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Siracusa and Noto...

Continued from: Piazza Armerina and Villa Romana del Casale...

When the bus pulled into Catania’s airport, 1.5 hours later, the driver announced the stop and I thanked him. I bought my Interbus ticket for the second leg of my journey, Catania to Siracusa, and waited for the next bus.

The bus arrived about 20 minutes late. Upon boarding the bus, I realized that there were only a handful of empty seats.

I sat next to a woman who seemed distracted and quiet as she kept looking out the window. A few minutes into the journey, I opened my sack lunch and offered her half of my panino and some biscotti but she declined. Melina began telling me that she lived in Siracusa but her brother was hospitalized in Catania and she made the journey twice a week to visit him. I also learned that she and her husband had two adult sons and had converted their large home into a B&B that was managed by the eldest son. She asked me how many days I’d be staying in Siracusa, and before her stop, she gave me her phone number and asked me to call her (and I did a couple of days later)

I arrived to the bus stop (near the train station) at about 4:15pm and waited for the navetta (small bus) that drives to/from Siracusa to Ortigia.
When the navetta arrived, I started to board but the driver told me that I couldn’t board with my luggage. I explained that I’d just arrived and just wanted to get to my hotel in Ortigia. He told me it was okay this time. I thanked him then paid for my ticket. The navetta costs €1 and the ticket is valid for 90 minutes. One can also buy a day ticket for €3.
I asked the driver if he’d please let me know where I would get off near the Hotel Domus Mariae.
Once we arrived to Ortigia and he drove around the loop, I saw the bridge ahead and asked if I should get off at the next stop. He realized that he’d forgotten to tell me where to get off, so he stopped the navetta, and I got off. If I hadn’t asked, I probably would have ended up somewhere back in Siracusa. Fortunately I’d “walked this route” on google maps before my trip so I was able to find the hotel without much trouble.

At Hotel Domus Mariae, I was welcomed by Cinzia. She asked for my passport then showed me to my room (#206) on the second floor. My comfortable room had a small balcony with an amazing view of the turquoise blue sea.

I was tired from the long day of travel but I was grateful to finally arrive to beautiful Ortigia- Zoe’s favorite place in Sicilia.

After a short rest, I walked toward the Duomo and found the restaurant that Filippo’s daughter had recommended, “Monzu”, located on Piazza Minerva.
Giorgia had told me that her friends, Daniel and Verdiana, were the chefs and I shouldn’t miss eating there.

When I arrived to “Monzu”, I asked one of the waiters about the chefs and he asked me if I wanted to talk to them.
Within a few minutes, Verdiana and Daniel came out of their kitchen to greet me and asked me if I was eating there that evening. I said yes, of course! So my name was added to the reservation book.
When I returned at 7:30 that same evening. I sat on their outdoor patio and enjoyed a fine dinner while the swallows swooped over the piazza and soared over the Duomo.

I don’t think I’d ever seen so many swallows in my life. It was as though they were welcoming me to beautiful Ortigia.

Day 2) Sunday May 13

“Festa della Mamma” (Mother’s Day) is also celebrated in Italy on the second Sunday in May. I woke up early, admired the bright sunrise then decided to go out and take some photos before breakfast.
I walked to Piazza Archimedes to see the beautiful golden Fountain of Diana then proceeded to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.

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There was a street market near by and I bought a small African violet plant for Roberta, the woman who works at the B&B where Zoe had stayed (I’d wanted to stay there but they were fully booked for my dates)

After breakfast I took the flowers to Roberta and shared Zoe’s sad news once again.
We shared hugs and I heard the same words, “it’s part of life…”

Afterwards, I wandered through the ancient medieval streets of beautiful Ortigia.
I decided to eat lunch at ‘Sicilia in Tavola’, a small restaurant that had been recommended in the Lonely Planet Guidebook.
I arrived a bit after 2pm and the waitress informed me that the kitchen would be closing at 2:30.
I waited for a small table to be cleared right outside the restaurant. The Italian couple leaving the table next to mine pointed to the menu and recommended the Caponata alla Siciliana, the Spaghettoni alla Norma, and the Tiramisú for dessert.
I ordered the recommended food and I was very glad because the food was absolutely delicious!
The Caponata was sweet and savory, the fresh pasta was perfectly cooked, al dente and the tomato sauce with eggplant was divine.
The bread had a crispy crust and a soft center. I usually don’t eat that much bread but I actually finished it. I didn’t really have room for dessert but decided to get the Tiramisú after all.

