A Buckeyes win, and a beautiful sunset over the Scioto Mile. Columbus is a happy place tonight.
The autumnal equinox has come and gone, the weather has cooled off, and the feel of fall is all around us. That means it’s time to don the thick socks, lace up the Oboz hiking shoes, and head out to one of the cool hiking trails you can find in and around central Ohio. Our destination yesterday was Conkle’s Hollow, a state nature preserve located in the Hocking Hills near Logan, Ohio.
The Hocking Hills region is a sprawling and beautiful area of woodlands and interesting rock formations that is home to many camps and hiking areas. Located about an hour and a half south of Columbus off Route 33, Conkle’s Hollow is one of the many potential destinations in the area for someone looking to get outdoors, enjoy some scenery, and breathe in some big gulps of fresh autumnal air. Not surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones who decided to visit Conkle’s Hollow yesterday.
When you arrive at Conkle’s Hollow, you’ve got a choice–you can take the gorge trail, which runs along the bottom of the hollow, beneath the canopy of the towering trees, or you can take the longer rim trail, which takes you up to the top of the rock walls that make up the gorge. The rim trail is apparently more rugged and also requires more care, as it winds past some spots where there are sheer falls in the event of a misstep. We decided to take the gorge trail to kick off our hiking season, and leave the rim trail for a later trip.
The gorge trail is an easy hike, and some of our fellow visitors were families with young kids. There is lots to see on the gorge trail, too. Almost immediately, you notice the sheer rock cliffs to each side, towering hundreds of feet overhead. The photo directly above, with the trail and the trail sign, gives you a sense of the immense scale of the rocky walls. Many of the trees growing from the bottom of the gorge were dwarfed by the cliff faces.
After a half a mile or so, the paved trail ends, and a dirt path takes you farther back into the gorge, where you see many of the most interesting rock formations. The air is decidedly cooler in the gorge, and you don’t get much direct sunlight in view of the towering rock outcroppings and tree cover. The filtered sunlight almost makes you feel like you are underwater as you follow the trail, and makes the green shades of the tree leaves, moss, and plant life seem a lot greener.
At many points along the trail there are small caves and grottos, as well as areas where water from above is falling to join the small stream running along the floor of the hollow. In the past, you apparently could explore more of these formations, but the damage done by hikers (and, sadly, some people who can’t resist carving their initials into rocks, as shown in the photo above) has caused the preserve to limit hikers to the trails. That’s okay with me: I’m willing to forgo an up close and personal look if it means that the pristine state of this beautiful area will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
As you approach the end of the trail, the walls to each side close in, bringing you to the end point of the gorge. The middle of the floor features a small winding stream, with lots of rocks to hop on and felled trees. The kids in the family groups that were with us in this area had a riot leaping from rock to rock and balancing on the logs.
On this part of the trail, the contrast presented by dark shadows of the caverns make the green tree leaves and plants seem even brighter and greener. Whether you look forward, as in the picture above, or backward, as in the picture below, this part of Conkle’s Hollow was a study in black and different shades of green. Chartreuse, emerald, lime, fern, olive, seafoam, juniper–an artist would need a pretty loaded palette to do it justice.
The end of the trail takes you to the last cleft in the gorge, shown below. Water drips down from above into the pool that has accumulated below the cleft, and the dripping sound echoes against the rocky walls. A small ray of refracted sunlight illuminated the point at which the falling water hits the pool. It’s a beautiful scene, and it made us glad to choose the gorge trail for our first visit to Conkle’s Hollow. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss this serene little scene on a crisp early autumn day.
This scene greeted me this morning when I turned the corner from our street and headed down the hill for my walk at about 6:15 a.m. It’s amazing how a few clouds can make the sky more interesting, and produce just the right amount of shimmer on the surface of the water in the harbor. The temperature was around 60 degrees, and the salty air was fresh and invigorating.
It’s scenes like this that make a morning walk so enjoyable.
This morning was my first really foggy morning since I came up to Stonington a few days ago. As always, I’d forgotten just how blanketing a fog bank can be, and how the ghostly mist and absolute quiet can turn familiar views into interesting, otherworldly landscapes.
I like the fog because it makes for an interesting walk. I also like it because it means that our east-facing bedroom isn’t invaded by blazing sunshine at 5:15 a.m., and it’s actually possible to sleep in until 6 o’clock.
We’re getting ready to do some home decorating in the near future, so we’ve been doing a lot of talking about color palettes and “vision boards” and other decorating-related concepts.
This morning I was greeted by a pre-sunrise scene that had what I considered to be a pretty compelling palette, with lightening shades of blue, a band of coral, warm reds and oranges, and a hint of the yellow to come. The gray clouds and the harbor water would be the “accent colors,” I guess. The only thing that is missing is those evocative paint store names for the colors, like “seashell gray” or “sunflower yellow.” In any case, it’s a palette that goes well together.
