travels

Visited Sardinia in June 2018

For our summer holiday of 2018 we wanted to go to a place with a lot of good beaches. One reason was that we had to go in warm month of June, another was that Stephanie is pregnant. This meant frequent long walks through cities or nature were not an option. The destination also had to be relatively close by, so that we didn’t need to drive more than one day with our car. This made Sardinia an attractive option. The schedule was as follows:

  • Fri 08 Car from The Hague (5:00) to Toulon (18:00), ferry from Toulon (20:00) to Porto Torres.
  • Sat 09 Arrival at Porto Torres (8:00), Alghero, Grotta di Nettuno, Spiaggia di Porto Ferro, Sassari.
  • Sun 10 Sassari, Spiaggia di Platamona.
  • Mon 11 Asinara, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Sassari.
  • Tue 12 Castelsardo, Spiaggia di Rena Bianca, Arzachena.
  • Wed 13 Tempio Pausania, Nuraghe Maiori, Arzachena.
  • Thu 14 Porto Pollo (wind surfing), Arzachena.
  • Fri 15 Palau (boat tour), Arzachena.
  • Sat 16 Olbia, Cala Brandinchi, San Teodoro.
  • Sun 17 Spiaggia La Cinta, Nuoro.
  • Mon 18 Serra Orrios, Grotta di Ispinigoli, Dorgali, Nuoro.
  • Tue 19 Spiaggia di Sos Dorroles, Nuoro.
  • Wed 20 Cala Gonone (boat tour), Nuoro.
  • Thu 21 Nuraghe Santu Antine, Monte d’Accoddi, Porto Torres, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Porto Torres.
  • Fri 22 Ferry from Porto Torres (7:15) to Barcelona (19:00), car to Salou.
  • Wed 27 Car from Salou to The Hague.

We chose to use the car this time because it meant we didn’t need to rent one on Sardinia. Our own car was also nicer to drive because we had bought a good second-hand Toyota Prius in January. It also allowed us to take along more luggage because we didn’t have carry everything with us in a train. The car is a lot cheaper than the train, it cost us around € 110 for petrol and € 65 for road tolls to get from The Hague to Toulon. The train is much faster (7 hours and 41 minutes from Den Haag HS to Gare de Toulon) but would have cost us around € 350 for two people. Boarding the ferry with or without a car makes a difference of about € 20. And then I haven’t considered the costs of car rental yet.

Of course it didn’t feel good to use a car from an environmental perspective, but it was my compromise with Stephanie. But even if we did use the train, we still would have faced the huge black fumes coming from the exhaust pipe of the ferry. In theory we could have used the train and then a sailboat to travel to Sardinia, but the options I’ve seen for sailboats were very expensive.

Sardinia doesn’t offer as much with regards to culture as other regions of Italy. Alghero and Olbia have two good archeological museums (the one in Sassari lacked good presentation). The city centers of Alghero and Sassari are certainly worth visiting, especially Sassari because it is less popular with tourists (don’t visit Sassari on Sunday like us though, because most sights will be closed). Apart from cities, you will find many interesting prehistoric Nuragic sites scattered through the countryside. Some of these sites such as Nuraghe Santu Antine can be quite elaborate. The relatively smaller offer of culture didn’t bother us because we expected this and the abundance of beautiful beaches compensated for that.

Piazza Regina Margherita in Olbia

As for beaches, Sardinia made good on all expectations. I’ve visited great beaches in Puglia and Calabria, but in Sardinia they are more frequent and have a more consistent quality. The photos I’ve uploaded don’t do them justice, in reality they are even more georgeous. I loved swimming in the crystal clear waters, with such beauty I did not see any need to visit the best beaches in the tropics. What I enjoyed most was learning the basics of wind surfing in a day at Porto Pollo, with the company MB Pro Center. It was too bad I had planned just one day for this. I’d like to visit Sardinia again in the future. I intend to reserve more time then for snorkeling, kiteboarding and sailing, for which there was no space in the plan. I’d love to sail in the Maddalena archipelago with more freedom. This holiday we chose one of the motorized boats departing from Palau, but it catered to a large group of tourists and only went down the trodden paths.

Cala Brandinchi

As for other outdoor activities, there is a fair share of interesting caves to visit. We had to skip visits to Tiscali and Gola Su Gorropu, Europe’s ‘Grand Canyon’, due to the long hikes in the hot weather. I hope to visit these in the future. On the other hand I would have scrapped Castelsardo from the schedule. It has a castle on a tall hill, but its interior and the view from the top weren’t very interesting. I thought Tempio Pausania and Dorgali would be worthwhile because they lie in the interior, far away from the tourists, but there wasn’t much worth seeing there. You can buy some good wine though at Cantina Gallura and Cantina Dorgali respectively. In the interior, Nuoro is a larger city with more substantial sights.

Of course you can‘t have it all. For me Sardinia’s main disadvantage was the food. It wasn’t bad, but I consider the food of the other regions of Southern Italy to be clearly superior. The cuisine is rather carnivorous and vegetarian or vegan options are limited. Order a dish with fava beans and there’s a change it might include lard. I haven’t eaten a single satisfying fish dish during my whole holiday. Maybe it was just a matter of bad luck and I had to look better. I do recommend Agriturismo Candela near Arzachena and Agriturismo Li Mori in San Teodoro for offering tasty food for a good price in a nice decor, these places are most memorable for me.

At the end of our stay in Sardinia we took a ferry to Barcelona and then went to a camping in Salou were Stephanie’s parents were staying. The company was good, but I don’t like camping for long. That camping was far too massive for my taste as well. Salou is only good for mass tourism and lacks any authenticity. I would like to see more of other parts of Spain though. I’m not sure were we will go for our holiday next year, but I’m leaning towards Hossegor in southwestern France for some good surfing.

Cala Luna, looking north

Visited Portugal in September 2017

Since we moved to The Hague we have become acquainted with surfing (wave surfing) in Scheveningen. A single surf lesson there started our interest. Considering that the surfing conditions in The Netherlands are often quite bad, we thought about doing more surfing during a holiday elsewhere in Europe. This led to our holiday in Portugal right after our wedding on 2 September 2017. Below is our travel schedule, with the train journey and ticket prices for a single person.

  • Mon 04 Sep train from Rotterdam to Lisbon at 8:58 AM (€ 153).
  • Tue 05 Sep arrival in Lisbon at 7:20 AM (€ 148).
  • Sun 10 Sep bus from Lisbon to Peniche.
  • Sun 17 Sep bus from Peniche to Lisbon.
  • Sun 17 Sep train from Lisbon to Rotterdam at 9:34 PM (€ 148).
  • Mon 18 Sep arrival in Rotterdam at 10:02 PM (€ 158).

