Thursday, 23 February 2017

Second Week in Sicily

Ragusa Marina

Our journey to Ragusa Marina turned out a bit more complex than expected. I booked a B&B there on a recommendation of a friend who had driven around Sicily. We had taken the train and arrived in the modern part of the town with no idea how to get to the area of our B&B. We went to a café, across the road from the station, for lunch then asked them how to get to the seaside area. Luckily a bus left nearby. When we arrived at Ragusa Marina we had no idea where our B&B was located. After a phone call I was told they had sent me a text message which I had not received. Anyway all worked out well and our B&B was quite nice though breakfast supplied was very minimal. We then spent the latter part of the afternoon exploring the town and wandering along the beach. It is a beach resort town though quite pleasant.
Sunset over Ragusa Marina

The next day we travelled back into the main town to go to Ragusa Ilba the historic part of the town. We wove in and out the back lanes down many, many steps and ended up and the town piazza, very lively with many restaurants and dominated by the cathedral. After exploring the area we caught the bus back to the modern section of the town, then back to Ragusa Marina.

For all the Inspector Montalbano tragics   Ragusa Ilba and Ragusa Marina are featured in the television series. There are tours involving other areas featured in the series and so we decided for the fun of it to go on a half day tour, which included visiting the delightful seaside village where his ‘apartment’ is situated and can be rented when not being filmed plus some other sites. Off to Scicli which was an Arab stronghold, then a royal city under the Normans. After the earthquake in1693 it was transformed into a Baroque town when rebuilt. Of course on this tour we were given the Montalbano ‘features’ then had time to explore the town and have lunch before we returned back to base around 2.00pm, rested then went out afterwards for a stroll, then dinner.


The next day off to Agrigento which turned out to be a marathon journey. To start with we had to return to Ragusa to catch the train to Gela, then a bus to Agrigento, however the train was an hour late, then we had a long wait for the bus at Gela and finally late afternoon we arrived in Agrigento. The tourist office was near the bus station and was still open when we arrived. I managed to get a map plus the directions to the street of our B&B, which was just around the corner. The only problem was that at the number of our accommodation and what was located at it didn’t match up. An abandoned building. A travel agent came out of his office to help us, I showed him the information about our accommodation, he phoned them and they collected us. WE were very lucky.

There appears to be two levels of the street and we were on the upper level, all sorted. The Kerkent B&B was the best. It was close to the main road through the town down a lot of very steep steps. We strolled around, eventually had dinner along the steps near our B&B.
One of the many steep streets Agrigento
The next day, Friday we visited numerous churches a bit of an overkill and generally enjoyed wandering in and out the streets and laneways. We had dinner at a wonderful restaurant called ‘Naif’ recommended to us by the B&B.

On Saturday we visited the Valley of the Temples and is the site of the main temples dedicated to Zeus, Heracles, Concord and Hera as well as many minor shrines. We arrived early even it was around 2.00pm we returned to town. It was a very hot day and we were tired on our return and decided to have a rest back at our B&B.  Afterwards we booked our train to Palermo for the following day.


Left for Palermo on Sunday on 10.14 train then took a taxi to our B&B Vado Massimo which was near the main thoroughfare. After a few hiccups of not receiving a text message we were eventually met to sort out our accommodation. After we settled in we went to explore the area. Down from our road was a glorious theatre, and the performance this night was Madame Butterfly, we managed to get tickets in the ‘gods’ as there was nothing else available. It was an early performance so we decided to have dinner afterwards. That sorted we walked down the main road to the magnificent crossroads Quattro Canti, with sculptures and a fountain on each corner. After just generally wandering around we went back to the theatre. The singing was great and the production was interesting. Afterwards we had dinner just across the road from the theatre, like many of the audience.

Palermo has a rich and varied history with vestiges everywhere and is a great place to explore. We put in a full day sightseeing. San Cataldo built in the 12th century maintaining the Norman-Arab style with three distinctive red domes as well as Arabic inscriptions. We visited many sites, the Norman Palace initially built by the Arabs then became a Norman palace under King Roger II, however the
Palatino Chapel
Palatino Chapel is a standout, a mass of amazing mosaics completely overwhelming and beautiful. We also visited St Giovanni degli Eremiti monastery was built in 1132 for Roger II over the foundation of a Benedictine monastery and displays an Oriental influence. A wonderfully peaceful interlude. Of course various other churches visited in passing. That night we attended a traditional Sicilian puppet show. The puppets are large and surprisingly very heavy. The show presents traditional stories from the past. Delightful entertainment and well worth experiencing.
The famous Sicilian puppets

The following day we checked out the port as to where we would be catching the ferry to Naples the following night, it was a very long way so a taxi would be an option. On a recommendation we decided to go to Monreale. We decided to catch the bus, however with the pushing and shoving at the entrance Alan had his wallet pickpocketed. It was picked up and handed back, luckily the credit cards were quite invisible, so only the money was taken. Very annoying.

The Cathedral of Monreale is considered the pinnacle of achievement of Arab-Norman art. It was
Cathedral of Monreale
founded in 1172 and a Benedictine monastery was built next to it. The interior is famous for its magnificent gold mosaics representing episodes from the Old Testament. The same style of decoration of the Palatino Chapel only on a grandeur scale. Certainly worth the visit.

