We walk off-island tonight to eat a 18€ prix fixe meal at a small restaurant owned by butcher Ciccio and his friend Mauro. When we arrive at 8pm the place is empty. Since everything in Italy is closed from 1 to 4ish in the afternoon i guess 8 is early for dinner.
The waiter brings two hard-boiled eggs. Paul and I look at the eggs and the small bowl of salt and wonder why we have eggs. The waiter comes back to our table to indicate that we are to eat the eggs now. He does not speak English. We eat our eggs.
Next comes a large plate of antipasti, a bowl of beans, and a bowl with a soft cheese. Then bread, wine, and tripe. Then a selection of grilled meats: chicken, steak, sausage, bacon, and horse. Despite the amount - twice the food we need - we eat everything but the tripe. It is all very good, all except the tripe that is.
By 9 pm customers are waiting for tables and I feel like I'm in the middle of a Godfather movie. And I mean that in a good way. Everyone is well dressed, made up, talking Italian, and they all know each other. As customers come in to the restaurant they say ciao and talk and do the double kisses with those already seated. Paul and I are the only non-Sicilians in the place.
Let me back up a bit. We are in Siracusa, about two hours south of Taormina, on the southeast tip of Sicily. We are here because Siracusa is very old, a town with enough history for a hundred other towns.
We are staying at hotel Gargallo, a small place in the middle of the island of Ortigia. Ortigia's streets are narrow, crooked, and disorienting; it brings to mind Venice without the canals. The architecture is stunning. One old stone building after another, with beautiful details and crumbly textures that come alive at night.
The pictures accompanying this post are of a beautiful old church a few doors from our hotel, a courtyard also near our hotel, and, best of all, the magnificent Piazza del Duomo, about a block from the hotel. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to old churches but I found the interior of this Duomo among the most fascinating. You can see the evidence of its being built and re-built. A beautiful building inside and out.
Ciao for now.
Perfect weather today. After breakfast we walk to the southern tip of Ortigia to see Castello Maniace, a defense built in 1239 but named after a Byzantine admiral who conquered Siracusa in 1038. Part of the complex is used by the local university, the rest is available to the public.
It is an impressive fortification with thick walls, large vaulted chambers, and the remnants of a moat separating it from the rest of Ortigia.
Like many sites only some areas are open because of ongoing reconstruction.
Lunch is in Piazza Archimede, named after Archimedes. Pizza topped with sliced potatos followed by way too many desserts. The piazza features a large fountain depicting the nymph Arethusa, the symbol of Ortigia.
The photos are of the Castello, the clear water surrounding Ortigia, another of the Castello, and the Duomo.
About all I pack for travel is a few changes of clothes, something to read, something to write with, and a camera. A coat if it's cold. Toothbrush and deodorant.
My travel clothes are all green and blue polypro. Everything matches. I’ve long thought life would be better if we wore uniforms, as the Chinese supposedly did during the cultural revolution. Olive green Mao jackets and matching pants. No decisions, just take out the next clean pair. Like Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriend Christie who always wears the same black and white dress. I get her.
I take something to write with and a camera because my memory sucks. Maybe I'm mentally lazy, maybe I'm defective, maybe I had too much fun in grad school. In any case i find writing things down and taking pictures helps me remember. That is why I write this blog.
But back to Italy. Next on our short list of things we think we should see while in Siracusa is the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis. This is about a half-hour walk once you cross the bridge that takes you off Ortigia , so maybe 45 minutes from the hotel. Not the most interesting walk but not scary or anything, just city streets in a nondescript part of Siracusa.
This archaeological site features an arena built for circus games and where the sick drank the blood and ate the livers of the dead; a 200m long altar built to honor Timoleon that did double duty for animal sacrifices; a large amphitheate, the Teatro Greco; and a rock quarry complete with a huge ear-shaped cavern. The quarry served as prison for 7000 Athenian prisoners of war.
It all sounds worth seeing but I find it more interesting to read about in the Rough Guide than to actually walk among the ruins. Part of the problem is the site’s lack of signage and part is its appearance of neglect. For 10€ the site should be better maintained.
And that's ok, travel is a mix of good and disappointing. Everything can't live up to expectations which is why I try to dampen my expectations.
Two photos today: the Teatro Greco at the Parco Archeologico and a typical Ortigia street at night.
Another beautiful and warm day in Siracusa. We visit the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia which fronts the same beautiful square as the Duomo. The original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 then rebuilt and reopened in 1703. The 1693 earthquake comes up a lot when reading the history of southeastern Sicily.
Beautiful inside and out, the church’s highlights are a large work by Caravaggio - the Burial of Santa Lucia - as well as murals and old crucifixes.
We buy a small watercolor on papyrus on our way to the Fonte Aretusa, a freshwater spring just meters from the Mediterranean.
The Fonte Aretusa fronts a path along the west side of the island, one of the places you can participate in the traditional passeggiata or evening promenade. The promenade generally takes place between 5 and 8pm in every Italian town. Couples and families walk and greet friends and neighbors. Stores are open should you want to shop (remember, they are closed from about 1 to 4) but most people just walk. On weekends the numbers are huge; it appears everyone in town is out and about.
After dinner we sit in Piazza Duomo. The temperature is perfect and the piazza is almost empty aside from a few bicyclists , pedestrians, and cats. Sicily has a lot of cats.
The piazza is one of the most beautiful urban spaces i've seen. It is intimate in size and surrounded by buildings that are works of art.
Tonight's photos are of Fonte Aretusa, Santa Lucia alla Badia, and the duomo.