Goodbye, Catania! We didn’t have nearly long enough with you, but I guess that means we’ll just have to come back someday. We had a little difficulty finding where to pick up the bus to head south back towards Siracusa, but eventually found it and bought tickets (which you of course can’t do on the actual bus, like why make it easy?) with mere moments to spare.
We didn’t realize until we were on the bus on the way out of town just how much clearer the day was. Mt. Etna could be seen looming above the city, where it had been completely invisible the previous two days.
An hour or so after leaving Catania, we arrived in Siracusa and found our 34 euro a night pensione near the train station. We turned over our passports to the one-armed smoking man sitting in the attached living area, and settled our stuff in our room which was complete with a/c and a television – though we didn’t enjoy these amenities for long before heading back out to visit Siracusa.
Probably the most interesting current area to wander in Siracusa is Ortygia, an island connected to the mainland by two short bridges. It’s the original Greek settlement, though the island now is mostly late medieval in look and feel.
It’s made up of narrow curving lanes that are a lot of fun to wander. Interesting little art and food shops are all over the place, along with about 15 Benetton stores.
Then, all of a sudden things open up into Piazza del Duomo. A pretty enough piazza, though I liked Catania’s better – this one didn’t have the same harmony of styles. The Duomo itself was really impressive, though – a Baroque exterior tacked onto a 5th-century BCE Greek temple.
Looking at the building from the front, the Greek provenance is not readily apparent – but then you get inside, and it’s easy to see that this is not a normal church.
Though there is a Baroque altar at the front, along the sides the remains of the Doric columns can be seen.
All in all, we agreed that it was certainly our favorite church we’ve been in so far on this trip, and that it nears the top of the list overall. It’s just so strikingly different!
Our next stop after the Duomo was the Fontana Aretusa. It’s a small pond right on the edge of the island filled with papyrus plants and ducks. The legend is that Artemis turned one of her handmaidens, Aretusa, into a spring to protect her from the unwanted attentions of the river god Alpheus… who promptly turned himself into a river so he could mingle in her waters. Ew.
We found the fountain, but soon learned that the only way to gain direct access to it was by buying a ticket and entering an aquarium housed directly in front of it. We figured that well, it’s not a church or a Greek ruin, so what the hell, and went for it.
Directly in front of the aquarium, we met this kitty, who was ridiculously cute and friendly (I promise, he’s mewling here, not hissing).
The aquarium itself was really engrossing, with a great little collection of all sorts of brightly-colored fish both from near Siracusa and all over the world.
They also had some more unsavory characters, like a few piranhas and a moray eel. Yurgh.
My new favorite fish in the whole world is this unlikely cutie, the longhorn cowfish. I have no idea how he swims, and he’s a little shy. But hilarious. Perhaps he was shy because he was able to hear us laughing? (he does have another fish behind him in this picture, but those horns are all him.)
We exited the aquarium just in time for sunset, and walked a little ways along the waterfront with the rest of the Siracusani.
We then walked into the old Jewish ghetto, which is where the Jews lived prior to being kicked off the island in 1492 (a difficult year for Jews everywhere). I had read in our Lonely Planet that an ancient mikva, or ritual bath, had been uncovered during renovations of a hotel in the area, and I wanted to take a look. Unfortunately, we had missed the day’s last tour, so we resolved to come back the next day and walked over to the nearby marionette theater.
There was going to be a show in about an hour – how could we pass that up? We bought tickets and walked over to while away some time at a nearby café to enjoy a quick glass of prosecco with some fried Sicilian sweets.
The streets had become pretty quiet at this time of night, but there were still some people out enjoying the weather.
We returned promptly at 6 for the marionette show, which meant that we of course had to sit for about 30 minutes waiting for everyone who had called to reserve seats to show up. It turned out to be mostly families, with kids who would spend most of the show yelling at the puppets.
The story was of Roland, or Orlando, Charlemagne’s knight and a Sicilian folk hero. We didn’t follow the whole thing, as it was (duh) in Italian. Something about a monster and lots of noble fighting and trickery. I have to say we enjoyed the marionette show we went to in 2001 in Brussels a lot more – that one was about Napoleon and was a lot funnier and easier to follow. (Though it was in French, if I remember correctly.) (Not to add a parentheses after a parentheses, but the tiny suits of armor were pretty freakin' amazing. They were sooo shiny. -L. Pants)
The show over, we returned to our hotel to change for dinner and then came back to Ortygia for dinner. We couldn’t see well inside the restaurant we chose, and were a little dismayed upon entering to find out that we were the only ones inside. But we were too timid to leave, probably a stupid move… and the restaurant was recommended by our books…
We ordered a liter of the house wine, which turned out to taste more than a little bit of fish, and the buffet antipasta. Husbear went up to fill our plate with what turned out to be some of the grossest antipasti we’ve had this trip – eggplant involtini filled with an inedible wad of tinned bread crumbs, disgustingly salty olives, barely cooked or seasoned eggplant…
Somehow, the meal managed to recover slightly when our primi (pastas) were delivered – we ordered panzerotti, like a large half-moon ravioli, filled with ricotta in a squid ink sauce. The white and black were really striking, and the flavor was actually good – the squid ink having been diluted pretty heavily with broth.
I ordered a boring fettucine with small shrimp in a sauce that was supposed to taste of brandy and nutmeg, but instead tasted mostly of canned unseasoned tomatoes.
I was so mad I took a picture of the restaurant in sepia. (It’s called… Sicilia in Tavola, perhaps? On Via Cavour in Ortygia, Siracusa? AVOID AVOID!)
Tomorrow, we will go see what’s left of the Greek and Roman ruins in Siracusa – and we will get to that mikva as well. For now, good night.