I’d love to get a look at Mother Nature’s “vision board” for today., but she is notoriously close to the vest about that.
When ended our visit to Marana, Arizona today with an early wake-up call and flight back to Columbus. As a result, we were treated to a pretty sunrise over the Tortolita Mountains as we began our journey.
Wikipedia describes the Tortolitas, with a haughty sniff of dismissal, as a “modest” mountain range. That may be true if you live in the Rockies or the Himalayas, but for Midwestern flatlanders like us any mountain range, modest or not, is a cause for wonder. When it is backlit by the crack of dawn, the sense of beauty and wonder is even greater.
The last week of our Sicilian Sojourn was spent in a villa a mile or so from Scopello, a small town built into the mountains rising from the sea on the northwest corner of the beautiful island we have been exploring. In Scopello, around every corner you will find pretty views of the ocean, the mountains, and towers (and tower ruins) improbably built on rocky peaks, like the lookout towers situated below the town, as shown in the photo above, and the structure far above the sunny town square, seen in the photo below.
We visited Scopello several times during our stay. We engaged in general exploration and shopping, had lunch in one of the restaurants that are found when you pass through the arch shown in the photo below, had before dinner drinks at a table in the town square, and enjoyed an excellent meal in a restaurant was a magnificent view of the mountains and ocean beyond. In every setting, Scopello was a charming place.
It’s also a colorful place, with lots of brilliant flowers climbing up the white-washed walls of buildings and growing along the stone walkways. You’ll see unattended cats and dogs roaming free on the town square and the narrow streets, or dozing in a shaded doorway. The locals and shopkeepers don’t mind, and we didn’t, either, as one feline-loving member of our party seized the opportunity to feed a local cat the remains of her lunch..
Scopello also is very much a walking town. You’ll see an occasional car or scooter on the streets, as shown in the photo below, but the vast majority of cars park outside the city limits, making the entire town a kind of pedestrian-only zone. The car-free reality gives Scopello a significantly different vibe than towns like Catania or Palermo, where careful awareness of cars and scooters is a must.
My favorite moment in Scopello came when we ate an excellent meal at one of the restaurants, polished off some fine (and very reasonably priced) Sicilian wine, and then sat chatting as the sun dropped below the horizon to the west. It was a beautiful sunset and an appropriate end to a wonderful night.
As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a confirmed walker. I enjoy walking not only because I need and like the exercise, but also because walking allows you to notice and appreciate things you might not see if you are driving past in a car traveling at 30 mph.
Our villa is about a mile from Scopello. I hadn’t taken the walk to town before today because it had previously been hot and cloudless, and it didn’t seem smart to trudge a mile uphill on a blazing, hot day. Today was cooler, however, with a nice breeze—ideal conditions for my walk. It began with a stroll up the tree-lined driveway, shown the photo above. At the top of the driveway you turn left and follow a level roadway for several hundred yards.
Almost immediately after turning onto the road I saw something I really hadn’t noticed before, even though I had driven past the area multiple times already. To the left of the road, past some flowers and a fence, there was a Sicilian farm field on the hillside tumbling down to the sea. The crop had been planted in tidy rows, and a charming stone building—a barn, perhaps?—stood framed against the blue waters behind and lit by a stray ray of sunshine. It was a beautiful scene.
At the first intersection you turn right and begin the uphill climb to Scopello, which rests on a mountainside far above the sea. The road winds steadily upward, and there are many pretty flowers along the way. As you near Scopello, your eye is drawn to an old structure that sits on a rocky crag above the town, as shown at the top of the photo above.
By the time you reach the outskirts of Scopello, you have a panoramic view of the coastline and can distinctly see the different colors caused by shallower coastal waters versus the deep sea. Today the ocean waters were a magnificent royal blue, while the shore waters were a bright, almost luminescent green, and white clouds sailed by in the blue skies above it all. The surrounding mountains rise abruptly from the sea, and the whole area was alive with color and wind blown movement. Much of the land near the coast is cultivated and beautifully maintained. Sicilians obviously care about their farms as much as they they care about their food—which means they care a lot.
I really liked this walk to Scopello.
This Thursday morning I woke up early, trying to be as quiet as possible so as not to awaken the rest of our merry band of travelers. I fixed myself a cup of strong coffee, opened the door to the patio, and stepped outside to feel the pre-dawn coolness of the air and listen to the chirps and coos of the neighborhood birds. The sea was calm and the sun had just started to color the eastern horizon when I took this picture.
