A walk to the Reserve

WWF Reserve, Saline di Trapani

To reach the Salina reserve from where my mother lives, taking the most direct route, took me about an hour, including a few stops to capture images, to cover the nearly 5 km journey on foot. I left early so as to cover as much distance as I could before the temperature rose, which it did well into the 30s celcius by the time I got there. I must have been out to punish myself for some reason.

Salt pans or, more accurately, evaporation ponds and irrigation channel

The purpose of my outing was to capture some images of the now disused evaporation ponds that form the reserve, to visit the WWF centre and, hopefully, to see some bird life including Greater Flamingos. I was out of luck with the flamingos that will arrive later in the summer but also with the WWF centre which was closed. On reflection I have never seen the place open but I have seen reports from those who have visited.

WWF information board

  1. The roadside edge of the salt ponds have tall reeds that obscure the view. There are a couple of breaks in the reeds, including a simple wooden “hide” at one corner of a pond, so I was able to get good views of a few birds.

WWF sitting area and “hide”

I am not usually lucky enough to get close to birds in the wild but they were kind to me and allowed me to get some reasonable shots of Little Terns, Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and egrets. In addition to the bird pics I bagged a few of the salt pans and the old windmills that were used in the past to pump water from the pans. I could hear reed warblers of some kind but didn’t see these elusive birds.

Avocet (image to be replaced from camera later this month)

On the way back I saw a kestrel, a few moorhens and a family of mallard. A couple of years ago I saw Spoonbills, Shelduck, Greater Flamingos and some shorebirds.

Overall it was a productive outing, though really hot on the way back. I was disappointed that the WWF centre was closed but perhaps on a future visit I will have a chance to talk to the staff about the habitat.

Salt production is still a significant industry in Trapani using modern methods of production. In addition to the ponds near the reserve there is large production areas at between Trapani and Marsala.

How to get there

I do not recommend walking unless you are very keen to get exercise.

By car, take the SP21 road from Trapani to Marsala. It passes the WWF centre where there is on-road parking on the side road outside the centre (not on the main highway).

Google Map view

There are no buses on this route.

Arancina Siciliana

Ragu arancina with kebab

The famous Sicilian rice balls, known as arancini in view of their size, shape and colour that remind one of oranges, have to be on the list of the “must try” treats to experience when visiting the island.

The rice balls made with a filling, coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. The most common fillings are ragù, mozzarella, or ham and mozzarella.

The best in my opinion are the arancini made with ragu filling (minced beef, tomato and herbs – similar to a bolognese sauce).

It is common to find arancini, regarded as snacks or street food, in bakeries, supermarkets and in cafes.

In some parts of Sicily the arancini are formed into a conical shape. In both cases, round or conical, there are similar looking products served in Brazil where they are known as “coxinha” as a result of their taking the approximate shape of a chicken thigh (that’s another story for when I return to Brazil), ball-shaped but with different ingredients.

It is believed that arancini have been around in Sicily since the days of the muslim occupation of the island ie 1000 years or more.

As with many traditional foods the arancina is considered a meal in itself. Like the cornish pastie, or sandwich, arancini were made to be carried and eaten on the move. The original take-aways.

Tourist disadvantage?

There are many people of my age who are averse to using technology to simplify their lives. I was, at one point in my Marketing days, of the opinion that the more you could put into mobile phone functionality the better.

While I am still of that opinion sometimes the engines of commerce seem to work in favour of the wrong folk.

Currently in Italy, and with my iPhone using a UK sim card with an EU roaming package, I decided to buy a ferry ticket from Trapani to visit the nearby island of Favignana for a day. I did a Google search that took me to DirectFerries, a UK based agent. I could find no other agents, so presumably the UK sim decided I should use someone that it liked. I think it’s nice that AI should be able to select its own friends.

I selected the points of departure and terminus and the travel date. I then chose the available travel times, and paid by debit card with an extra insurance charge in case I needed to amend or cancel the trip (having had such a need on most bookings made this year!). Easy.

Then the email confirmation arrived. Unfortunately, it indicated that my point of departure was Marsala and not Trapani as requested. That’s a bit like booking a flight from Edinburgh and being told it departs from Glasgow.

I hopped onto the agent’s site only to get a “system down, try later” message. Maybe the site was down for maintenance. Try again later. Nothing.

Try the call centre. No answer. Try again. No answer. Try email. Try online and call centre next day. No answer. Monday – try email, call centre and online – this time to cancel. Nada!

