The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 5

9th May 2015

It’s Saturday, I’m up scarily early, hoisting my backpack over my shoulders and trudging to the train station in Trapani for the first of two modes of transport that will take me to Selinunte in the south.

I know that Selinunte is a big archaeological site and I also know that to make the afternoon bus to Agrigento later I’ll be short on time. Extra early start to the day it is, then.

First off is a regional train from Trapani to Castelvetrano, a town so devoid of interest that my substantial guidebook devotes a mere paragraph to it and declines to include a map. After an hour and a quarter on the train I arrive at 0807 with over two hours to wait for the bus that will take me to Selinunte, where I have been promised temples that will amaze. Having researched all other options, this seems to be the most efficient way of getting to Selinunte without a car. How long can it seem between 0807 and 1030 anyway? That gives me time for a leisurely breakfast in the station cafe where, I have been reliably informed on Tripadvisor, there is my holy grail, a baggage drop off.

The bus stop is right outside the station, there seems to be only one bus that uses it and Selinunte is the only destination choice. At least I can’t get lost.

The station is devoid of staff and indeed any other sign of life. The cafe is closed and shuttered off, I wait in vain for anyone to open it and the all important deposito bagagli kiosk. Nobody comes. It is a Saturday, apparently this means that Castelvetrano spends a day as a ghost town.

Disheartened, I resign myself to a long, hungry wait for the bus with my bag (that feels heavier by the minute) still resolutely with me.

A local man, aged about 55-65, spies me waiting alone at the bus stop. He sidles up, openly curious. I have three quarters of an hour still to wait, I idly wonder why a local with, presumably, a perfectly good home to be in is also waiting so early. My nose is planted deeper into my book, my headphones shoved more firmly onto my head.

After a little while he disappears and moments later drives up to me in his white pick up van.

“Selinunte?”

He’s guessed I don’t speak Italian and it’s quite clear I’m not exactly here on business. I nod assent. He gestures to the empty passenger seat. I give him a small smile and shake my head.

“Selinunte!!!!”

God, he’s persistant. My reserves of English politeness are disappearing quickly as I get increasingly nervous. My smile disappears and I jab a finger at the bus schedule. I insist, in appalling Italian, that I will get the bus. He drives off and I breathe a sigh of relief.

1015arrives. Only 15 minutes left to wait! The guy drives BACK UP TO ME AGAIN. This time he doesn’t even bother being polite, or trying to tempt me with a smile. He starts screaming at me to get in the car, repeating “Selinunte!” at me over and over and over again. What can I do? The place is deserted, I don’t have a map, I’d be lost and helpless within seconds. The man is increasingly threatening, gesticulating aggressively, furious that a lone, foreign young woman would dare turn down a lift from a stranger more than twice her age. I simply choose to scream “no” at the top of my voice.

Another local man comes up to the bus stop. My life flashes before my eyes. Mercifully, they don’t seem to know each other and the new guy simply stares at the now apoplectic driver with quiet interest. My would be chauffeur finally drives off, cursing loudly. The bus arrives five minutes later and I board, shaking. I can’t relax for the 40 minute journey and I’ve not managed to calm down much when we reach Selinunte.

The restaurant at the entrance to the archaeological site kindly agree to look after my enormous backpack so at least I won’t have to drag 16kg around with me in the blistering heat.

Still, temples always cheer me up. At least they do when they’re not completely obscured by scaffolding…

Selinunte is home to quite a few massive temples, some in remarkable states of preservation. In the postcards and guide books they look incredible. When I visit, someone has decided to do restoration work on everything that stands higher than 3 metres all at once. My blood, by now, is boiling. Today is evidently a make-the-best-of-it day.

First up, the eastern temples, side by side and set apart from the ancient city.

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Temple ‘E’ is believed to be dedicated to Hera. It dates to 460-450BC and much of what is standing was actually reconstructed from fallen stones in the 1950s.

The remains of Temple F  look a bit sorry for themselves in the shadow of the neighbouring 'E.' 'F' is about a century older and smaller in scale. It was dedicated to Aphrodite or Dionysus, depending on which historian you ask.

The remains of Temple F look a bit sorry for themselves in the shadow of the neighbouring ‘E.’ ‘F’ is about a century older and smaller in scale. It was dedicated to Aphrodite or Dionysus, depending on which historian you ask.

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Temple G would have dwarfed the other two eastern temples as is only to be expected of a temple dedicated to Zeus. It was started in 530BC in archaic style, slowly morphing to classical style as work progressed right up to 409BC. Even after that length of construction, the temple was never completed as an attack from the Carthaginians halted building.

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A worn but obviously not official pathway wends through the rubble into the centre of the temple. I’m not sure if tourists are allowed in, but sod it. There’s a good chance I narrowly escaped being raped, murdered and dismembered this morning, I plan to live a little.

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I climb in carefully and slowly. I needn’t have worried, a few hours later a coach load of teenagers were using the stones as a jungle gym.

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The rest of the site is located on the acropolis, a fair old walk away. I instead chose to splash a few euros to have a lovely man drive me over to the acropolis on a golf buggy. #treatyoself…

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Temple C viewed from the eastern section of the archaeological site.

Unhelpfully, information signs are few and far between on the acropolis and guidebooks are unlikely to be of much help either. The fallen remains of several temples are so tightly packed that one ruin merges easily into the next.

Temple C was the only easily identifiable pile of rubble and was therefore, of course, covered in scaffolding obscuring the view. I think the ruin in front of Temple C here is Temple A.

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Similarly, I’m only partially confident that these are stones from Temple D.IMG_3853

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I tried so hard to fall in love with Selinunte, but I just couldn’t after my stressful morning. One day I shall go back with a detailed map and a better guidebook to a site devoid pof scaffolding and all will be well. As it was, I left unsatisfied, uncharitably almost glad the Carthaginians razed the place in 250BC.

Bag retrieved and arancini gratefully devoured, I managed to successfully communicate to the bus driver that instead of going back to Castelvetrano train station I wished to be dropped off at a cafe where another bus would take me to Agrigento. It’s a good job I did, because apparently the Agrigento bus leaves from a completely different place on Saturdays to what I’d prepared for.

I bought my ticket in a nearby cafe and spent two and a half hours waiting there, nursing some diet cokes, for the Agrigento bus. Luckily I had a novel and the cafe had wifi.

Once on the Agrigento bus, I relaxed a little for the first time all day. The two hour journey felt like nothing with the iPod on and the gorgeous scenery to stare at. We arrived at Agrigento at sunset, the view up the slope from the bus giving the most tempting glimpses of beautiful temples glowing in the dying light. And not a scrap of scaffolding to be seen!

I’d booked in at the Il Sole e La Lumia purely for their prices, but found the owners to be the nicest I’d stay with for the whole trip. They’d emailed asking for my travel plans and met me at Agrigento bus station to drive me to their little hotel which I would never have found by myself. The neighbourhood was not pretty, the surroundings shabby, but my room was spacious and comfy. The owners had thought of everything, including a plug in mosquito repellant as the area is apparently notorious. Although they speak no English and I no Italian, we managed to talk via Google Translate on our phones. I was finally happy.

The owners left me alone for the night with one more surprise… Things were looking better already!

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1 Comment

Filed under Travel Journals

One response to “The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 5

  1. Happy ending to a stressful day. The old Italian guy -what a creep.

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