Before we left I had the strange feeling this would not be a smooth, quiet holiday experience.
It started well enough. Beck and I took the British Airways offer of £100 each upgrade to business class one way, from London to Catania. We had a nice lounge to enjoy and a good meal at the airport and plenty of room on the plane.
We land, wait unusually long for the bags, and head off to pick up rental car.
I can drive a manual, but not by instinct. My father would not pay for my license or let me drive the family cars unless I had an automatic license. Cut a long story short, I ‘need’ an automatic car. I found the cheapest car was with Europcar, and booked. So when we get the car it is a manual! No automatico in Italia, they tell me. I had to explain to the gents that if they gave me a manual car, they would get it back broken! Me driving a manual on Italian streets, hills and windy roads with my lack of experience? I do not think so. Eventually the boys found me a automatico. A more expensive luxury Volvo. I had to agree to the extra charge, what choice did I have? At nearly double the price I was not happy. If you hire a car from Europcar check your email for the CODE. That is where they indicate what type of car they have given you and the transmission type. As it says CODE, you would think would be for their purposes. No, it is for you to realise that they gave you the wrong car and there is nothing you can do about it after the fact, as it was hidden in this code. All the other car companies I have hired a car from clearly mark what transmission you will get, but not Europcar. Did I tell you I hate them? Enough about the car I think. Let us get in and drive to Noto.
On arrival to our accommodation we were tired and hungry, and were very pleased to find that the hotel restaurant is not only open, it was in the Michelin Guide. We ate there three out of eight nights and were never disappointed. I told the waiter Giuseppe that my grandmother and father would love the seafood pasta, it was that good. And the chocolate cake with pistachio gelati was to die for. So soft and creamy.
Our accommodation was an agritourismo (accommodation on a working farm) called Masseria degli ulivi. Yes we were surrounded by olive trees, and a working mine in the distance that was very quiet. It was not cheap, but nor expensive. It is just what you need to get away. No cable TV and no internet connection. No cars tearing around and no drunken people outside your window at night. Just peace and quiet with good wine available, if you catch them before they all go home at 10pm.
We had the pleasure of getting to know one of the hotel Managers, Gian. Noto born but a world breed, and now back in the place of birth. He had a strong east coast US accent, which is how we started chatting. Great person to chat to as he has lived in many places, and could tell us a lot about Sicily and its advantages, and disadvantages. Not to mention a few things about the US we did not know. We hope to see him again one day soon.
On our first full day we decided to go somewhere close to test the roads in Sicily. We drove to Sircusa and the Island of Ortigia. It was Sunday and everyone was out enjoying the sun. We parked just outside the Island and wandered over. On the bridge over to the Island, you could stop and watch a game of Canoe Polo. This was a first for me. I did not know that the game existed. We stood around and watched for a while, trying to understand the rules, which was difficult considering I do not know the rules of water Polo either.
Heading off wandering the inner streets of the island, snapping away as we walked, an old man I wandered past twice started talking to me. Between Beck and I we understood what he was saying and had a little conversation. He had some relatives in Canberra, and he told us to start making babies. Typical old Italian, as soon as you are married, your duty is to pop out puppies. Very nice bloke.
That afternoon we had the best meal during our stay in Sicily. With the exception of the last day, when we went back to Ortigia, just to eat at this place once more before we left. My grandmother would have loved it. Click here for the details. It is the first restaurant in the ‘Global Restaurants to visit’ section of my blog.
Leaving Syracuse behind we headed to the beach. The last time we were immersed in salty sea water was in Sri Lanka over a year ago. So a dip in the ocean was very much needed and refreshing to say the least.
Later that night we decided to have dinner in Noto. Dinner was a great disappointment after the great meal we had that afternoon. Not a bad meal, just not special. This place we found in the recommend Noto restaurants in the Lonely Planet guide to Sicily. Needless to say we only bothered with the guide recommendations once more after that, in Ragusa when we were famished and nothing was open!
Sunday night in Italy is always a big night and everyone is out on the town. Noto has a main street where all the locals come to meet, chat, drink, smoke and walk. It is quite a sight. The town is mostly children of school age and older people. Gian tells us that most people move out and look for work or go onto further education in the larger towns and on mainland Italy. It does make for an interesting walk down the ancient street with the buzz of the young and the passionate banter of the old.
