Posts Tagged ‘noto’

19-20 April, 2008

I would visit the Archaeological Park in Siracusa proper with the tour group, so I had planned a day trip to Noto and then a day (Sunday) exploring Ortigia. Over breakfast I discussed my plans with my landlady. The bus station, which I had expected to find practically next door to the B&B, had been moved over near the train station, I learned. Marriott had bought a big building two streets away, and not content with renovating the building itself, was intent on cleaning up the neighborhood, and the bus station didn’t fit their plans. Even the market, which set up right below my window, was in jeopardy. The bus to Noto was either very late or very early, but when we passed a parade (demonstration?) on the main street I saw why. A whole line of inbound buses waited behind the marchers. Modern Siracusa did indeed look uninspired, but I enjoyed the countryside – again, wildflowers brightened otherwise rocky hillsides. I learned later that between the demands of shipbuilding and of agriculture, Sicily lost its trees many centuries back.

One thing you hear a lot about on Sicily, at least while you have a guide, and especially if that guide is from Catania, is the earthquake of 1693. This devastated many of towns in the east, including Catania itself (already largely destroyed by Mt. Etna in 1669) and Noto. I’m not quite sure why I wanted to visit Noto, as it was rebuilt after the earthquake in baroque style, and I’m not generally fond of baroque, but the pictures looked good. I had expected the town to be quiet, with scaffolding covering the damaged cathedral (the dome collapsed in 1996). Well, I knew my guidebooks needed updating, and I found that Noto had been discovered, and also cleaned up. No scaffolding in evidence. Just a main street punctuated by shining clean, honey-colored, impressive buildings. Very beautiful. Very sterile. Even though a wedding was underway in one of the churches, all those clean buildings combined with the tourist crowds made the whole place feel inauthentic. I took to the back streets and the Trattoria del Carmine, where I tucked into an excellent antipasto and so-so ravioli. Then I went back to the main street and took pictures – the crowds had disappeared, no doubt in search of lunch.

My landlady had warned me not to miss the bus back. This had worried me a little – I knew there would be few buses on Sunday, but did the service shut down on Saturday afternoon, too? I had been unable to find a timetable anywhere near the bus stop in Noto, but I finally discovered that you could find out the bus times in the same place you bought the tickets – the Tabacchi. Still, when I saw a bus show up I decided to take it, instead of exploring further. So, I started wandering round Ortigia a little earlier than planned, and was enchanted. I found a promising looking place to try for dinner, and then stopped off for coffee on a side street before retiring to my B&B to rest my feet. (I had recently spent a month limping round Budapest, Austria and Venice, but so far this trip my feet were holding up well – no reason to stress them too far, though.)

After my initial exploration of Ortigia, I knew I would spend the next day just wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the buildings and the views. Beautifully restored palazzos stood right next door to ones gently crumbling into ruin. In contrast, the main street had plenty of modern shops, and the whole place had a lived-in feel I had missed in Noto. I started down by the water and had the lungomare, the port and the Fontana Aretusa largely to myself. By the waterfront the lungomare, dark and cold two nights before, now basked in sunshine. Further back, a double row of big trees offered shade. I had been thinking of taking a boat ride, but this seemed an activity better organized for a group than a solo traveler – I would wait until I came back with the tour group.

At the fountain I took pictures of the papyrus – a pretty, feathery plant that I would never have imagined could be used to make paper – and the ducks, before moving on for more pictures of the Duomo and of the Artemis fountain in the Piazza Archimede. Here I picked up a copy of the Herald Tribune to go with an espresso macchiato at the Café Diana, a place that seemed popular with locals. I should say more about the Duomo, a spectacular building on a spectacular piazza. This day, I mostly admired the outside (Spanish), but later I would learn that it was the oldest continuously occupied religious building in Europe. (I think the tour guide said the world, but Europe seems more likely!) Not the same religion for all those centuries, of course. It started as a temple to Athena, and the 5th century BCE columns still support the roof. Inside I could feel the age – and the peace.

Lunch – less than 2 euros – was a mortadella and cheese sandwich from a nearby alimentari, followed by a siesta. For dessert and coffee I picked a different café – Café Minerva, near the duomo – with delicious cannoli. I’ve never had a sweet tooth, and now too much sweet stuff at the wrong time messes up my blood sugar, but I don’t really think of cannoli as sweet. On Sicily the shells were much lighter, and the ricotta much creamier, than those I’ve had at home. I wouldn’t waste any opportunity to indulge. I walked off some of the calories by exploring the southern end of the island, finding access to the castle at the very tip completely blocked off. The more time I spent on its back streets, the more I liked Ortigia. Yes, there were tourists around, but not that many. Yes, there were tourist shops, but not whole streets of them. Yes, the buildings were often baroque, but not aggressively so. Mostly, I think I liked the town because of the variety. Greek ruins here, a Spanish church round the corner, modern apartment blocks down the street. It had the feel of a place that had just grown over the centuries, rather than being designed and built all at once. Both evenings, there were crowds out on the streets and I strolled with them down the main streets. When I got home I watched the parking game being played below me, finally realizing that the helpful man directing cars into spaces was actually running the show, as the drivers tipped him.

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