Posts Tagged ‘siracusa’

Sorrento to Sicily

From Uzbekistan I went on to South Korea and then Japan, getting home a week before Thanksgiving, but rather than writing about Asia, I feel an urge to write about Sicily instead. I loved Sicily, and periodically wonder why I have never returned in real life, so now, when I can’t travel anywhere, I’ll go back in internet life instead. In 2013, another year when I was staying close to home, I started a “Looking Back Series” here, to cover trips I took after I stopped writing for my old website and before I started this blog. I got my South Italy trip as far as Capri and the Amalfi Coast, and will now pick up the trip as I leave Sorrento. While the places I ate and slept have surely changed, if not closed, I feel sure that the scenery and the sights are still magnificent. In fact, since several were under renovation when I was there, they are no doubt even better. I went in the hope of finding beautiful scenery, interesting food, and layers and layers of history and culture from the island’s many invaders. I was not disappointed.

18 April, 2008

After a lot of thought I had decided to join a tour group for part of the trip, because I was traveling alone and public transport in the middle of the island seemed a little problematic, plus it would get me a guide to the main sights, but I would have three nights at the beginning, and nine at the end, on my own. Although the tour started in Taormina, in the northeast, I had decided to start in the southeast, in less touristed Siracusa, the home of Archimedes, and site of a major Athenian defeat in 413 BCE.

From Sorrento I took the Circumvesuviana train to the main Naples station, where I fought my way upstairs through the commuter crowds to buy a panini. Then, fortunately, I asked a railway employee for directions. While I had read (multiple times!) that my train left from Napoli Piazza Garibaldi, platform 2, for some reason it hadn’t registered with me that that meant the same dark and grimy station used by the Circumvesuviana, and not the relatively clean and bright Napoli Centrale up above. After all, this was a long distance Intercity from Rome to Sicily. Good thing I still had time to get back downstairs, but not the best start to the day. (When in doubt, always askā€¦) When the train pulled in I saw no sign of a restaurant car, but I did solve one mystery. The bahn.de site had insisted I needed to change trains in Messina, trenitalia.it had been equally sure I did not. Turned out, the front four carriages would go to Palermo and the back three to Siracusa. No problem.

Initially I enjoyed a last look at the Bay of Naples on one side, and Vesuvius on the other, but then the scenery, mostly sea to the right and currently green hills to the left, became monotonous. But I wasn’t riding the train for the scenery, or even because I am a train fan, but because it was one of the few remaining trains that crossed water not on a bridge, but on a boat. (A few years later I had the same experience in the north of Europe, traveling from Lubeck to Copenhagen, but sadly it seems that that route has been discontinued.)

At Villa San Giovanni, at the tip of Italy’s boot and on the shore of the Strait of Messina, we waited a while in the sunshine, then were shunted backwards and forwards, and backwards and forwards, and finally into the cavernous hold of the ferry. After we were unloaded from the ferry at Messina what I thought at first was a bomb-sniffing dog was led through the carriages. On further consideration it seems more likely it was looking for drugs. Or maybe both? At this point the train gave up any pretence of being an Intercity – a designation already belied by shabby rolling stock and dubious toilets – and became a very slow local.

Most people got off at Catania or Taormina, after which we took a detour through the countryside. While the views along the coast were spectacular, and the inland fields were sprinkled with brilliant wildflowers, I did feel that three hours for the journey from Messina to Siracusa was overdoing it. I would not be sorry to fly from Palermo to Naples on the way back. I had arranged to stay at a B&B in the old town, on the island of Ortigia, which turned out to be an inspired choice. A free shuttle delivered me to the island, but I had some trouble locating the B&B. Finally, I sat down near the very ruinous ruins of the Temple of Apollo and pulled out my new cell phone (remember, this was 2008). Modern technology to the rescue – my landlady headed me in the right direction, then stood waving from her balcony. While the best view from the Sea View B&B was only available at breakfast, my room did have a terrace overlooking the water. It was a good-sized double with a separate big bathroom, closed off at the end of a corridor. The location was convenient for the free shuttle, and better still, it was right above the open air market.

The train trip had taken the whole day (09:42 to 18:25), and by the time I had found the B&B, chatted with my landlady and gotten sorted out I was more than ready for dinner. The lungomare was cold, dark and deserted at that hour (very different the next morning), but then I found the Osteria da Mariano, which had been recommended online. The Osteria felt more touristy than I had expected, and the food quality was uneven. The ricotta amouse-bouche – delicate and delicious. The orange salad with onion and chili – excellent. But the antipasto and the sausage main course were just OK. Still, crystallized ginger appeared for dessert and the 25 euro cost included a half liter of red wine.

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