I found their Facebook page. Not good. Full of complaints about poor service etc. Some comments quite angry …. including mine. The following is not mine but is similar.

The response that I, and many others, received was similar (simple cut and paste reply), or asked that a personal message should be sent (obviously to keep the ensuing rage offline).

Despite me paying for insurance the agent refused to make a refund (ignoring the fact that the email confirmation stating that full refunds were possible) even having the arrogance to state that they deduct an admin fee on refunds but anything less than £100 it isn’t worth THEIR effort to make a refund!

Blatant profiteering, exceptionally poor customer service, and an unbelievably arrogant approach to commerce.

Needless to say I have told the company that I shall take legal action for the cost of the tickets plus legal fees. They didn’t seem phased but merely sent another cut and paste response. My legal claim is in process and based on the evidence submitted I expect to win. Soon.

Based in my experience and that of those other unfortunate clients I recommend avoiding Direct Ferries. Book direct with the ferry operator (who were sympathetic but unable to assist).

The Direct Ferries FB page is full of apologetic fob-offs. They make reference to their terms and conditions (to avoid liability for refunds) yet these terms are not visible at the time of booking and conflict with what they say, and charge for, elsewhere.

THIS IS A COMPANY TO BE AVOIDED

Post script

I decided to get a local sim-card for my phone. A much better deal than the EE roaming plan that seemed to use data even when the phone was switched off. I recommend the TIM one-month tourist plan. Really good deal even if staying for only a week. It also picks up local booking sites more easily than the UK sim did. Bear in mind that a one-month plan has a fixed data content. If that is exceeded than you need to buy a new sim and, even though the TIM app lets you top up, any top up will not work. I discovered this the hard way and am still trying to get a refund from TIM.

Pps (21NOV19)

Now nearly the end of November and still have not received the refund from TIM. Whike they possibly have the best package for tourists I shall never use them again as they have, seemingly deliberately, tried to avoid making the refund. Despite assurances that they had done so at the beginning of this week there is no sign of it reaching my account.

A Taste of Trapanese History

Entrance to the Pepoli Museum (facing out towards the gardens of the Santuary of the Madonna of Trapani)

In my teens, while visiting relatives in Rome, I was given a choice of spending a day visiting the Vatican etc or going to the beach. I chose beach! I guess, as a younger man, I always preferred sun and sand to old relics though I now like art galleries and museums more than beaches. Or as my daughters might say “You like old relics because you are one!”

In spite of having spent many weeks or months in Sicily over the past 10 years I had never visited a museum on the island. Last week, while returning from a photo project, I passed through the gardens adjacent to the Agostino Pepoli Regional Museum, took a few pictures and decided that I should return.

Considering the history of the region I am surprised that there aren’t more museums in Trapani. I suppose it’s because the majority of tourists come here for the sun, sea and sand as I would have done years ago.

The Pepoli museum covers a wide range of aspects of Trapani’s history and I was happy to see a group of young school children with their teachers apparently conducting a history lesson there.

View from the gate of the museum, separating from the Sanctuary gardens, towards the entrance to the museum.

The entrance to the Museum is behind the Santuary of the Madonna of Trapani, one of the principal churches in the town, and is reached by passing through the gardens that seem to attract a daily quota of both pensioners that enjoy the coolness and tranquility of the setting and young children, whose laughter as they play under the watchful eye of their mothers in the shade of the trees, echos off the front of the Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary viewed from within the gardens

A gate separates the museum from the gardens, with a pair of white stone column heads positioned as if to welcome visitors. A wide path leads between an area littered with ancient masonry and a large anchor on one side, and a bust of Sr Agostino Pepoli on the other.

One of a pair of white stone column heads outside the museum gate

Once inside the shaded entrance of the Museum one can see the cloisters that borders the museum garden.

Cloisters with garden

I paid €6.00 to enter the museum and was given a brochure in English. I believe they offer French and German versions too (in addition to Italian, of course).

Brochure and entrance ticket

Museum staff are on hand as one enters the building and throughout the museum in various rooms to ensure you follow the appropriate flow of the exhibition areas. Anyone with questions or seeking clarification on any aspect can of course approach the staff who are happy to provide the benefit of their knowledge.

