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Getting around

Part 7: Ragusa, Modica, Siracusa

22.12: Munich -> Catania
23.12: Acireale - Mt Etna - Acireale
24.12: Acireale -> Taormina -> Acireale
25.12: Acireale -> Aci Castello -> Catania -> Acireale
26.12: Acireale -> Villa Romana del Casale -> Palermo
27.12: Daytrip to Cefalu
28.12: Palermo
29.12: Palermo -> Monreale -> Palermo

30.12: Palermo -> Riserva naturale dello Zingaro -> Trapani
31.12: Trapani -> Erice -> Trapani
1.1: Trapani -> Marsala -> Trapani
2.1: Trapani -> Marsala -> Selinunte -> Agrigento
3.1: Agrigento -> Ragusa
4.1: Ragusa -> Modica -> Siracusa
5.1: Siracusa
6.1: Siracusa -> Catania -> Munich

4.1: Ragusa -> Modica -> Siracusa
Hotel Teocrito, Siracusa. 80 Euro for a large, nice room elegantly furnished, actually almost lavishly furnished considering that this is a three star establishment. Big bathroom with shower in the bathtub. Small fridge available, small flat screen TV with satellite receiver. Fast WLAN in the room. A/C unit which doubles as a heater. Friendly staff, who advises on the highlights of Siracusa. Electronic safe in the room.
Weather: sunny with some clouds the whole day. A bit fresh in Ragusa due to the altitude (520m), warmer in Siracusa. No rain.

We check out of the hotel at 11:10am, then drive towards Ragusa Ibla, the historic centre of Ragusa. This is the city rebuilt by the wealthy inhabitants after the earthquake at the end of the 17th century.

We initially stop on the roadside from some panoramic photos of Ragusa Ibla, then drive closer to the city and park the car right under the historic centre. It's easy to find a free parking spot.

Shortly after 12pm we reach the main square in front of the San Giorgio church. We spend the next hour and a half walking around the streets exploring the place. There is a mini-train offering rides for tourists, but we decide to skip it.

Ragusa Ibla is a relatively small place, which can easily be visited in a few hours. The highlight is the San Giorgio square and church. Ragusa Ibla is built in baroque style and is clean and pleasant to visit. All buildings are well maintained. Lots of tourist shops and lots of restaurants offering not so expensive meals. Essentially this is a tourist hotspot, with a good tourist infrastructure. Ragusa Ibla is beautiful.

At 1:30pm we stop for lunch in one of the places we spotted before, the U Saracinu restaurant. Surprise, surprise, all dishes here are much cheaper than elsewhere in Sicily. Pasta dishes starting from 5 Euro, meat dishes for 7 Euro, half of the average price level in Sicily. In addition the dining room is welcoming and nicely decorated, the food is not bad and the staff is very friendly. After 10 days of junk food, Chinese restaurants and overpriced Italian restaurants we finally run into a good place.

At 2:40pm we head back to the car and then drive to nearby Modica, arriving there at 3:20pm. Modica is another of the baroque cities in the Noto valley, listed in the UNESCO world heritage list for its Italian baroque architecture.

Some quick research on the smartphone and in the guidebook to find out what the highlights are. We then drive to the San Giorgio church. This has a beaufitul facade which in the late afternoon light looks simply great. The church interior is also richly decorated.

Shortly after 4pm the last sunrays disappear behind the hills and we start driving to Siracusa, where we'll spend the night. It's an 80km drive, which we complete in about 1h 30min. The road is initially limited to 50km/h speed, then becomes a motorway for the last 30 km before Siracusa.

After checking in we drive to the historic centre of Siracusa on the island of Ortigia (about 2km from the hotel). There we wander around a bit, until we run into the Conte di Cavour restaurant. Unbelievably inexpensive dishes, e.g. pizza starting at 3.50 Euro, cheapest I've ever seen in Italy. We have a dinner there between 7 and 8pm and are the only customers during this time. The food again is not bad and the bill is moderate for Italian standards.

After dinner we walk around a bit and get a glimpse of the baroque architecture of Siracusa. Also here there are beautiful buildings, squares and fontains. Shortly before 9pm we head back to the hotel.

5.1: Siracusa
Hotel Teocrito, Siracusa. The breakfast is buffet style and rather unimpressive. Slow Internet connection in the evening of January 5th.
Weather: sunny blue sky in the morning, with a few thin, high altitude clouds stripes in the sky. Quite warm, no wind, I walk around with a T-shirt. In the afternoon a cloud cover gradually builds up and the temperatures drop markedly. After 3pm overcast, but no rain for the whole day.

We leave the hotel at 11:20am and slowly walk towards the Neapolis archaeological area which is not far from the hotel. On the way we briefly stop at the Madonna delle Lacrime church, which has a characteristic cone shape.

We reach the archaeological site at 11:45am and get the tickets (10 Euro/adult, kids don't pay). We then walk towards the Greek theater.

The Neapolis site (ancient Syracuse) is relatively big, but the really interesting things are only a few: the Greek theater, a Roman theater and a large cave (Dyonisus ear). Otherwise there are several stones lying around here and there, caves carved into the rock, and miscellaneous ruins from which one can imagine that this place must have been quite big in antiquity.

