On the road to Siracusa

Upon checking out of the very comfortable B&B Baglio in Mondello, the friendly Giovanni behind the counter asked us where we were going next.  “Siracusa,” I replied, expecting a reaction of ‘che bella’ or something along those lines from him.  Noooo, instead, Giovanni screwed up his nose and said, “Ma, perche Siracusa?” (why Siracuse?). I explained that I had read and heard that it was beautiful there – the trusty travel bible, the Lonely Planet says it is the most visited city in Sicily, and to date, the Lonely Planet has never been wrong.  Giovanni said that Noto, not too far from Siracusa, was very very beautiful and we had to go there.  We were planning a day trip there anyway, and after hearing Giovanni’s enthusiasm for the place, we decided we would head to Noto.  It’s only about 38km from Siracusa anyway and we decided to do one night in each place.

The drive from Mondello, in the far north-eastern side of Sicily, to Noto, in the far south-western side of the island was to take about 4 hours.  Before leaving, Zorba insisted on going to the supermarket to buy some proscuito, mozzarella, tomatoes and bread rolls to make panini for lunch while on the road. I argued – let’s make life easy and just buy panini already made up. No no no, the Greek wanted it his way and that is what we did. Sigh. 

Off we set, car packed, groceries bought.  After being a nervous wreck in the car yesterday, today I was moderately calmer, and Zorba seemed to be too.  During our time in Mondello, we both made mental notes of the signs pointing to the autostrada, so we got out of Mondello withouut incident.  The ring road around Palermo was a nightmare.  The three lanes that were marked on the road were ignored, as cars, buses, trucks, scooters, apes, and cyclists chose to form their own lanes resulting in chaos – no surprises really, just what you would expect in a big crazy Sicilian city.

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Zorba had turned into a local Sicilian driver – he was making his owns lanes, nudging past other vehicles as needed, even tooting those who got too close. I was glad – after all, any damage to the Fiat Bravo was going to cost me 1400 euro!  About 45 minutes later, we were out of the city traffic, onto the autostrada, heading for Catania (and would have to turn off for Siracusa.).   Zorba was in automobile heaven on the autostrada, speeding along doing 140kmph or more, and I just sat back and tried to take in the view and not watch how close my side of the car was when he passed trucks.

Lunch was in a road side petrol station – in the car park.  I got my swiss army knife out and used plastic bags with the useless map of Italia the grumpy lady at auto europa car hire gave us as a chopping board, and got to work making us panini, because Zorba didn’t want to buy a pre made one.   No one else around us was making their lunch, there weren’t any picnic tables under trees for us to sit at, we were chopping tomatoes on the parcel shelf of the Fiat Bravo, stuffing the bread rolls with proscuito, fresh mozzarella, and awkwardly cut tomatoes.  It became apparent quite quickly that my swiss army knife needs sharpening!  Zorba then sat on the kerb and ate his panini, ooh-ing and aaah-ing the whole time saying how beautiful it was.  Meanwhile, I felt like a peasant, got grumpy, and sat in the car with door open eating mine.  They have good food in Italy – really they do – so in my mind there is no need to return to scuzzy backpacker days of having to make your own bread roll lunch to save a few dollars.  For Zorba, it wasn’t about the money, but about having the freshest panini he could.  He had a point there i guess….

After an oh so pleasant lunch (cough, cough), we were on the autostrada and Zorba was again possessed by the Michael Schumacher driving spirit and reached warp-9 speed as we approached Catania.  He was loving it.  I was ignoring it.   The hotel in Noto listed in the Lonely Planet with parking had a room available for tonight – so that’s where we headed.  Finding the hotel was a challenge  as it is in a little suburban street about 15 minutes walk  up hill into the historical centre.    Hotel della Ferla on via Antonio Gimsci was adequate, basic, and not much to write about really. The best thing about the hotel, besides the owner’s son parking the car for us, is the recommendation the old night porter gave us for dinner.

Noto historical centre is really beautiful – Sicily’s most preserved baroque town with stunning architecture and a pedestrian only main street in the evenings.  It reminded me a little bit of Lecce in Puglia, the carved limestone columns of the churches, the ornate brackets / supports of the balconies, the decorative borders of the church rooves.   We walked around the town stopping in to look at cathedrals and churches, then decided it was aperitivo time.  We were both quite weary yet hungry so decided to have an early dinner at 8pm.  We were in Sicilia don’t forget so eating before 9.30pm was unheard of.  Tonight I didn’t care.  We walked to one of the recommended restaurants Trattoria Giufa on vicolo C. Pisacane, 3 (t:3207496682). 

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As suspected, we were the first people there at 8.05pm.  I ordered coniglio – rabbit – cooked with vegetables, mainly because I was interested in what it tasted like and had been eating fish, pasta or pizza every night for ages.  Zorba had home made pasta mollica, with anchovies and breadcrumbs.  Both of our dishes were excellent. The Nero D’Avola house wine was cheap at 3 euro for a half litre and smooooth.  A terrific dining experience that cost about 38 euro, or about A$65 including a mixed antipasto to start with, and liqueurs afterwards (the softy had limoncello, and I had grappa!) – how cheap!

The next day we headed to Siracusa, stopping at Avola, where the wine Nero d’Avola comes from.  Avola is ok – a little town with a couple of nice piazzas and lots of enotecca (wine shops) and that’s about it.  We parked at one piazza, walked around, got hopelessly lost, before finally finding the car and driving to Siracusa.