One of the first exhibition areas in the museum is that of religious artefacts

Ceramic tiles depicting the town of Trapani

Garden with the bell tower of the Sanctuary above and behind the museum walls

A number of stone decorations on loose display under the cloisters

View of the cloisters and shaded part of the garden

What to see

Paintings of historical figures linked to Trapani

Paintings and sculptures of religious subjects

Example of clothes and jewellery of the Baroque era

Painted wall and floor tiles

Roman and Greek pottery, metal and glassware dating back over 2,500 years

Fascinating finely detailed carvings and dioramas of historic scenes eg views of life, of nativity, and horrific images of the Massacre of the Innocents.

How to get there

via Conte Agostino Pepoli, 180

By bus, taxi or car, but there is only street parking

Open:

weekdays 9 am – 1 pm and 3 pm – 7.30 pm Sundays and holidays from 9 am to 12.30 pm

SUMMER TIME (JULY AND AUGUST):

weekdays: Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 5.30pm

Sunday and public holidays: from 9.00 to 12.30

This is a great place to see so much history in one place. A visit to this museum is highly recommended.

Favignana

Favignana port with the tuna cannery on the far side and the Norman fortress of Santa Caterina

Located at the toe of Italy Sicily is an island that has smaller islands under its administrative responsibility. The nearest of these, the Aegadian Islands (Italian: Isole Egadi; Sicilian: Isuli Egadi), are a group of three small mountainous islands and two smaller rocky outcrops in the Mediterranean Sea off the northwest coast of Sicily near the cities of Trapani and Marsala.

The five Egadi islands

Favignana, the largest island, is 16 kilometres (10 miles) southwest of Trapani while Levanzo lies 13 kilometres west and Marettimo lies farthest away at 24 kilometres west of Trapani. The two minor islands, Formica and Maraone, lie between Levanzo and Sicily. The administration of the archipelago falls under the comune of Favignana in the Province of Trapani.

Liberty Lines ticket office at Trapani port

To reach the three larger islands you have to take a ferry from Trapani port. I made the mistake of booking online through an agency (for some reason I couldn’t access the ferry company’s site) and was obliged to re-buy a ticket at the port. More on this in a separate post – it’s another example of what can go wrong with online reservations that seem to be a regular feature for me this year.

The hydrofoil takes 30 minutes to Levanzo and another 10 minutes to Favignana. Not listening carefully to the announcements I got off at Levanzo but, realising my error, reboarded.

Fishing boats at Favignana marina

Once docked at Favignana, I walked up the slight rise along the edge of the marina that was littered with small wooden fishing boats.

Aside from tourism, Favignana’s principle industry is tuna fishing. There is a cannery where visitors can see the process of preparation, cooking and canning of products that are exported.

At the top I followed the road to the right towards and round the landmark Palazzo Florio where I took a couple of photos, and then along via Florio to Piazza Europa.

Palazzo Florio

Piazza Florio is triangular in shape with the Municipality building facing in from the wider end, a statue of Ignazio Florio in the centre, and a variety of ice-cream parlours bordering the square. Ignazio Florio was an entrepreneur and politician who owned the Egadi islands and established tuna fisheries on Favignana and Formica.

Statue of Ignazio Florio in front of the Municipality building in Piazza Europa

To be honest, I found the lack of restaurant options a bit frustrating. For anyone actually staying on the island for more than a couple of days I imagine this could prove irritating.

From there I walked along via Vitorio Emanuele to Piazza Matrice. Facing the piazza is the church of the Immaculate Conception (Chiesa Madre Maria SS Immacolata), a nice church that is ornately decorated in white and cream tones inside.

Inside the Maria Santissima church

I had lunch at Tunafish City, a casual food bar whose speciality was a tuna sandwich. Fresh tuna, grilled and served on a bun with tomato. I had a glass of prosecco to acompany the food.

Tuna sandwich at Tunafish City

I walked around, exploring a few lanes (always good fun in the hope of finding unexpected stuff) before taking a route back to the marina where I found the tourist “train”. The driver was waiting for the incoming ferry so after about 20 minutes we were on our way.

The route took us into the countryside where the driver gave a running commentary about the island, the views and the indigenous plants.

Derelict garden outside Favignana town

On return to the marina I walked back to Bar del Corso, in a corner of piazza Europa, for coffee and a pistachio cassatina that looked nicer than it tasted. The coffee was good though.

