Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

I showed up at the car rental agency AutoEuropa – Sicily by Car. The car was ready to go, I was ready to go and then came the defining moment – the credit card. The card that I have is from Chase – one of the gargantuan American banks – but the card has no raised numbers. He immediately said “we cannot accept an electronic card”. What?!! It’s a credit card, your machine can read it, it’s from a major american bank, the information on the web says “credit card” not “credit card with raised numbers on the front”. Sorry, no dice. OK, I want to talk to a manager. I called their number and they repeated – no dice. Bummer. So the manager directed me to another agency where I rented a car. For him I had to leave a 200 euro cash deposit because I had the suspect electronic credit card. I’m just hoping that all goes OK on the return.

So now a whirlwind tour of the car noting two dents, not at all abnormal for Palermo, and quick directions I’m off in my Renault (diesel I might add). Just take a right at the light and follow the signs to the airport to get on the autostrada heading west. OK. Except there are no signs. Zip, zero –  and I watched closely. I had an interesting tour of the city which lasted about an hour and a half until I finally got clear directions to find the right road. It’s too long a story to relate but, well, interesting. Man, this is one time that it really helped to speak passable Italian.

So Agrigento seemed like a good place to spend the first night. It’s about a third of the way around the island, was originally a greek city starting somewhere around 600 BC and is bless with a tourist attraction: La Valle dei Tempi – The Valley of the Temples. Antiquities are not generally my thing. I’d rather go to supermarkets, hardware stores and especially wine shops to experience another country but what the hell, I decided to go for the temples. There are a couple of really impressive temples, one of which is largely intact. From there it goes downhill. It’s just one of those things where a sign points to a pile of big rocks and says that this was some important and impressive structure at one time. To me it’s still just a pile of rocks.

Still it was a bella passeggiata (a nice walk) in practically springlike, short sleeve shirt weather of 22 degrees C. Sunny despite earlier forcasts of rain. I drove on into town around 3:30 PM to look for a hotel. This was a real challenge and my tolerance for long searches for parking spaces is thin at best. Still after only 15 or 20 minutes driving around small streets followed by impatient drivers I saw a sign for a hotel close enough to the historic center and parked only slightly illegally and found the hotel after asking a couple of people for directions. They had a room and the cost is 30 euros a night with breakfast. The manager (I think a family member) moved his scooter to give me a place to park.

In driving from Palermo to Agrigento I have found Sicily beautiful and sometime dramatic in it’s landscape. It seems to be semi-arid but just things are cultivated almost everywhere. There are lots of veggies, olive trees and vineyards. First impression of Agrigento is that it’s much cleaner than Palermo although that is, after all, a pretty low bar. Unfortunately I ate in what may be the worst restaurant in Agrigento. Let’s just say that I learned a lesson about accepting advice from a couple of nice older gentlemen on the street and the value of trusting one’s own instincts. Perhaps I ate at the place of a stupid brother-in-law. The evening was somewhat redeemed at a stop at a pasticheria. Sicily is rightly famous for it’s sweets!

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