The rainbow after the storm…
Who would have thought that a negative experience would bring about a positive one?

I became the perfect unsuspecting target for not one, but three young Roma women who accosted me while I was sitting outside this restaurant in the heart of Ortigia in the middle of the day.
In retrospect, I realized that I’d become distracted when I decided to check the bus schedules on my phone (big mistake) when suddenly a woman plopped herself down on the chair across from the small table where I was sitting. Then her two accomplices stood next to me against the table.
The woman across from me began demanding for money as she extended her right hand to me shouting, “soldi! soldi!”(money! money!) I felt trapped. I could feel my heart racing but I remained calm.
I kept my eyes fixed on her piercing brown eyes as she continued her demands, then I calmly asked her (in Spanish), “quieres comida?” (do you want food?) She seemed to have understood me because she promptly replied, “No! No mangiare! Soldi, Soldi!” Her two friends joined in the chorus. Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to think. The women continued shouting, “soldi! Soldi!” and once again I asked her the same question and she in turn persisted with her shouting.
Once she realized that I was not going to give in, she slammed her hand on the table, began to laugh as she pointed her finger at me and began shouting, “Siciliana! Siciliana!” Her friends again joined in as she got up and they began to walk away still pointing and laughing.

I noticed that they didn’t go far from where I was sitting, so I decided to go into the restaurant. I asked if I could sit inside because I didn’t want to be bothered by the Roma women.
The woman in the restaurant apologized and offered me a clean table. The restaurant was already empty and the only waiter left was getting the tables ready for dinner.

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My Tiramisú was heavenly... I’d never tasted anything so delicious. The Tiramisú is very unique because it’s made with a pistachio mascarpone cream, ladyfinger biscotti, espresso coffee, then sprinkled with cocoa powder and drizzled with chocolate syrup!
Since I was the only one left in the restaurant, I asked the waiter if I could speak with the owner. Doriana came and stood by my table and I proceeded to tell her that this had been one of the most delicious meals I’d eaten on my trip.
When I asked her where she was from, I expected her to say that she was from Sicily, but instead she told me that she was from Calabria. She then took a small piece of paper and began drawing a map of Calabria and explained where I should go visit. We ended up talking for a long time, mostly in Spanish.
When I offered to pay my bill, she refused and said it had been a pleasure talking with me. So now I have a new friend in Ortigia!

Day 3) Monday

After breakfast I walked past Puente Umberto to wait for the navetta #2 (small shuttle bus) to go to the archeological park. I waited quite a long time in which two #1 navettas came by but not the #2. I asked one of the drivers when the #2 would come by and he replied, “no lo so”(I don’t know) shrugging his shoulders. So I waited... After a few minutes, a couple from Switzerland joined me. After 20 minutes, we decided to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus which costs €5/day.
When we arrived to the archeological park, the bus stopped right across the street where there’s a ton of souvenirs stands.
I bought my ticket and proceeded to walk to the site. I don’t know why, maybe because it was a hot sunny day and I was tired, I was underwhelmed by the ruins.

I’d called Milena (the woman I’d met on the bus from Catania to Siracusa) that morning and she asked me to call her back once I’d finished my visit to the archeological park and she’d pick me up.

When Melina and her husband, Mimmo (Domenico), arrived in their green car, I asked them if they wanted to go eat lunch somewhere, and she said, “si, andiamo a casa!”

Their home is in the new part of Siracusa known as Sopra (high) Siracusa about 10 minutes from the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater). They live on the first floor and the ground floor occupies the B&B consisting of 5 spotless and comfortable looking rooms which are all color coordinated with matching bed linens.