Monday, and we planned a trip to Ragusa. There is only one main road to Ragusa. And everyone is on it. The construction of the new highway for East Sicily ends at Noto. To enter Noto you bypass what looks to be a future toll area. This to me sums up Sicily’s politics. As a result, there is every man, his dog, tractors, trucks, old men and woman in little old Fiats and new shiny cars trying to overtake them. It’s a little hazardous. I am Italian by blood though, so it did not take me long to get in stride, eventually scaring the jesus out of Beck from time to time.
On arrival to Ragusa we found a spot and just stopped once in the main part of town. We parked at the bottom of Corsa Italia, which was a stones throw from the old town, if you have a good arm, on the opposite mountain side. We had a beautiful view of the old town on our wander over to the old town which is perched up on it’s own hill.
We meandered down, snapping away, Beck stopping for the occasional smoke, you know, to help her walk. At the bottom we stopped for a espresso and chinotto at a little café opposite a church. There we chatted to some locals. A guy who loved the Beatles and a girl who used to live in Dublin. We chatted, drank, then headed off to wander up and down the windy streets. At one point, in order to get to the main square, Beck insisted we go one way, while I the other. She won, and I threw a mini tantrum as we went round in circles. Beck got lost, and I had to direct us to the square. Gloating time.
Ragusa is worth a visit. It is not overrun by tourists, although it is soon to be. There are major renovations going on everywhere. Make sure you visit on any other day than Monday. In Sicily, everything is shut on Monday. Even the hotel restaurant was shut! Lunadi. All the Sicilians are afraid of the moon. Maybe they are all descendants of werewolves. It would explain the hair. OK, enough of the bad jokes.
That night, as all the restaurants were closed, we settled for a run of the mill place. Not bad. Average by Sicilan standards. Dinner for hungry people with no other option is always welcome.
The next two days were spent in the Vindicari National Park. We went for a walk and mostly swam, and soaked in a bit of the lovely sun that we had been missing for so long. The London summer this year was a disappointment. It was also Rebecca’s birthday, and her wish was to spend it lazing about. We had wine and dinner at the hotel the night of Becks birthday, having another meal worth every penny.
On this trip there was one task I needed to fulfill.
My grandfather met my grandmother while he was stationed at a lighthouse in his days in the military. The lighthouse is in Punta Secca, so a trip down with the camera was a must. We spent the day driving down and around the south east coast, heading to Punta Secca to take some shots that I can give to Nuna and Nuno. Task achieved, so all I need to do is hope they remember the place, and that it has not changed too much over the years.
Last place on the visit list was Modica. The road to Modica was a little less stressful. A country lane with the occasional tractor and truck. Modica is split into an upper and lower town. We headed to the lower part but ended up somewhere in between, after circling around a few times, getting dizzy and just grabbing the first parking spot we found. It was not easy, and the streets were very thin. Not fun in a big Volvo.
Little did I know but Rebecca had only one thing on her mind at this point, chocolate. Modica is known for its chocolate. I was blissfully unaware, walking down the steep slopes and thin stair passageways heading down to the main street of Modica bassa (lower), snapping away as per usual. We get down and trawl the main street, which is a great place to take in the town. Everyone is out and about, eager to get home for siesta.
We stop at a beautiful church to take some more shots when Beck spots the shop where all her dreams come true. We wander in and as we were tasting chocolates and waiting for our cannoli to be made, we were locked in. We were thanking the gods we made it in time, this being the only time we will get to visit Modica and the only chance to get some of its world famous chocolates and desserts. Nothing worse than going some place and missing out on something you know you will never get the opportunity to do again. So heads up people. Remember that when you sleep in, you have to make it to where ever you want to get to before the Italians go home for lunch.
We had a light snack and an espresso, headed off to take a few more pics and headed up the hill back to the car, the long way round. With a full stomach and plenty of room on the memory card, there was plenty of time to wander up slowly and admire the town. On our way up I was admiring the old ladies, wandering up and down the sides of these hills, shopping in hand. They are most probably fitter and stronger than me!
I could go on but I think you get the drift of our Sicilian holiday. Lots of food, wine, so much espresso we had to stop drinking it after morning, some lovely gelati, some peace and quiet, all wrapped up in a crazy driving experience. And lots of photos of course.
I look forward to returning to Sicily, and visiting the north east, along with my mother and father when they make it over from Australia, which is hopefully next year.