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Zurers in Italy - May 2016 (mostly Sicily)

We are off again....our usual month in Italy. We fly to Rome arriving on May 2, stay there for three nights and fly to Sicily on Thursday May 5. Since we didn't make it there last year when I got sick, we will try again this year. We plan to spend three weeks there.

I have plotted out our itinerary for Sicily on this map.

A. Catania May 5-8
B. Siracusa May 8-12
C. Ragusa May 12-15
D. Agrigento May 15-17
E. Selinunte May 17-19
F. Trapani May 19-22
G. Palermo or H. Cefalu May 22-26 (haven't decided which yet)
H. Reggio di Calabria May 26-28

We will then drive back to Rome stopping in Santa Maria di Castellabate (just south of Salerno) for a couple of nights (May 28-30) before ending up in or near Rome for the last two nights. We fly back home on June 1.

Next stop, Roma.

Jim and Diana


Trip report posts for the trip are below. Here are links to each section:

Day 1 - Rome
Day 2 - Rome
Day 3 - Rome
Day 4 - Rome - Catania
Day 5 - Catania
Day 6 - Catania
Day 7 - Catania-Ortygia (Siracusa)
Day 8 - Ortygia (Siracusa) Part 1
Day 8 - Ortygia (Siracusa) Part 2
Day 9 - Ortygia (Siracusa)
Day 10 - Ortygia (Siracusa)
Day 11 - Ortygia (Siracusa)-Ragusa
Day 12 - Ragusa
Day 13 - Ragusa
Day 14 - Ragusa-Agrigento
Day 15 - Agrigento
Day 16 - Agrigento-Selinunte
Day 17 - still to come
Day 18 - Trapani (guest post by Maureen Fant)
Day 19 - Trapani (guest post by Maureen Fant)
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We hit some of these spots on our 2014 trip to Sicily. I liked Siracusa, but we were there only one night. We spent a week in Scicli, near Ragusa, and really enjoyed that area. We visited Agrigento on a travel day between Scicli and a town close to Selinunte (can't remember the name). I would happily spend more time in that Agrigento area like you are doing.

We saved Trapani and Cefalu for the next trip.

I think Valerie took us to SM di Castellabate and we liked the town.

Have a great trip and post if you get time. Sicily is very interesting.
We have been to Sicily twice but not since 2004. I have a lot of clients going there so I have get caught up.

We were in SM di Castellabate last year when I was sick so I want to return. Valerie said she would try to come and see us there.
Day 1: Rome
Italy 2016: Monday May 2

We arrive on time--around noon--to sunny skies in Rome . Our flight on Lufthansa connected through Frankfurt and was the usual less than comfortable experience...Our luggage arrives quickly, the driver is waiting and the trip to the hotel is uneventful.

We are staying at the Residenza in Farnese, a hotel that I have used frequently for clients but have never stayed at before.

photo from venere.com

It is just off the Piazza Farnese and looks out on the side of the Piazza Farnese, the French Embassy, which you can see in the background from the roof terrace.

photo by J Zurer

After unpacking and getting settled, Diana takes a nap, not having slept much on the plane and I go out on my usual first day mission--find a TIM store and get our phones set up for wireless service. It is easily done this year...the clerk speaks good English and gets our phones set up very efficiently. On the way back to the hotel, I check out some restaurants for dinner tonight.

Later in the afternoon, we head out for a stroll of some of our favorite places in the neighborhood. The weather has become threatening so we do take an umbrella with us. We walk through the Campo de' Fiori and wind our way to the Pantheon, our usual first stop in Rome.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

Such a wonderful building....we sit and watch the people taking selfies and the rain coming down through the oculus, pay our respects at the tomb of the painter Raphael.

The rain continues as we quickly walk through the Piazza Navona and make our way past the scores of restaurants with touts trying to corral tourists in for an early dinner. All of a sudden the skies open up and the rain gets serious..too much for our one umbrella. We are lucky to find an large awning in a small street where we wait out the 15 minute downpour.

