OUR BUDDY, VITO.
Near Agrigento we got hopelessly lost in Ragusa, another baroque town nestled on a mountaintop. After about an hour of mindless meandering we stopped an old man on the road to ask for directions. His instructions were incomprehensible; “make a left at the old tree and a right at the place that burned down.” Knowing I would never be able to distinguish the “old tree” from any other tree, I offered to take him where ever he was going if he accompanied us to our hotel. Happily he agreed. He directed us to the Hotel Dell’Orologio that we would never have found without him. His name was Vito. Later we saw Vito at a bar in the local plaza regaling several other men with the story of how he helped the lost Americans.
VILLA ROMANA DEL CASALE
On the way to Agrigento there is a well excavated Roman villa, Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were anxious to get to Agrigento with its outsized reputation for Greek ruins and almost passed on the Roman villa. That would have been a big mistake. The “Villa” is actually more like a palace with the largest, most complex and best preserved collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Built in the 4th century AD it was severely damaged at various times in its history until it was finally abandoned in the 12th century after a landslide buried it. Excavations took place throughout the 20th century and the mosaics survived relatively intact. Seeing them is another one of those travel moments where you feel a connection to the past.
VALLEY OF THE TEMPLES
Agrigento lived up to its reputation for Greek ruins. The Valley of Temples in Agrigento has several structures but the Tempio della Concordia, named in honor of the Roman goddess of harmony, is the most impressive. Built of marble in the 5th century BC, it was already ancient when the Romans first saw it. It was dismantled in the middle ages, the stone used for housing and the land turned into a lime pit. A LIME PIT!! Nevertheless what’s left will give you an idea of how impressive this place must have been once upon a time.
THE TRANSPARENT EGG
Right outside Agrigento we checked in to the Baglio della Luna, an “agriturismo” guest house. These are hotels that offer meals as well as outdoor activities such as hiking and four-wheel drives. These seem to be increasingly popular throughout Europe. They are nice places to hang out for a couple of days to explore the scenic countryside. I’ve been to a couple of these in Europe and have found them to be a nice alternative to the traditional hotel or guest house. This guest house had a very nice restaurant but for some reason they were promoting a dish called “transparent egg.” As far as I could tell this was a regular, run-of-the-mill fried egg dressed up with colorful spices and displayed on a fancy dish to make it appear somehow extraordinary. Nevertheless the waitress, and no less than the restaurant manager, came to our table to recommend the egg and sing its praises. We ordered it and, as suspected, it was a standard common egg. It was good but certainly not worthy of the drama and praise the restaurant showered on it. Very odd.
Have you ever gotten hopelessly lost in a foreign city?
Read the other installments of the series: Seven Delicious Adventures in Southern Italy.