Reflections on Revisiting Sicily

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Oct 5th, 2014, 05:53 AM
  #1
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Reflections on Revisiting Sicily

I have been intending to come to Sicily again for a while. My last trip was 10 years ago, blighted by lack of cash and bad weather. This time I have more of the former and am hoping for better luck with the latter.

What has struck me very forcibly this time is how much Sicily has changed; more than anywhere else I can think of and more than I expected. Thinking about it, it is obvious when you look at the number of Sicily trips on this forum and others. It is now definitely on the tourist trail whereas 10 years ago it still felt like an afterthought. I am not sure which I prefer!
I ran into lots of groups: German hiking groups, Rick Steves groups, biking groups, large French groups. For a solo traveller it is always a challenge to slip between the cracks and manage not to be overwhelmed. The other side of the coin of course is anonymity!

This time the plan was to see the bits I missed last time. So my main centres are Siracusa, the Aeolian Islands and Trapani and the west. I have between 2 and 3 weeks, at the same time of year as last time, end of Sept/early Oct. So far the weather has been kinder to me.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 06:15 AM
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I started by flying into Catania from CDG on Easyjet. Found the airport bus to Siracusa but couldn't get on as it was already full. This should have given me a clue; last time I was almost the only person on it. Got the next bus, that was full too. Got off in Siracusa where the next shock was that they had moved the Bus Terminal. It is now next to the train station, a good walk from Ortigiya. There is a little shuttle bus that goes back and forth, but I only discovered this later.
Found my way to Domus Mariae Albergo, booked a long time ahead with a gorgeous sea view. Thanks to all here who recommended this place, what a gem. Spent my first evening reacquainting myself with Ortigiya and found it totally unrecognizable. Everywhere there were trendy bars and cafes, tourist info, new restaurants, the whole place had been treated to a clean and lots of new paint. There was a lot of reconstruction and building work going on. My Albergo told me this has happened ever since they got a new mayor who has been very active in putting Siracusa on the map. The local people I spoke to were very pleased at what has happened. Last time it was pouring with rain and everywhere was closed. I thought at the time what a wasted opportunity it was; a gorgeous almost untouched Greek/medieval town left to rack and ruin and gently crumbling away. Not any more.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 06:22 AM
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Looking forward to your report.
I too am a solo female traveler, in fact we exchanged info on Puglia early this year.
I loved the area and your info was most helpful.
My last trip to Sicily was in 2000, also in early OCT. so I guess I too would be shocked by the changes.
Hope the trip is great
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Oct 5th, 2014, 06:46 AM
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Good to hear my info was helpful tdk320n.

This time my main aims around the south east bit of Sicily were to go to Noto, Modica, Ragusa and if possible Piazza Armerina. It ended up with 3 out of 4!

I got an AST bus to Noto my first full day. What a beautiful golden Baroque city. I think it was covered in scaffolding 10 years ago after a recent earthquake. But it is truly glorious now, well worth an hour and 5 euros on the bus. Don't miss the last bus back though, it goes very early, at 2.55pm!
I wandered up and down and around, gawping at the baroque splendour. Meandered through the back streets up the hill avoiding the big noisy groups. Finally settled into a little place on the main drag that had local produce where you could specify what and how much you wanted and it was served on a wooden platter with a glass of your choice! Mine was lots of cheese, various artisan chutneys and jellies and local bread. Nero D'Avola, what else!

Once back in Siracusa quite early, I revisited the Cathedral (now with entrance fee and booklets and postcards), saw Caravaggio's Santa Lucia, (firmly closed last time, looking like it would never open again), went down into the 'catacombs' under the Piazza del Duomo (don't bother) walked all around the lungomare, and finally sat by the Arethusa fountain eating yogurt icecream, my absolute favourite. And all the time the sky was blue and the sun shone. Died and gone to heaven springs to mind.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 06:48 AM
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Oh no, I'm horrified to hear that Ortygia is being prettified. I absolutely loved it in 2008, sounds like a completely different feel now. But looking forward to more of your TR.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 06:55 AM
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LOL Thursday. I thought of you at the time. Be careful what you wish for eh? More coming when Ihave been out and about in the evening sunshine here in Trapani.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 06:59 AM
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i'm joining in too, as Sicily is on my over-long bucket list, and this area particularly, as, like I suspect many of the tourists you encountered, I am keen to see the gorgeous places featured in the Commissario Montalbano series.

looking forward to more!
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Oct 5th, 2014, 07:04 AM
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LOL again annhig. I just downloaded some more Montalbano on to my kindle. It seems the right thing to be reading here!
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Oct 5th, 2014, 07:08 AM
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Gertie,

I visited Ortigia last year and I did see a fair amount of work going on, but it didn't look like any more than in the rest of the cities I visited. A mix of some restored homes/buildings, some not. In Ortigia, I purposely took a picture of two residential buildings next to each other, one restored and one still crumbling.