After the rain subsides, we continue on to the restaurant where we have reservations for dinner....La Quercia, which is just around the corner from the hotel.

photo by J Zurer

Dinner is excellent...the waiter is charming and helpful, the menu is inviting...with both traditional Roman specialties and some more creative dishes. Diana has a sformata of zucchini and eggplant served with a green sauce made from peas and then spaghetti cacio e pepe, very al dente and delicious. I start with a fritter of lamb brains which is delicate and perfectly fried, followed by spaghetti alla gricia...made with cheese and guanciale (pork jowls)....terrific. We drink a very pleasant local wine--Cesanese--and I indulge in my first panna cotta of the trip. The couple at the next table strike up a conversation with us which adds to the pleasure of the meal.

We are now starting to fade so we walk around the corner to the hotel and go to sleep. We are very happy to be back in Rome.

Jim and Diana
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Day 2: Rome
Italy 2016: Tuesday May 3

We do sleep through the night and the morning is bright and sunny...just as I ordered it :)

After a late breakfast, we combine a shopping expedition with a walk over to Trastevere. We on the trail of Diana's favorite face cream made by Erbario Toscano and we have located some "farmacie" that carry it. We walk over the river

photo by J Zurer

and through some back streets of still very atmospheric Trastevere. The first "farmacia" doesn't have the face cream but we hit paydirt in the second...the historic Farmacia Santa Maria della Scala.

photo by J Zurer

The sales clerk is very helpful and we get a year's supply.

Since we are there, we stop in the church next door--Santa Maria della Scala--for a quick look around but, since the weather is so nice we don't stay long

photo by J Zurer

We take a break sitting in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, enjoying the sun and the view of this imposing church.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

While in Trastevere, we make a detour to pick up some cookies from the famous Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenzi to bring to dinner tonight at Maureen and Franco's. We once stayed in an apartment just across the street from the bakery so we know it well.

photo by J Zurer

Back across to the river to drop off our purchases and then we go to visit our friend Simona who works at the Hotel Teatro di Pompeo. We have a nice reunion and then it is time for lunch. We first try to get some porchetta at Aristocampo on the Campo de' Fiori but the outdoor seating area is under construction so we decide to return to La Quercia. The waiter seems happy to see us and we enjoy our meal....prosciutto e melone and a caprese salad (both excellent) for Diana and tonnarelli with clams and pepper for me (okay).

We then recross the river to look at a new installation on the Tiber River embankment. As part of the effort to reclaim parts of Rome, an organization called Teveterno commissioned a South African artist--William Kentridge--to decorate a 550 meter stretch of the river walls with scenes from Roman history. GIgantic stencils were created and placed on the wall, then the walls were power washed.

"Kentridge’s frieze will be shaped using a technique called “reverse graffiti,” in which large, figurative stencils will be placed on the Tiber’s embankment and the wall then power-washed around them. The resulting images will be fashioned from dirt and accumulated pollution, and will disappear as the surrounding stone slowly becomes soiled again."

We were blown away by the results...even if we didn't immediately grasp the inspiration or significance of every scene.

photo from hyperallergic.com

Here are some of my pictures of the individual stencils.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

You can see more on the Teveterno web site. http://www.tevereterno.it/arts/triumphs-and-laments/

Back at the hotel, Diana goes to the roof terrace to enjoy the sun, view of the Farnese palace and to quilt

photo by J Zurer

and I do a little work in the room.

We call a cab to get to Maureen's near the Colosseum...the Rome traffic patterns are such that the cab has to drive at least twice as far as it would take to reach her house directly. It also adds a lot to the fare.....

The evening is very enjoyable....Maureen's childhood friend Iris whom we have gotten to know, joins us...good food and good company. By the time we get back to the hotel, it is almost midnight.

Tomorrow we plan to see the show at the Bramante cloister about I Macchiaioli painters in 19th century Tuscany.

