Sicily – Stepping Back in Time [Part 1]

I’ve been a bit slow about blogging lately, so here’s to catching up!  In mid-April, Bobby and I took a nine-day trip to Sicily and it was our second time visiting the island.  On our first trip, we visited some pretty amazing places – Taormina, Siracusa, and Agrigento (to name a view), which are located in the eastern half of Sicily.  This time, we wanted to make a western loop.  I guess you could say our “loop” got a little out of hand being that we ended up covering 3/4 of the island and driving over 500 miles.

We decided to fly to Sicily because the 12+ hour drive and a ferry ride to and from Firenze was just too much the first time around.  We landed in Trapani after the dreaded Ryan Air flight flight from Pisa (although I must admit – assigned seats and pre-boarding with Ryan Air is making it a *little* more bearable these days) and headed out to see the sights.

Trapani is a port town located on Sicily’s western coast.  I can’t say that Trapani is a really beautiful town, but it does have its charm.  In fact, during most of our trip, we commented on how nice it would be to live (at least for a while) the slow-paced, “old” southern lifestyle.  In Trapani, although it’s rather large, it still felt quaint.  There was laundry hanging from clotheslines, people walking to and from work, everyone knew everyone, and even though there is the occasional reminder we are in the 21st century (i.e. the huge cruise liner docked in the port), Trapani really was a big-little old town.

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Peek-a-boo!

Um, this girl/guy has some abs

Um, this girl/guy has some abs

Pretty awesome bronze reliefs on this church gate

Pretty awesome bronze reliefs on this church gate

View of the Trapani coast line

View of the Trapani coast line

Along the coast, just south of Trapani, lies some of Europe’s oldest salt marshes, and is still home to some of the windmills once used to drain water from the basins (containing ponds).  In fact, Trapani’s salt trade dates all the way back to the Greek/Roman times.  Of course in April it’s not warm enough to harvest the salt (they have to wait for the August heat to help the evaporation process along), so there wasn’t a ton of white stuff to be seen. We did, however, catch a couple glimpses of the sparkly crystals in some of the shallower ponds.

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Salt pond and original windmill

Here's a bit of the white stuff

Here’s a bit of the white stuff

At 750 meters above sea level, the town of Erice towers over Trapani.  Erice is a very historic city, with original settlements dating back to the first century AD.  Because it sits atop a mountain, it’s often in a cloud, which adds to its mystique.  The locals told us, “Erice is always wearing a hat.”  We waited a couple hours until the clouds rolled away and were rewarded with absolutely amazing views of the entire valley of Trapani and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

Erice

View of Trapani from Erice

Selfie (well sort of....we used the car as our "tripod")

Selfie (well sort of….we used the car as our “tripod”)

Although the town is very charming with its narrow stone streets and slow-paced lifestyle, we actually visited Erice because it boasted the best pasticceria (bakery) in the Trapani area.  :)  We definitely have our priorities straight!  And if you’ve ever visited Sicily, you’ll know that they have the absolute best pastries in all of Italy, so you can’t really blame us.

Pastry stop #1 (sorry for the weird shadows).  It was voted #1 in the area.

Pastry stop #1 (sorry for the weird shadows). It was voted #1 in the area.

Bobby read some reviews about the sisters who own this bakery and found out they were rather famous in the pastry world.  They are a pair of 85 year old ladies who dress like nuns, have no kids, and have dedicated their lives to baking tasty treats.  He asked to take a photo with one of the sisters and she responded sharply “no” and that was that.  We settled for a solo photo outside by the sign where we wouldn’t disturb her :) In the photo above, we’re eating the “genovese,” a traditional pastry from Erice, either filled with ricotta or cream.  Just take a look at this recipe and you’ll know why it’s so good.

