Syracuse…It’s Also Greek to Me

The changing hands of Sicily, where one culture would build on another. The Greek temple before this church left (recycle, recycle) these doric columns as supports when building anew. More evidence abounds inside too.

Newer corinthian columns on the newest/front entrance of the duomo. The arches, moorish floors, diverse side chapels reflect a true hodge podge of good taste from rotating cultures.

Neatly displayed relics as we walked back into the old city center…and had to make a decision. We had read about an amazing Caravaggio on display in a main city church. Being one of Marsha’s and my favorite painters we asked Vanessa how far it was from us. We were on the island below her left hand, and she was pointing to where the painting was. It was, at least, a half hour’s walk in each direction. So we decided to explore the wonders of the ancient city instead. And we did have a very special visit to a renowned local vineyard in the afternoon. This was after all our last full day. Yikes.

An eclectic walk around town found us in the Fish House Art Gallery (wondered if our master fish ceramic artist, Alan Bennett had work there), looking at views from the two parallel bridges connecting the new city to the old, strolling the port area, and looking from the water’s edge to another last look on a blue sky day at Mt. Etna’s remaining snow and ever-present smoke.

From Athena’s fountain to the fortress at the very tip of the island where we found a modern rendition of a giant Icarus proudly protecting the now very peaceful and beautiful city.

The very ancient Pupillo winery was much, much more than just a place to taste their product. We spent at least an hour wandering what was more an arboretum and museum.

We picked, and ate, ripe and delicious loquats and oranges.

And wondered at the structure as succulents peeked back at us…wonder what it was thinking?

Inside to look at some of the very old wine making stomping vats and presses. Nothing more enticing than purple feet in those days…i guess.

Finally time to taste the liquid genius of the vineyard’s labor.

A delicious dry and limestone white. A surprisingly dry with gentle citrus nose rose. And a really spectacular red. Our guide, Vanessa got information on very limited distribution in the US.

The tasting was less sipping and more glass fulls so the ride back to the hotel was very relaxed. We made ready for our farewell dinner, as SmarTours closes most of its adventures. It was a nice meal of pasta, veal, wine, and Sicilian “gelato”, with little dairy, almost like a granita, but smoother. We shared contact information with each other…and hope we really get to see some of the very special people we met the special island in the future. Some of us would leave for an early flight to Rome from Catania, while others would continue their adventure with more days in Malta.

Without question, Vanessa was the best tour guide we’ve ever been with. She felt the same about us and the group as you can tell by the farewell tears from almost everyone.

So farewell to you too from spectacular Siracusa in very special Sicily. We are so happy you could join us on another adventure filling us with so many memories, and with an eagerness for more. We do have some plans that will bear fruit soon. We’ll give you time to make plans to join us. In the meantime, Arrivederci!

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We made out way across the agricultural countryside toward the distinct two sides of Ragusa. Ragusa Superiore, a real working town, relatively modern with grid patterned streets, as opposed to Ragusa Ilba, a UNESCO protected, historic city center (above). As you can see, the Ilba district is above a hill (set there originally for its own protection), only reachable by a multiple switchback road.

St. George sets the theme, reflected on the ancient city gate and in the impressive Duomo.

Our visit to this massive structure, reached by a long, steep set of steps ends with an attack by a large visiting school group of teens. I really don’t know why they singled me out, but they were as charming as can be trying out a bunch of their memorized English phrases, and begging me to respond. One young, maybe 14 year old, kept telling me he loved me, and paper and pens were out for autographs. They were interrupted, thankfully, by a fairly stern teacher, and we were all on our way with high fives and peace signs.

We stopped, of course, for some good eats before our continuing trek toward the beautifully baroque town of Noto.

Another UNESCO protected town, welcoming with gorgeous floral walkways leading to the original gateway to the city.

The wonderful baroque architecture was apparently used as settings for the Sicilian series, Detective Montalbano. I haven’t read or seen them, but I think I know who probably has and hope she will put in her two cents here, hmmm?

We ended the day tired and not too hungry, so we ventured out of the hotel looking for a simple pasta place to weight us down for bed. The concierge recommended a small place just a couple of blocks away, that we could not find. So we walked another block and saw this really beautiful looking bistro that seemed to be a combo of Italian and French. We were afraid it would be too much, but the menu was so reasonably priced (and mouthwatering) that we were charmed to stay by a very charming waitress who explained the English version of the menu and the specials.

Marsha had the red chard pie with smoked scamorza and parmesan fondue…and that was enough with an amazing local white wine. I started with the carob honey marinated beef tartare with two Dijon mustards and bee pollen. Then I had the special of fresh grouper in home made giant tube pasta with a delicate red sauce. We went to bed very happy, and ready to explore our final stop, Siracusa (Syracuse) tomorrow. It’s really going too fast.

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To Siracusa (Syracuse) via LUNCH!

We started the long trek toward Catania where we would jump into a cooking class at the home of a special Sicilian chef, her husband and assistants to learn to make some of the most important Sicilian street food specialties.

Our first stop was to meet our chef/instructor at Catania’s historical food and fish market. I’m enamored with food markets (as are most people I know), so this was a real treat. The splashing water and ice, the smells, the sounds of the merchants calling in clients and bargaining is like a very lively Italian opera.

She carefully chooses the best of the vegetables, herbs and meats while painstakingly explaining what she’s buying and why in a loud soprano, fighting off the tumult of the baritones and basses.

She asks if anyone would like to taste the uniquely Sicilian specialty of horse meat at lunch. Much to the chagrin of most of the group, several of us eagerly put up our hands…so she buys some. Very sorry to you who are vegan, vegetarian and/or animal lovers, but I must tell it like it is.

The market eating area is ablaze with a roof of colorful umbrellas (I guess you have to be careful where you place your chair if it starts to rain). We’re also riveted by the lyrical sword dance of the candy vendor forming hot almonds and molten sugar (specialty of this part of Sicily) with sweeping and clanging knives.

Off we go to through the old city of Catania, uphill to the cooking/catering space opened a few years ago by our chef and her husband. The morning lessons in three “street” type foods from three distinct areas of Sicily are outlined for us.

We’re all ears and hungry, and decked out in our new aprons as we hover over the pre-prepped (thank you) ingredients, listening attentively and anxious to get our fingers lickable.

Just as we begin, homemade bread and special olive oil from the area are laid out, with an amazing Prosecco…apparently no Italian chef can cook without. (It’s 10 in the morning, guys).

The work begins as we press and roll the pre-risen dough for flat Sicilian pie, turnovers, and a thrice folded dough with aged cheese, tomato purée, black olives, oregano (Siciliana, Pizza Rianata, and Sccaccia, and Ragusana with tomato sauce and Caciocavallo cheese) come together, ready for the oven or fryer.

Ahhh…the results of our efforts (including the H-meat burgers…that were delicious by the way). All served with a scrumptious local red, meant to be served chilled. We gave ourselves and “A+” – well deserved.

The graduates….

We spent the afternoon digesting and recuperating and making our way toward Siracusa.

As our journey races toward its conclusion, we’ll spend our last two days exploring two beautiful ancient cities; Ragusa and Noto. Get some rest.

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