Jim and Diana
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Day 3: Rome
Italy 2016: Wednesday May 4

Another beautiful morning.....we get an earlier start this morning. After the very good breakfast at the Residenza in Farnese, our first destination is the Chiostro di Bramante--a location for art shows just off the Piazza Navona. We take a slightly circuitous route through some of the back streets of this quarter of Rome which takes us past this colorful tree.

photo by J Zurer

Before we go in to see the show--I Macchiaioli--we notice that the door of the small church next to the cloister is open. In all our years coming to Rome (since 1993), we have never been able to get inside so we can't pass up this opportunity. Santa Maria della Pace is seemingly shoehorned into an impossibly narrow space at the end of Via della Pace

photo from baroccaroma.files.wordpress.com

but the interior is surprising large in spite of the limited frontage. One of the chapels is dedicated and financed by the Chigi family of Siena and Raffaelo was responsible for some of the original decoration.

photo from romaininteractive.com

photo from wikimedia.org

The show in the next door Chiostro focuses on the 19th century Tuscan art movement known as I Macchiaioli, considered a precursor to the Impressionists. Similar to "en plein air" painting, these artists were rebelling against the formalism of "the accademy" and went outside to paint scenes that were more realistic in content and less mannered. The show was organized around the most famous collectors of the art and arranged in a series of rooms that give an idea of how the art was displayed in the partrons' homes. The free audio tour was well worth it. We were very taken with most of the works....which showed Tuscan life and personalities very vividly.

Here is a sample of the works that were displayed.

photo from romartgallery.com

photo from artslife.com

photo from chiostrodelbramante.it

And the link to the show's web page....


This is a terrific show....nicely displayed and imaginatively organized.

As we leave the show, it is lunch time and, rather than looking for one of the places that I had researched, we sit down at an outdoor table in the sun at La Focaccia (that's Diana in the lower left) which is adjacent to the Chiostro. The weather is delightful, the food is fine (a salad for Diana, a fritto misto (not fish) for me and a delicious "focaccia" which was really an excellent plain white pizza with cumin seeds. A good choice....

photo by J Zurer

After lunch, we walk down Via del Coronari and "stumble" on one of the best gelaterias in Rome where we enjoy our first gelatos of the trip.

photo by J Zurer

Back to the hotel for a rest and some work before going back to the Hotel Teatro di Pompeo to say hello to Americo, the other friend of ours who works there. Then to the Piazza Farnese for an apertivo...sadly not at our regular place, the Cafe Farnese, which is closed up tight, but at the wine bar at Camponeschi on another side of the piazza. It is still a great place to have a prosecco and enjoy the view.

< missing photo >

For dinner, we meet my college classmate Victor Simpson and his wife Daniela...he has lived in Rome for over 40 years and recently retired as AP bureau chief. We have a nice dinner with them at da Luigi, a trattoria in the neighborhood, even with all the discussion of the dismal state of the US political campaign.

It is a pleasant walk back to the hotel down the very picturesque Via Giulia.

Tomorrow we leave Rome and fly to Sicily.

Jim and Diana
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Day 4: Rome-Catania
Italy 2016: Thursday May 5

Another beautiful day for our departure from Rome...in the morning, we pack up and check out. We have time to wait in the spiffy new airport terminal at Fiumicino as our plane is late but the flight arrives in Catania only 15 minutes late. It is a short ride to the center of Catania with lots of traffic. We wind our way through narrow, somewhat grimy streets (a combination of pollution and buildings constructed of lava stone) with lots of graffiti on the buildings. Before we get to the hotel, located in a residential area, we also pass through the main business district where the streets are wider and the buildings are more attractive.

