November 12, 2011 Agrigento and Menfi

Today we leave Ragusa for the last stop on our Sicily tour, Menfi. Our plan is to go to the Valley of the Temples and then on to Menfi where we are staying at La Foresteria. La Foresteria is owned by the Planeta Estate, makers of Planeta wines.

Nothing is ever straightforward when it comes to finding our way using our crazed GPS, Jack. Today is no exception. We end up on small roads and driving along cliffs but we do end up in Agrigento. We find the Valley of the Gods, rent audio-guides, and start our tour. Oddly the Valley is on a hilltop. These are some of the most intact Greek temples anywhere outside of Athens. Their golden sandstone glows in the bright sunlight. (Yes, it is not raining!) Our first stop is at the Temple of Heracles, built around 600 B.C.

My personal Heracles

Then it’s up the hill to the Temple of Concordia. This temple is the best preserved due to the fact that it was converted into a Christian church in the early Middle ages.

At the Temple of Concordia

Scattered in amongst the ruins are modern sculptures like this giant head that Clark and Lewis try to appreciate.

Clark and Lewis contemplate a modern sculpture

We continue to climb up the main route passing many old olive trees. Several were in early drawings of the temples and are estimated to be 500-600 years old.

In among the ancient temples there are ancient olive trees and ancient Americans

At the very top of the site is the temple to Hera (Greek) or Juno (Roman.) As Agrigento changed hands the temples were re-dedicated to the appropriate gods. Much like the rest of Sicily, the people of Agrigento were attacked and defeated many times. They were ruled and/or enslaved by Cartheginians, Greeks, Romans, Swabians, Moors, Angevins, etc.

Temple of Hera or Juno depending on which gods you're backing

We have now walked what seems like miles up and down uneven paving stones and it is time for lunch. Last time we were here, John had a wonderful plateful of spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) in San Leone at Il Pescatore (The Fisherman.) San Leone is a seaside town and both times we have been here, in early April and now in November, it is definitely not bustling. But the restaurant is open and there are a few patrons. This lunch is perhaps the best food we have had on our trip.

Spaghetti alle vongole at Il Pescatore in San Leone

Once again Jack takes us on an exciting adventure getting to our hotel. We finally find it shortly before dark. We have a nice room that looks out on an herb garden, vineyards, and the Mediterranean Sea. We open a bottle of wine to celebrate another safe driving adventure. While we are here we plan on visiting some local ruins, going to Marsala, participating in a cooking class and just generally chhilling.

The view from our patio

Dinner is served each night at a big communal dining table. Oh, dear, this means we have to talk to strangers. Perhaps even strangers who do not speak English. I am filled with dread. As it turns out there are two couples and a single lady at our big table. The single lady is British and is the sole member of the week-long cooking class. (She is very annoyed about this.) There’s an Italian couple, and an American couple from Milwaukee. My table companions speak a mixture of Italian, French and English. So I only get parts of the conversation. Poor John is too far away to hear a lot of the conversation. Our first course is sardines wrapped around breadcrumbs, raisins, pinenuts and herbs.

Sardine involtini

It’s pretty good. The sardines are not overly fishy. We have to be careful of what we say since the English lady has spent the day slaving in the kitchen. Next we have tuna meatballs.

Tuna meatballs

The meatballs are rather dry and I keep hoping that they will taste like regular meatballs to no avail. This is followed by pasta with sea urchin. This was probably the best dish of the evening.

Pasta with sea urchin

Now it is on to the main course which is swordfish with the same breadcrumb mixture that was inside the sardine involtini. My swordfish is dry and shreddy.

Dry breaded swordfish

Finally we have a semifreddo for dessert. The ice creamy part is pretty good full of almonds and not too sweet. For some reason it is served with a persimmon sauce and a chocolate sauce. I am not blown away by this combination.

Semifreddo

So all in all a mediocre meal but lots of wine which always helps. About our dinner companions – the Italian couple seems nice but I don’t know what they are saying. The guy from Milwaukee who is a lawyer sitting next to me explains, when I say we are retired, that he would never retire because he doesn’t want to have his brain cells wither away. Comments like that don’t bring out the best in me so I go about proving that my brain cells are better than his. Luckily I have my giant information universe sitting next to me as backup. The lawyer’s wife is visiting the old country where her parents were originally from. She speaks some Italian and seems nice. The English lady seems quite proper and a little dither-y.

Tomorrow night John and I are part of the cooking class. There better not be any complaints!

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