On our way to Siracusa, my little map app on my iPhone was causing some grief.  The little blue dot that says where you are kept bouncing around from street to street, resulting in us taking a wrong turn.  It was quite a fortunate wrong turn as we went past a big electrical store – bit like Harvey Norman or Retravision.  I asked Zorbs if he wanted to stop and see if they had any GPS’s for sale and he said yes.  We went in, were ignored for several minutes by the shop assistants before being served by one guy who was actually leaving for a holiday in Australia that week.  He spoke a little English but explained the Tom Tom options to us and helped us set up our chosen one.   Whoo-hoo!  A new gadget! We love our Tom Tom – Zorba loves it so much he wants to carry it around with him all day!  We were now in safe hands and my role as co-driver was almost redundant. Yay!

In Siracusa, we jagged ‘rock star’ parking right at the front of our hotel, Hotel Alfeo.  This is the nicest hotel we have stayed in to date.  It cost the same as a the hotel in Noto, but was 4-star and really beautiful and posh. We were stoked!!  Loads of interesting art decorated the lobby, our rooms were modern, the bathrooms big, the TV a large flat screen – we even had our own little terrazza or roof terrace!!  Happy happy.

The hotel was about 15 minutes walk into town, which was ok, and that’s where we headed.  We saw the ruins of the temple dedicated to Apollo, a tribute to the sea and loads of shops.  Oh joy! The shopping in Siracusa looked good!!  The main piazza is very picturesque and the narrow streets reminded us of Rome and the areas around Campo de Fiori (no traffic). 

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We both really liked Siracusa, and as the shops were shutting at 1.30pm, we headed to the seaside to find a place for lunch.  Restaurant Luna Rossa looked good and had a big screen showing the world cup, so we parked ourselves there, ate a mixed tuna salad at 11 euro each and got ripped off when we discovered that they charged 4 euro per person for the coperta, or cover charge.  Oh well.

With all the shops closing, we wandered back to our very lovely hotel and had a bit of a siesta.  Zorba woke me at 3.45pm and said that the Australia v Ghana game was starting in 15 minutes.  So I stretched, had a shower under the amazing large square ‘rain’ shower head (oh joy!) and got myself together.  At 4pm and we switched on the big screen TV in our room only to discover the game wasn’t on!!  What?  WHY?  We flicked through all the channels twice and there was no world cup games on any of them.  Oh crap, it must be on Sky.  So we darted out of the hotel, quickly asking the receptionist where the closest bar to the hotel was that would be showing the world cup.  She shrugged her shoulders and said we could try one up the road about 5 minute walk (away from the centre of town).  We were almost running along the footpath, popping our heads into every bar – nope – no one was showing the world cup.

The only thing we could do was go back into town – we knew two places were showing the game – the rip off place where we had lunch, and another funky small bar that was inside and quite dark and arty.  I didn’t care where we went, I just had to get somewhere quick.  The game was already underway and we were missing it!!

We couldn’t find the dark arty bar and ended up back at Luna Rossa, the rip off lunch place.  I had my Australian flag and laid it over the table and ordered a large beer for the Greek, and a lemon granita for me and got there to watch the last 10 minutes of the first half.  The owners and waiters were very friendly, chatting to us, talking about the world cup, laughing at my reactions to the game, and generally being nice.  After the game where Australia played the bulk of the game with 10 men (another wrong red card) and drew 0-0, I went to pay the bill.  Again, we were charged a 4 euro cover charge – “but we didn’t eat” I protested.  “It doesn’t matter – service is service”.  16 euro for one large beer and a granita was a joke.  GRrrrrr. Hate being ripped off!  Then again, we didn’t have much choice on where we could watch the game, so again, we just copped it and vowed to never go there again and I promised myself I would write a bad review on trip advisor.

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We wandered around the shops and went for an aperitivo in a tiny little bar that again was very arty abut it was tucked away from the main action and full of only Italians.   A Spritz with Aperol and a large beer for Zorba cost 7 euro, and we also got a mini panini each and some nibbles.  I did a trip advisor search for restaurants and one close to where we are that had rave reviews from tourists, but mixed reviews from Italians was Il Fermento on via del Crocifisso, 46 (Tel 0931 6442).  We decided to try it.

The restaurant was very quiet, with only one older American couple there who were ooh-ing and aaah-ing about their meals when we arrived.  A good sign! The lovely owner greeted us warmly and sat us down.  The rounded cavern ceiling and naked brick walls added the ancient ambience of the place.  After hearing the owner’s teenage daughter explain the Americans that their meal was served with caponatina, I asked if we could order that as an antipasto. Nothing was too much trouble.  The house red was a nero d’avola, and it was smooth, velvety, and delicious.

Zorba ordered spaghetti with Ricci – or sea urchin, and I had sea bream fish cooked with sliced zucchini that covered it like a soft shell, served on a bed of pureed roasted yellow peppers.  Oh. My. God.  Mine was delicious, and Zorba’s was nice too – he loved it.  His pasta was not for me as I found the taste too ‘fishy’. Zorba loves anchovies and sardines, so he was very happy with his meal.  For dessert we shared a tiramisu.  I don’t know why I even bother to order tiramisu, the one I make is soooo much nicer.  When I saw it listed on the menu, I was curious as to what it tasted like, so thought I’d give is a try… it was ok, but nothing special. Not like the fish i ordered!  So delicious.  Yum!

We stumbled home to our plush hotel, went onto our private little terrace and dancing Zorba wanted to dance under the stars, so I obliged for about 3 minutes before deciding that I needed to lie down.  

Siracusa is great – it has everything, art, history, architecture, lively street life, great bars and shops, and cheap excellent hotels.  I would recommend it to anyone.
























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