Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Being tourists: Syracusa and Noto 6/12/09

The one good thing about not working so much in this off-peak time is that we get to travel more. Had beautiful weather. We wandered the windy damp streets of Ortigia, the island on Syracusa, the narrow streets and concealed courtyards of the Jewish quarer, past magnificent churches, along to the huge gleaming square of the magnificent cathedral, Saint Lucia's basilica and down towards the water, to the fonte di Aretusa. Legend has it that a nymph called Aretusa, who was one of the Nereids of Greece, fled to Sicily after the river-god Alpheus fell in love with her, but was then changed into a fountain (the Fonte Aretusa) by Artemis. The Greeks are present in the amphitheatre (which we had all to ourselves - perfect) and the huge rock cave known as Dionysius's Ear, where we whisted and called and heard our echoes come back with the amazing acoustics - leend has it that Dionysius used the cave as a prison for political dissidents, and by means of the perfect acoustics eavesdropped on the plans and secrets of his captives.

We reached Noto at sunset, and wandered the main street of the old quarter with the pink light glowing on the yellowish stone. We sat on the steps of the baroque catedral and watched a group of small boys play football, and teenagers play table football by an old news kiosk.

Th next day, we made it to il parco dei Vindicari, a huge expanse of protected nature reserve, with beautiful white sand beaches, trails for trekking, though it was too hot for that! We got as far as a capanna for observing birds where a group of ornithologists were watching flamingos (fenicotteri). They let us look through their binoculars. Amazing,there were about 200 of them and we were extremely lucky to have spotted them. The Italian guide said they could have been in Tunisia or further south in Africa or in a different spot in Sicily. We cut on to the beach through some scrub and a gardener started shouting at us immediately. I was about to dip my feet in the crystal clear water and couldn’t believe he was shouting at us. He apologised when we went over. Listen, he said urgently, you need to get off this beach, this is private parkland, you aren’t supposed to be here. There is a sign, he said ,when we looked surprised, but it isn’t so obvious. But you’d be amazed, you’ll be spotted by a park ranger in an instant and given s huge fine. They have little else to do …we thanked him and hastily clambered back over the scrub and the wire on to the path. We went to see the ruins of a huge old tonnara (tuna factory). There are quite few dotted along the Sicilian coast line – for millennia tuna fishing played a huge role in Sicilian social and economic life, but now the fishery is under severe pressure due to depleted stocks. We drove to quaint Marzamemmi, a little village with cafés looking on to an old fishing port and old building leading down to a beautiful old square with an old church gracing the top of the square. One of my favourite sights in Sicily is from this square; last year we stood and watched a huge pink moon sink down into the sea behind the blue and white fishermen’s boats. Today the sight was not so enticing; we were happily munching on tasty lunch of cheese toasties and sundried tomatoes in the sundrenched square, its only occupants, when our café owner ran out and shouted urgently at us, ‘is that your car, run! The traffic warden is about to fine you.’ Mio marito ran down, but the nasty woman said she had already started filling out the form. Which doesn’t matter, she isn’t even a traffic warden said the café owner in disgust, she’s just an auxiliary. He said it in contempt. He looked at the clock. Look, three minutes past the hour. She’ll have just finished lunch and been delighted to spot your car there where it shouldn’t be. Again, another sign we had failed to see.

We drove on to the Isola dei correnti, a point where the Mediterranean and Ionic Seas meet, where two beautiful beaches meet, rough on one side, and calm waters on the other, with a little rocky formation in the division between the two, where the lighthouse used to be. But not to be seen today. The closer we got, the darker it got and the temperature dropped suddenly. When we parked the car it was ten degrees colder than it had been 5 minutes before. A huge damp mist was rolling in off the sea, and although we walked down to the water hoping it would lift, it just got colder and the mist even denser, we couldn’t see more than three metres in any direction! It was really quite spooky so we headed back to the car. It had been 28 degrees or so at mid day.

Feel quite privileged to have these beautiful places all to ourselves.


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