As a genuine environmentalist, it took some research to figure out how to get to Portugal by train in a short time. While France and Spain have comparatively good high-speed rail networks, they are not well connected now. The journey over the France-Spain border isn’t possible with high-speed trains yet. Portugal is much worse because even the normal railway connection with Spain is poor.

Fortunately the Spanish Renfe Operadora operates a night train from Irun. This Spanish town is just across the border from Hendaye in southwestern France, which is the final stop of a TGV line. This night train goes all the way to Lisbon. Starting from the tram to The Hague Central Station in the early morning, this meant we could step out of the train in Lisbon the next morning.

While efficient, that night train isn’t very comfortable. We opted for the expensive two-person cabin with shower and toilet, but the bathroom didn’t look very inviting. We didn’t sleep very well either and the dinner was quite bad as well, I’d seriously recommend taking your own food, maybe even an army ration with a flameless heater if you insist on warm food. If I’d take this train again (which I would because it’s a fast way to travel) I’d just go for the simple reclining seat. Much cheaper, just suck it up with the discomfort and lack of quality sleep. It won’t be much better in the expensive cabin anyway.

We spent five days in Lisbon first before we took a bus from Lisbon to Peniche for a week of surf camp. Lisbon reminds me of Amsterdam in a negative way. Like Amsterdam, Lisbon has been turned into a zoo for tourists, complete with tuk-tuks contributing to traffic congestion. All thanks to ridiculously cheap flights while honest tourists like me pay a premium for sustainable train travel. In spite of this, it is a nice city with an interesting city center spread over several hilltops. Not the most interesting city I’ve seen, but certainly good. The day trips to the palaces at Sintra and Mafra were very memorable on the other hand.

Peniche and it’s surroundings aren’t a tourist trap, it’s busy with surfers instead. The surf camp we booked with, Maximum Surfcamp (now defunct), followed a simple formula: you have a small room, shared bathroom and a communal courtyard where meals were served. In the morning everyone gathers for the buses to the beach, for the surf lessons which continue into the afternoon. You also get a wetsuit (the water isn’t warm on Portugal’s Atlantic coast) and a surfboard. And mountain bikes to explore the surroundings. This for seven days for a flat fee of € 500 per person.

The food was very simple but adequate. We did decide to eat in a good restaurant in Peniche a few nights for more varied food. We would have desired some more luxury in the sense of a private bathroom. The surf camp also had a rather large scale, with a lot of people who were hosted on the grounds. Smoking being allowed at the busy courtyard wasn’t good. On the other hand, the company of the other surfers was great and the surf teachers were friendly. And of course the surfing itself is so much fun. There is some kind of magic in the calm of waiting with others in the line up, waiting for the next wave to ride.

I felt like I learned a lot and would definitely want to do a whole week of surfing again. Since doing the surf camp I surf regularly at Scheveningen. You have to be lucky to get good surfing conditions and with surfing being relatively difficult to learn, I feel I need a lot of time to advance in skill. Even so, I greatly enjoy it. I certainly want to come back to Portugal for more.

Photography wise, I couldn’t be stuffed to take a lot of photos somehow. Those I did take I don’t regard as interesting. I want to finish with a few restaurant recommendations: Laurentina in Lisbon and A Sardinha in Peniche. You’ll have a hard time with vegetarian and vegan food, but I like the ubiquitous dried salted cod, called bacalhau in Portugese. It’s interesting how they can prepare it in so many different ways.

Visited Campania and Calabria in July 2017

This is another belated blog post on our summer holiday. I need to work much harder and post more frequently to catch up.

During our summer holiday of 2017 we visited Southern Italy again, this time the regions of Calabria and Campania. Calabria because I had only seen Reggio and Maratea there, leaving much more to discover. Campania to show Stephanie what I had seen there before. Below is our travel schedule which shows the places of our overnight stays. The train journey and ticket prices for a single person are included.

  • Wed 28 June train from Rotterdam to Torino (€ 101)
  • Thu 29 June train from Torino to Napoli (€ 70)
  • Fri 30 June Scalea
  • Sat 01 July Scalea
  • Sun 02 July Cosenza
  • Mon 03 July Vibo Valentia
  • Tue 04 July Vibo Valentia
  • Wed 05 July Vibo Valentia
  • Thu 06 July Vibo Valentia
  • Fri 07 July Reggio di Calabria
  • Sat 08 July Napoli
  • Sun 09 July Napoli
  • Mon 10 July Napoli
  • Tue 11 July Napoli
  • Wed 12 July train from Napoli to Milano (€ 50)
  • Thu 13 July train from Milano to Rotterdam (€ 90)

On Friday 30 June we took a train from Napoli to Salerno and got our rental car there. We returned our car there again at Saturday 8 July. From Salerno we drove to Scalea, stopping at Paestum and the Pertosa Caves on the way.

The next morning we drove inland to Laino Borgo to go rafting on the Lao River with Pollino Rafting. Somehow the only English speaking instructor ended up on a boat with Italians and we needed some time to get to understand the Italian spoken by our Italian instructor, but we enjoyed the ride. The natural environment of the Lao river valley is so enchantingly beautiful. In the afternoon we relaxed on the long stretch of beach at Praia a Mare, with its peculiar black sand. Be sure to take a look at the secluded Arco Magno beach in the south, which is hidden behind a natural rock arch.

Beach south of Praia a Mare

We visited Cosenza to see more of the hinterland. On the way to Cosenza you can stop at Diamante for a nice historical center embellished with mural paintings. If you are a devout Catholic, make another stop at the sanctuary of Paola, but skip if you’re not. From Cosenza’s center we made the long climb to the city’s Swabian Castle on foot, to be rewarded with an impressive view over the valley of Cosenza. Except for an archaeology museum there isn’t much else to see in this city. Because I like botanical gardens we went to see the botanical garden of the University of Calabria, but this garden turned out to be purely utilitarian. It didn’t have the aesthetic appeal of other botanical gardens I had seen elsewhere.

Mural painting in Diamante

Cosenza seen from the Swabian Castle

Going further south, we made a short stop at Pizzo. It was in Pizzo’s small castle where Joachim Murat, general of Napoleon Bonaparte and king of Naples, was executed. Nowadays the castle has a small exhibition which documents his final days here. A short walk north out of town you can find the rock-cut Church of Piedigrotta close to the sea. The artistic quality of the sculptures there wasn’t really worth our time. What is certainly worth your time is a taste of tartufo, an ice cream dessert which was invented in Pizzo.

Vibo Valentia came next. It lies in the hinterland and is not frequented by tourists. For three days we would drive from this place to the coastal towns which were more popular with tourists. Tropea is the premier resort town in the area here. It has a charming old center, situated on cliff with a steep drop towards its beautiful beach with crystal clear water.

