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.

Walking photo tour of Trapani

The images and text in this post provide a summary of the walking tour that I conducted last month. Greater detail may appear in specific subject articles at a later date.

In view of the really hot weather that Trapani had been “enjoying” the walking tour started at 08:30 so as to complete it before the heat of the sun got too uncomfortable.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

The tour began at the statue of King Vittorio Emanuele II which sits in the square of the same name. We spent a few minutes taking photos of the statue (composition, rule of thirds, golden ratio) before crossing via Fardella, now closed to traffic, to the fountain of Triton.

Triton fountain

The fountain features two large horses in the middle of the water feature that is centred on a bronze figure of Triton (a Greek god of the sea, son of Poseidon).

Here we spent 15 minutes taking creative shots (selective depth of field, aperture control) from various points of view of the fountain before crossing via Spalti to the gardens of Villa Margherita.

A shaded boundary inside the Villa Margherita gardens

Although referred to as a “villa” the Villa Margherita is a public garden that was established in honour of Queen Margherita. It is bounded by broad tree-lined paths with colourful flowers in the central areas.

Bougainvillea, palms and exotic trees in flower in Villa Margherita

There are statues of a variety of famous people dotted around the gardens and a nice water feature at the top end. We spent 30 minutes here (histograms, manual controls).

Piazza Vittorio Veneto

Moving on, we then walked to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, named after the site of a major battle in the Venetian area that ended the Austro-Hungarian empire and contributed to the end of WWI. Around the square are a number of government buildings including the Post Office (under renovation but still operating).

Post Office interior with art deco decoration

The inside of the post office is well worth looking at. It has an art deco style in good condition (contrast, available light). The outside of the building has been partly covered for the last two years but the process of renovating this 90 year-old building seems inordinately slow, though to be fair the work has to be done to last many more years.

Just beyond the Piazza is the start of via Garibaldi.

Via Garibaldi

Via Garibaldi, named after Giuseppe Garibaldi who was instrumental in the unification of Italy and subsequent creation of the Kingdom of Italy, is part of the old town of Trapani. It is closed to traffic other than delivery vehicles. Along the road are a number of historic buildings and churches though the narrowness of via Garibaldi means it is not entirely photogenic.

Bar Il Salotto, via Garibaldi

At the end of via Garibaldi, more specifically at the bar Il Salotto, we took a short rest to have a cooling and healthy pomegranate juice while discussing progress so far and what was to come.

Fish Market Square

Around the corner from the bar is the old fish market square, now used for cultural events.

The square is bounded on two sides by a colonnade atop the sea wall with the sea behind. It features a bronze statue of Venus/Aphrodite near the road.

We left the square, taking the narrow path of via Mura di Tramontana West, along the top if the sea wall. From here we had views of part of the old town fortification towards the Bastione Conca and the beach below it.

Bastione Conca, Mura di Tramontana, Trapani

After visiting the Bastion we took the steps down from via Mura di Tramontana and along the road before entering viale delle Sirene (Avenue of the Sirens) and back onto the Mura di Tramontana.

Beach view, Mura di Tramontana, Trapani

View of Torre di Ligny from Mura di Tramontana, Trapani

Yellow-legged Gull

Torre de Ligny

We left Torre de Ligny, heading back towards town on Corso Vittorio Emanuele (the Rua Grande, built in the 13th century) passing the Cathedral of San Lorenzo (St Lawrence) towards the famous astronomical clock tower on via Torrearsa.

Porta Oscura

Porta Oscura, the dark gate, is one of the four historic entrances to the old town. Above and adjacent to the gate is the clock tower.

Torre del Orologio

The astronomical clock, built in 1596, is one of the oldest of its kind and still functions.

We were now on via Torrearsa.

Via Torrearsa

At one end of via Torrearsa is the fish market square that we had passed earlier, and were now returning to, while at the other end is the port. This makes the road, with its shops, bars, restaurants and points of interest, a busy place for tourists especially those on cruise liners that frequent Trapani.

