November 8, 2011 Taormina to Siracusa to Ragusa

Sadly today we leave the Villa Ducale. They give us gifts and many European-style two-kisses on the cheeks. John seems a little awkward when Paolo does this with him. So armed with many great memories we head back down the autostrada. This time our goal is Siracusa. Jack, our GPS, heads us through a semi-pedestrian zone but ultimately we find a parking space by the sea. I hold the fort at the car while John goes off in search of the machine that prints the biglietti. I take a picture of the shoreline while I am waiting.

Picture taken in Siracusa while waiting for John to return from parking meter search

Okay, I’ve lost sight of John. What’s he doing? He is supposed to be getting a few hours on the parking meter. I am trying not to make eye contact with a derelict looking guy during this time. Ah, here he comes but no ticket. What to do? I suggest asking the couple who have parked a few cars up from us. Hurrah, they are English! The man has just been through the same trek as John while his wife waits by the car in case the Carabinieri happen to come by. The solution? They moved the ticket dispenser a couple of weeks ago and almost nobody knows where it is. Our English friend points the way. Yay, for independent traveling! It makes one resourceful and you make interesting new acquaintances.

That done we head towards the center of the old city. Nearby there is a temple to Apollo. We stop to admire its Doric columns and architecure.

Ruins of Temple to Apollo in Siracusa

Now we are off in search of the duomo. We find it up the street a ways in a beautiful square. We walk in and, wow, it is so apparently built on the remains of the Temple of Athena. The cathedral is built around it. I am awestruck.

Doric columns in the cathedral from the Temple of Athena

I take a lot of pictures, never getting it all so that you can see the juxtaposition of the church with the ancient temple. Frustrating!

Here’s a picture of the baroque outside of the church – nothing like the ancient Greek architecture of the inside.

Duomo in Siracusa - exterior

Next we go to the Church of Saint Lucia. St. Lucy is one of my favorites. Her eyes were poked out while she was being martyred. All the paintings have Lucy with her martyr’s palm frond holding a plate with her eyes on it. But not her portrait in the Church of St. Lucia! This is a painting by Caravaggio, he of the dynamic figures, diagonal lines and striking light. Lucy lies dead with her eyeless eyes closed. Two men in the foreground use spades to dig her grave and the mourners fade into the background. A powerful painting. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed.

Clark and Lewis are complaining so it must be time for lunch. We’ve promised them pizza today. We have been looking forward to pizza they way it is supposed to be made. Take a dough where the gluten has been developed by stretching and throwing, cook it in an intensely hot oven and, voila, the pizza of my youth. Yes, I know it is a cliche these days coming from the Jersey shore, but oh the pizza.

Thin crust pizza done the right way

Now for the driving adventure of the day. We no longer trust Jack, our GPS. He takes us on tiny twisty roads for the sake of saving a kilometer. So we decide to ignore him but then change our minds and pay attention to him – a very scary mix. Our trip to Ragusa ends up on backroads that are full of hairpin turns and rutted roads. It takes us twice as long to get to Ragusa and then I find the hotel accidently by looking out the window. John is exhausted from the driving.

And now our unusual hotel, the San Giorgio in Ibla (lower) Ragusa. We pull up to the curb, get out and walk up a steep incline. There is a gate reading San Giorgio Hotel. We press a button. The gate clicks. We go in. This leads to a tunnel sloping upwards. It ends at an elevator. We take the elevator from -4 (where we are) to 1, reception. We are shown our room. Even though the area is old, old, old, the hotel is quite modern.

Bedroom at San Giorgio Hotel in Ragusa

There’s also a little sitting room with a desk, refrigerator and TV. Where this hotel has really spent its money is on the bathrooms. In fact we have two. One has a giant sink, a toilet, a bidet and a long tall shower.

Bathroom One

The other bathroom (and I really didn’t know this room came with two bathrooms) has a jacuzzi and the usual accoutrements.

Bathroom Two

The amazing thing is what these bathrooms don’t have – tissues, lotion, conditioner, washclothes. And the bed has no blanket and the sheets don’t fit. It also appears that we are the only people here. Weird.

Anyway, we settle in and go out to dinner up a flight of stairs near the duomo. We have such a good time. It is the quintessential Italian experience. All the waitstaff help. The chef comes out of the kitchen to talk about what we should eat. First we all decide that we should have a vegetable soup with garbanzo beans. It is really good.

Vegetable soup with garbanzo beans

Then the chef brings out a platter of fish – one big and two smaller. We pick out the medium size fish to share. He goes back into the kitchen to cook it. We also order caponata as our vegetable. The server says it is molto bene.

Molto bene caponata

The fish is presented and John does a great job filleting it. I have no bones.

Whole roasted sea bass

At the end of the dinner the chef comes out of the kitchen. He wants to cook us some spaghetti in the typical Sicilian way. Apparently he feels we have not eaten enough. I wish we had said yes but we were so stuffed already. They walk us to the door and wave goodbye. What a great first day in Ragusa!

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