It was our last day and we were determined to visit the Oratorio S del Rosario di Santa Cita the stucco work of Serpotta is overwhelming covering the walls with putti, each with a different expression and pose, statues, floral emblems etc.  Like many of the visitors we had been seduced by the BBC program Sicily Unpacked to make this visit. We also visited the San Domenico church and the Oratorio San Domenico with stucco by Serpotta and an altarpiece painted by Van Dyke.
Some of the Stucco of St. Cita

Nearby was the Palazzo Mirto a great example of a nobleman’s mansion built in the 18th century a great place to visit. Also close at hand was Palazzo Abatellis a Catalan Gothic building which is now used as the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia consisting of 19 rooms. On the ground floor is the fresco The Triumph of Death by an unknown artist. It is worth a visit, though a few more captions in English on the more modern paintings would have been handy.
The fresco The Triumph of Death

After further wanderings and a cup of coffee we went to pick up our bags and catch a taxi to the ferry for Naples. The surprise was the departure pier was a lot closer than we had sussed out the previous day.

We were taken to our cabin after which we booked our table for dinner, which was delicious. The ferry left port at 20.15 we watch Sicily gradually disappear into the distance. We were now on our way to Naples.

Friday, 10 February 2017

First Week in Sicily


From Genoa we left for Catania, it was easy to get to the airport buses left from outside the main railway station. We arrived late afternoon and was dropped off from the airport bus at what we were told was the city centre. It was Sunday and the main thoroughfare we were on was ‘dead’. Nothing was open. We walked down this road for what seemed a long way and eventually found the ‘real’ centre which was definitely bustling.
Duomo Piazza

As it was late we had lunch then found our way to our B&B which was close by. We dropped off our bags then off to see the nearby sits. While there an Indian contingent were celebrating with a colourful parade, music and chanting. We went to the Duomo the main cathedral which is worth a visit and sauntered around the Piazza looking at the various interesting buildings and the fountain with an elephant motif. There is a strong Indian presence here.

The following day we strolled around the fresh food market which is close to our accommodation, noting at how lucky we are at home in Melbourne having access to all these delicious Italian foods. Then to the mad frenzy of the fish market.
Fish Market Frenzy

We then walked along the Via Cruciferi with its many churches along the way to the Benedictine Monastery which was also worth a visit as it is quite extensive and we whiled away more time than we expected.

In the morning, having been unsuccessful in finding the laundromat we had been directed to, we set out along Mt. Etna St as I had found information on the internet that there was one along this street. Unable to find it I went into a shop and asked about it. I was directed to a customer who happened to be a woman who runs a laundry, she gathered us up and we dutifully followed her and left our washing with her. Obviously more expensive than a laundromat but at least we had our washing done.

The following day we went to Taormina a beautiful town but there were hordes of people (I think a cruise ship was in). We were recommended to go to the café Bam Bar to have their specialty granite and brioche found remarkably easy without a map. Well worth the visit. Though it rained a bit we managed to see much of this wonderful town with its fascinating sites and top quality shops. On our return to Catania we went to pick up our washing.
The best granite  café Taormina

A visit to Mt. Etna is a must and we took a half day excursion there, it was a small group of five. Paolo our guide was very informative. We were surprised to learn that Mt. Etna is actually a system of a number of volcanos, not just one and that lava moves very slowly. We didn’t go to the top but were able go visit a few of the lower craters. Then we went to cave which was cold, and had to wear a hard hat because the ceiling was low and a torch was the only light. The cave is a lava tunnel the features pointed out were lava blisters and lava ‘stalagtites.’ We were then taken to produce outlet to sample olive oil, olives, various pesto, honey, wine and limoncello. We restricted ourselves to just a few small bottles of olive oil and limoncello.
One of the many craters Mt. Etna

Our last day in Catania we took a spin on the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ bus is was mildly interesting not enough to ‘hop off’ anywhere. After this we went to the Ursino Castle which was worthwhile.

Then lunch and a visit to the Verga Museum which proved elusive as it wasn’t where indicated on the map so we gave up.


We arrived in Siracusa around 10.00 am we has a coffee then went to hunt out our accommodation and found it with minimal difficulty. Our B&B is on Ortgyia – the island in the more pleasant area of Siracusa. We visited a number of sites around the area and had a delicious lunch with a sea view at Mokrito restaurant.

The next day we had a trip to Noto a ‘seriously’ Baroque town of many churches and various buildings in the gorgeously over the top Baroque style. The town has a beautiful opera house which seats 380 people, not bad for a small town.
Baroque Church Noto

By lunchtime we were ‘Baroqued out’ and decided to catch the earlier train back, however we followed the wrong ‘Stazione” sign had a magical mystery tour and just made the train.

On our last day we went to the Archeological Park, there was much to see and definitely was worth the visit (both Greek and Roman theatres for starters). As we had arrived there early we
Theatre at Archeological Park
managed to return to town before it became too hot.

We returned to Mokrito for lunch as we had enjoyed their salads previously.

Early evening we went on an excursion around the bay which enjoyable. We visited some of the caves along the coast. The coolness of the caves and the cool breeze over the water was a nice change to the heat of the day.

On our return we went under a VERY low bridge and we all has to duck with our heads in our lap.

That night we went to dinner at a restaurant close to our accommodation, the food and service was good but the boss (Basil Fawlty) and one of his poor waiters (Manuel) was like ‘Fawlty Towers.