Fontana de Saturno

While walking along via Torrearsa we stopped at the Saturn Fountain that was built to commemorate the opening of the aqueduct built in 1342.

We then made our way back to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele to conclude the walking photo tour.

Apart from learning a little bit about Trapani, participants on the tour receive practical instruction on camera usage including:

Starting: Camera basics – body, lens and sensors

Seeing: Composition and objective

Capture: How to use the camera’s shooting modes

Control: Making the most of aperture, shutter speed and ISO

Lighting: Daylight and artificial light

Histograms: what they tell you

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.

Cassata

Traditional Sicilian painted wagon

Before having a siesta after lunch last week I came across something on Face Book that a friend had posted.

http://www.custonaciweb.it/i-dolci-piu-buoni-del-mondo-sono-siciliani-ad-affermarlo-e-il-new-york-times/

It’s an article that appeared on the village webpage of Custonaci, a small town outside Erice. The article references a piece published at the end of last year in the Los Angeles Times about the best pastries in the world being made in Sicily.

While in general I would agree, as soon as I saw the article I was struck by deja vu. To finish off our lunch of roast chicken and panelle we had …. one of the very same pastries featured above.

Cassatina Sicilianathe classic mini Sicilian cassata

The ones we bought were from a local pasticceria in Erice, while not the best that I have eaten they were a nice way to finish our meal.

Cassatina is a small cake, that’s how I think it’s best to describe it. The nearest thing in UK supermarkets are the famous Mr Kipling French Fancies – small sponge cakes that are covered in icing.

Selection of Mr Kipling French Fancies

Personally, I like the Kipling cakes though do not feel the sane sense of satisfaction after eating them that I get from cassatina’s.

The Sicilian cassatina, if well made, has that level of satisfaction that only comes with freshly made cakes made with great ingredients and the passion of a good pastry chef.

The traditional cassatine are made with a sponge base soaked in fruit juice (or alcohol, eg marsala), with a layer of ricotta cheese and candied fruit, topped with a thin covering of marzipan. Delicious and possible to make at home (though I will write about this at a later date).

Dar El Medina

Dar El Medina

This little restaurant advertises itself as a specialist in couscous and pizza. While the food is decidedly good I always feel that there is something missing here. That “something” is, for me, the absence of an atmosphere promised by the name of the restaurant.

Window display promoting couscous and pizza

The parents of the owners were Tunisian while the owners, born and raised in Trapani, regard themselves as Sicilians. Dar El Medina, which translates as Gate (or door) of the Town in English, offers a hint that you are about to enter a corner of Tunisia in Sicily. Had they called the restaurant “Porta da Citta” I would automatically assume the food to be Sicilian, or Trapanese, or even Italian.

While I can understand the owners wish to both assimilate yet offer the type of food they obviously know how to prepare well, the execution comes out as neutral at best and disappointing at worst.

The ambience

The decor is modern and clean, though bordering on clinical. White walls and square white plates, few plants, simple overhead lights and splashes of colour in the form of nameless decorations.

The tables were white with inset aqua-coloured ceramic tiles that remind you of clear green seas. However, these were then covered in yellow tablemats, thus losing a touch of Mediterranean colour in the process. One could sit at high-backed dark brown bench seats or on modern yet simple armless chairs. The music was modern Italian and American.

The food was good. Very good.

So two things that I would recommend. The first is a quick fix that would help the ambience. Music. Traditional Tunisian songs or folkloric dance music. The sort of stuff that can play quietly in the background while creating a sound that allows diners to imagine they are in Tunis.

The second thing to do is to use genuine Tunisian decorations: cushions, wall coverings (optional, could keep it white as many restaurants in Tunis do, but add colour). While the restaurant did have some colourful serving dishes the crockery was modern, square and white. There are plenty of moroccan imports that are similar in style to Tunisian designs. Even so, importing direct from Tunisia would not be expensive.

The food

To be honest I wouldn’t dream of eating pizza at Dar El Medina. Their pizza may be good, though I haven’t tried them, but if I want pizza I go to a pizzeria. The reason they do so is probably because in the evening many people like to eat pizza, especially tourists that stay in the vicinity or those on cruise liners visiting the town.