Our hotel is a Liberty-style (art nouveau) building (Hotel Liberty)

photo by J Zurer

with gracious public space, elegant rooms and a garden that smells of jasmine. We have booked a suite (on two levels) with a large balcony.

photo by J Zurer

I have to go off to get our rental car at an office about a mile away and Diana goes to the garden to quilt. I have no problems locating the address on my voucher but there is no Europcar there. It turns out that the office has closed and relocated...somewhere further down the street but not far according to the man at the store next door. When I still can't find it, the cashier in a bar calls information to find the office address..which turns out to be just up the next street.

The office is there (they had moved just two days ago) and the car is ready. I set up the GPS and drive back to the hotel without incident.

We ask for recommendations for dinner in the neighborhood and the friendly desk clerk directs us to a trattoria about ten minutes away. We walk down the hill, past the Roman amphitheater

photo by J Zurer

to the main shopping street of Catania, Via Etnea.

photo by J Zurer

I am pleasantly surprised since, from looking at the map, I hadn't realized how close we were to the center of town.

We find the restaurant--the Trattoria del Cavaliere--and have a good dinner. The restaurant is a popular, brightly lit place with a mixture of locals and tourists. The food is fine...Diana has a plate of spaghetti aglio e olio and grilled fish (chosen from a large array of fresh fish) and I have a Sicilian specialty--fried stuffed small sardines--called beccafico followed by a fritto misto.

We make our way back up the hill to our hotel...the street is lined with shops that buy and sell gold as well as a number of bridal shops.

Tomorrow we plan to explore Catania.

Jim and Diana

PS from Diana: In the garden I sort of eavesdrop on a group of Italian men, talking very animatedly about - food - is basically what I can make out. And have a very nice talk with Tony from Philadelphia, whose family comes from Enna and is reading Verga's The House of the Medlar Tree - I have brought Verga's Little Novels of Sicily along on this trip. We also talk about the weather and I say I must buy an umbrella, and Tony says if it's not rainiing tomorrow, when he leaves for home, he'll give me his - at breakfast, or leaving it for me at the desk. Which he does. Molto gentile.
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Day 5: Catania
Italy 2016: Friday May 6

We wake up in our "palatial digs" to a very nice day in Catania. Very nice breakfast also, though the lady serving breakfast was not a happy camper.

Google maps tell me that it is only about a 15 minute walk from the hotel to the Piazza Duomo so we head down the hill past the gold shops and the Roman amphitheater and have a pleasant stroll with what feels like half of Catania down the Via Etnea, the main shopping street. It is a very lively atmosphere, increased when we reach a piazza filled with a program of speeches, music and demonstrations connected with a race for health and fitness, Corri Catania.


Before we get to the Duomo, we stop to admire one of the many Sicilian baroque churches in Catania. The Basilica Maria Santissima dell'Elemosina (the Collegiata) has the typical striking curving facades, large columns and many statues set into the front of the churches. The Sicilian baroque mainly developed after a major earthquake in 1693 when most of the churches and many other buildings had to be rebuilt.

photo from wikipedia

After braving the Corri Catania crowds, we get to the main piazza of Catania with the Duomo and a number of grand palazzi, now government and religious buidlings. Most of the buildings are constructed with lava blocks (Etna being close by) giving them a distinctive gray/black color.

photo by J Zurer

In the center is an obelisk supported on the back of a black elephant, not unlike the obelisk in Rome at Piazza Minerva.

photo from katetravels.com

We spend some time inside the Duomo, a vast building, not too heavily ornamented, dedicated to the patron saint of Catania, Sant'Agata who was martyred in the third century AD while protecting her reputation and defending her Christian faith against the Roman rulers.


The interior of the Duomo is relatively restrained and open....but we are unable to get to see the famous fresco of the eruption of Etna in 1659 which was done by an eyewitness. The fresco is locked away in the sacristy and only open during limited hours...perhaps next trip.

photo from wikipedia

Right next to the Duomo is the Pescheria, one of Catania's major markets--lots of fish but also the full range of market goods--meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, etc. It is one of the most amazing markets we have seen in Italy....stall after stall of beautiful seafood stretching through many streets next to the Duomo, vendors crying out about their wares, customers examining and buying. My pictures can't convey the scale of the activity....