My guide in Palermo said Sicily is getting some significant money from the EU which is helping them restore and revive Palermo and other cities - finally. They've been waiting a long time since WWII.

It didn't seem too "prettified" to me, thank goodness.

Looking forward to the rest of your report!
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Oct 5th, 2014, 07:43 AM
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gertie - which book/s are you reading? Having worked my way through the majority of the ones I could find in english, I borrowed "un mese con montalbano" from the library about a year ago, and have been renewing it every three weeks ever since. some of the stories made it to the TV series, others I find so hard to follow I have no idea whether they did or not!
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Oct 5th, 2014, 07:59 AM
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Isn't Noto gloriously beautiful and playful? and I'm glad you saw Caravaggio's magnificent Santa Lucia (which was on temporary display at another church when I was there in 2007). But LOL, did you really find Sicily more changed than South Korea!!!
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Oct 5th, 2014, 08:58 AM
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I wonder how much difference time of year has to do with things. I was there in 2005, so almost ten years ago, but in July. While I didn't think Sicily was over run with tourists, it certainly didn't seem like an 'after thought'. The center of Ortigiya seemed to have lots of restaurants, bars and cafes for example. I know the weather, as well as the season, makes a big difference. I've been places that seemed pretty dead when I got there, but it was rainy and dismal. Then two days later the sun comes out and so do all the people. Anyway, it does seem that the tourist season has been extended at least.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 10:10 AM
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look forward to your report on Aeolians...been awhile since we have been but about the most beautiful island ever and in May/June and Sept. never felt overrun with tourists...hope that has not changed.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 10:37 AM
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Well, to answer some questions:
Dayle, there seemed more building work going on in Ortigia than other cities here that I saw. There were whole streets being done up. On the other hand, there were also whole streets that were derelict! Yes, Sicily is getting significant EU money but a lot of it is being syphoned off by you-know-who, hence there are lots of half-finished concrete monstrosities all over the place.
Annhig, cant remember which Montalbanos I have read. I haven't seen them on telly as I think they are only broadcast in UK and I live in the US and am dependent on Acorn and Netflix. But I am sure they are good. They were recommended by a British couple I met on the train from Ragusa and that sent me running to my kindle!
Kja, There was only a gap of 10 years since I was in Sicily. It was more like 35 with Korea!
Isabel, yes I agree about the weather. Thank goodness it is good this time.
Lois2, hang in there, we are getting to the Aeolians in about a week!
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Oct 5th, 2014, 10:46 AM
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I actually can't remember which year it was that I first visited Ortygia -- 2006? -- but even at that time I would have described the center of town as "boutiqued" for tourists, although certainly not as "touristy-fied" as Taormina.

I was in Palermo earlier this year and there are only isolated parts of the city that could be identified as "for tourists on a a tourist track". The rest of it buzzes with local life solely.

Overall Sicily still has less of a homogenized globalized internationalized feel as compared to a great deal of the rest of Europe where tourists have been tramping through. Sicilian culture seems to keep a great deal of its own integrity, a small nation rather than a part of Italy. Which isn't to say it is not modern -- quite the contrary -- but just not anxious to be adopting other people's ways.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 10:48 AM
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Next day I had researched trains to Modica and Ragusa. Turns out I could get the same one and get off in Modica, then get another 2 hours later to Ragusa. Not the best option but certainly a way to kill two birds with one stone.
The train was a very sweet single carriage. Only half of it had air-conditioning. I sat in the hot half as it was less crowded. It tootled and pootled along very slowly, stopping at lots of little places and finally when it got to Modica after about 2 and a half hours, I was the only person to get off. Found my way to the main town and got a map from the tourist office. Very efficient there, English spoken and lots of enthusiasm. I got the impression they were trying to put Modica on the tourist map. Climbed lots of steps up to churches, admired views, goggled at the town which seems to be on so many different levels, came down far more steps than I went up, and managed to get myself back to the station after 2 hours for what I thought was the next train. Not so. I was decanted on to a bus, just me and 3 train staff for the windy, hair-raising drive to,Ragusa. All 10 minutes of it.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 11:44 AM
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I arrived into Ragusa into a typical Italian transport scenario. I needed a bus to the interesting bit of town, called Ragusa Ibla. At the train station I could see various buses none of which had destination signs. Went into the nearest bar to ask . Lots of men yelling at each other. Finally got a word in and was directed somewhere outside. Nothing. Then one of the shouters emerged from the bar and led me to a little office down a side street from which he sold bus tickets when he was not in the bar. Ticket in hand, next problem was to find the bus. A helpful lady nodded and smiled when I asked her and indicated I should follow her. Got on the number 11 to Ragusa Ibla. Is it only me who has all this hassle with Italian buses? Exactly the same happened in Sardinia last year!