As a starter I ordered an octopus salad. My mother wanted the burik but settled on buying a couple to eat at home and sharing the octopus with me. We still over-ate despite sharing!

A basket of fresh Tunisian bread to accompany the octopus salad

Octopus salad. The octopus had most likely been caught that morning a couple of hundred metres from the restaurant

Sauce to pour over the couscous

The best options are seafood dishes and, of course, couscous. The dish I liked most, to date, was a fish couscous but various types of fish and shellfish dishes are available and served in a variety of ways – but why not go for couscous?!

Fish couscous

The fish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce that accompanied the couscous was tasty to the point of wanting to take some home!

I have also had vegetable and lamb couscous that I enjoyed, though not as much as the fish.

This restaurant is highly recommended. It is walking distance from the port, near to the main piazza in the heart of Trapani, and is there is ample car-parking close by.

Dar El Medina

Via Marchese Enrico Platamone, 12

Trapani

91100

Sicily

 

+39 0923 196 4100

The restaurant can also be accessed from via Regina Margherita opposite the Villa Margherita park entrance.

Dar El Medina entrance from via Regina Margherita

Entrance to the Villa Margherita park gardens

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.

A long and winding road

04-05JUN19

I left Edinburgh on the 24+hour trip to Trapani that I’d booked on my Kiwi.com app.

The schedule was:

08:00 Edinburgh to Dublin

15:55 Dublin to Luxembourg

02:50 Luxembourg to Frankfurt Hahn

06:40 Frankfurt Hahn to Trapani

The journey began at 5 am with a short walk to the bus stop outside Slateford railway station in Edinburgh. I took the 300 bus. It was a quiet journey as it was still early. The bus left at 05:20 and arrived at the airport at 05:55 – in plenty of time for the 8:00 am flight.

Edinburgh Airport

On entry to the airport I found it difficult to find the appropriate check-in desk since there were no boards indicating to which desk to go. I found the right one by conducting a physical check of all desks.

After check-in I went up to the departure area where there was a long queue for the security check. I joined one of the queues for the automated boarding card gates but when it was my turn all of the gates were turned off owing to the huge crowds waiting to pass through security.

Once I got to the x-ray area I was obliged to separate my iPad from my bag and to remove my shoes and belt.

After this ordeal was over I walked briskly through the Duty Free shop, ignoring the temptation to buy whisky, and headed to Nero’s were I had a coffee and muffin while waiting for the departure gate number to be advised.

Punctually at 07:00 the electronic notice board informed me to go to gate 29. It was not immediately apparent in which direction to head but I found my way. Edinburgh Airport needs to improve its signage generally. Apart from that it is quite a nice airport.

Is Edinburgh a place worth visiting? Absolutely. But I will write about Edinburgh separately.

Hainan Airlines to Dublin

Hainan Airlines didn’t provide the “luxury” of on-line check-in, but the in-person process was quick and easy. Generic local Swissport check-in staff.

Boarding was orderly and timely. First call for business and parents with children. Then the call for Economy passengers. As I was seated in one of the few seats reserved for old or infirm passengers I was one of the first in the queue.

Hainan Airlines boarding card

On boarding I was welcomed by one cabin crew member who politely checked my boarding card and gave directions to my seat while another handed me a sandwich and a bottle of water.

I had been allocated seat 36G on the 787-9 Dreamliner which was located just forward of the wings. Leg room was ample but storage space was limited. The power-points did not seem to function when I tried to charge my iPhone.

The aircraft, perhaps 15% occupied, left the gate at exactly 08:00 as scheduled.

The flight from EDI to DUB was 50 only minutes so we were obliged to keep our seatbelts on, tray tables closed and seats upright for the duration of the flight.

Adequate leg-room but very little space to store anything apart from a book

Not a full flight – plenty of empty seats. I had a row to myself.

