Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November Sun in Sicily

It was like school over for the summer hols, well almost. Pops, Rani, Hans and I grabbed the chance to get in a quick weekend holiday in before the winter rush to prep everything for next year, that and we had been promising Renzo we would vist all season.

Hans did all the hard work, finding the air tickets for 10 cents each (10c!!!) plus taxes. Well they did start out at 99c so we weren't complaining. OK there was the break of dawn departure from Pisa but after a week of overcast views from the office window and diving temperatures it was worth it.

Our mate Renzo was celebrating his 30 something birthday and was happy to pick us up from the airport, however there was a small issue over which airport. He had it in his head we were landing at Palermo. Luckily that airport is only 25mins from Trapani!

We drove down through Marsala, home of the fortified wine heading towards the south western part where Renzos campground Sporting Club Village lies, looking out towards north Africa.

We were greeted by early morning sunshine and started stripping off jackets to t-shirts, so nice to get out and about after working in the office all summer. I had heard so much about the pastries and cakes in Sicily I could'nt wait to try them out. I wasn't disappointed either.

My goal was to try authentic Sicilian cannolli as it was something I had heard so much about. Breakfast for the boys was something resembling a hotdog which they unanimously agreed must be brought back to Tuscany. Mine was some ricotta filled pastry cup, I'm still drooling. Renzo left us to wander the town while he headed over to the fish market to pick up lunch. As Pops is a huge seafood fanatic Renzo promised him a very special lunch.

It was nice to walk around Mazara del Vallo without being caught in a tourist crush, it being Saturday morning most locals were heading towards the schools to pick up the kids before heading off for lunch. The streets and alleyways thorugh the old town were intriging. Tiny narrow pathways, balconies which you could touch from the one opposite. Some had been beuatifully restored while others had been left to practically fall down.

The waterfront has had some major development, with a long row of sea facing bars, restaurants and cafes which must be filled totally during the summer months. Most places looked closed or only opened in the evening.

Every shop we walked into the locals were so friendly. It was a great chance to practise my bad Italian but everyone was really patient and helpful. We found a cafe for a pre lunch drink and just enjoy the sunshine and warmth. Later we found Renzo wasn't making it up about lunch.

He'd picked up 2 types of fish from his friendly fisherman which he proceeded to cook on the outside fire at his house ( a built in bbq and pizza oven in one no less) , freshly caught that morning. He introduced us to the local bread, which apparently can last up to 5 days in the open out on the fishing boats. After a year of Tuscan bread which is very crusty and hard this stuff was soft and very tasty. Better still was the 'pesto' that went with it, made of totally fresh virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Yummo! We needed a siesta afterwards.

The campsite is closed for winter but the restaurant stays open as it is a popular place for the locals to go, and after seeing the antipasti range I'm not surprised. I vowed to come back just to try the huge variety of starters just as a meal on their own! Loads of different seafood, frittata, crostini, cold meats and local inventions. I learnt the difference between a Sicilian pizza and a Tuscan one, the Sicilians make their bases a bit thicker and the dough with a bit of butter.

After dinner was the party upstairs in the bar, recently renovated and reopened that night the back wall is exposed shellrock with some different levels of seating. Renzo's mates had a special surprise for him with his presents, some interesting gadgets and 'collectibles' including a nipple mug and a Bob the Builder set. Luckily we gave him some whiskey so all was not lost. The birthday cake was sensational, of course, and difficult to stop at one piece. The bar was also home to the locals who are learning to salsa. It was interesting to watch one guy spinning his girl almost into the potted palm!

Breakfast ( well it was actually much later than that) the next day was more pastries, but this time I found a distant relative of the traditional English meat pie but with a distinct Italian twist, a flaky pastry filled with tomato meat ragu and there were even peas! This one HAS to come back to Tuscany!! We decided to walk into town from the campsite which only took 20 minutes along the waterfront.

Unfortunately our office commitments meant we could only stay one more day, which is a shame as I wanted to explore some of the local area further. I found a book on the archealogical sites nearby which are some of the best preserved around the Med so I have made a mental note to get more time off next year.

Our last evening was surely a lesson in international relations, playing charades with 2 kiwis, a dutchman and 10 Italians, in Italian. It was really good for the language skills, first of all working out what the word was in one language and then translating into the other, all by miming! The easiest category by far was food. I learnt a few new words and it's amazing how some hand signals are international as well. Some of the guys went to buy dinner which were Arancini, very tasty rice balls about the size of a tennis ball, coated in breadcrumbs with either a mozzarella centre or mince ragu. The mozzarella ones were my favourite. Another one to add to the cooking repetoire when I got home.

The early morning departure home was another prerequisite of the 10cent flight, but we managed a quick bite to eat at the Trapani terminal, hotdogs again and coffee. The weekend was over all too quick, but a welcome break nonetheless. We said our goodbyes to Renzo and his amazing hospitality. The sad part is I still didn't even get to try any cannolli!!

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