At last the dove arrived bearing the olive branch we’d been waiting for and we set out in our tender to land at last upon Sicilian soil, tarmac as it turned out. Our little coracle took in a lot of water as it bounced through the waves and we both looked bedraggled and damp and walked with bow legs for some time as our seats were rather wet. Having coffee on dry warm land, land that did not constantly move, we soon dried off, and meet at last with Alistair and Lis. We had some food! Bliss!
Seeing the boats on the town quay and in Marina Yachting I understood why we had been told we were safer out in the bay and indeed on the Saturday evening all the boats including a Portuguese warship came out to join us at anchor. The fierce weather that had been predicted, Force 10 in our sea area, was due to peak that night and they obviously felt safer in clear water. In the event the strongest wind we saw was 36knots. However when it came time to finally take up our rope and chain you could see how well it had embedded into the thick, black and sulphurous mud; the anchor brought up a hefty wad too.
Still at anchor and with Alistair and Lis still safely in a hotel, whose receptionist delighted in the greeting ‘Mr Bond’ (how many times that must happen to them), we finally managed some sightseeing by little red bus. We visited the archaeological sites of the Greek and Roman Theatres so conveniently positioned adjacent to each other and up above the bay with a magnificent view. An explanation of these theatres is provided in Durrell’s book in a way I had not thought of before so I will quote his guides’ quote!
“The very architectural shape will tell you of two different predispositions. In this great amphitheatre the Romans were organising for the eye, for a show, a public show. Now just a few yards away you have the Greek hemicircle, organised in a different age for the ear. The difference between art as a quasi-religious intellectual event and a popular spectacle. Aeschylus and his Gods against bread and circuses. Here you can study both predispositions as if they were historically co-existent while in fact they are separated by centuries.”
Nearby there are the remains of quarries, hewn by Greeks and slaves and holding the ghosts of prisoners kept here throughout history; now they have been left to nature. We descend a little to asphalt paths, edged with wild trees and bushes, that curl around protruding bits of rock and come upon the strange feature that Caravaggio named Dionysus’ ear. Created by the extraction of rock it is an awesome great cathedral like cave with a fantastic echo. I felt I was standing under the belly of a giant elephant or in a Gaudi building.
With more dodgy weather on the way and Alistair and Lis finally on board we sailed/motored north past Augusta and came to NIC Circolo Nautico, a marina with little room for visiting boats and with pretty basic but functional facilities. They squeezed us in and were very welcoming. It was fantastic to be situated right in the heart of Catania, within view of the cupolas in the main square and of course Mount Etna which a few days later had snow on its peak.
Finding the bus stop for the airport was interesting. The roads were crazy busy, drivers on a mission to get to work, the morning was dark, windy and threatening rain. The first obstacle is the road. True there are zebra crossings and these you must use with purpose and confidence; judge the speed of the traffic, at the merest hint of a gap you go, don’t look, have faith, the cars will slow and adjust their speed to the obstacle in front of them and you safely cross to the other side. You cannot wait for a clear gap in both directions, it will never happen. We laughed when next we crossed and two huge cruise liners were in port because now there traffic policemen with flags and whistles who brought the traffic to a complete stop for the hundreds of visitors now pouring into the grid.
On one side of the road is the railway running along a viaduct of black arches and on the opposite, also arched, there were cavern like, dark and dusty shops whose corridors of wood lined shelves snaked off out of sight. From the depths of one of these was produced a Sicilian flag and paid for through a cashiers window which would have been more at home in an adjacent antique emporium. Everywhere there was rubbish.
Having said farewell we found the square with the Elephant statue and Andy recalled how, in the ‘80’s when he was staying in the Europa Hotel that overlooks the square and the law courts, he had heard a gunshot, gone to the window and seen people running around and a body lying prone. By the time he got down to his car there was only sawdust. I’m reading a book called Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb that paints a horrific picture of the Sicilian Mafia whose violence and sadism went on through many decades of last century, they were appalling times.
Everywhere there are statues and fountains. Oddly many of the statues are headless; others depict dramatically images from mythology.
We took an ‘op on ‘op off open top bus around the town. It clattered noisily along spewing black fumes out of a hole in its exhaust pipe. We enjoyed the relaxation of somebody else being in charge and did not ‘op off. These trips are always good to get you orientated in a new city. We ended up in the fish market for lunch where we sat next to some young foodie/wine knowledgeable Americans. He asked respectfully if Andy were in fact Peter O’Toole – that’s the second time this has happened!!!