We touched down at 08:50, twenty minutes ahead of the scheduled time. It was raining. The aircraft taxied then stopped and sat on apron for 20 minutes while Air Traffic Control decided where it should park. An announcement was made after 15 minutes to apologise for the delay. In the meantime I found a USB jack under the tv screen that charged my phone a bit. A second announcement was made 35 minutes after landing.

Forty minutes after touching down the plane started to make its way to a vacant bridge and another 10 minutes later the plane was parked. We spent fifty minutes waiting to park after a 50 minute journey! Not good but not Hainan’s fault.

Would I fly with Hainan again? I doubt if there would be a situation in which I would go out of my way to use the airline. However, if there was a need to use Hainan again I wouldn’t complain.

Dublin Airport

I didn’t have any hold baggage to worry about so I was able to exit quickly. I tried to follow the Connecting Flights trail but the security guy politely explained that Ryanair flights don’t participate in transit arrangements so I had to go back the way I had come, exit the baggage area and reenter the terminal. Very polite and patient guy👍.

Security was not as bad as that at Edinburgh. Thorough but much shorter queues. I bought a small backpack to replace the cumbersome box (Ryanair regulation cabin bag size) that I planned to use for the trip. It is squishable so hopefully will not cause the Ryanair bandits to give me grief at the boarding gates.

It was close enough to lunchtime for me to decide on having some food. I found the Garden Terrace on the upper floor and chose the Full Irish Breakfast (fried egg, two sausages, two rashers of bacon, half a grilled tomato, baked beans, hash briwn potatoes, a couple of slices of toast and what appeared to be two slices of blood pudding. And a mug of black coffee. €12.50)

Full Irish Breakfast (Vegans avert your eyes!)

I had to try this. Full breakfasts can be quite healthy though some possibly count as heart-stoppers! I have had the Full English, Cornish, Scottish, Vegetarian and Vegan breakfasts, and now the Irish version. The best non-English breakfast I have tried so far was the Full Scottish Breakfast served at the Spylaw Tavern, Colington, Edinburgh. More about that at another time. The Irish breakfast was tasty though didn’t score much on presentation.

Full Irish Breakfast at Garden Terrace:

⁃ 2 sausages

⁃ 2 rashers of bacon

⁃ 2 slices of black pudding (?)

⁃ Baked beans

⁃ Fried egg

⁃ Hash brown potatoes

⁃ 2 slices of toast

⁃ Coffee

The fried egg had been sitting for a while. It had a glazed alert look about it, as though it had been freshly fried, but once I cut into it it proved to be tired and dry ie held under a heat source after it had left the pan.

The coffee was good.

Ryanair planes in the rain at Dublin Airport

My next flight, on Ryanair, was scheduled at 15:55 which left me plenty of time to relax.

Would I visit Dublin again? Yes, and would consider an overnight stay so that I could look around the city. But only en route to another destination.

Ryanair to Luxembourg

There aren’t many people that have a good word to say about Ryanair. Jokes abound about the extent of their extra charges – a darker one for example about having to pay for oxygen in the event of cabin depressurisation. I had carry on baggage which meant I had to have the bag under the seat in front of me. Priority passengers get to take a small suitcase and one item of hand baggage.

I was seated next to a window on the right hand side of the plane (seat 14G) but there was cloud most of the way and nothing to see. It was an uneventful flight apart from a bit of turbulence over France on the approach to Luxembourg. The plane was a bit late.

Would I use Ryanair again? It’s a no-frills budget airline. I don’t like their baggage policy but aside from that I will probably use them unless there is a better option available. Leg room is tight – made worse by having hand baggage stored under the seat in front.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg airport is not very big, though not surprising considering the diminutive size of The Grand Duchy.

Luxembourg Airport

I exited the building with the idea of finding the bus stop for the next leg of my journey and found it right outside. Next plan was to find a way to get into the city. The number 16 bus was the answer. €2 ticket valid for two hours was adequate to take me to the main railway station. The journey took about half an hour. I had a quick look around but the light was fading so no decent opportunity to take pictures other than a couple of record shots on my iPhone.