La Genovese:

Ingredients and preparation: 
Pastry
250 g hard wheat flour
250 g flour 00
200 g sugar
200 g butter or margarine cut in pieces
4 yolks
Some table spoons of cold water
icing sugar to sprinkle on top

Filling:
2 yolks
150 g sugar
40 g starch (wheat or corn)
½ lt milk
grated lemon zest

Pastry preparation:
1. Mix both the two flours with the sugar in a large bowl.
2. Add the pieces of butter, then the yolks one after another, stirring slowly with a professional spatula. 3. Add the water until the pastry is soft and elastic. 4. Form a ball without kneading too much otherwise it will get hard. 5. 
Wrap the pastry in plastic and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 6. Roll it out giving them an oval shape, like shown in the picture.

Cream preparation and baking
1. Preheat the oven at 200° degrees. 
2. In a bowl beat the yolks with the sugar using a whisk. 
3. In a sauce pan on a low heat melt carefully the starch in a half glass of milk, then add the remaining milk and mix well. 
4. Pour the mix of yolks and sugar into the milk slowly. Keep stirring for 10-15 minutes, until it becomes solid and smooth. Add the grated lemon zest. 
5. Once ready put the cream in a bowl and let it cool down. 
6. Once is cold take a couple of spoons of cream and fill the oval shaped pastries, one after another (about 2 cm in diameter). Then stick together the two parts giving the shape of half moon, like in the picture. 
7. Once they are all filled, place them on an oven tray and bake them for 8-10 minutes (200° C) at the most. You should have about 15 genovesi. 
8. Finally, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve while still warm. 
We had a couple desserts at this pastry shop and then we moved on to another, where Bobby had to get his favorite Sicilian dessert, the cannolo.  Look at the size of these things!
Cannoli with fresh ricotta

Cannoli with fresh ricotta; that’s one happy man right there!

Our smattering of pastries - including cannoli and "la cassata" (the green one)

Our smattering of pastries – including cannoli and “la cassata” (the green one)

Needless to say, after eating all these desserts, we both suffered from sugar crashes and really wanted to be this guy.

The good life

The good life

Instead of napping on the street, we waddled over to a pretty amazing view of a castle and the surrounding valley of Erice.

This is what you get when you ask someone to take your photo.  No, I didn't want the castle in the background.

This is what you get when you ask someone to take your photo. No, I didn’t want the castle in the background. :p

That's a little better.

That’s a little better.

The wildflowers were pretty amazing.  And so was this plant, although I'm not sure what it is.

The wildflowers were amazing. And so was this guy, although I’m not sure what it is. Bobby kept repeating “California”

We traveled to Marsala the following day for some wine tasting, but didn’t really take any photos.  You can just trust me when I say the wine was delicious!  After Marsala, we drove along the southern coast to the Selinunte temples.  After seeing the “Valley of Temples” in Agrigento a couple years ago, as well as the really famous Parthenon in Greece, I am confident in saying that the temples at Selinunte have the best view.  They sit on the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, which is pretty hard to beat.  Although there were five temples in the original complex, the Temple of Hera was the only one that was actually re-erected.  At its peak (before 409 BC), this ancient Greek town had more than 30,000 people, excluding slaves.

Temple of Hera from afar

Temple of Hera from afar

The wildflowers made for a gorgeous landscape

The wildflowers made for a gorgeous landscape

This is one of the original column bases.  I think it would take the entire 30,000 person population to erect this.

This is one of the original column bases. I think it would take the entire 30,000 person population to erect this.

Selinunte

Ruins of some of the columns

Pretty amazing structure

Pretty amazing structure

Selinunte

One last shot of the Temple of Hera from the back

Selinunte

The Acropolis of Selinunte

Selinunte

View of the shoreline from the Acropolis

The ruins of the Acropolis

The ruins of the Acropolis

Temple of Hera in the background

Temple of Hera in the background

Look at the scale of those columns!

Look at the scale of those columns!

A parting photo

A parting photo

Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll be headed to the Scala dei Turchi, Caltagirone, San Vito lo Capo, and more!