Bar del Corso which serves a variety of ice creams as well as pastries and snacks

Pistachio Cassatina

This was less than a half-day excursion. I had taken the 11:30 ferry to Favignana and the 16:45 ferry back to Trapani.

At one stage during my visit I thought about catching an earlier ferry back but had decided instead to take the train tour. So, on balance a half-day was enough for me.

Anyone wishing to visit the cannery or Santa Caterina fort would need a whole day.

How to get there

Hydrofoil ferry from Trapani to Favgnana. Round trip fare is about €20 per person.

Tickets are available on the day from Trapani port though in summer its best to book in advance.

Erice to Erice – the cable car

Funivia – upper station

There are days when the queue to embark the cable car to upper Erice is so full of tourists that you feel like giving up the idea of travelling on it. But the cable car system is on a loop, each car carrying up to 8 passengers, so the queues move quickly.

Although referred to as Funivia Trapani-Erice the lower station is located in the Casa Santa neighbourhood of Erice – or Lower Erice as I refer to it. (I wrote a three-part article about Erice some time ago: first part here)

It costs €9 for the round trip to the top and back. Journey time each way is about 10 minutes. The cable car station at the top is on via delle Pinete across the road from the car park.

Trapani Gate

Up the hill, on the opposite side of the road, is Porta Trapani (Trapani Gate) one of the two arched entrances to the medieval town.

Madre Chiesa

From here you can explore the sights of old Erice, including the Norman castle, the cathedral, numerous churches and chapels, the gardens and the Spanish quarter.

Small chapel near the Cathedral

One of many lanes to explore

How to get there

Taxi, bus (need to check but bus number 23 may take you all the way) or by car.

If you are on a cruise then the cruise line can arrange transport and Funivia tickets (package cost is, I believe, €40). The advantage of arranging this on the cruise boat is that it won’t leave without you!

If you enjoy walking it takes about 45 minutes at a reasonably brisk pace:

To reach the Funivia station from the port of Trapani one heads inland on via Mazzini, past Trapani railway station,

Gardens on the platform, Trapani railway station

turn right onto via Fardella which later becomes corso Mattarella and later still, crossing into Erice, becomes via Manzoni.

Via Fardella, Trapani

Near the end of via Manzoni turn left onto via Cosenza at Cafe delle Rose, where I usually stop for a coffee or glass of wine, or to pop into Ciuri-Ciuri on the other corner for excellent ice cream and cakes. Alternatively, carry on for a couple more street, turning onto via Capua. If taking via Capua, the Funivia station is about three block on the right hand side. If taking via Cosenza, continue along the road for a couple of blocks then turn right onto via Avellino and the Funivia is dead ahead.

Cobbs for Brunch

Outdoor enthusiasts can have a pleasant time browsing and/or buying clothes, accessories or gear for camping, mountaineering or sport at a well-stocked specialist .

Combine such a shopping experience with a good Sunday brunch and you have, potentially, a great way to spend half a day – even better if the other half of the day is spent trekking in the hills.

I had a very nice brunch at Cobbs located at Craigdon Mountain Sports store. It was the second time that I’d had brunch there, very pleased with the food quality and ambience on both occasions.

I ordered the Cobbs Works – essentially a full Scottish breakfast.

Cobbs Works – a full Scottish breakfast

Grilled bacon, leek and pork sausages, black pudding, haggis, baked beans, tomatoes, toast and an egg (fried for me). (£8.50 with a hot drink included – I had an americano). I think the toast may have been an extra (£1).

With apologies to vegans and vegetarians I found the two rashers of bacon to be grilled to perfection. The mushrooms,too, were great – I don’t like overcooked mushrooms. The egg was a bit over-fried but I did ask for it to be well done as I am not keen on under-cooked whites. The rest of the items were good.

Anericano coffee

On the last occasion I had the vegan full breakfast which was really good. I have already posted about that so won’t repeat here.

There are lots of options on the menu which is great for families and other small groups. The place is both child friendly and dog friendly so a great option if you like taking walks before or after lunch.

Where

Situated next to the Pentland hills at the roundabout joining Biggar Road and Swanton Drive off the A702.

44, Biggar Road, Edinburgh, EH10 7BJ

Phone: +44 131 445 4581

Photographic Tour of Western Sicily

Segesta

After a very warm Easter in UK what better way to see out the end of Spring than to spend a few days in Sicily!