The following day we walked well over 11 k, in and out of the rain. We found a laundry, a supermarket and a chandler. I actually overheard Andy whispering to himself in breathy reverence – ‘oooh gas struts’! Like a child in a sweetie shop, no telling what is going to excite some people! Andy has created a brilliant addition to our cockpit. To give us more space and to make movement easier in our small cockpit, at anchor or in port, he has designed a steering arm to replace the wheel. We asked for some stainless steel to be cut in the shape of a wooden mock up he had made and we had actually tried out successfully. There was probably a little missed in translation and we went away with an arrangement to pick it up later in the day and take it to someone who could assemble it. We found our way to the metal working district. Amidst the noise, sparks, dust and oil we were made welcome and the task understood in spite of our clumsy Italian. In the photo below you can see the wooden prototype in use in August.
So off we went to be tourists once more and visited the Badia S Agata and climbed up into the Cupola which gave us great views in all directions. We saw the cathedral by night at the end of a service and later we gained entry to the old Roman Baths which lie underneath the cathedral and the square. That was very interesting and they have found partial reliefs of little cupids and faint evidence of frescoes. As ever there is the quandary over how much to uncover, how much to restore or simply maintain. We could imagine wealthy Romans coming here and relaxing in the warm water with views out to the sea. We had to go the big store Rinascente where, years ago I pushed a little Nick around in a buggy trying to find some plastic plates to eat off and getting in a terrible muddle at the till as I could not understand the problem. I had given enough lira, of that I was sure, but still the signora harangued me, or so it seemed. The problem was small change. At that time there was very little of it about and sometimes change was given in the form of small items such as matches or sweets. As I meandered through this now rather smart department store my mind fell back 40+ years ago, images arose and I crossed paths with the shadowy spectres of the young me and my blond curly haired bambino.
The morning after String and Ben arrived by train from Palermo, we like to give our visitors a challenge, we visited the market in the rain. The smoke from the roasting vegetables got in our eyes and hair and the rain rinsed it off. We indulged ourselves and bought aubergines in oil, crispy roasted artichokes, peppers and bean salad. Later we feasted at anchor on our way to Siracusa.
Catania and Ortygia (the oldest part of Siracusa and connected to the mainland by a causeway) are poles apart. One darkly grubby, the other light golden and honeyed, one set out in disciplined grids of long streets while the other leads you around short narrow lanes, one whose main square is sublimely airy and elevated while the other is squat and grey with judiciary buildings and the little lava made elephant. One built out of the earth, the volcano all pitted lava, the other from burnt sugar something heavenly. Both are interesting and both I loved.
This time we did go into the marina in Siracusa and enjoyed a more leisurely time here pursuing our own interests and meeting up for meals. Andy and I went to the Archimedes museum – very interesting; I diverted into a shop – bought some dungarees, lovely. We all missed the earthquake but enjoyed the local Nero d’Avola wine.
The sights which we shared the next day were the Cathedral and the church of S Filippo Apostolo. The cathedral holds history solemnly within its stones, rising up tall and gothic from the solid support of the original columns of a Greek temple to Athena and topped off with a Baroque facade. You may not think that these styles could possibly ‘work’ but it comes together naturally. The weather turned kind.
The church of S Filippo Apostolo hid so many secrets behind its creamy baroque facade. A guided tour takes you to a level below the existing church where funerary rights were carried out in the 17C. All around the walls memento mori; images of skulls and crossbones, frescoes of full skeletons and spaces for the bodies, quite a place for All Hollows’ Eve. Another level down there were miles of passageways stretching out as far as the eye could see and in all directions under the very buildings of Ortygia, some we were told came out at the sea. Originally quarries, they were used extensively in WW2 where the population took shelter from the bombing; there was graffiti depicting German and Italian aircraft and allegedly a parachuting Brit, saviour of Siracusa, nationality depending perhaps on who the visitors are! Still further we descended down rock hewn stairs to see a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) the water clear and cool. Truly this is an amazing little hidden gem.
Berth D26 at Marina di Ragusa has been waiting for us since we booked in May! We sailed the last couple of hours before coming into the marina so we are happy. There is a very nice community here and a meeting room where I can hide away and practice. There will be 26 children in the marina when all the boats get in. Some are home schooled while others are attending locally and gaining a second language – brilliant.
The world is small and I have met an Australian girl here and we have a mutual friend, a New Zealander living in Burntisland. I’m constantly tickled by these connections.
The weather has definitely broken; there has been lots of rain, wind, thunder and lightning so we are not feeling too sad at saying goodbye. We will be back next year for more adventures. So until April 2019 when, guess what, my blog address will be selkiedancer19.wordpress.com……………arrivederci!
End of Season images