Today, dear readers, I proudly offer you a guest post written by an actual, professional journalist! His own blog, DorsetDaze, features his witty writing and gorgeous photographs.
Here, he describes his trip to the ancient Greek temple at Segesta. His day involved the classic Sicilian blend of sublime and ridiculous, in equal measure.
ACCORDING to the books, it’s about 80 kilometres from Palermo to Segesta – a bit under an hour even on a bad day.
We did it twice – different days, different routes, same sat-nav, same result: each time it took us twice as far and twice as long.
That’s not Segesta’s fault, of course; blame a bewildered sat-nav, a confused driver and an embarrassed, incompetent navigator.
The journeys were made during our recent nine-day visit to western Sicily when we based ourselves in a rented apartment in the capital Palermo.
The ancient Greek temple at Segesta, along with those at Selinunte and Agrigento, were top of our must-see list and Segesta proved the hardest to track down.
Why two visits? On the first, we put all our trust in the satellite technology and it responded with such an absurd, circuitous route that it was 4.30 when we reached Segesta, where we were confronted by a smugly officious official informing us that the site closed at 4pm.
We drove to a nearby hilltop, parked the car and revelled in the spectacular view of the great temple. It wasn’t enough, it wasn’t up close but it was dramatic and it would have to do.
Two days later, however, while en route to Erice, we spotted a road sign and realised that Segesta was only a kilometre or two away and vowed to call in on the way back.
But after leaving Erice, we found ourselves on another cross-country route along roads that petered out into rutted tracks, sometimes in deep mud, under ever-darkening skies. Nevertheless we arrived at Segesta in good time.
And all the miles, all the mud and all the frustration were so worth it: our visit to Segesta was one of the highest of highlights of the entire holiday.
We walked the fairly short distance up the hill to reach the magnificent temple that had so beguiled us when we saw it from afar two days earlier.
The only other visitors on this warm February afternoon were a super-heavyweight middle-aged couple from America’s east coast. He strode on ahead, clicking away furiously with his camera and reading aloud from his guidebook, while she lagged behind, stopping frequently to clutch her chest and fan her face. We presume she must have died up there because we never saw her again.
After the temple we joined a newly arrived group of excitable Italians on the bus that transported us to the amphitheatre and old city ruins high in the hills.
When we disembarked, our fellow trippers swarmed like children at playtime around the steep tiers of the amphitheatre. The experience and the views were unforgettable.
And then came one of those surreal moments of Italian craziness that we have come to know so well over the years: one of the tourists walked purposefully to the stage down in the bowels of the theatre . . . and burst into song.
The strains of ‘Nessun dorma’ rang around the ancient edifice, as sweet a voice as you could imagine, and when he’d finished his impromptu performance, the entire gathering broke into appreciative applause.
Most of the Italians, in fact, seemed far more interested in the singing, debating the various shortcomings and merits of their children or bemoaning the price of fish than ever they were in the awesome chunk of ancient history that enfolded us. Then we all got back on the bus and it was over.
We shan’t forget Segesta – our memories are a heady mix of magic and, of course, a little dash of slapstick.