The Greek theater is nice. It's by far not as well preserved as the one in Taormina or the Epidaurus one in Greece (in fact it's quite small compared to these), but it's still interesting.

On the top behind the theatre there is a water spring and several small caves and niches, sort of rooms, cut in the rock. I wonder what these were used for. There are also rectangular carvings in the rock, which must be man-made. Again here I have no explanation why on earth people would put in the effort to make these carvings.

After the theatre we proceed to the ear of Dionysius, a tall man-made cave. This must be 20-30m tall and is a quite impressive view. Supposedly this was used in ancient times to store water.

We then briefly visit the Roman theatre, which is even less well preserved than the Greek one. Here the rows of seats are now partly covered with grass and only few rows of seats are left.

By 1:20pm we are done visiting the Neapolis site and slowly walk towards the hotel. Once there we get into the car and drive to Ortigia island, where the historic centre of Siracusa is located. We could walk, but the small one is now a but tired and it's already late, i.e. we have to rush a bit for lunch before the restaurants close.

For lunch we go again to the same place where we had dinner yesterday, the Conte di Cavour restaurant. Different staff this time, but again very, very friendly. For the dessert the lady only charges 2 instead of 4 Euro for the panna cotta. Although actually 4 Euro for a small portion of panna cotta would be quite overpriced.

When we get out of the restaurant at 3:10pm the weather has changed. The sky is now overcast and it is markedly colder.

We spend the next few hours exploring the historic centre. There is actually not that much to see. There is the fountain in Archimede square and Piazza Duomo is beautiful, with all those building facades. Then there is this Maniace castle, which is closed in the afternoon and that's it. The remainder are mostly plain square block buildings. In addition, most buildings are of this yellowish colour.

By contrast the city of Kromeriz in the Czech republic, also a city with plenty of baroque architecture, is much, much cuter than Siracusa. There the building shapes and facades are more interesting and better decorated, and there are lots of colours.

Shortly before sunset the sun manages to peek through the clouds for 10 minutes and I make use of this time to shoot a number of photos of Siracusa, because now the light is as it should be. Later, during the blue hour I shoot some 360 panoramas of Piazza Duomo.

In the evening we just have a simple dinner in a cafe at 6:40pm, because we had a late lunch between 2 and 3pm. Then we get back to the hotel.

6.1: Siracusa -> Catania -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: sunny & blue sky in Siracusa, quite warm (warm enough at noon to walk around with a T-shirt). Little wind. Same weather in Catania, although there is some wind on the motorway.

We leave the hotel at 11:30am and then drive to Ortigia island, leaving the car in the usual parking. Lots of people on the streets today, lots of activity, many shops are open. On the main Piazza Duomo people sit in cafe chairs enjoying the good weather and the great day. It feels like a warm spring day.

We walk to the Maniace castle, arriving there at 12:30pm. The tickets cost 4 Euro (kids don't pay). The castle lies at the southern tip of the Ortigia island. It's a bit of a disappointment because renovation works are ongoing with scaffolding visible here and there. There are few halls, all empty. Most of the rooms we see are broken. No decorations, artifacts, no spots with nice views. Had we known that the castle is like this we would have skipped it.

At 1pm we start walking back to the car. With the kids it takes about half an hour to walk from one end of Ortigia island to the other one (including the stop to buy the ice cream).

We then drive to the hotel in Acireale where we forgot the children blanket. At 2:30pm we are there. Then the idea would be to get to the airport asap, refuelling the car along the way.

I key in the airport into the navigation system, choosing the longer, but faster motorway route. What happens is that the navigation system sends us instead on the rural route, on all dumb roads through all villages. It's as if fate wanted us to remember how much it sucks to drive in Sicily.

Instead of 20 minutes it takes an hour to reach the airport, because we drive across all tiny narrow streets of all villages and of Catania. In Catania we try to refuel the car, but all petrol stations we check out only allow to fill in fixed amounts of 5, 10, 20 or 50 Euro.

We continue driving to the airport hoping to find a big and "good" petrol station. It turns out that there is no petrol station near the airport, so we have to drive back towards Catania. Then when we arrive at the petrol station, there is a long queue of cars. Since we are already late, we just drive back to the airport, arriving at 3:45pm.

There we return the car and proceed to check in for the flight. There is not so much queue at the Air Berlin counter. After checking in we rush to the Autogrill restaurant for some meal (we haven't had lunch today yet).

After this meal we head to the security check. There we meet the mother of all queues. Apparently there are not enough security staff today resulting in too few open security gates. But it's also so that the security staff works painfully slow. I must say that the people who manage this airport have no brains, because it's well known that today is a peak fly back day and the staffing of the security gates is totally inadequate. Only half of the security gates are open.

After some queueing, at 4:45pm I discover that there is a fast track for families. We use that and after about 15 minutes we have finally passed the security check. We rush to the gate (last call status) and finally at 5:15pm board the plane.

The plane takes off at 5:35pm with a 15 minutes delay. The aircraft is quite full, almost all seats are taken.

We land at 7:42pm in Munich, which is curious because the flight now took 2:07 hours, while flying from Munich to Catania on December 22nd took only 1:45 hours. Apparently the plane flew at a lower speed, because we didn't make loops over Munich. We are back home at 9:20pm.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon