Despite our spoken desire of the night before, we did not get up and go for a walk early this morning before breakfast. I debated about it, but decided to work on this blog instead. Though I still am not sure when I will get a chance to upload the narrative and the pictures, I am striving not to fall so far behind that I need to work my way backwards.
We had another lovely breakfast beneath the persimmon trees. As we get to know Vivien better, we are impressed with her more and more. This morning once again there was warm ricotta, homemade fig jam and spectacularly good bread.
Our destination today is a town called Noto. It is about 40 minutes away and is one of the Top Ten things to see in Sicily. I am betting you have never heard of it…neither had I. This part of Sicily (Ragusa, Modica, Noto, Siracusa, and even Palazzolo Acreide where we are staying) is important because everything here (almost) was destroyed in a huge earthquake in 1693. The ancient towns were abandoned, and new towns were built nearby (what are now called the “old” towns). The buildings in these old-new towns were all built at the same time hence they are all in the same style and the same stone. In this case, that style is Baroque – but a unique Baroque that is now referred to as Sicilian Baroque. The stone has aged to a beautiful golden yellow.
Noto is considered a gem of Sicilian Baroque. Noto was an important town politically in this region back in the early 18th century so the buildings built here are very majestic and monumental. Besides churches and civic buildings, there are also the palazzi of the rich folks.
Our itinerary took us up and down the important streets of the town, admiring the beautiful buildings. We were not alone! The place was hopping with people, their colorful clothes contrasting with the golden stone of all the buildings.
In the church of San Carlo, we entered along with a big class of bambini, headed for a catechism (?) class. We by-passed the lesson and squeezed our way up the tiniest spiral staircase I have ever had the pleasure of ascending. It was so small, that there was no railing! You had to hang onto a rope that hung down through the center of the spiral. The stairs took us up to the top of one of the bell towers for a panoramic view of the city. It was a nice day to be up high looking out over the countryside and down onto the streets filled with people walking. I should also mention that another thing for which Noto is noted is that the city incorporated views of the countryside in the new plan to make it more livable.
By about 12:30 we had seen just enough that we were ready for our culinary adventure for the day. Today we are eating at a trattoria, called Trattoria del Crucifisso (because we are right near the Church of the Crucifisso). In my mind, a trattoria is a family style restaurant, not too fancy, with good, hearty food. This trattoria however fit more my concept of a “restaurant”.
We had another very, very nice meal. Gerry ordered an artisanal beer, and we four had a sampling of everything there was: antipasti, primi and secondi. Of course there was eggplant, but for the first time we tried “macco” which is a puree of fava beans. I had tuna with a pistachio and sesame crust; Jon had swordfish, Gerry had squid stuffed with smoked provolone, and Galina had lasagna (no tomatoes!) with broccoli and sausage and a béchamel sauce. We were all pleased with our meals.
The meal was also pleasant because the waiter came over to ask if Jon was a famous actor. Imagine the “kidding mileage” we got out of that! Also at the next table, was a French family (Dad, Mom and 9 year-old daughter). The mom and dad spoke excellent English, so we mostly conversed in that language. The little girl spoke French and German only, so Gerry spoke to her in French. They were living in Berlin, so we got to talk about that – and all of us were also trying to speak Italian! Polyglot-o-landia! How fun!
After lunch we meandered through the city back to our car. No ticket today! We parked in a white zone!
On the way back to Palazzolo, our plan is to stop at the Riserva Naturale Cavagrande. We are all dressed for hiking, but this is going to be a HIKE, not just with a capital H as you can see! We’re going 500 meters down (as the crow would fly if it flew straight down!) and the same back up. Imagine, at the top of the path we had to sign a paper; name, address and passport number; saying we understand the risks we are about to undertake…a moment of uncertainty, but we (literally) plunge onward! Or downward, to be more accurate. Down, down, down, and then down some more. Our descent into this enormous gorge is broken occasionally by a relatively easy slope. Just when you start to think “I can do this” down we go again. It’s hard on middle-aged knees! Admiring the scenery is just an excuse to rest (though the scenery is admirable). Why are we doing this? Down at the bottom, we can fare un bagno the “ranger” tells us between cigarette puffs. Fare un bagno means go swimming. Right! Puerto Ricans are going to swim in this weather! Not this year!! But we’re going down anyway.
