Sicily is glorious. Beautiful. Hot. Photogenic. And totally frustrating, when you trying to see her glory by means of public transport.
Let me give you an example.
The town of Agrigento: I get here by bus. Without mishap. I find my B&B. No worries. I’m thinking maybe I have cracked Sicily, after 6 weeks! Apart from eat gelato and look at churches, there are two major things to do in Agrigento: Valle dei Templi (The Valley of the Temples) and the Scala de Turchi (Turkish Steps). My b&b is advertising an evening expedition to the Valley for €10, so I go to ask about it. Having been struggling with navigating on my own for nearly two weeks, I wanted a bit of head space and someone to think for me.
Me: Hi. Can I do this tour?
Check in guy: No. This is touristic. Get a public bus. Cost €1.60 each ticket.
He shows me a blurry map and I begrudgingly stomp towards the bus stop. I arrive at the stop and there is a myriad of timetables and numbers and colored routes. I am instantly confused. I ask a French couple who are waiting what they hell this all means, and they tell me to go inside the train station to buy my tickets. OK. That done I come out and make traveller small talk with the Frenchies.
The bus arrives. I get on. I tell the driver where I am going. He is on his phone, and has a friend with him, but says “Si”. I try to ask him to let me know where to get off. “Si.”
As we sail past the temples, I look at the Frenchies. “I guess that was my stop!” Approaching the driver, I remind him of my stop. Him and his friend stop their conversation long enough to tell me I am meant to push the button to stop the bus. I smile and try to explain that this is my first time here, I have no idea where the bloody stop is and was counting on his help. He tells me to stay on the bus for the loop.
About 40 minutes later, I see the temples in the distance. I approach the driver again. “Temples?” “Si”. We pull off into a recess and I get off. I can see the temples. I have arrived. I am happy. After all, missing your stop is a minor glitch.
I walk up a long driveway towards an office. I arrive to be told by a guard sitting inside that this is not the ticket office. I have to walk down the road, turn right and go the ticket office at Gate 5. I stare at him in bewilderment, so much so that he asks me, “Do you speak English?” I wonder why, if he is sitting on his arse all day anyway, he can’t sell tickets.
So, I wander 10 minutes down a highway with no hard shoulder and into peak hour traffic, at dusk. I dutifully turn, as instructed. Ahead, the ticket office. YAY. But NO! This is not the ticket office either. This is the ticket if you want a taxi inside the valley. Keep walking, Signora. It might be 7pm, but it is still 34 degrees. I am losing my will to live.
Finally, I come to the carpark and the real ticket office.Clearly, the punters are all meant to arrive by car to this attraction.
As I approach the ticket office a uniformed man with 4 teeth is making an announcement in very fast Sicilian. I understand nothing. As politely as I can muster, I ask him if he speaks English. He gives me the Sicilian I-don’t-give-a-fuck shoulder shrug. A voice from behind says, “The ticket office is closed”. Four teeth holds up 8 fingers and bares his gums.
Sadly, friends, the next words out of my mouth are “FOR FUCK’S SAKE”. I am not proud. I sit on the ground and contemplate smashing my head open with a piece of stone.
The ticket office opens eventually, at around 7:30. I join the end of queue and enter into the Valley of Temples, a tortuous 3 hours after setting out.
Was it worth it? I’ll let you decide.
Going home, I wait at the bus stop, the bus sails past me…and screeches to a halt in the middle of the road. Guess what? Same driver. And the Frenchies on board too.
The next day, the Scala, a cool 3km walk from the nearest public bus stop or a €50 taxi ride for a 15 km journey. I walked.
Another time, remind me to tell you about Trapani and the bike rental place with no bikes, the boat trip that wasn’t and trying to walk to see the Salina (salt plains).