We sat down to a tasty lunch consisting of homemade cheese ravioli served with a delicious stew of meat, potatoes and peas (from their garden), cured black olives (from their tree) and some bread and cheese.

After lunch, I was admiring a beautiful painting on the wall and Melina proceeded too show me the many paintings that she and her husband had painted on papyrus paper.
She also showed me her garden with many fruit trees (mandarin, lemon, fig, and olive) and tomatoes, peas and other vegetables.

After our visit, they offered to drive me back to Ortigia but I declined. I was so grateful for their hospitality and we agreed to keep in touch. They took me back to the Archeological Park and I took the navetta #2 back to Ortigia.

Continued...

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Back in Ortigia, I met a woman selling beautiful colorful macramé bracelets and earrings displayed on a small table on a street leading to the Duomo. Her name was Ludmila, originally from St.Petersburg but had made Sicilia her home for the past 15 years. She made a special bracelet for my daughter and she tried to convince me to go to Fontane Bianche. She showed me a picture of a red Vespa and told me that she’d been saving her money to buy it just so she could go to this beautiful beach (instead of going on the bus) I told her that I’d not packed a swimsuit and thought the water would be too cold. Her response was funny because she told me that I didn’t need a swim suit, that I could just wear shorts and no one would care.

I also met Chiara a young woman selling beautiful unique bracelets made out of brass and shiny gems. I decided to buy a bracelet with a turquoise stone for my new friend, Doriana, as a token of my appreciation.

Gusto Gelateria, recommended by Doriana, became my favorite gelateria in Ortigia.
It’s also where I met Lea, the young French woman who had moved there a few years prior, and Pietro the young man who was working there because he couldn’t find a job in his field of study.

Day 4) A day trip to Noto...

The sun was hiding behind some grey clouds and it had started to drizzle. I asked Cinzia if there was an umbrella I could borrow, she looked around but no umbrellas were to be found so she offered to let me use hers. Such a kind gesture!
I arrived to the bus station in about 25- 30 minutes then waited for the 11:30 bus to Noto.
Noto is a beautiful baroque city that was rebuilt after the city was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1683.
I visited the cathedral and San Salvatore church both beautifully decorated.

I was looking forward to eating lunch at “Ristorante Manna” that had been recommended by Doriana but unfortunately it was closed. There was a beautiful ceramic shop nearby and the owner recommended another restaurant. When I arrived to the restaurant, all the tables were taken, so I was asked to wait outside for 10- 15 minutes. After a few minutes some guests walked out of the restaurant, so I entered and noticed an empty table.
I asked the waiter if I could sit there and he said, no because it was a table for 6.
I asked if he could separate the tables and make one for 4 and one for me but he only repeated, “No, è un tavolo per sei persone!”
I figured he wasn’t going to change his mind so I left.

I walked up a narrow street looking for another restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet book. The streets were deserted as the clouds continued to shed their tears.
When I arrived to the restaurant, the doors were locked and there was no one in sight.

I’d decided to go back to Siracusa. On the way back to the bus stop, I got the biggest gelato at Gusto Gelateria.

Back in Siracusa, I stopped at a small cafè and bought a ragu Arancini (a fried rice ball filled with a meaty sauce) and a sweet pastry.

Day 5) Last day in Ortigia…
I visited the beautiful cathedral, once again, and the church of Santa Lucia.
I went back to my favorite restaurant ‘Sicilia in Tavola’, ordered the Caponata and the Spaghottini alla Norma once again.

I gave Doriana, the small paper bag containing the brass bracelet and she loved it. I thanked her and said goodbye. Before leaving, she asked me if I had room in my luggage. I didn’t know what she meant but then she reached into a cabinet and gave me a bag of peeled ‘Pistacchio Verde di Bronte’, the best pistachios in Italy.

In the early evening I walked to Gusto Gelateria, ordered some gelato and said goodbye to Lea, and Pietro.

The following morning I took a train to Milazzo…

Continued here: Milazzo and Lipari...