One of our favorite stops of the trip–the kind of place to which we could imagine coming back–was Ortigia, the ‘old town’ of Siracusa. It stands to reason, as Rick calls Ortigia “the most enjoyable urban environment anywhere in Sicily.” Siracusa used to be one of the powerhouse cities in ancient Sicily, and Ortigia is a little island in the bay, connected by a couple small bridges.
We stayed in an adorable Airbnb there in the heart of Ortigia, and it might have been the best stop of the trip. Ortigia felt very European, small without being too quiet, and full of color and vibrancy.
While in Ortigia, we checked out the Piazza Duomo and Siracusa Cathedral, which seem a little out of place with their shiny marble exteriors and imposing size, tucked away within the winding, ancient lanes of the old city.
The best part of Ortigia is the window-shopping. We found countless shops, like this one with artsy fish of all kinds, displayed in the most creative way. A highlight for us was finding a ceramic pinecone in an antique store and bargaining with the owner. We managed to settle on a price, despite the language barrier, and he proceeded to babble on in Italian about our ‘bella familia.’
When Andrew and I arrived in Ortigia, we saw cones and road signs set up in one of the piazzas. We wondered what it was all for, the following morning, we got our answer. Policemen were leading groups of youngsters around, explaining the street signs!
Afterward, we spent most of our time seeing the sights on mainland Siracusa. We started with the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears, a mid-century church built in 1953 to honor the ‘miracle’ of a weeping Virgin Mary statue. The church was certainly worth a visit, as it contained a basement ‘crypt’ with the statue in question and a room filled with ‘answered prayers’ in the form of wedding dresses and no-longer-needed prosthetics, as well as the unique, cone-shaped sanctuary on the floor above.
The main attractions in Siracusa are the Archeological Park and its accompanying museum, as well as the Catacombs of San Giovanni. After our catacombs tour, the highlight of which was standing where Paul, (as in Paul from the BIBLE) actually preached, we headed to the museum.
Our next stop was the actual archeological park, where we saw more Greek theaters, and aqueduct and the Ear of Dionysius, below:
This post wouldn’t do Ortigia justice without a couple parting shots:
The following morning, after a quick breakfast in our Airbnb, we hit the road to Taormina, our last stop. On the way, we stopped in Catania, which felt far-removed from the tourist belt and even more ‘authentically italian’ and gritty than Palermo had. Our GPS had routed us to the EXIT of the parking area, which caused great frustration as we then had to circle around the multi-lane, no-rules-whatsoever roundabout THREE TIMES before we were able to figure out where the entrance to the lot was. Poor Andrew. As we walked through the park, the only tourists in sight, I admit that I felt a little uneasy. #pregnancyparanoia
Once we made it into the old city, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’ve come to the conclusion that while I do enjoy getting off the ‘main drag’ to experience Europe more like a local (thanks, Rick!), there are also times in which I appreciate the relative comfort of being surrounded by other people as unfamiliar with the area as I am.
The highlight of Catania is, far and away, the bustling fish market. We arrived well after its peak hours, but there was still plenty of action and excitement. I chose sandals that day due to the beautiful weather, and I tip-toed and side-stepped to avoid fish guts as I waded around the fishmongers. I get a little claustrophobic at times like this, especially after my unease upon our arrival, so I preferred to observe the market from the sidewalk above. Andrew, on the other hand, was enjoying every minute and snapping photos left and right.
Since we were totally improvising (Catania hadn’t been on the itinerary–gasp!), we decided to take Rick’s walk around the city, ending at the remains of a Roman amphitheater:
It was time for lunch, and we found our way to Rick-recommended Via Santa Filomena, which houses a string of restaurants. We chose one with outdoor seating and ended up having a delightful conversation with one of the waiters of the restaurant across the way who was standing in the street to drum up business. Turns out he’s a fan of rock-n-roll and pinup girls, is a musician and photographer on the side, and has been to the United States a few times already. We bought him a beer in exchange for a gelateria recommendation.
Up next: our last stop, Taormina!