Further to the south, the beaches near Capo Vaticano were no less endowed by nature with stunning beauty. It is not surprising that the beach of Grotticelle is quite busy with tourists, but not in the extreme in early July. It’s certainly worth it, but there are also many beaches which are relatively quiet, remote and unspoiled by beach bars. I can recommend the beaches of Michelino near Parghelia and Marinella near Zambrone, both a short distance north of Tropea. I have a lot more beaches to visit in Southern Italy, but these around Tropea and Capo Vaticano rank among my best.

Grotticelle beach

A Ficara beach

Beach of Tropea

Besides hitting beaches, we had a cooking class and a diving trip. We went for a one day cooking class in the vicinity of Tropea, organized by In Italy Tours. This course at Agriturismo Manitta emphasized food tasting over teaching, but I greatly enjoyed it nevertheless. Our host Tania was very friendly, it was fun to chat with the other Canadian participants and the food was awesome.

We went diving with Dannam Diving Tropea. They are actually located in Marina di Zambrone and drive you to the harbor of Tropea to board a rigid-inflatable boat there. In our case, they took us to the rocks in front of the beach of Riaci. Because we had never done diving before, this was a discovery dive for people who don’t have a diving license, the dive doesn’t go deep, maybe five meters. We didn’t see anything the people from the beach, who were swimming above us with snorkels, would have missed. We certainly didn’t see the more exciting and exotic marine life shown on their website, just sea urchins and the common small fish. Even so, it was interesting to go through this experience. I’ll settle for free diving in the future though, because it doesn’t require so much preparation and equipment.

After all this, we continued south towards Reggio. We stopped at Rosarno and Gioia Tauro, which both have small museums on the excavations of Medma and Metauros respectively. Unless you are highly interested in archaeology and history like me, they’re not worth stopping for. The last stop before Reggio was Scilla, which was totally sublime. Like Tropea it’s located on the shore, but it’s sited on a taller cliff with a more dramatic drop towards it’s lovely beach. The Castello Rufo, built where the cliff projects into the sea, offers a magnificent view over the surroundings. Before leaving, we went to Ristorante Glauco east of the castle to enjoy very good food and more scenic views from their rooftop terrace.

Boats east of Castello Rufo

Beach of Scilla

Castello Rufo seen from east

In Reggio di Calabria I could finally visit the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia. The last time I visited it was under renovation. I love the result, anyone who is even remotely interested in archaeology and history should visit this museum. Especially the Riace bronzes are astonishing works of art. Since Reggio was leveled by earthquakes several times in history, there isn’t much else to see in this city.

We spent the following day driving back from Reggio to Salerno. I was in for a stop at water park, Odissea 2000 at Rosarno. Because we departed late there wasn’t enough time, so we skipped it. We spent three more days in Napoli, visited Herculaneum and Pompeii again south of the city. I wanted to see several places which I had not visited before.

Herculaneum, looking northeast

Of these, the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baia was very worthwhile. I like to fantasize about how decadent this huge thermal baths complex would have been in its prime. It’s a short walk from the Fusaro station on the Cumana railway. Determined to visited the Aragonese castle of Baia and the museum inside, we walked all the way uphill (no public transport there!) to see that the castle was closed on Sunday afternoon. The Portici Palace and it’s botanical garden were closed as well. There is so much to see in Napoli and its vicinity that another visit is warranted in the future.

I think the rafting, the cooking course and the diving added some more diversity to the travel plan. What also helped is that we stayed in the same place for longer and drove shorter distances. This holiday was a success. For the coming summer, my question is if Sardinia’s fine beaches can eclipse those of Calabria?

Make high-speed rail travel more efficient

Last year I wrote that I had stopped using aircraft because of their excessive use of fossil fuels. The consequence was that from then on I would only use other forms of transport to travel for holidays. In fact mostly trains for their speed. Last year we practiced what I preached and used the train to travel to Puglia.

The journey went well. The French TGV and the Italian FrecciaRossa high-speed trains can reach speeds of 300 km/h, shortening travel times significantly compared to ordinary trains and buses. On the railroad from The Hague in the Netherlands to Foggia in Italy, you’ll experience these speeds between Paris and Lyon as well as Milan and Bologna for example. It’s awesome to see the surroundings next to the train flash by in the blink of an eye. The problem is that you won’t be travelling so fast for most of the time.

Take the part from Rotterdam to Paris, Lyon and then Milan for example. Coincidentally, according to Google Maps the distance covered by all three legs of this journey is very close at approximately 450 kilometers each. Travel times are also close, at 4:30 hours each. This doesn’t take into account possible congestion, but the route is a worst case scenario which passes through the center of each city. For the train journey with Thalys (from Rotterdam) and TGV (from Paris onwards), the three legs take 2:46, 1:51 and 5:11 (!) hours respectively.

Much of this is to blame on the route through the Alps where the TGV can’t go fast and stops at every provincial backwater. This will be solved with the Turin–Lyon high-speed railway, but that is expected to be finished by 2028 due to the construction of the 57 km long Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel. Another big issue is that the Thalys arrives in Paris at Gare du Nord and that the TGV to Milan departs from Gare de Lyon two hours later. There is a good subway connection between both stations, but you lose a lot of time which could have been spent in the train.

Such important tunnels as the Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel should already have been constructed in the past if there had been foresight of the future. Paris should have one huge TGV station on the outskirts of the city. Give it a good connection to the center with a subway line so the TGV’s can be focused on serious long distance travel and short transfers between trains (which also means more trains). When that’s done, high-speed trains will be able to compete much better with aircraft.

In other places the story is the same. Milan also has two stations for high speed trains, requiring you to make a transfer. When you travel from Milan to Foggia, there simply is no high speed rail on Italy’s eastern coast. The intercity on that route wasn’t slow, but I’m looking forward to the new high-speed line from Napoli to Bari which is due to finish in 2022. When I explored options for a trip to Spain (which also has a decent high-speed rail network) I noticed that there is still no high-speed railway between Montpellier and Perpignan (in France) and that there is no high-speed railway from Madrid to Lisbon (even the ordinary railway connections to Lisbon are scarce).

I can deal with such limitations by spending the night in a city half way through the journey. But others will just take a flight. If we want to make long distance train travel attractive, we have to do a lot more.

Visited Puglia in September 2016

Apparently I’m failing to catch up with my backlog of blog posts, but here is another belated post on our holiday in Puglia. We traveled there in September 2016.