Ragusa Ibla is where it all happens. There is a long and winding road with lots of hairpin bends and precipitous drops off the edge. But it is worth it. Very pretty little town, all done up for the tourists, some astonishing Baroque churches, nice cafes and bars, a little toy train to trundle us about. Once I got off the tourist route it was back to the usual derelict streets, crumbling buildings, garbage and cats. Again, there were whole streets being done up. Have to say I like both. One advantage of the tourist drag was a cafe with scrumptious cannoli and reviving coffee. Love real Italian espresso. And the inevitable yogurt ice cream. What's not to like as they say?
I wandered and climbed up and down narrow windy streets, saw lovely views, enjoyed the colours of the buildings as the afternoon wore on, ended up in the Municipal Gardens at the end of town overlooking a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Ragusa Ibla is in a great defensive position. It was apparently badly damaged by an earthquake in 1693, as was everywhere around here, and although a new town was built, the inhabitants preferred to stay put.

Finally I had to get lucky with the bus back to the station. The last and only train back to Siracusa was at 7pm. No sign of bus. I asked a gaggle of old men (probably about my age) who said not to worry, it was on its way. Huh! When it did eventually arrive I climbed aboard and was back at the station in no time. And met the British couple on their way back to Noto who were extolling the virtues of Inspector Montalbano. Although I have read several of the books, (at the moment I am reading The Terracotta Dog annhig) they said the TV programmes are filmed in situ and are really stunning. Must chase them up on IPlayer.

Got back to Siracusa around 9.30pm after a very long day. These things seem to tire me more than they used to! So I was ready for a day off next.
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Oct 5th, 2014, 12:30 PM
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>Is it only me who has all this hassle with Italian buses?

No. We had the same problem when we arrived in new Ragusa on the bus from Modica. We ended up taking a taxi to Ibla after wandering in the heat for 1/2 an hour looking for a connecting bus. All of the people we asked were helpful . . . but . . .

Ian
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Oct 5th, 2014, 12:46 PM
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Hi GERTIE3751,

I am enjoying your solo jaunt in Sicily, one of my favorite places.

"Once back in Siracusa quite early, I revisited the Cathedral (now with entrance fee and booklets and postcards), saw Caravaggio's Santa Lucia ... ."

Of the dozens of cathedrals/churches/chapels I have seen in Europe in the past 20 years, the one in Siracusa stands out - built as it is on the remains of a Greek temple, right?

To quote a source:

"... the most imposing of all is Siracusa Cathedral, which began its life as the magnificent, golden limestone Temple of Athena during the fifth century BC (BCE), dominating the acropolis on the highest point of the island of Ortygia."

For more and a few pics - http://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art423.htm

Annhig, just wondering is that Commissario Montalbano series available in English?

Looking forward to more...
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Oct 5th, 2014, 01:46 PM
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gertie - we too had the same problem in Sorrento trying to get the bus up to Ste Agata to walk back down to Sorrento. Leaving aside the fact they thought we were mad to be attempting this in February, by the time we'd located the bus, waited for it to leave about an hour late, and then ridden it up to Ste Agata, it was getting dark and we really had to time to explore before we had to walk back down again.

lateday - virtually all the novels have been translated into english but not, I think, the book of short stories that I am "reading" [a month with Montalbano, which is 30 stories, get it?] - or more like struggling my way through with frequent recourse to a dictionary!

as gertie says, they have been filmed in Sicily by a joint italian/german venture, and using some german actors, whose words are then dubbed over, which doesn't always work that well, but can be quite funny. they are broadcast in the UK by the BBC with subtitles - don't know if you can get them in the US.

As your british informants told you, gertie, one of the features is a stunning aerial opening sequence showing the countryside, coast, and at least one gorgeous town with many churches, perched on a hill - Noto or Ragusa I think or possibly a combination of both. This is accompanied by some very arresting music, specially composed for the series, which is quite outstanding. well worth getting hold of if at all possible.

just like people [Brits anyway] have been going to Sweden to visit the town of Ystad where the Wallander series is set [yes really, the parents of a friend of DDs went]

http://www.visitsweden.com/sweden/re...landers-ystad/

brits are also going to Sicily to see the settings for the Montalbano books:

http://www.sicilytourguides.net/Mont...tions-tour.htm

you can even stay in the apartment which they use as Montalbano's home:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_R..._Camerina.html

so it's probably no wonder that you saw so many tour groups!
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