Tag Archives: Erice

Fish balls and snow

15 Mar

The food in Sicilia, and most especially our experience in Tràpani, is amazing. It is perhaps the best part of the trip: that and the people.

I am known by many of you to make a fine Köttbullar or Swedish Meatball. Beef, pork and veal meatballs flavored with nutmeg in an artery-clogging cream gravy.  These are the taste of my childhood.


“Fish balls’ does not do justice to this masterpiece. Better in Italian “Polpette di Sarde in Sugo.”

Normally I would not be one to order the unfortunately named item “fish balls in sauce.” Luckily it sounds better in Italian. We’ve had “fish balls” twice: once made of swordfish (polpette di pesce spade) in Palermo, but of particular note were the ones we ate last night in Tràpani – polpette di sarde in sugo – made with fresh sardines and pine nuts with mint in a rich tomato-based sauce. I wanted to lick the plate clean. I am going to learn how to make these Sicilian wonders. Anyone who is open to my trial-and-error experimentation please raise your hand, you are invited for dinner.

The polpette antipasto and accompanying fish dinner were the highlight of our day Thursday. The weather, in a word, sucks. Cold, rainy, violently windy, impossible to partake in the outdoor activities we came for. We have barely glimpsed the Egadi Islands we came here to hike. We finally drove to Erice despite the clouds and during a rare respite from the rain, but found it too cold to walk around. Bitingly cold. (We didn’t think to bring puffy jackets and gloves on our spring trip to the south.) So we passed the day reading, writing, napping. Not all that bad for vacation but not what we had in mind. Friday presented us with more of the same only worse. The winds are about 40 mph so we hopped in the car hoping to escape the brutal coastal conditions and headed inland a bit, planning on seeing Monreale and a bit of the countryside off the autostrada. Ha! We were greeted with terrible traffic and closed roads due to flooding, and a downpour that turned into sleet and snow. We turned around. More reading time today and maybe more “fish balls” for dinner.

Sicilia – Part I

11 Mar
View from apartment, Trapani

City wall of Trapani, as viewed from the terrace of our apartment.

When I said we were going to Sicilia, Italian friends sighed, American colleagues raved, and my dear friend Nicholas whined that he could not be there too.  Thanks to all, I received some great advice on things to do and places to see. Sicilia is beautiful, to say the least, the people are friendly to a fault, and the food is divine.

We took our first flight since arriving in Italy last May. It seemed strange to fly out of Rome instead of taking a train and we were pleased to discover we had not forgotten how to drive, as neither of us had done so for 10 months.

We are staying in the small city of Tràpani in Northwest Sicily. Rather than try to “do” the whole island in one trip, we selected a corner of the region to explore. If we like it – and we do so far – we have plenty of opportunity to return and explore more of this vast and interesting island. With an ocean-front apartment reached via 60 steps (no elevator) we are living local. Luckily we didn’t have to haul our suitcases, although each only weighs 20 pounds or so, because the building has a rope and pulley system to assist in baggage handling. [NB: two-and-half years ago

Laurel in Lo Zingaro

Stopping by the grotto in Lo ZIngaro. People lived here as long as 10,000 yeasr ago.

we stayed in Vernazza in an apartment that had a climb of 57 steps. We struggled with that climb to the point that we really thought about it before we went up or down to minimize the number of trips per day. Now we are both in far better shape with weight loss (both of us), “new legs” and a gym program for me, 6-7km per day walking, and daily jaunts up the 64 steps to our apartment in Roma. The 60 steps in Tràpani are a piece of cake!]


I wanted to stay in Erice, a medieval town about 2400 feet abve Trapani, but Francesco, Rick and Jane were right to advise against it as a base. It has been encased in clouds for 3 days now. It’s much better here at sea level.

Erice in Clouds

Erice is atop the hill hidden in a mass of clouds.

Our arrival day devolved into a miserable rain and chill, warded off by an amazing dinner involving the best caponata we’d ever eaten, fresh fish, and a couscous preparation like none I’ve ever had, served with a whole roasted fish and a tureen of fish broth. With a crisp local white wine, we were satiated and slept a full 8 hours for a change! 

Lo Zingaro

Crystal clear waters far below the trail in Lo Zingaro.

Fortunately Sunday dawned bright and clear, so we headed to La Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro for a hike. What a beautiful and unusual place! It’s a little bit like parts of Hawaii with stark and interesting beauty, unusual plants, and ever-so-quiet. The water is clear with many shades of blue and turquoise contrasting with the lush green of a spring-rain freshened landscape.  I have not been anywhere quite this quiet (only the sounds of birds and the wind) for many many years. We felt far removed from our bustling Roma, which was the point of this vacation. Lizards darted across our path, and the wild flowers opened almost before our eyes

Lizard in sun

Little lizards dart along the trail enjoying the sun. So did we.

as the sun warmed the day. A half-hour or so into the hike, we encountered a small museum dedicated to the contadini (farmers) where an amicable man told us about the activities and dwellings of a typical farm family. We were his first visitors this day so he was ready to chat. My Italian understanding is really coming along, thank God, and we had a decent conversation. There is a grotto along the trail where they have determined people have lived for some 10,000 years. Amazing to consider how ancient this land is. Also, I got some sun as ordered by my doctor who thinks I need more vitamin D.

The hike was a good workout so we indulged in a fine Sunday lunch of fresh fish, fresh pasta, and an arugula salad, enjoying the antics of little children dining with Nonna e Nonno at an adjacent table.


Greek temple at Segesta, viewed from afar.

Clouds come and go, with passing showers. The temperature is not warm enough for beach time, but excellent for exploring, so Monday we headed to Segesta, where we saw our first-ever Greek ruins. This is a marvelous time of year to visit without crowds or the dizzying heat of summer. We found ourselves alone beside the magnificent temple, in the ancient arena, and along quiet paths. The temple is huge and well-preserved. One can walk completely around it for an excellent perspective on the architecture. Built in the 5th century, B.C., it has survived at least three earthquakes, and has withstood the ravages of man for so many centuries, but the courthouse in Salem, OR, barely lasted a decade due to poor construction.

After an up-close encounter with the temple, we ascended the hill opposite (305 meters above sea level) where the city used to be, to the location of an ancient arena. There we found gorgeous views back to the temple across fields of wild-flowers in bloom.

Luckily, as this is Italy, one can get a fine espresso freshly pulled by the barista, and

Ric at Segesta

My favorite travel companion in the ancient arena at Segesta.

a freshly made pastry even at an archeological site. Try that at Silver Creek Falls or the Mount St. Helens.Stay-tuned. More to come….

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