The schedule was as follows, with times and prices for train (and one bus) tickets mentioned for one person:

  • Thu 08th: Rotterdam Centraal 14:58 → Paris Gare du Nord 17:35 (€ 35)
  • Fri 09th: Paris Gare de Lyon 06:28 → Milano Porta Garibaldi 13:50 (€ 39), Milano Porta Garibaldi 14:18 → Foggia 21:35 (€ 35)
  • Sat 10th: Bari, Grotte di Castellana, Polignano a Mare
  • Sun 11th: Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, Egnazia, Fasano
  • Mon 12th: Alborobello, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Ceglie Messapica
  • Tue 13th: Ostuni, Cisternino, Ceglie Messapica
  • Wed 14th: Oria, Torre Guaceto (beach), Brindisi, Lecce
  • Thu 15th: Lecce
  • Fri 16th: Acaya, Roca Vecchia, Baia dei Turchi (beach), Galatina, Alezio
  • Sat 17th: Otranto, Castro, Grotta Zinzulusa, Specchia, Corigliano d’Otranto, Alezio
  • Sun 18th: Punta Pizzo (beach), Ugento, Gallipoli, Alezio
  • Mon 19th: Manduria, Punta Prosciutto (beach), Manduria
  • Tue 20th: Taranto, Massafra
  • Wed 21st: Massafra, Matera
  • Thu 22nd: Matera, Altamura
  • Fri 23rd: Altamura, Gravina in Puglia, Bari, Bari Centrale 21:00 → Milano Lampugnano bus station 08:45 (Flixbus € 29)
  • Sat 24th: Milano Porta Garibaldi 14:40 → Paris Gare de Lyon 22:38 (€ 39)
  • Sun 25th: Paris Gare du Nord 12:25 → Rotterdam Centraal 15:02 (€ 49)

The train journey was okay, but it’s frustrating that the journey takes relatively long due to parts with low-speed track and transfers. The railway from Lyon to Turin may pass through gorgeous landscapes in the Alps, but it turns that TGV into a snail. The route from Bologna to Foggia wasn’t fast either but featured a lot of scenic views. At some places its track runs at a distances of less than 50 meters from the coast. More about railway efficiency later in a different post.

I decided to focus this trip on the Salento peninsula, the southern part of Puglia. The northern part I saved for another trip. I revisited many places which I had already seen in 2013 but which Stephanie had not. While I did see all the highlights, I still have the feeling I missed a lot of things. In particular, I wish I had seen more of the natural environment, beaches, coasts and sea. In hindsight, I would have reduced the distances traveled and the relative share of city sightseeing a bit more. I wouldn’t have missed some iconic beaches such as Torre dell’Orso and Torre Sant’Andrea.

A big disappointment was the uncooperative weather, which was quite bad on several days with lots of clouds and rain. This is very unusual for September in Puglia. Even more unusual was the large amount of snowfall and freezing temperatures in the winter of 2016 to 2017. Climate change I guess.

But don’t get the wrong idea: we greatly enjoyed our holiday. We visited many beautiful cities, ate delicious food (too bad I didn’t take notes so I could replicate everything at home) and relaxed at some marvelous beaches. Meeting again with one of my former CouchSurfing hosts, Michele, was one of the best moments.

One word of warning to other travelers: beware of opening hours of museums, archeological sites and other places of interest and study them carefully! I knew from experience that opening hours are fishy in southern Italy, but I allowed myself to be unpleasantly surprised during this holiday far too frequently.

Beach of Polignano al Mare
Via Traiana in Egnatia

Now, let’s walk down the schedule and evaluate it. In Bari we hired a car to visit the Castellana Caves. Highly recommended indeed, I don’t remember visiting such a large and beautiful show cave before. Polignano a Mare is a bit touristy, but is a nice village perched on top of a cliff on the coast nevertheless. We didn’t have time to hang out on its beach in the first photo here though. Monopoli has a nice historic center, but several places of interest such as the castle were closed. The archeological site of Egnatia and its museum show the relatively well preserved remains of an ancient Roman city. Recommended.

Alborobello is busy with tourists who mainly come for the trulli, traditional houses in Puglia’s countryside. It was interesting, but apart from the small museum I felt I missed a tourist guide to understand where to look and what I was seeing. Locorotondo and Martina Franca offer nice historic centers. The same goes for Ostuni and Cisternino, which we visited during the following day.

Oria lures you in with a stimulating view of its historic center overlooked by a castle on a hill. When we got there we disappointed to discover that the castle wasn’t open for visitors. The beach of Torre Guaceto easily compensated for this, because of its clear waters and remote location near a nature reserve. Brindisi and Lecce are a must for everyone visiting the Salento, especially the latter has the most exquisite historic center of the region with awesome architecture. Do visit the Museo Archeologico Provinciale Francesco Ribezzo in Brindisi and the Museo Provinciale Sigismondo Castromediano in Lecce if you like archeology.

Castle of Acaya
Baia dei Turchi

Acaya is a small, quiet village with a lovely castle. Unlike Lecce’s castle (also worth a visit) almost all rooms and the roof are accessible. As icing on the cake, it had an exhibition about archeology while we visited there. Roca Vecchia is worth a visit for its archeological site (closed when we were there) and the Grotta della Poesia, a sinkhole near the coast. We continued to Baia dei Turchi, a beach further south sheltered by a forest. We saw Galatina for a few interesting church buildings.

Harbor and old center of Otranto

Otranto has a nicely preserved walled historic center next to a picturesque beach and harbor. We went further south to Castro in the hope to catch a boat and see the coast from the sea, but the weather prevented us from doing so. The Grotta Zinzulusa is a cave nearby which provided an alternative activity. Specchia was supposed to have an interesting historic center, but there wasn’t much to see. Do visit Corigliano d’Otranto to see its castle. We were given a guided visit there by an entertaining older Italian man who spoke surprisingly good English.

Punta Pizzo is a nice beach south of Gallipoli, even though the clouded weather worked against us again. I wanted to see the museum in Ugento, but that was closed in the afternoon. Gallipoli, which has an historic center on an island, took the rest of our time for that day. Unfortunately it was a bit too busy with tourists for my liking.

I had been looking forward to visit the archeological park of Manduria and was disappointed to see it was closed. We entertained ourselves with a wine tasting at the Consorzio Produttori Vini close to the site and then went to beach of Punta Prosciutto (yes, a beach called after a ham…). The weather shoved clouds in our faces, but on a sunny day you will agree that the nickname “Maldives of the Salento” is justified for this lovely beach.

Taranto’s historic center has an extraordinary position on a small island flanked by the sea and an inlet, connected to the mainland by short bridges. It absolutely shouldn’t be missed for its magnificent archeological museum. The fact that this museum was actually open (it was under renovation in 2013) compensated all my disappointments with stuff that was unexpectedly closed.

Castle of Gravina in Puglia
Chiesa di Santa Maria de Idris in Matera

Massafra is worth a visit for its center which curiously split in half by a ravine. It has a castle, but it turned out access is quite restricted there without the ability to go to the roof. Matera is just over the border with Basilicata and has much more to see. It features a lot of rock-cut architecture, visiting it is recommended.