Segesta is an architectural park that features one of these best surviving Greek temples in the world and also a fine example of a Greek theater. We visited there yesterday morning on a brilliantly sunny day—the afternoon would have been a bit too warm for comfort.
After entering the park you climb a set of steps to reach the temple structure. Sicily is a mountainous place pretty much everywhere, including Segesta. If you come for a visit, be sure to bring your walking and climbing shoes. In this instance, the climb makes for an impressive introduction to the temple facade.
The temple is magnificent, and miraculously intact. Archeologists believe that it was constructed around 500 B.C. and has survived to the present day because it was never completed and therefore never became a functioning temple, and therefore was not a threat to the successive civilizations with different religious beliefs that conquered this area. There are many clues in the structure itself that support the never-completed theory, including the absence of the characteristic beveled burrows in the columns and the lack of any sign of construction of the central room in the temple, where the image of the god would be displayed.
The temple building backs up on a small gorge, with beautiful cultivated, rolling farmland on the other side, as seen in the picture above. Imagine looking up from your labors in the fields and seeing a Greek temple only a stone’s throw away. I imagine it would make the work a bit easier.
We left the temple grounds and headed to the Greek theatre. You could walk up a dusty path to the theater, but we decided to take a bus that runs up and down the promontory on which the theater is found. This meant participating in a chaotic scrum to get seats on the bus to the theater and the nearby agora. We’re glad we did, though, because the theater is far, far above the temple, as you can see in the photo below. It was a hot, bright day, and the trek up the mountain to the pinnacle would have been very thirsty work.
The agora next to the theater is mostly rubble. Sicilian and Segesta history speak of conquest and competing cultures, as the area was settled and successively conquered by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, and Normans, each of which built using materials that prior conquerors had used before. Most of the theater survived, however.
The theater sits at the edge of the mountain top, with the seats facing the surrounding countryside far below and the sea beyond. Our guide explained that the siting was intentional, to provide for cooling sea breezes that also could lift the actors’ voices to the audience. The theater is huge and once had multiple decks and could seat 4,000 people, but the stones of the two highest sections were scavenged by later settlements to provide building materials. I’m just glad that some of it survived.
Yesterday we drove from Scopello to Trapani, a town on the western edge of Sicily. We stopped at Trapani’s working harbor—filled with well used but well kept fishing boats—admired the green-topped dome at the harbor, and boarded a ship that was to take us out to tour the Egadi Islands off Sicily’s west coast. As we boarded the ship we had to remove our shoes, which were secured in a large canvas bag, because when we were aboard ship it was strictly a barefoot affair. I sat on the bow of the boat as it chugged out of the harbor, past rows of sailboats and the fortress-like building shown below, which used to be a prison.
Our first stop was the island of Favignana, also known as “butterfly island” because of its shape. We anchored off the cliffs for some swimming and snorkeling. The water was a bright turquoise—the kind of color you associate with the Caribbean—and was crystal clear. The cliffs were mined and worked in the past and are honeycombed with holes created for mining. Now the area is a recreational area and nature preserve. We splashed into the water, which was bracing at first but quickly warmed up, and swam about along with snorkelers and swimmers from other boats.
Our next stop was the town of Favignana. The entrance to the harbor is dominated by a medieval structure on top of a small peak, shown in the photo below. The structure, which once was a convent, was so high that it occasionally was shroud by a passing cloud.
We disembarked on the pier of Favignana, then explored the town, which includes a beautiful church, shown below. The church has a striking green dome, barely visible in the photo, that showed up brilliantly against the deep blue sky. There were many people out and about and we witnessed the “Sicilian siesta,” when shops close at about 1:30 p.m. and everyone takes a break.
Then it was back on the boat to continue our exploration of the islands. We stopped to snorkel into “lovers’ cave” on the coastline of Favignana, which was very cool. You swim into the cave then follow a kind of watery tunnel through the cliffside until you reach a rock and sand interior beach, where the cave opens up and the ceiling is far overhead. You need a torch to light the way, and there were many fish near the entrance to the cave.
Then it was back on the boat and a short ride to Levanzo, another of the islands. It looks like a Greek island as you approach. We pulled around the corner of the island to drop anchor for more sunshine, snorkeling, and swimming—and a fabulous lunch that included arancini, mussels, bread salad, prawns, and fresh anchovies, which don’t taste at all like the anchovies you find on an American pizza. It was all delicious, and a great capstone for a perfect day.
Yesterday we drove through the interior of Sicily from the Siracusa area to Scopello on the opposite coast. With the resolute Granite State Commander at the wheel, we followed roads that climbed the mountainous spine of Sicily and rolled through tunnels that burrowed through the rugged terrain. We stopped for lunch at Enna, a striking walled town in the middle of Sicily, where the fortress shown above stands at the highest point.
