Museum

The Archaeological Museum of Agrigento isn’t exactly what I call interactive. It’s more ‘old school’. Or old Sicily. After the Valley of the Temples, and the disappearance of Claudio, we’re let loose in town for just long enough to down a few glasses of wine and a spot of pasta before being decanted back into the coach and poured back out again, against our better judgement.

 

Everything is housed in glass cabinets of which there are nearly as many as there were tourists in this morning’s security queue. Largely, they contain pots and vases. To be fair, she did warn us of vase overkill but one can have too many vases. I manage to locate a case of ceramic penises of differing sizes but then we’re back to pots.

 

Vased out, I escape outside into the sunshine and find the Oratorio – the beautiful church of St Nicholas depicted in the first two photos. A wedding is imminent and due to the heat the ladies are only now arranging the flowers. It’s quite stunning but around the corner I spy two suited types and a pretty woman with long dark hair dressed in a bright orange frock. She looks suspiciously like that female in the art installation up at Concordia. Surely not?

More and more guests stroll up the path towards the Oratorio. This is better than all the vases in history. The men sport dark glasses and super skinny expensive suits. The women are immaculately clothed – many in full length dresses, dripping in diamonds, Heels ridiculously high. It looks like a scene straight from The Sopranos. I feel it must be a Mafioso wedding. Sadly, we’re not allowed to wait for the bride: Angelo, our driver, has arrived and I think has been told to disappear ‘velocemente’. It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened all day – apart from Claudio.

 

 

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Valley of the Temples

We arrive at 8.30am, as do most of the other groups that have been herded onto coaches and disgorged onto a hill before their breakfasts – alleged scrambled egg and suspicious chopped frankfurter – have had time to attempt settlement. They say we have to get here before the day gets any hotter.

Today’s specialist guide is Claudio. He’s very Sicilian in an Indiana Jones type of way. He sports a large hat that might have been white when the Greeks invaded. He wears a grey linen jacket which probably saw better days on a man less substantially built; a lesser man in all ways for Claudio is nothing if not macho.

 

We wait for about twenty minutes in a queue for ‘security’. The crowds are restless and the Italians start booing when someone is allowed in ahead of them. Claudio is bored and demands another gate is opened, which it is. ‘Security’ isn’t very stringent: a cursory glance inside open handbags and a quick body sweep with an airport-type scanner that beeps on making contact with me. The beeps are ignored:’prego, prego’ as I’m waved in unceremoniously. We regroup – all fifty of us who can only spot each other by the orange radio receivers which we wear.

We climb 59 steps to the Temple of Hera. Wasn’t she the one whose head kept talking to Jason on his boat trip with the Argonauts? Love that film. Still. Claudio is a font of archaeological and historical knowledge so is a bit peed off that we want to know about the statue that looks like a spaceman. ‘It’s supposed to be art. Not of importance’, he snaps.

 

We walk the whole length of the ridge that houses five temples. At the Concordia, which is the most complete of these, there’s another art installation. This comprises four large screens, each with a video of a woman in an orange frock simulating sex with some invisible entity – possibly a god. It’s distracting.

Claudio, who every now and then sings in English, gathers us under a 500 years old olive tree and tries to enlighten us historically. In my notes, I’ve written that there are always 613 seeds in a pomegranate. I’ve no idea why as, even with the help of the radio receivers, most of his monologue is drowned out by the initially ecstatic, and subsequently painful, shrieks of the lady in the orange dress. A Daily Mail Brexiteer next to me mutters that she wishes someone would put her out of her misery.

Claudio shows us a rare Argentinian goat but everyone’s lost the plot so no-one knows why we’ve stopped. Some of the less able have fallen by the wayside and have to be retrieved a couple of hours later when we rediscover the coach. Claudio sings ‘when I’m sixty-four’. Most of us would be pleased to see that year again.

Not a great start

It’s a 4am check-in at Gatwick which means I leave Bromley at 3am. Which means I get up at 2am, wondering why I ever went to bed. The airport is a hideously timeless place wherein vast crowds of folk are shopping in the middle of the night. I am disorientated as I wander around Boots. On asking for my preferences – I’d prefer not to be here – I request a seat near the front of the plane and find myself next to Ursula and Anne, opposite the toilet. Those two aren’t happy about their proximity to the facility but they’ve been traveling from Cardiff since 5.30 yesterday evening so aren’t happy full stop. It’s very warm on here and proceeds to become hotter and hotter. It’s about 45C. Something has gone wrong with the air conditioning and the captain, who only ten minutes ago said we’d be departing early, now informs us that we must wait for engineers to come aboard. In lieu of the outside temperatures at Gatwick, and in preparation for our return, we three are clothed in winter woollies. An hour and a half later, when the cabin temperature has dropped to minus 20, all those dressed for Sicily are complaining.

Some weeks later, or so it seems, we arrive at the Hotel Kaos in Agrigento which is sort of shabby-chic without the chic. Most of our party go straight to their beds but the weather is too nice to miss a chance to drink Campari poolside. It’s a very nice pool and has a splendid view of the closed-down cement works. Anne arrives and I say she must feel quite at home: like watching the sun set over Port Talbot.

I close the loo lid in my room and it comes away in my hand. Apparently, it was held on with the paper hygiene label as there seem to be no screws in evidence. I’m too tired to care but the next morning I leave the room early to report the situation and discover a flood in the corridor. The ceiling is leaking from a dangerous looking crack. Still, it means I now have two things to discuss with my new friend, Pablo the night porter. Pablo and I go upstairs to look at the ceiling and he makes a note on the extensive list of hotel defects before deciding to open the bar and make us both coffee, so strong that the spoon stands up in it without support. ‘One for you and one for me’, says Pablo who informs me that the death of the cement works is a crisis: ‘nothing else for people to do here’, he reports sadly. If he was French, he’d say, ‘meh bah’, but I’ve never seen anyone look more Italian, especially at 6.30am.