For me, waking up in Erice is like Christmas in October: church bells are ringing and little clouds dance across a blue sky. Down the strada, a cappuccino and a pastry sing like angels to my empty stomach.
And I don’t even have to put on an extra layer or two to ward off the morning chill because there is no morning chill. Although Sicilians look at us funny on the street (with our loaded touring bikes like a neon sign that reads “we are tourists” and Tyler’s hands free crutch/peg leg drawing curious stares like a fisherman draws fish into a net). And my tank top — to Sicilians 27 C (roughly 80 degrees) is borderline chilly.
We emerge from the narrow stairs and the little flower-filled courtyard and walk slowly down the street to retrieve our bikes. We’ll be careful not to close the door and press repeat on last night (locked inside a courtyard with empty bellies). A rhythmic tap echoes along the cobbles and old stone walls — a string of horses ambling down the street. It’s like stepping back in time — except two or three of the riders are on their cellphones.
Although it’s tempting, we don’t have much time to tarry (just long enough to eat, and for one of the tour leaders, Andrea, to spot our bikes and pop in to say “ciao” after marking the route to Erice with chalk arrows for the incoming clients). But before we left the steep, ancient labyrinth of Erice (founded about 3,000 years ago by the Elimi — the original inhabitants of Sicily), we had to stop at Pasticceria (pastry shop) Maria Grammatico.
Incredibly, the shop’s founder (Maria Grammatico, of course), entered the San Carlo convent in Erice at the age of 11 and was able to learn, over the course of 15 years, the “secrets of the ancient art of the conventual pastry making.” Today, the pastries emerge exactly as they did five centuries ago. Grazie sisters, I thought as we noshed on soft, rum-soaked, pistachio-encrusted, cream filled pastries. Grazie mille, as we nibbled on soft amaretti crowned with roasted almonds and round, coarse sugar-encrusted ground pistacchio cookies…
Next up, we’ll trade the coast temporarily for deserted back roads, uninvited mascots, accidental mountain biking, swimming, trash, impressive castle walls, Greek ruins, huge dinners and much, much more… until then, a dopo (see you later)!