In Altamura I hoped to learn more about how they make their famous Altamura bread, but I didn’t manage to find a cooking course there. The cathedral alone is worth a visit though. Gravina in Puglia has an interesting archeological museum and a scenic view of a ravine to the west of its historic center, but just like Altamura I think we missed some things because we didn’t know where to look. We ended our journey in Bari’s historic center, another must see. We had to take a Flixbus to Milan though, because the TrenItalia train was cancelled. The Flixbus actually had WiFi, something the trains don’t have.

Finally, a word about Puglia’s official tourism website. It’s hard to navigate this website, the quality of its information varies and isn’t always up to date. Most annoyingly, some information isn’t available in English and you frequently find dead links to non-existent pages. It’s an embarrassment. Dutch city marketing websites such as the one of The Hague are miles better. They should get their act together and design a better website.

Why I don’t want to travel with aircraft anymore

To travel to Nepal and the USA from the Netherlands several years ago, I’ve used aircraft. For traveling to closer holiday destinations such as Spain and Italy, I’ve also taken flights to get there. Since I’ve become more conscious of climate change, I decided to investigate the climate change impact of flights. My findings shocked me.

Flights cause much more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than cars, buses and trains. How much more depends on the method you use to calculate it. There are various calculators available on the Internet which can calculate CO2 emissions for a specific route. Because calculation methods and results vary so widely, I’ve compared them in the table below, on the basis of a journey with the train from Rotterdam Centraal railway station (Netherlands) to our next holiday’s destination, Bari Centrale railway station (Italy). For the flight I chose a hypothetical, non-existent flight from Rotterdam The Hague Airport (IATA: RTM) to Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport (IATA: BRI).

This is one way to do the comparison. In reality, you would need to travel 200 kilometers with a car (or three hours and a quarter with the train and bus) from Rotterdam to Maastricht Aachen Airport (IATA: MST) to get a flight to Bari. You would also need to take the metro from Bari Airport to Bari Centrale, which takes around twenty minutes. This makes the comparison more favorable for the train. Also consider that the huge advantage of faster air travel can be negated in practice; the flight departs only on Wednesday and Sunday in the second week of September. We depart on Thursday with the train, which departs every day.

Calculator Flight CO2 (kg) Train CO2 (kg)
MyClimate 310
EcoPassenger 269 63
Carbon Footprint 210
Loco2 144 27
ICAO 141

I should mention that the Carbon Footprint calculator has an option to include or exclude radiative forcing. Without radiative forcing, the CO2 emissions will be 110 kilo, but considering the effect of radiative forcing I think it’s fair to include it.

EcoPassenger seems to have to most refined methodology of all the calculators. If I just enter departure station and arrival station it gives me a figure of 70 kilo for the train, but it tends to select a strange route via Switzerland to come to this result. I got to the figure of 63 kilo by calculating every leg of the journey independently, for the exact trains I’ve booked:

  1. Rotterdam to Paris (Thalys) = 6,0
  2. Paris to Milan (TGV) = 16,5
  3. Milan to Bari (FrecciaRossa to Bologna, then FrecciaBianca) = 40,3

The difference between rail transport in France and Italy is explained by the methodology used by EcoPassenger, which is accessible on their website. They take into account which fuel sources were used for electricity production in 2013. It turns out that nuclear power had a share of 75% in French electricity consumption, followed by renewable energy with 18%. Because this gives very limited CO2 emissions the journey through France scores well. Italy doesn’t use nuclear power and had a share of 41% renewable energy in total consumption. I had expected the journey from Rotterdam to Paris to emit more because the Dutch electricity mix is lagging behind. It is heavily dependent on fossil fuels with a pitiful share of merely 14% renewables in electricity consumption.

Some of the calculators indicate a huge difference in CO2 emissions between aircraft and train. A Dutch environmental organization, Milieu Centraal, calculated the difference at a factor of 7,5 for a journey from the Netherlands to Nice in France. With Loco2, aircraft emit more than five times more CO2 than the train. EcoPassenger shows the smallest difference with a factor of more than four. Their estimate is the most conservative, but their methodology is also appears to be the best and the most transparent.

So how does 269 kilo of CO2 emissions compare? Consider for example that in the Netherlands, cars traveled 12.935 kilometers on average in 2012. They emitted 119 grams of CO2 per kilometer on average in the same year, giving a total of 1.539 kilos of CO2 for the whole year. So a return flight from Rotterdam to Bari equals four months of driving an average car in the Netherlands. This still might not seem much to you. Actually, considering that in the real world you can take a one way flight from Maastricht to Bari with Ryanair for less than € 20, you might not care.

But consider some other things. If you fly long distances, CO2 emissions will equal or exceed the emissions of a car in a year. Commuting to work with your car might be a necessity, but a holiday with a flight is certainly a luxury. With all options for video conferencing today, I think flights for business reasons aren’t essential either. You can also commute to work with electric public transport, an electric car or a more efficient bus. Electric cars and buses are already showing strong growth and are likely to replace their counterparts on fossil fuels in the near future. On the other hand there is no alternative to aircraft which run on kerosene for the foreseeable future.

Because there is no way to make air travel environmentally sustainable at this time, I think we should stop doing it altogether. We have to take action against unchecked climate change. The year 2016 will be another year with a new temperature record, just like the six other years after 2000. If it goes on like this, southwest Asia is predicted to become uninhabitable due to extreme temperatures. More needs to be done to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Why not start with air travel, which was conveniently kept out of that agreement?

The question is, can we do with less? Commercial aviation is still relatively young and became popular no sooner than the 1960’s in the Netherlands. Our parents could enjoy their holiday in the Netherlands itself or elsewhere in Europe without a flight. If they could be content with that, we should be able too. I’d still love to go to Mexcio, Brazil, India and Japan one day, so this is not easy for me either. However, I can live with less and be satisfied with holidays in Europe by train. Given the danger we are in, our climate should take precedence over my and your desires. Don’t fool yourself with arguments like ‘that aircraft will still fly without me’. This assumes you are the only one prepared to act. I’m asking you to assume something different: it might take no more than two hundred people to make one flight unprofitable for an airline.

Now you know what is at stake and you know what you can do about it. What will you choose? The earth or your own desires?

Visited Amsterdam in January 2016

Amsterdam is the city which is most popular with foreign tourists in the Netherlands. As a domestic tourist I’ve visited Amsterdam a few times in the past, but there is much worth seeing there which warrants more trips to our capital city. That’s why Stephanie and I decided to visit Amsterdam on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 January.

On the first day we took a train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, arriving a little bit later than we had intended, around the start of the afternoon. We first visited the Van Gogh Museum. It’s strange that I hadn’t visited this earlier, considering the treasures of art exposed here. I adore Van Gogh’s work, I consider him the last great Dutch painter. I was so impressed and fascinated with the paintings that I felt overwhelmed, almost in a state of ecstasy. It is for good reason that the museum has some text which describes the Stendhal syndrome.

