October 3, 2013
Thursday morning, as I have already mentioned we returned to visit the Valley of the temples again. About 11, we took off for an almost to hour trip to a place called Caltagirone.
is famous for ceramics, and besides tons of ceramic shops all over the areas we walked, the big attraction for us were the 142 steps that link the lower city to the upper. On the rise of each step is a different style of ceramic painting – taken all together they trace the stylistic history of the town’s ceramic production for a couple hundred years.
Before we tackled the steps, we tackled lunch! (As Jon said today “Sicily is all about eating!”). Today we decided to try a very highly rated restaurant called “al Decanter.” I have no idea what the significance of the name is. Finding the place was an interesting adventure. Getting there by car was proving to be problematic as the streets were really narrow and the traffic two way nonetheless. So we parked. And took off with the GPS trying to locate the place…after losing Jon and asking at least 3 people, a woman actually walked us to the top of the extremely tiny street where the restaurant was located.
We were the only patrons so far, and we had to wait for the husband to come back from picking up the bambini at school to talk about the wine selection! We had a HUGE and incredibly good lunch. There were at least 5 different appetizers to try, all of which were memorable. Then we had pasta, then we had veal saltimbocca and salad, then fruit, and finally mostarda, a sweet confection made from wine must. And that was just for me and Galina. The men had the same 5 appetizers, plus two more, two kinds of pasta, veal in white wine sauce and salad and fruit and mostarda. Of course, we accompanied it with a bottle of wine! It was great… every bite.
We had a funny exchange at the end of the meal. Gerry and Galina were asking for the check but kept getting it messed up and instead of asking for “il conto” they asked for “il sconto” ( instead of the bill they asked for a discount!) Though we corrected ourselves, the proprietor did actually give us a discount, too.
Now it was time to walk off all that food – so it was on to the steps. They weren’t hard to find and they were formidable from the bottom! Fortunately, as one climbed one could stop with the excuse of admiring a ceramic shop to catch one’s breath and short rest. The steps were broad and not so high, but 142 steps is still a lot of steps. Once you got to the top, all that remained to do was walk back down! On the way down, we did stop to buy a bit of ceramics: Gerry and I got 4 expresso cups with square saucers.
From the sun we had for a temple walk, we now have clouds and a cool wind. It looks like we may be n for some rain, and with the sky darkening we don’t want to rick manueverng the ountain roads in the dark, so we set off again for the last leg of today’s trip to our next place, a B & B called Anapama, near Palazzolo Acreide.
The trip was uneventful until we got to within 2 kilometers of the place. Those last two kilometers took us more than an hour of driving around in circles and arguing about yes or no, this is the road, no it isn’t, before we gave up, got out of the car so Gerry could turn around and get us out of the narrow dirt road (that Google maps insisted was the only way to get there) without scraping the bottom any more than we had already. We ended up going back into the town and calling the owner on the telephone to come and get us!
Finally this morning we are able to see where we have ended up after the odyssey of last evening. An enchanted garden in one of the valleys of the Iblei mountains, we are nestled in who knows how many acres of walnuts, persimmons, and figs, accompanied by four dogs, at least 5 cats, three horses and some cows. Our hostess, Vivien, a transplanted Milanesa by way of the US and possibly other countries, is charming and affable and ready to talk with us. She served us an incredible breakfast of fresh fruit, bread, homemade blackberry jam and homemade orange marmalade, with yogurt and warm ricotta cheeses (a specialty of this region of Sicily). It was almost too delicious to get up from the table and head to Ragusa.
My subtitle for the day in Ragusa will be “In the Steps of Commissario Montalbano”, for not only did we see the terrace where many scenes of the TV show are filmed, but we went up and down hundreds of millions of steps (or so it seems after all the steps of the day before) moving between the new city of Ragusa and the old city, called Ragusa Ibla.
The general consensus on Ragusa? An unanimous “Yes!”. We all loved it. Narrow streets that open into wide piazzas with these incredible Baroque churches, huge palazzi, great doors, nooks and crannies to explore – It is a wonderful city! A “Must See” and a “Must Return to Linger” sort of place. I wish I could describe to you or believe that my pictures can show you how the city rides up and down the mountains and valleys. Though it is not the all white city of the Montalbano introduction, it is fairly monochromatic, an occasional red building or orange car livens up the palette.
Not wanting, for a moment, to leave you thinking that we went hungry (despite the lunch of the day before that precluded dinner!) we decided to forego the elegant and high falutin’ El Duomo for the more “down to earth” (ahem!) Loccanda de Don Serafino (that has only one Michelin star). You can see from the pictures, the place was very elegant and so was our food. I tried to take pictures of it, given my utter failure to do so the day before, but again, the feast for the eyes aspect sent un-ignorable signals directly to the feast for the tongue sensors, and before I knew it I had eaten the very thing I had hoped to photograph. That alone should tell you how delicious it was! My first course was octopus, cuttlefish and scallop with quinoa and green something; and my second was lamb. The portions were wonderfully small but not tiny, enabling me to eat without the guilt of having to spend the rest of the afternoon too full! Oh, and we had a tartar of donkey to begin. Not sure how much the “donkey” contributed to the taste (for sure I would not have been able to tell it was donkey or horse or beef for that matter) but it was quite good!
We didn’t need to try the desserts in the restaurant because we had our dessert before lunch! In the Piazza del Duomo, there is a gelateria called Gelati Divini (they were!) where we sampled (generously) ice cream flavors like cinnamon, pear, moscato, and chocolate.
Despite our enthusiasm for Ragusa, we still had more delights in store for us in Modica, another mountain town about 15 minutes away. More steps, more Baroque churches, and la Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, where we bought chocolate! I sampled many of the chocolates made there, and came away with chilli chocolate or ciocolate al pepperoncino, which, if I really like you, I will let you try when I get home!
Trying to get back to our B&B (it is easier to call it that than agriturismo, which my spell checker does not like), was another trial from the gods! The GPS was again right, but we didn’t want to follow her instructions because we were faced with a “detour” sign … so we followed the detour signs and ended up driving all over the Iblei mountains trying to get home! It was a detour that cost us, easily an hour of our time, but gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery along the way.