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

Suffice to say, it is worth a detour.....

Impulsively, we decide to take the open top bus tour of Catania and environs...we get to see many of the sights and neighborhoods of the city and get a ride out to the coast north of the city. It does go on a bit longer than we wanted due to the traffic in Catania but we do get to see parts of the city we might not have visited on our own.

It is after two when we get back to the Piazza Duomo and for lunch we hurry over to a recommended restaurant in the middle of the fish market--the Osteria Antica Marina. We ask to sit outside but that might have been a mistake. The table is right next to a large market stall where they are putting the fish away in a cooler and hosing down and disassembling the stands, etc. The noise from that, plus the group of young Italians at a stag party at the next table is over the top, and the service is slow. The food was excellent--sauteed clams for me to start and a wonderful salad for Diana--just tomatoes, Tropea onions and ricotta salata cheese. We both have grilled orata which is delicious but takes a long time to arrive. A delicious but not entirely successful lunch....

We head back to the hotel on foot..by now it is almost 4 pm...We take an alternate route up the very pretty Via dei Crociferi--lots of churches

photo from zainoo.com

and the gardens of the Villa Cerami...now the Catania law school.

photo from bandw.it

A late dinner tonight in the neighborhood....the desk clerk recommends a place around the corner called La Terraza del Barone which turns out to be a perfect choice. It is crowded with locals, hectic, noisy but the whole vibe is extremely good natured. Everyone--customers, cooks and hustling waiters--seems to be having a good time. Everyone in the restaurant is eating large plates of grilled meats but we opt for lighter dishes. I have a plate of mussels and a mixed salad and Diana has pasta alla Norma with eggplant (a Catanese speciality) and a single delicious grilled sausage, finishing with pineapple. By the time we leave (around 10 pm), the line of people waiting for tables is long. We really enjoyed ourselves and may return.

Tomorrow we will explore more of Catania.

Jim and DIana
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Day 6: Catania
Italy 2016: Saturday May 7

Sun is shining again this morning...breakfast still very good at Liberty Hotel but breakfast lady still sour. Oh well…..

Our plan for the morning is to walk to the center and take a guided tour of the Teatro Bellini, the main theater in town which dates back to the late 19th century. We take a different route and walk along some of the streets of the old section of Catania….graceful buildings (though mostly grimy from pollution and dirt) with intricate wrought iron railings on the balconies, many of them supported by solid sculptures. (Diana could do without the graffiti however.)

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

We also pass one of the important theaters of Catania...the Teatro Sangiorgi...which has a distinctive appearance.

photo by J Zurer

The Teatro Massimo Bellini is indeed a spectacular building....it is located on a quiet, broad piazza...and dominates the space.

photo by J Zurer

However, as happens in Italy, we see a sign announcing that tours are suspended indefinitely...the theater is being cleaned for a performance tonight. So we are seeing the same pictures that you are......

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

On our walk back to the Piazza Duomo, we stop at one of the Baroque style churches where a wedding is about to take place. and wait for the bride to arrive. Well dressed guests are milling in the piazza but after ten minutes, we give up and continue on.

photo by J Zurer

We make a quick return to the Duomo to check on some of the things we had missed the day before but we still can't get in to see the fresco of the volcanic eruption locked away in the sacristy.

We decide to go back and get the car and drive out to Aci Trezza to have lunch....repeating our experience of twelve years earlier. On the way back to the hotel, we check out two more churches where weddings are happening....but have no luck spotting a bride.

On our last trip to SIcily in 2004, we had a memorable lunch in the village of Aci Trezza. Here is a fragment of my report from that day.

