November 9, 2011 Ragusa and Villa Romana

Mary: According to the brochure in our room, we are invited to partake in the hotel’s “fantastic buffet” for breakfast. Maybe we are just spoiled since we have been enjoying the Villa Ducale’s truly fantastic breakfast buffet. This breakfast is far from fantastic. The weirdest thing on the breakfast buffet today is a plate full of eggs. Usually one finds these hard-boiled. Sometimes they are soft-boiled. I crack one open. These eggs are raw. Oops, the waiter says, I must have taken the wrong ones from the refrigerator. He whisks them away but apparently they were the only eggs. No eggs for you today, Mary. There is also no milk. But there is cereal. We ask for milk. Off the general factotum goes (he also mans the front desk, carries luggage etc.) and does not reappear for quite a while. Also, no butter, canned fruit, and a bowl of water which John spills. Oh, these Americani, such strange tastes for breakfast.

Clark and Lewis's opinion? Not a fantastic breakfast.

John: After the memorable breakfast involving the uovo crudo (the raw egg), we plan our route to see the mosaics at Villa Romana di Casale outside Piazza Armerina. We went there two and a half years ago. We are hoping some new areas will be accessible and especially that we will have better luck avoiding the horrible traffic in Piazza Armerina. (Avid readers of this blog may recall that this was the place where Tom the visiting GPS tried to get us killed by suggesting we head up and off-ramp.)

Our route appears to take us from Ragusa to Caltagirone to Piazza Armerina. We have some trouble getting out of Ragusa. Ragusa has the curious property that the new city is actually on a higher piece of land than the old city (Ragusa Ibla, where our hotel is located). This is all compounded by Jack the GPS changing his mind about the route just as we enter a roundabout. In hindsight, we should have taken this as a portent of routing decisions to come.

We make our along many back roads. We cheer wildly when Jack sends us down a 29 km stretch of some Strada Statale that lets us actually go 90 kph and use 6th gear. After this, however, we sense that Jack is taking us by a secret shortcut up and over some hills to Piazza Armerina.

The weather deteriorates as we climb. Then, WHACK!, followed by WHACK!, WHACK!, WHACK! and more. We find ourselves in a hailstorm, with hailstones the size of marbles. The accompanying rain builds to a deluge. Here we are on a narrow mountain road, in a hailstorm, rain coming down in buckets, and torrents of muddy ocher-colored water pouring onto the road from driveways and paths that intersect our road. This is hairy. I just want to get over the hills before the standing water makes things impassible and pull in to a safe parking place that won’t get flooded, and wait for things to subside.

We get to the outskirts of Piazza Armerina and find a place to pull over. We are shaking. We watch as the brown flood gushes down the street. After about 30 minutes, things subside and it’s safe to proceed.

(Mary: please excuse the lack of pictures. Taking pictures while envisioning being carried down the hillside in a flash flood wasn’t an option.)

Jack proceeds to justify his existence. He has found a route that bypasses the city center and gets us to Villa Romana incredibly easily. We decide to forgive him all his trespasses against us so far.

Mary: Finally reaching the Villa Romana, the vacation home of a very wealthy 4th century Roman, we pick our way through the mud to the ticket office. We are looking forward to renting the audio tour again and hearing the explanations for the mosaics in the rooms in the villa. But the tickets are half-price and there is no longer an audio tour due to the closure of many of the rooms in the villa for further excavation. Doing work on the villa is a good thing. Doing work on the villa when we happen to be visiting is a bad thing. But we enjoy the parts of it that are open.

Lewis is excited to find a mosaic of a duck

One of the most famous room is the one with the “bikini girls.” These are young women scantily clad doing various gymnastics and games.

Bikini girls

Most of the floors are quite dusty. You can see the difference here where the rain has seeped through and cleaned off a section of the hunt scene.

View of the hunt scene

The long hallway of the hunt scene is full of exotic animals. It appears that they are not killing them but loading them on a boat to take home. Perhaps the villa had an exotic animal park.

Men capturing a rhinoceros

And speaking of exotic animals…

John beside a piece of the hunt scene

We finish our tour and have lunch. Now we must negotiate our way back.

Clark and Lewis feel certain they can find a better way back than Jack

John: Ain’t no way we are going to return to Ragusa the way we came. We’re going for the big roads this time even if it is few kilometers longer. In getting to the big road (the SS 117 bis, whatever that means), Jack plays his old tricks and leads us along narrow roads until we get to a flooded patch, We turn around with some difficulty, but ultimately get on the road to Gela.

Jack protests all the way. We are resolute, however. We get to Gela quickly and without any hassle, and turn onto the SS 115 toward Ragusa. Jack protests even more strenuously. Can’t he see the signs pointing to Ragusa, plain as day? Things go pretty well on this stretch as long as we ignore Jack.

We finally allow Jack to take over when we get within 10 km of our destination. He does the right thing, gets us through the upper town without going walkabout mid-roundabout this time, and leads us efficiently to our hotel. It’s taken only about 1:15 to get back whereas it took nearly 2 hours outbound. Go figure. Jack appears to have an odd definition of “shortest time”. Perhaps we shall write to Garmin about this.

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