Forty-five minutes later (can you believe it took us that long to go 500 meters?) we reach the bottom. Or, the bottom as we are to know it. We aren’t going any further! Gerry scouts. Too much mud. It is too bad because the pools (laghetti, alla italiana) looked really cool from way up top. No matter. We have a pool. I take off my shoes and socks. I wiggle my toes in the frigid water. Thank goodness the water is frigid, because the air is steamy! I am hoping this will cool me off, and it does. I am dreading the walk back up.
Let’s take a look a t the wimp factor: On the way down we met a lot of people coming back up. Some of these people were small: 6 or 7 seven years old. Uncomplaining. But the real “macho” standard? The mom who was walking back up with the two year old on her back! O-Kay! (Yes, I can do this.) On the way back up we also saw a person doing it with no shoes on. So what, you say? At the top, before we came down, there was a sign about “NO OPEN-TOED SHOES!” There is certainly no way I could have managed without my hiking shoes … Am I really that old?
Anyway, the trip back up seems easy at first. At first! As we get closer to the top, I feel like I am going to die before I get there. Thankfully, I don’t. Just before the top it starts to rain. Great big drops. And then the sun comes out! Do you believe in signs? Believe or not, I convinced myself that the gods were willing me to make it to the top, and I did. Red-faced, exhausted, and de-hydrated notwithstanding, I made it!
And next time I do it, it will be in the morning, well-rested, without having done six zillion steps on the preceding days…
Quick! Home to a picnic dinner and early snooze! (I won’t bore you with the saga of our driving home and finding the B&B, but yet again, we made some sort of wrong turn and had to turn back and around to find the way to our turnoff.)
We wake up to rain! Our first rainy day! It is humid here, really humid. None of the clothes we washed has really dried…not until you put them on and then they dry with the heat of your body…and we travel with all these quick dry clothes!
Rain also means we have breakfast in Vivien’s kitchen. We had the same delicious breakfast with a “frittata” this morning. Afterwards we head to Siracusa, the fabled land where I met my spousal unit (albeit on another continent!).
We’re thinking “museum” considering it is a rainy day, but alas, it is closed. Reason unknown – but not reopening until the 13th at which time we will be on the opposite side of the (British) pond and thinking of other things besides Sicilian archeological finds. So we head to Ortigia, the baroque city of Siracusa. Narrow street and fancy facades – we’re familiar with the drill. Except that today it is raining. Oh well! Out with the umbrellas – and did you know? You can get pretty cool pictures with a foggy lens! Not me. Mine just look out of focus.
Siracusa is another city that was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693, and rebuilt. We enjoyed our walk around the Baroque city, marveling at how ancient ruins are incorporated right into the modern structures. A park holds the remains of a temple to Apollo and the Duomo (the main cathedral) the remains of a temple to Athena! We see the fresh water spring right next to the ocean where Zarathustra became a fountain. The rain is driving now – driving us indoors!
We double back to find “la Foglia” a restaurant run by friends of Vivien’s. The place is eclectic, even a little wacky, but very interesting. Our food was Sicilian fare – nothing fancy – but all quite tasty. And Vivien’s friend gave us a discount in her honor, so all in all it was another pleasant meal. After lunch the rain had stopped, so we continued our walking, checking out the old Jewish quarter, with its narrow streets and repetitive names: Jewish alley #1, Jewish Alley #2 and so on, all coming off a street called The Jewish Street.
Naturally, we could not leave Syracuse without checking out the “real” ruins. The city has both a Roman amphitheater (think of the Coliseum in Rome) and a Greek theater. The later was in much better shape and we spent some time wandering around in it. The entire area of these ruins is a huge mountain of rock. The theater has been carved out of the mountain, the other half of which was the quarry. Walking around in the quarry was daunting – the walls around us were quite high. Huge pieces of rock loomed over our heads. Also in the quarry is the Ear of Dionysus, an interestingly shaped, man-mad cavern in the quarry wall that legend says Dionysus II used to listen to his enemies. It has special acoustic qualities. It is also really dark and creepy inside, so I only ventured as far as I could still see the light from the outside.
Once again, we had a late afternoon drive back to Anapama, but this time we decided to park in Palazzo Acreide and walk around a little to see the town. We didn’t see much, but we did see the church from where the statue of St. Michael Archangel would emerge for his procession around town, for today is the last day of 8 days celebrating him. We couldn’t stick around for it, but we saw all sorts of people young and old arriving to take part. Even Vivien was there, she told us the next day. Later on in the evening there were fireworks, but from Anapama, which is down in a valley, all we got was the noise.