Monday, February 10, 2014

Trip to Sicily

This is a very different blog post for me, as it is not about cycling, but a quick sharing of a trip Emily and I took to Sicily the weekend before last.  We were able to get an inexpensive flight from Florence to Catania and stay with Emily's friend Paula.  We had a wonderful time.  Paula is a very nice lady who at 67 is taking her, "Junior year abroad", as she never did it when in college.  She is from Boston and met Emily in her fall Art History Class.  She had a wonderful apartment in Ortigia, as small island just off the coast (100 meters) from Siracusa.  She is very adventuresome to do all this, and she has totally landed on her feet in Ortigia coming from 5 months in Florence.  

Her landlord's sister lives down stairs and has befriended her and is just super welcoming and inclusive.  Our second night there, she organized an aperativi with 8 others to welcome Emily and I.  Another night, she took the three of us to her favorite pizza place in Siracusa, which was great.  A funny story from that outing was in the planning.  Paula has retained her American timing for dinner, and wanted to go out around 7:30.  Giuseppina told us all that 7:30 was only for children, and if she wanted to meet and see adults, we should wait until 8:30 at the earliest.  Well, we went out at 8:30, and were able to meet and see people she knows.  She has lived almost all her life on Ortigia, and is a lot of fun to be around.  She knew we were planning on a day of travel, and discussed the two good options for a trip, lent us maps, and even called places she knew were the best for lunch to make sure they were open.  How incredibly nice.  

Here are Emily and Paula in front of the entrance to Paula's 
apartment building on our first morning out.  This was Saturday,
which was stormy and rainy, which had the seas and waves
quite high and fun to watch.  The remaining days were quite nice,
so it was fun to see the area in a storm.

One of the interesting things about Sicily is the history
and number of different cultures that have had influence 
over the last 3000 years.  Below is a photo from the Duomo
in Ortigia with Greek columns from a temple with Roman
infill.  The facade is Baroque / Rococo.

Our second day Emily and I were on our own for most of the day,
as Paula awoke not feeling well.  We walked to a wonderful market,
bought perhaps the best ricotta I have ever had, then relaxed at this
cafe in the sun for a cafe machiato and a pastry.  

After relaxing in the sun, we returned to the apartment, then headed out
to Siracusa to see the vast Greek ruins on the outskirts of town there.
We found our way and had a nice one hour walk to the entrance only 
to find that it closes on Sundays at 1:30 and we arrived at 1:45.  We 
walked over to this large modern building where there is a ceramic piece
of the Madonna and Jesus and it is said that at some point real tears
came from the Madonna's eyes.  It is a very popular pilgrimage site.
Whereas I don't really ascribe to organized religions, it was an interesting
building and visit.  The picture is looking up at the roof from the inside
of the sanctuary.  

After returning from Siracusa, we went to the piazza del Duomo in Ortigia
and sat outside at the old bar / cafe there and had cocktails and a snack.
It was very fun as the place came to life as we watched with kids playing, 
tourist groups visiting the duomo, and this small duo started playing music.
The person playing this "stand up bass" was fun to watch.  There is only
one string and he moved the arm closer and farther away to change the tone.
I had never seen this instrument before.  Great afternoon in the sun at the Piazza.

This is the Baroque / Rococo facade of the Duomo 
taken while we had cocktails and enjoyed the scene.

The next day we rented a car and had a fun adventure.  This picture is 
of a Greek Theatre on the top of a hill around 50 kilometers from Ortigia.  
It was very beautiful and there were ruins of a whole complex there.
We ended up driving small back roads to a town called Piazza Armerina
where we visited an old Roman villa.  The villa was pretty much destroyed 
in a landslide or more at some point.  There are some remains of the structure,
but most of the floors with incredible mosaics are intact.  Apparently two people
spent most of their lives restoring the mosaics and removing the mud that had
accumulated over time.  It was a very fun visit, but I neglected to take any
pictures of the mosaics.  We stopped at the restaurant that Guissepina
had called and had a wonderful lunch on the way.  Grazie!

The piazza Minerva, with the Duomo ahead on the left on our last morning.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the water with fresh fish and this 
nice view of the small fishing boats.  For some reason, almost all
the boats have some portion painted blue.  Anyway, it makes 
for a beautiful scene.  Grazie, Paula and Guissepina for a 
great 4 days in Sicily.  Ciao.

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