To be perfectly honest, here, I’ve gotten a little bit behind in my recounting of our trip and am actually sitting in Matera, in Basilicata, typing about what happened four days ago in Siracusa. So, please forgive any brevity…
The very cheap, but very odd and smoky Pensione Bel Sit in Siracusa did not provide breakfast (I mean, for 34 euros a night, I would have expected bacon and eggs, but there you go…), so what does that mean?
Cappuccinos and really really I mean really sweet breakfast pastries! The bright green is supposed to be pistachio.
Sugar needs fulfilled for oh, the next five or six years, onward to the Greek and Roman ruins of Siracusa.
With a brief stop to visit this bizarre and pretty ugly santuario near the very closed archaeological museum.
The spaceshippy building can be seen from most points in the newer section of the city, looming all creepily and futuristically. It’s just about as ugly as you would expect upon viewing the outside. Sorry, whoever designed this building. It’s pretty hideous.
Shaking our heads, we walked towards the ruins of the Greek theater, only to be accosted by what I can only describe as a crazy old Italian cat lady. I caught about every third word of what she was saying to us, which I’m pretty sure was a diatribe against the advent of the euro – she said she couldn’t understand these insane Euro prices, and why didn’t the stores post anything in lire any more? (In point of fact, many of the receipts we get here in Italy still show the price in euros and lire.)
Crossing a few very large roads, we finally entered the archaeological site. The first place you see after buying your ticket is a large green orchard area known as the Latomia del Paradiso (Quarry of Paradise). It’s where the Greeks and Romans got the stone to build their cities. Now, it’s mostly trees with some lovely grottoes.
Probably the most arresting thing in the ancient quarries is the tall cave known as the Ear of Dionysius.
It’s a tall gash in the rock with striking acoustics – and, this being the off season, we were free to hoot and whistle through the cave to our heart’s content.
Next door is the Grotto dei Corderai, which was used by old rope-makers – for some reason, it’s off limits to the public right now. Not that that stopped the intrepid Husbear. (Ropes? What ropes?)
Having thoroughly checked out the old quarries, we moved on to the Greek theater. It’s beautifully sited, though it would perhaps be more attractive without the industry going on between the theater and the sea. Ah well… time marches on.
It was again lovely to have just about the whole site to ourselves.
We sat and contemplatively munched on an extremely sour orange,
before heading off in the direction of the Roman theater – 500 or so years younger than the Greek, it’s nonetheless in worse shape since it was cannibalized by the Spaniards to build the walls and churches of Ortygia (the nearby medieval island).
And, well, that’s pretty much it for the archaeological sights of ancient Siracusa. Too bad the accompanying museum was closed.
The only other actual site we wanted to see was the ancient mikva, or ritual Jewish bath, uncovered on Ortygia during renovations of the Hotel alla Giudecca. We had plenty of time to get there, though, since on weekdays they give tours every hour on the hour until 7 in the evening.
We dawdled our way over there, stopping to pick up what turned out to be perhaps the best arancino of the trip – this one filled with mascarpone cheese and mushrooms. And then that delicious cheesy risotto. Deep fried. Yeah, what’s not to like? My excuse is that we were doing an awful lot of walking in between giant fried riceballs.
As delicious as the arancino was, it didn’t make up a whole lunch by itself – so we stopped at another antica pasticceria for a small calzone stuffed with greens. And our last Sicilian pastry counter, since we’d be leaving in the morning.
Our last Sicilian cannolo. So sad. (By the way, we found out that there’s a lot of variation in cannoli even in Sicily itself. In the western, Arabic part of the island, the shells are darker, the ricotta filling is sheepier, and the garnish is usually candied orange. South and east, the shells and the filling are both lighter and the garnish is chopped pistachios or almonds. At least we found it interesting…)
Then, elsewhere, we had a truly delicious espresso at some little bar (No no no nonono. This wasn't just some tasty espresso, this was possibly the best coffee I've ever had. The crema was fabously rich, the flavor balance was perfect, and my god the smell! The bar is called Bar Mignon. I unfortunately don't have the address, but it's on a main street in Ortygia, the old part. Go and drink and drink and drink and have a double for me. - L. Pants UPDATE: The address is Via Ss. Coronati #11. Hah!) , and then we had to figure out how to get into the hotel that boasted the mikva. Turned out to be a little harder than we expected, but we were eventually allowed to pay our 5 euros each for a guided tour (in English, even!) of the mikva. We were told to leave our bags behind and not to take any pictures… but we snuck a few very blurry snaps.
The mikva was fascinating. It was used by the Jewish community in Siracusa from several centuries before the birth of Christ until 1492, when they were kicked off of the island by the Frederick the Catholic. Before leaving, they filled the bathing caverns, almost 20 meters underground, with dirt to keep them from being desecrated. The baths weren’t rediscovered until about 15 years ago.
There were three baths in a central room, with two private baths off in their own areas. The mikva is an interesting cultural phenomenon – Jewish women took a ritual bath after each menstruation as well as at other times throughout the year. We were certainly concerned with being clean – Jews also have a ritual handwashing before meals.
Anyway, the hotel alla giudecca also seemed like a very nice place, though out of our price range, at least the public areas we could see. It’s certainly wonderful of them to have restored the mikva and offer guided tours.
We were pretty tired after all of this walking and history, so we went back through the Piazza Archimede (yup, Archimedes was from Syracuse – he was killed there by a Roman foot soldier) and now there’s this strange fountain in the piazza that bears his name.
Later on, dinner was a really simple affair from a roadside truck. Fries and sausages and kebobs, cooked while you wait and served with lots of different garnishes. Greasy and cheap.
And, yeah, two sauces for the French fries.
We were going to have an early day the next day, since we were going back to the mainland, so we picked up some lunch-type train picnic eats and headed back to the hotel for bed.
Tomorrow – trains actually go on ferries! I didn’t know that. And we make it to Calabria, with high hopes of finding some actually spicy food.
Girlie actually thought she was going to be able to finish this post and not include a this picture of an ad for the Sexy Duck Sexy Shop. I know you wish you married a man with taste and class, but this is hilarious. -L. Pants