GPS adventure?

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