The Rijksmuseum was next. I had visited it before years ago, but this was the first time I visited the museum after its renovation. I consider the renovation a great improvement, though I don’t remember well how it looked during my last visit. Loved the paintings here too. When the museum closed in the afternoon, we went to Mana Mana for dinner, an Israeli restaurant which we can recommend. Not the best I’ve sampled from Israeli cuisine, but it has a good selection of vegan dishes. We then spent the night at a hotel far to the west of Amsterdam’s center, because that was much cheaper than within the center.

On Sunday we had more time. We walked from our hotel to the center, through the Vondelpark, to visit the Stedelijk Museum. I did not like this museum, it felt like the suprematist paintings of Kazimir Malevich there ripped me out of the swoon I had entered in the Van Gogh Museum. Next was the Tropenmuseum, which has expositions on various cultures in the tropics. Especially the building it is housed in is remarkable. We finished in the Allard Pierson Museum. I had visited this archeology museum a few years ago already, but Stephanie had never seen it yet. The temporary exposition on Sicily was still interesting for me, and I would like to visit again when the renovation of the museum is finished.

We had dinner in Indonesian restaurant Kantjil & de Tijger. The food here was average, but at least it had enough vegan options. It was after dinner when we saw the best attraction of this day, the Amsterdam Light Festival. This is a boat trip through the canals of Amsterdam, which were decorated with many light art installations. It was a beautiful conclusion to our trip. The boat trip ended close to the Central Station of Amsterdam, from where we took a train back to Rotterdam.

But there is much more to see in Amsterdam. Next year I want to visit again during spring or summer to see those things for which I didn’t have time to visit. I have visited The Amsterdam Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Hermitage Amsterdam in the distant past, but would like to see them again. Attractions which I haven’t visited yet are the Hortus Botanicus, EYE Film Institute Netherlands, FOAM, Rembrandt House Museum, the Royal Palace, the New Church and the Old Church. At Muiden, at a short distance of Amsterdam, I want to see Muiden Castle.

Visited southwestern Turkey in August 2015

From Saturday 15 August to Saturday 29 August we visited southwestern Turkey. We took a flight to İzmir and hired a car there to travel along the coast in the direction of Antalya, were we took our return flight.

Just like for Sicily I made a very ambitious planning, so we could see almost everything on the coastal route from İzmir to Antalya. We did reserve enough time for enjoying beaches, but again we felt the schedule should be more relaxed. On average we spent probably two hours in our car every day. In most hotels we spent only one night, two in some.

If you studied history or you are interested in archeology like me, you will love Turkey. This country probably has to most archeological sites per square kilometer in the world. So much that the Turkish government apparently doesn’t have the budget to design preservation plans for them all, especially the very remote, smaller ruins. I was deeply impressed by some of the highlights such as the Harbor Theater in Miletus and the Temple of Apollo in Didyma. Also be sure to visit the Archeological Museums of Selçuk and Antalya. With the exception of Ephesus, all of the archeological sites I saw are relatively quiet, even in the busy month of August.

Theater of Miletus

Temple of Apollo at Didyma

The beaches in this region of Turkey are nice. Some memorable beaches which come to mind are Ölüdeniz (Fethiye), Patara, Kaputaş (east of Kalkan) and Konyaaltı (western Antalya). However, there wasn’t any beach were the water was sufficiently clear to dive and see what was going on at the seabed. In that regard I like some Italian and Greek beaches more. Also, all beaches were filled with tourists. Probably inevitable in August, but even in the summer there are plenty of Italian, Greek and even Dutch beaches which are more quiet.

Patara Beach, seen from the sea

Kaputaş Plajı (with D5100)

Konyaaltı Beach in Antalya

The food was okay, but not memorable. I get the impression that Turkish cuisine isn’t as creative with vegan dishes as some other Mediterranean cuisines. Of course, my impression might be skewed because southwestern Turkey is so extremely touristic. The rule of thumb is that more tourists means more bad restaurants. We fell victim to this on a few days, but if you search well you can find good places to eat. Maybe I would learn to appreciate Turkish cuisine more if I visited Istanbul or the less touristic regions in Turkey’s hinterland.

In Tekirova we went tandem paragliding from Tahtalı Dağı, a mountain which is 2,366 meters high, landing at the beach of Tekirova. We did so with the company Escape2Olympos.  The first time I went paragliding, in Pokhara in Nepal, I used my camera to take shots while paragliding. This was not allowed here due to safety reasons (on their website they explain that many people apparently dropped their cameras and endangered those on the ground), which I was okay with initially. Not using a camera allows me to concentrate on the flight, which is a good.

During the flight it turned out they had those GoPro cameras on a stick. Secured so it couldn’t fall, but I wasn’t told about it in advance. I told the pilot I wasn’t interested, but I did agree to hold the camera when the pilot needed to perform maneuvers or to get a better view for the camera. The pilot told me it was compulsory for him to use the camera. The near constant use of the camera distracted from the experience. The fact that they charged half the flight’s fee for the video annoyed me further. The flight itself was amazing, especially due to the huge difference in altitude and the view from above. I would recommend them only if you negotiate with them that the camera isn’t going to be used at all. You want to focus on the flight.

My greatest problem with southwestern Turkey is that the tourism industry is so overdeveloped here. This made the region lose its authenticity. This was perhaps best illustrated by a photo I saw in the castle of Bodrum. It showed an aerial photograph of Bodrum in the 1960s, when it was still a quaint small fishing village. Now it’s overflowing with hotels. I prefer regions which still possess that authenticity, such as Southern Italy.

Despite some of these reservations, we enjoyed this holiday. I would strongly recommend others to visit just outside the holiday season (in April, May, September or October) to avoid the large crowds of tourists and hot temperatures. Walking around archeological sites in temperatures above 30 °C can be taxing. We were limited to August because of Stephanie’s inflexible roster due to her work in the hospital.