I spend a lot of time in Sicily which is an enormously fascinating country – and photogenic too. I shall be there in June / July to welcome anyone with an interest in learning more about photography to spend a day with me exploring towns like Marsala, Erice and Corleone.

Apart from the opportunity to get fresh air and see parts of the island, you will gain an understanding of how to control your camera and to see landscapes with a different point of view.

Corleone.png

What you will learn:

  1. Starting: Camera basics – body, lens and sensors
  2. Seeing: Composition and objective
  3. Capture: How to use the camera’s shooting modes
  4. Control: Making the most of aperture, shutter speed and ISO
  5. Lighting: Daylight and artificial light
  6. Histograms: what they tell you

What you will need:

  • A digital camera with the ability to control exposure:
    • Programmed Auto (P)
    • Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
    • Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
    • Manual (M)
  • Flash (optional) There may be a flash incorporated in the camera that you have
  • Standard/wide-angle. (Telephoto/zoom lens – optional)
  • Tripod (optional but useful)
  • Water and warm clothes

Screenshot 2019-02-01 at 19.25.37

The Tour (conducted in English)

This will be a whole day session with an early start!

We will meet at the railway station in Palermo that will enable us to get some good views, to stop and chat about what we are doing, and to discuss/answer questions.

We will stop half-way through to have lunch (cost not included in the package) and talk through any issues. There will also be time to try cannoli or ice cream.

In the afternoon we have the option of seeing either the old and infamous town of Corleone or to visit the archaeological site of Segesta and the salt pans of Marsala (where we may stay on to sample the famous fortified wine).

Total time from start to finish will be about 10 hours.

Don’t forget to ensure you have a fresh memory card and fully charged battery in the camera. If in doubt bring back-up!

AS17-03470

Freshly made cannoli

Price

£200.00 per person (excludes flights)

£100.00 on booking to secure place (non-refundable)

Balance to be paid on the day of the tour.

When

Date: 12JUN19 or 19JUN19

How to get there

Fly to Palermo. There are direct and indirect flights from various UK airports.

Photographic Tour of Edinburgh

Screenshot 2019-02-01 at 17.54.07Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

It’s as cold as it will get in Edinburgh at this time of year. Best to stay indoors near a warm fireplace, drinking hot chocolate. Or not!

Why not venture out? If you had a New Year resolution to take up or improve your photography then why not wrap up warm and take a photo tour of the beautiful city of Edinburgh with an experienced professional photographer to guide you in a practical walking workshop.

Apart from the opportunity to get fresh air and see parts of the city, you will gain an understanding of how to control your camera and to see the city with a different point of view.

Screenshot 2019-02-01 at 18.14.17

What you will learn:

  1. Starting: Camera basics – the camera body, interchangeable lenses and camera sensors
  2. Seeing: Composition and objective
  3. Capture: How to use the camera’s shooting modes*
  4. Control: Making the most of aperture, shutter speed and ISO
  5. Lighting: Daylight and artificial light
  6. Histograms*: what they tell you

* If your camera doesn’t have these features, let me know in advance of the tour.

What you will need:

  • A digital camera with the ability to control exposure:
    • Programmed Auto (P)
    • Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
    • Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
    • Manual (M)
  • Flash (optional) There may be a flash incorporated in the camera that you have
  • Standard/wide-angle. (Telephoto/zoom lens – optional)
  • Tripod (optional but useful)
  • Water and warm clothes

Screenshot 2019-02-01 at 19.25.37

The 9th March, 2019 Tour – Royal Botanical Garden

It will be a slow walking tour, not a long trek, but one that will enable us to get some good views, to stop and chat about what we are doing, and to discuss/answer questions.

We will stop half-way through to have a light lunch (cost not included in the package)  which will give us time to talk through any issues.

Total time from start to finish will be about 5-6 hours.

Meet: East Gate 10.00am

Don’t forget to ensure you have a fresh memory card and fully charged battery in the camera. If in doubt bring back-up!

Note: This tour assumes that images captured will NOT be used for commercial gain, solely for personal use. In order to use images captured in the gardens commercially it is necessary to obtain prior approval from the RBGE press office.

Please note that entrance to the Gardens is free but there will be a charge of £7.00 to enter the Glasshouses – well worth the visit if only to warm up on a cold day – where we can photograph exotic flowers, cacti and orchids.

img_2959-1

Price

£90.00  £60.00 per person (Winter Special!)

£30.00 on booking to secure place (non-refundable)

Balance to be paid on the day of the tour.