Luxembourg railway station

I had something to eat at the station (just a granary roll with parma ham and cheese) then caught the bus back to the airport. There seemed to be a few photogenic locations along the bus route that might occupy me in the event of a return visit to Luxembourg, but I doubt that I would come back.

The airport, at 9pm , was pretty well deserted. The silence in the terminal building was broken only by background chatter, the occasional loud phone call (interestingly two separate calls: one, a woman chatting on speaker with her friend in Portuguese; the other a man also on speaker chatting in Portuguese to his wife or I think his lover – she with a Brazilian Portuguese accent – about missing his flight.

Oberweis cafe at Luxembourg Airport

At one point a woman, who appeared to have some problem with the world at large, began talking very loudly in French. She had a good stage voice, catching the attention of the entire terminal but directing her complaints at one woman seated in the cafe! The cafe staff encouraged its patrons to ignore the woman who, it seemed, was a regular visitor. That was the extent of the evening’s entertainment.

The bus to Frankfurt Hahn airport

My bus was scheduled to leave the airport at 02:50. I had somehow managed to keep myself occupied for over 5 hours with just one cup of coffee.

The air outside the terminal was cool, slightly humid and had a pleasant smell reminiscent of woodlands. It had rained lightly for about an hour from midnight. I sat outside the bus stop on a piano stool at 2:30 am. Within a few minutes a bus arrived but it was to another destination. My bus arrived shortly afterwards, driven by a middle aged blond German woman who seemed to like modern rock music.

At the scheduled hour she started the engine and reduced the volume of the music. I settled down with a plan to nap. The first stop on the way to Frankfurt Hahn airport was in the centre of the town of Trier, on the Mosel river, that I remembered from my school German lessons. At 3:30am, after a few minutes waiting, the bus continued its journey. The autobahn was smooth and quiet. We stopped at another town though I was in a sleepy state, taking little notice of the surroundings until the dawn light broke close to Frankfurt. I managed to nap a bit but not nearly as much as I wanted.

Frankfurt Hahn Airport

Frankfurt Hahn, in comparison to the large modern complex of Frankfurt am Main airport is little more than a glorified shed! Considering how Germany is noted for its Teutonic organisation this airport was a bit slapdash.

Frankfurt Hahn airport

It was clearly an old airport and very clearly catered to budget airlines, though it did have a couple of nice cafe/snack bars, a duty free area and a souvenir bookshop.

The departure gates were chaotic! Two lines existed: one for Priority passengers and one for non-Priority. There didn’t seem to be room enough to support a single queue but the two ran in parallel. It seemed to work but I would have relocated some seating to create decent queuing lines.

Once through the boarding process we had to walk a fair distance to the airplane. When I got to the plane there were two long queues snaking away from the fore and aft stairs.

Long queues to board the aircraft at Frankfurt Hahn.

Ryanair to Trapani

The flight was about two hours in duration though scheduled to take 2 hours and twenty minutes. As ever on Ryanair there was applause on landing. I suppose passengers are just grateful to arrive in one piece! Enough said about Ryanair!

Trapani

The airport at Trapani has been in use for decades. It is a compact airport with a runway shared with the Italian Air Force.

It has a small cafe where one can buy coffee, wine, spirits and snacks. I had an espresso and a cannolo. However, despite the sign indicating that cannoli are prepared on request, I was served with a made up cannolo in which the biscuit had become soft. If you want a cannolo insist the it is freshly filled.

Unfortunately, it seems that local politics have obliged airlines to move to Palermo Airport – an hour away from Trapani – with a consequence that tourism in Erice/Trapani has declined significantly. Ryanair still flies to Trapani but the number of flight options has been severely reduced. Hotels, restaurants and taxis have suffered.

Would I visit Trapani again? Absolutely – though primarily because my mother lives in Erice. I have always liked Trapani and Erice and the surrounding countryside. Lots to see and lots to do.

Conclusion

Long journey. Four legs in each direction but it was the cheapest option available. It also enabled me to review a number of aspects connected with the trip.