As is the case with other Italian walled towns, Enna is built on a peak that towers over the surrounding countryside. Many of the homes rise straight up from the road. The road that rims the perimeter of the town offers sweeping, panoramic views of the area, including the neighboring walled town of Calascibetta, seen in the photo below. We had a fine lunch of pasta dishes at a restaurant called Il Mito.
After leaving Enna, the terrain grew more mountainous, as seen in the photo below. The road was in good condition, and the road signs were easy to follow. After clearing the mountains, the road dropped down to the sea coast and the streets of Palermo, Sicily’s most populated city. Scopello is only a short distance away, after you clear the outskirts of Palermo, and lies on the coast facing the Tyrrhenian Sea.
No post about driving through Italy or Sicily would be complete without a word about the Auto Grill rest stops. To put it mildly, they blow American rest stops out of the water. The photo below shows some of the freshly made items that were available at our Auto Grill stop. The Auto Grill also sells wine. You could easily make an excellent picnic lunch from what you can buy from the Auto Grill.
Today we moved from the Siracusa area over the island to the other side of Sicily, near Scopello. it was a beautiful day and this view from the patio of our lodging greeted us on our arrival. It was a wonderful welcome.
Ortigia is the island town that is the most ancient part of Siracusa. Like Taormina, it is a quaint and picturesque town of narrow streets—but with some surprises. We went to visit on a sun-bleached day where the temperature may have touched 90.
Ortigia is ancient, indeed. It was first settled by Greeks circa 600 B.C., when Greek architecture was still developing. The ruins of the Temple of Apollo, which are in the center of town, are an example of an early Greek temple. The two Doric columns at right, which have amazingly survived for two thousand years, were hewn from single massive stones, which limited their height. After the Greeks in Siracusa were defeated by the Romans, the temple was repurposed by succeeding conquerors, including the Byzantines, the Muslims, and the Normans. It is a testament to the quality of Greek architecture that the columns have served for so long in so many guises and have survived the occasional earthquake, too.
The Duomo that stands in a sprawling square at the heart of Ortigia is an even better example of the practical repurposing of an ancient Greek building. It began as a temple, built later than the temple of Apollo, when advances in building techniques allowed the Greeks to erect much taller columns. You can see one of the columns exposed in an inset to the outer wall of the church in the photo above. Successive conquerors then built outer walls around the temple columns, and the Normans added their characteristic windows that make the church look like a battlement.
The facade and entrance to the church, on the other hand, are classic examples of later, baroque architecture. Visitors to the church huddled in the shadows to escape the blazing sunshine, and—for the first time on this trip—we had to mask up to enter the church. Fortunately, the church supplied a mask with each admission ticket. Once inside, the presence of the towering ancient Greek columns was clear, as seen in the photo below. And somehow, the melange of different styles and eras works as a cohesive unit. The Duomo in Ortigia in a magnificent structure.
The interior of the Duomo includes many beautiful chapels, but you need to be sure to look everywhere to capture the full range of the structure’s history—some of which is embedded in the floor. The Duomo is the burial ground for certain high-ranking church officials, including the individual buried beneath the slab with skull and crossbones shown below. Some of the chapels also include glass cases containing human bones, including what is reputed to be the arm bone of Santa Lucia.
After leaving the Duomo we emerged into the blazing sunshine and walked down to the waterfront. There is a huge, freshwater basin along the waterfront, shown in the photo below. Those are papyrus plants growing in the water next to the palm tree, which gives you a sense of the tropical nature of Sicily’s climate. The pool of cool, dark water looked very inviting. We resisted the temptation to take a plunge, however, and decided instead to have another spectacular seafood meal under umbrellas at a local pescheria.
After we left the Barone di Villagrande Vineyard, we visited Catania, a large town on the Sicilian coastline. There we stopped at the Catania fish market, a sprawling collection of shops and booths selling colorful produce, fish just off the boat, pig’s feet, and just about everything you can imagine.
The market is a rambling journey that winds through some patios and narrow passageways that were filled with shoppers and—because scooters go everywhere—guys on scooters like the one shown above trying to take a shortcut through the crowds. And, because it is an actual working market, you also might encounter, as we did, an employee carrying a box of debris topped with a severed goat’s head making his way through the crowd.
The sun was bright and so were the colors of the market. I liked the whimsical nature of some of the shops, like the old-fashioned lemon stand above or the boat-shaped food stand shown below. As we strolled along, the Landscape Artist bought a kind of mixed nut brittle for our merry band to munch on.
My favorite artistic aspect of the market were the many bright umbrellas hanging overhead in parts of the marketplace. The umbrellas not only made a colorful canopy overhead, they also cast shadowed patterns on the ground. It’s the kind of little touch you might not find in America but you do find in Italy and Sicily.