Summer 2015: a trip to Sicily

Prologue (this time, it's in English)

I wrote this page in English, for once, to reach more readers. What is the point of writing on the Internet, otherwise? So, let me see if the audience size will grow. Now, if only I had the time to put up some decent stats in my site...

That said, let's elaborate on what is so special about this big island in the south of Italy.

Sicily, or "Sicilia" (in Italian), or "Sikelia" (they tell me it is the ancient name), is where you want to go to taste some of the "old" Southern Italy. It is hard to explain what I mean to non-Italians, let me just say that Sicily hosts some specific places where you can walk, watch, smell stone odours like other people did a long time ago.
I may be totally wrong, and yet this exactly the feeling places like Modica can convey to you.
Yes, there are cars, there are writings, posters, modern things all around, and yet, something out of time there you can feel!
It is not by chance that the area of Syracuse has been the set for episodes of a lucky Italian TV show, from an even luckyer series of books ("il commissario Montalbano" being the main character)

To be very honest, there also are some specific places where you can find the ugliest imagery of our nation, that is precisely what we felt in some parts of Ragusa, horrible as much as gorgeous the old town is, a few steps away from it!

The vacation

We've spent one week in Sicily, around Syracuse (Siracusa), with the main intent of bathing by the natural reserve of Plemmirio, but we also ejoyed trips to the Sycilian Baroque cities in the sorroundings.
There is plenty of places to visit, indeed, and you would not regret taking a vacation in this area.

The best way to reach Syracuse is to land at Catania's airport, rent a car, happily drive southward. If I can provide a hint, stay away from the big car rental company whose name starts in "H" and its acquisition that starts with "T". They both rent cars in Catania. It is the second time that I have a horrible experience with them, their unfriendly and unwelcoming personnel (the first time it happend at the Dublin airport). Probably being unpolite is part of their recruit guidelines. Also, I could not get any money back in spite of the fact that, apparently, I have the right to reclaim three days of rental. A local company saved our trip. I love local companies.

We landed quite soon, so there was plenty of time to spend on the first day: in the afternoon, I drove straight to Noto and the place well deserved a visit! The aforementioned "Sycilian Baroque" triumphs here, in the local stone than turns to a yellowish ocra in time. The palaces you see in the pictures of Noto, indeed, are not painted but show this aging effect.

Noto (Sicily), seen from an elevated position
The center of Noto from an elevated position

You can perceive a sort of cake-ish, opulent decadence in the style, together with an overdue manifestation or religiosity... that is precisely the core nature of this peculiar baroque style. And yet, with its mostly white interiors, it seems bare in comparison with the most known look of the "classic" Baroque, which is encumbered by an excess of colourful paintings. In a way, here you find a moderate version of it, a more delicate approach.

the palace of the Municipality in Noto, Sicily
the palace of the Municipality in Noto, Sicily

Our second day has been spent mostly on the seaside.
There are wonderful and not-so-wonderful places around the Plammirio. In spite of it being a natural reserve, actually, there are parts where villas literally fall in pieces into the water, with stones from the walls and other garbage preventing tourists from moving safely along the rocky coastline.

But the sea water is clear and the deep mostly inviting. If you're a good swimmer, there are some rocks you can swim to, not far from the coast and large enough to rest and sun-bathe.
Since then, every day we've spent some time at a different spot not far from the Plemmirio, the seaside places I remember by name are Fanusa, Fontane Bianche, Arenella and Ognina, each one it its way the place to be for swimming and snorkeling.

the sea nearby Syracuse
sea and sea rocks nearby Syracuse

The other places you want to visit are the cities of Ragusa (the old town, I mean, named "Ibla"; stay away from the new part, as I said...) and Modica. They tell me Scicli is definitely worth a visit, but we skipped that.
Modica is famous for its chocolate, produced with the original technique used in South America when the Europeans arrived there, apart from the addiction of sugar in the mix. The cocoa is manually crushed and prepared with a specific tool and you can see it being made by artisans in some local confictionery shops.
But Modica is also another Baroque town, with beautiful views. Enjoy them walking up to the top.

houses in Noto, Sicily
small houses gather one next to the other in the panoramic view of Modica

Even though we could not take the path down to the river (the wife malfunctioning foot could not handle that long walk), I would also recommend trekking from "the top" to the lakes of "Riserva Naturale Cavagrande del Cassibile" (Natural Reserve of Cassibile). You can guess from the pictures that it is a long path to the bottom where the lakes are, can probably take a whole day to walk down, take a bath, eat sandwiches, get back... but you can also guess it is a great place to explore.

natural reserve of Cavagrande del Cassibile, Sicily
natural reserve of Cavagrande del Cassibile.
Down the bottom of the valley, you can see the river

The old town of Syracuse, namely "Ortigia" (it is an island) is another corner you don't want to miss, along with the archeological park.

the island of Ortigia, the old Syracuse, Sicily
place with the dome (you don't see the dome in the picture) in the island of Ortigia, the old Syracuse

The latter is placed outside of the city centre and is famous for at least three outstanding features. First of all, it contains the famous amphitheatre, with a great background and excellent sound qualities. The Greek were masters from this point of view, and their mastery was then passed to the Romans (there is also a Roman theatre in this very same archeological area. Alas, it was closed by the time of our visit).
Then you want to visit the "ear of Dionysus" (in Italian, "orecchio di Dioniso"). It is a large, artificial cave and the legend says that it was used by the tyrant Dionysus to hear from the top what his prisoners, encaged in the final part of the "ear", were saying. Indeed, it has great amplification properties and it is not exluded that this has something to do with the qualities of the amphitheatre that is just above it.
Finally, you must not forget that the thumb of Archimedes is presumbaly there. A specific entrance has been spotted, even though there is no absolute certainty about it being the actual sepulchre of the genius.

Closing thoughts

In this area of Sicily, we found that the reception in general is warm, but structures are really few and it is a good thing, for my taste, as I love sea places without people crammed like sardines on the beach.

Eating fish is a good idea in Sicily. We have often dined at the "Abbiniriki" (it is a company name on the receipt, I must admit that I don't remember the writing you see from the on the street, but I suspect it was different). The address is "via Capo Murro di Porco n.249", as the locality is named just like the street: "Capo di Murro". I also suggest you to take a bath there, the rocks on the sea are gorgeous.
The choice at the "Abbiniriki" is limited but the personnel is very friedly, prices are low.
Also on the short list is the hotel Kalaonda, with a very good, not pricey, restaurant, and you can dine by the hotel swimming pool.
And now, my dear reader, it is time to leave you at your duties. A picture of myself after the Sycilian sun cure follows, I like to greet in person. Never been so tanned in the last years...

myself (Umberto Rustichelli) in Sicily
quite red, right?

Bye bye!

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