Having paid the sort of strange, always smoking proprietor of the decidedly weird Pensione Bel Sit in Siracusa the night before, we were ready to just grab our things and get on the first of the two trains we’d need to take to go from Siracusa to Cosenza.
Ah, back to the mainland. Calabria, the toe of Italy… famous for its ‘ndragheta mafia and spicy peppers.
The Sicilian part of our ride took us past some beautiful beaches, and the nicely situated fancy resort town of Taormina. We couldn’t make it there this trip, but we’ll just have to come back.
I’d never been on a train/ferry before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as we approached Messina and the ferry to Reggio di Calabria… were they going to take all the train passengers and stick them in a pen together on the ferry?
No. They actually put the whole train right on the ferry. I would have figured that it would derail, but apparently not.
Since the trains that have to cross the Straits of Messina are invariably late (sometimes by as much as 4 or 5 hours) we arrived late for our connection to Cosenza. We still made it into the stazione nuova before 4, where we had to get a bus into town. The bus was shared with perhaps 40 other people, all over the age of 60, all chatting loudly and reading the obituary notices posted on large boards at each intersection.
We dropped our bags at our hotel and jaunted over into the old part of town. Cosenza apparently has the best-preserved medieval core in Calabria, a region that’s always been prone to earthquakes. And repeated sackings.
Nobody was out in the old town, and I was mad.
What, there are downsides of visiting towns that don’t base their entire economy on tourism? Whatever. :eye roll:
I mean, Cosenza’s old town was nice, but so are a lot of places, and they aren’t filled to the brim with graffiti and entirely creepily empty at 6 p.m.
We tried to find a couple of restaurants recommended by our guides, to see the price range and food range, but… closed!
A small glass of prosecco at some bizarre pasticceria named Irish Coffee helped my mood marginally, and we decided to go back to the new part of town to find out where the hell people were taking their passeggiata. (That’s the early evening jaunt about town.) Every town around here has one, it’s just a question of finding it.
The main drag was stuffed with people. Kids smoking and eating giant brioches, ladies in fur coats browsing the shoe shops, lines of old men smoking cigars… we found it! It even turned out to be on the same street as the tourist office, which we found with no small bit of difficulty. (Behind a building. Up an unmarked staircase. Behind a locked door with a sign reading “attenti al cane.” Except the last one, all true.)
The town did have some cool public art, not least this Dalí statue of St. George offing the dragon.
For dinner, we ended up at a very cool little place near our hotel called Da Giocondo. It seems like a very local little restaurant, solid Calabrian favorites.
We started out with their mixed antipasti, because, well, you get a lot of stuff for a good price.
If you’re really lucky, maybe it will even be so blurry it’s difficult to figure out what you’re eating. (Joke. It’s fried chickpea fritters, delicious, with fried artichoke hearts and preserved mushrooms and a couple of local cheeses, including fresh mozzarella, and some local salami including a spicy calabrese.)
Then, we moved on to a savory ravioli that literally tasted like moussaka in ravioli form. Very, very Greek in flavor. With this, we had an awesome soup of greens (Bietole – chard, perhaps?) and potatoes, great after the fiber deficit we’d been running all through Sicily.
We split a secondo, a fish (spigola?) in acqua pazza, or crazy water. Basically a thin tomatoey broth, and quite good, though we probably could have done with just the pastas.
We decided to drink our dessert. I asked our waiter if he had any local digestivi, and he recommended one called amaro del capo – a bitter liqueur from the Calabrian town of Capo. He said he preferred one from Abruzzo, a region of Italy closer to the middle, and when we decided to get the Amaro del Capo he brought us a little taste of his favorite anyway.
(The Abruzzese one is the darker one in the shot glasses. I swear we didn’t drink a mug of after dinner liqueur – the perspective here is all screwy.)
Tired after a long day of travel and closed things, we went back to the hotel and fell over. Tomorrow, out of Cosenza to a B & B in a very small town. And we find out that the nearest restaurant is 4 kilometers away. Imagine the look on our faces.