Below is our schedule:

  • Sat 15th: Amsterdam → İzmir, hotel at airport
  • Sun 16th: Selçuk (Ephesus, Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Basilica of St. John, Ayasuluk Fortress)
  • Mon 17th: Priene, Miletus, Didim
  • Tue 18th: Didim (Temple of Apollo at Didyma), Iasos, Bodrum (Bodrum Castle, Mausoleum)
  • Wed 19th: Dalyan (Kaunos, İztuzu Beach), Fethiye
  • Thu 20th: Fethiye (Ölüdeniz, Kabak)
  • Fri 21st: Tlos, Pinara, Sidyma, Patara.
  • Sat 22nd: Letoon, Xanthos, Delikkemer, Kaputaş Beach, Kaş
  • Sun 23rd: Apollonia (near Sahilkılınçlı), Simena (near Kaleüçağız), Kyaneai, Sura (36.244938, 29.944004), Demre (St. Nicholas Church)
  • Mon 24th: Demre (Andriake, Myra), Arykanda, Limyra, Fineke
  • Tue 25th: Çıralı (Olympos, Olympos Beach, Chimaeara), Tekirova
  • Wed 26th: Çamyuva (paragliding from Tahtalı Dağı, Phaselis, Phaselis Beach)
  • Thu 27th: Termessos, Antalya
  • Fri 28th: Antalya (Antalya Archeological Museum, Antalya Aquarium)
  • Sat 29th: Aspendos, Perge, Antalya → Amsterdam

Heracles Sarcophagus in Antalya Museum

Nazars for sale in Kaş

Visited Rome in September 2014

After my last visit in June 2008, I wished to visit Rome a second time to see more of this city and its surroundings. My first visit lasted merely two days, yet allowed me to see the majority of the most popular attractions. On this second visit, I wanted to use nine days to visit the other highlights in and around the city. Unfortunately Stephanie could not join me because she had already spent her free days. This meant I had to go alone, but I found good company with two hosts from CouchSurfing. I visited these places:

  • Mon 15th: arrival at Rome Ciampino Airport
  • Tue 16th: Cerveteri (National Museum, Banditaccia Necropolis)
  • Wed 17th: Tarquinia (National Archaeological Museum, Monterozzi Necropolis)
  • Thu 18th: Tivoli (Villa d’Este, Villa Adriana)
  • Fri 19th: National Etruscan Museum, Pincian Hill, Piazza del Popolo, Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Baths of Caracalla
  • Sat 20th: Via Appia Antica (Catacombs of Callixtus, Catacombs of St. Sebastian, Circus of Maxentius, Tomb of Caecilia Metella)
  • Sun 21st: Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains, Baths of Trajan, Ostia Antica, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
  • Mon 22nd: Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Basilica of Saint Mary in Trastevere, Palazzo Corsini, Botanical Garden, Janiculum
  • Tue 23rd: departure from Rome Ciampino Airport

Cerveteri and Tarquinia had a high priority for me. These small towns northwest of Rome are known for their Etruscan necropolises, which are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both towns are close to a railway, so you can go there by train and travel the last kilometers by bus from the railway station. From Rome, Cerveteri can also be reached by bus alone, with a transfer to another bus at Ladispoli. The Lonely Planet travel guide for Rome focuses on Cerveteri and mentions Tarquinia only in passing; I concur.

The Banditaccia Necropolis of Cerveteri is one of a kind. The Greek word necropolis means ‘city of the dead’ and is generally used for elaborate ancient cemeteries. The literal meaning of the word applies so aptly to the Banditaccia necropolis. When you walk through it, it bears a great resemblance to a settlement for the living, with all its streets and tombs which look like houses. It is also quite large. I have to commend how the authorities present the site to visitors, with free guided tours through the necropolis and audiovisual presentations inside select tombs. The same goes for the museum of Cerveteri, the audiovisual presentation there engages visitors with the exhibition so well. If you are short on time, prioritize Cerveteri over Tarquinia.

Street in Banditaccia Necropolis

What distinguishes Cerveteri from Tarquinia is that in the former the structures above the ground are intact but the frescoes inside the tombs were lost, while this is the other way around for the latter. At Tarquinia’s Monterozzi Necropolis the structures of the tombs above the ground were lost and the real attractions are the frescoes in the subterranean parts of the tombs. In many cases these have not been very well preserved, but there are some exceptions. In reality you can’t see much of the tomb’s frescoes however: you cannot enter the tombs for reasons of conservation, you can look at the interior through the glass of a thermal door. This also applies to some of the frescoes which have been transferred to Tarquinia’s museum.

While restricting the access to the tombs is understandable, this reduces the appeal of a visit to the site. Fortunately, for an extra fee you can take a guided tour at the site. The tour takes you to some more remote tombs which are only accessible under the supervision of a guide (but still protected by a thermal door). Without the guided tour, you just get access to a smaller part of the necropolis were the majority of the tombs are located. The guided tour compensated my slight disappointment and made it worthwhile for me. I keep thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if they hired some fresco painters to make replicas of the tombs so you could get a better look at the frescoes? Wouldn’t such a thing attract much more tourists to Tarquinia?

Tivoli is another town close to Rome which deserves a day trip for its two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana. The town lies northeast of Rome and can be reached by bus from the Ponte Mammolo subway station. Villa d’Este is a magnificent villa with an even more impressive garden. However, when you take the bus back to Rome and make another stop further south in Tivoli for the Villa Adriana, you will be even more impressed. The name is deceptive, because it’s not a villa, but a full-blown palace complex occupying more than one square kilometer.

Villa d'Este in Tivoli

Great Baths in Hadrian’s Villa

After my visit to the necropolises of Banditaccia and Monterozzi, I visited the National Etruscan Museum in Rome to provide context for what I saw there. Highly recommended museum with a large collection. After spending a lot of time at the museum I walked in a southern direction and ended the day with the Baths of Caracalla. Even though it’s ruined now, most of its huge walls are still standing, suggesting its former grandiosity. It’s hard to picture that such a fortune was spent on the construction of a bathhouse open to every free male citizen. The emperors Septimus Severus and Caracalla must have considered this form of propaganda to be very important.

Baths of Caracalla

Together with Cerveteri, Ostia Antica was the high point of my trip. I didn’t know the ruins of this ancient Roman city were in fact on par with Pompeii, which I had seen a year earlier. The level of preservation and the size of both ruins are quite similar. It is as if you take a step into classical antiquity itself. My imagination became overwhelmed as I wondered what this city was like in all its former glory. With a guided tour a visit to this site would be even more enjoyable. On the way back to Rome’s center, make sure to visit the beautiful Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Insulae (housing blocks) in Ostia Antica

Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls, Rome

On the last day I spent most of my time in art museums. The Galleria Doria-Pamphilij is absolutely recommended with its many famous pieces. So is the Palazzo Corsini, one of the two locations of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. I didn’t have time to visit the other location, the Palazzo Barberini.

Like the Palazzo Barberini, there are still plenty of places and attractions I want to see in a future visit to Rome. I couldn’t make a reservation for the Galleria Borghese in time. The Domus Aurea was closed for restorations. I didn’t have time to see the Villa of the Quintilii, the Museum of Roman Civilization, several locations of the National Roman Museum (except for the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, which is close to Termini) and the National Museum of Oriental Art.

Concerning food, I was slightly disappointed with Rome. I specifically selected good restaurants from TripAdvisor, but it wasn’t as memorable as the food from southern Italy. Roman cuisine also seems to have a greater focus on meat dishes and is apparently not so creative with vegetables. Or maybe I just had bad luck in my choice of restaurants.

I had a good CouchSurfing experience on this trip. It took some perseverance to find hosts, I had to send CouchRequests to almost 150 people before I succeeded. One hosted me for the first five days of my stay, the other for the last five days. Even though they couldn’t keep me company during the day because they had to work, I greatly enjoyed their company and am very grateful for their hospitality.

Visited Sicily in April 2014

In April 2014 I visited Sicily again, this time with my girlfriend Stephanie and by car instead of public transport. I showed Stephanie some of the best attractions I had already seen on my previous trip in 2012, but I also managed to see some new things. Our schedule was as follows:

  • Sat 19th: arrive at Trapani Airport late at night.
  • Sun 20th: retrieve rental car, Cave di Cusa, Selinunte.
  • Mon 21st: Heraclea Minoa, Scala dei Turchi, Agrigento (Valle dei Templi).
  • Tue 22nd: Gela (Archeological Museum), Modica.
  • Wed 23rd: Villa Romana del Tellaro, Helorus, Noto, Siracusa (Archeological Park).
  • Thu 24th: Palazzolo Acreide (Akrai), Necropolis of Pantalica, Siracusa (Archeological Museum).
  • Fri 25th: Siracusa (Euryalus Castle), Aidone (Morgantina, Archeological Museum), Piazza Armerina (Villa Romana del Casale).
  • Sat 26th: Cefalú, Palermo.
  • Sun 27th: Cathedral of Monreale, Palermo (Botanical Garden).
  • Mon 28th: Segesta, Erice, Trapani.
  • Tue 29th: Trapani, Nubia (Salt Museum), Marsala (Archeological Museum), Trapani Airport for flight home.

We arrived at the airport of Trapani late at night, so on the morning after we went back to the airport to pick up our car at Avis. We were surprised to hear that we had to pay € 20 per day extra because Stephanie was classified as a young driver under 25 years of age. It was not possible for me to drive, because only Stephanie had a credit card. We grudgingly paid the extra fee. We got screwed by rentalcars.com, through which we found the offer for the car. Their website asked for the age of the driver, but it never incorporated the extra fee for young drivers in the total price presented to us. After our holiday we contacted them, but they were unapologetic, referring to the terms of the rental which mentioned the extra fee and arguing that we should have read it. I wish I had taken the time to fight these frauds through legal means, but in the end I was too occupied with other things after my holiday.

Using a car allowed us to see much more in the time we had available. In hindsight we thought the schedule was a little bit too tight on certain days, if we had to do it again we would have made it more relaxed. Another thing I considered is that we could have restricted ourselves to traveling through either the North, East, South or West of Sicily. What we did was drive around the whole island in a counterclockwise direction from Trapani. Except for the northeast, which we skipped when we went from Siracusa to Central Sicily. This meant we had to drive long distances on some days, something we prefer to avoid. On the other hand, this plan was good for seeing the majority of the highlights in one holiday.

If I would make the same trip again, I probably would make some changes to the plan if I wanted to make the most efficient use of my time. I would scrap the minor archeological sites like Cave di Cusa, Heraclea Minoa, Helorus and Palazzolo Acreide. And possibly the modern cities Gela and Trapani. We were never bored, but there’s a lot more to see on the more famous archeological sites. If you are short on time it’s better to skip these, unless you’re quite interested in archeology and history like me. In the case of Helorus though, we didn’t learn anything at all about the ruins we saw there because there were no information boards on the site. On the other hand, I was curious about the minor archeological sites of Motya, Kamarina, Megara Hyblaea and Thapsos, but these didn’t fit into the schedule. I wish we would have had the time to see Ragusa on the way to Modica. Had we decided to see the northeastern part of Sicily as well, we would have definitely visited Taormina.

Scala dei Turchi is nice with it’s peculiar white marl cliff, but there are better beaches to visit in Sicily. Unfortunately, there was no time for visiting San Vito Lo Capo after Palermo, which is supposed to have a nice beach. More importantly, in April the seawater is still a bit cool. We swam at the beach near Scala dei Turchi for a short time, but we were almost the only ones who did. In fact, a lot of Sicilians were walking around in winter coats. Don’t get me wrong, except for one or two rainy days we never needed a jacket to stay warm. But it would have been more fun if the seawater would have been a bit warmer and if there had been more sunshine. When I visited in October 2012 it was sunny almost all the time and I didn’t see a single raindrop. And at the end of the summer or autumn you get all the great food like ripe peaches, grapes, prickly pears and eggplants.

I want to emphasize that anyone who visits Sicily (and Italy in general) should take the strange opening hours of important attractions and museums into account. The Archeological Museum of Agrigento is closed on Monday in the afternoon, so we were not able to visit it. The greatest disappointment was that the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo was closed on Sunday afternoon, like many other attractions. I had already seen it in 2012, but I was disappointed I couldn’t show it to Stephanie. It’s ridiculous the Archeological Museum of Palermo is still closed for renovation, which it already was when I visited in 2012.

Of the new places I visited, Selinunte, Noto, the Necropolis of Pantalica, Euryalus Castle, Morgantina and Cefalú were definite high points of this holiday. The archeological site of Selinunte is huge with both impressive ruins of the city and well preserved temples. I liked this site more than Agrigento: there you only see the temples and part of a necropolis, but there are almost no visible remains of the city itself there. It’s strange that unlike Agrigento, Selinunte hasn’t been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site yet. Apparently it was submitted as a candidate in 1987, but it has not been accepted yet.

Noto has many beautifully decorated churches, surprising for a relatively small town. The Necropolis of Pantalica lies rather remote, but the rock-cut tombs and the scenic views are worth it. Expect to walk a few kilometers on small paths which are not easy to travel on though. Castle Euryalus speaks to the imagination, what would this impregnable fortress have looked like in its prime? To our surprise the castle had a few tunnels and its complex layout was still preserved somewhat.

Rock cut tomb in the Pantalica Necropolis

Euryalus Castle

Morgantina is another impressive archeological site, it doesn’t feature large temples like Selinunte, but the remains of the ancient city there are quite well preserved as well. Cefalú is an eyecather, a coastal town with a huge rock towering over the settlement. Definitely climb to the top for the great view. Even though we had seen plenty of ancient Greek temples in Selinunte and Agrigento, the lonely temple of Segesta was an interesting sight.

Overview of Morgantina

Temple of Segesta

Finally, some restaurant recommendations, for you and for myself when I might visit Sicily again. Of course Southern Italian and Sicilian food alone is sufficient reason to visit those regions.

  • Marinella di Selinunte: Africa da Bruno.
  • Agrigento: Opera, which was memorable for serving us a delicious plate full of bruschetta al pomodoro for just a few euro’s.
  • Modica: Osteria dei Sapori Perdutti.
  • Siracusa: none, Ortigia is a tourist trap. There may be good restaurants elsewhere in Siracusa, but they’re harder to find.
  • Piazza Armerina: Fluid, where I ate an interesting combination of shrimp in a sauce of oranges.
  • Palermo: Vino e Pomodoro and Il Baro.