...we want to visit Aci Trezza, which was the location for Luchino Visconti"s 1948 movie La Terra Trema. This film was based on the novel I Malavoglia by G. Verga and tells the story of a Sicilian fishing village and the struggle of some of the fishermen to form a cooperative and break the monopoly of the rich merchants who control the fishing trade. It was shot with non-professionals...mostly local residents...and they speak in Sicilian dialect, which can't be understood by most Italian speakers. We have seen the movie several times and are eager to see the actual location.

We start driving down the coast from Aci Castello...this town has big castle set on top of gigantic rock in the harbor. We reach Aci Trezza--the harbor has very distinctive and dramatic rock formations; they are the Rocks of the Cyclops from the Odyssey. We are looking for a place to eat lunch before it starts raining and none of our books have any suggestions. We park and chose the restaurant called I Malavoglia...because of the name and because the covered outside patio is filled with people.

The choice was very good....we have one of the best meals of our trip to date. The "head waiter" speaks some English and helps us with our order--I have three huge local oysters which are very good....one of them is equivalent in size to about three average Chesapeake oysters. I have a wonderful large dish of "sauteed shellfish"--a mix of clams and mussels in a wonderful garlic sauce. Diana has dish of fettucine with a spectacular lobster sauce--both delicate and full flavored, all at once. We share a fantastic grilled fish--an orata--which is perfectly cooked and perfectly delicious. We have a half liter of the local white and finish with strawberries....a fantastic feast.

We return to the same restaurant and are seated by the same "head waiter" but he doesn't seem to remember us -:) The meal is very good--an excellent spaghetti alle vongole and a grilled fish for me and delicious panzanella and fried shrimp for Diana with the house white wine. We tell the waiter that we had eaten here twelve years previously; he replies that he expects to see us again in twelve more years.

photo from casevacanza.it

The Cyclops Polyphemus was blinded by Odysseus - these rocks are supposedly the ones thrown at him as he fled.

After lunch, we start driving up the side of Etna but the weather turns nasty so we turn around and head back to Catania.

Dinner is also late..we leave the hotel after 9 pm and go back to La Terrazza del Barone which is just a few steps away. Again it is lively and friendly...and our meal is excellent--I have a mixed plate of sausage, a really tasty polpette--more a hamburger than a meatball made of horse meat and mixed with crushed pistachios, and something called a cipollata--basically a piece of bacon wrapped around a scallion and grilled....really good..with a salad of tomatoes and ricotta salata. Diana has a couple of the delicious sausages after a trip to the abundant antipasto table which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Not a place for a quiet relaxing dinner but a place we would gladly return to when next in Catania.

photo by J Zurer

A quick walk back to the hotel...

Tomorrow we are off to Siracusa.

Jim and Diana
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Day 7: Catania-Ortygia (Siracusa)
Italy 2016: Sunday May 8

Departure day from Catania...we have enjoyed our visit here, more than we thought we would. The city has a bad reputation stretching back many years, for crime, dirt and chaos but I think it has changed for the better in many ways. It would still not be on the top of one's list for Sicily but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand anymore. Our opinion of the city may have been influenced to some extent by our accommodations which (with the exception of some hot water issues that weren't solved) were delightful.

We leave for Siracusa about noon and while checking out the view of Etna from the autostrada we realize that we are going in the wrong direction and have to turn around. I blame the GPS....

Then trip takes about an hour once we correct course...almost all on the autostrada (still free in this part of Sicily but it seems that they are preparing to collect tolls in the near future). Lots of traffic on the way into Siracusa as the road goes past the cemetery and there are many families visiting graves on this Mothers Day.

The b&b--L'Approdo delle Sirene (The Landing of the Sirens from Greek mythology)--is located just across the bridge from the mainland. I have used this b&b frequently over the past seven years but have never had the chance to stay here. All the clients I have put here have been very enthusiastic. I am looking forward to meeting the owner, Fiora Piccone, with whom I have corresponded over the years.

Ortygia is the "centro storico" of Siracusa and is located on a small island. We find the place easily with our GPS but our room isn't ready so we leave our bags and go out to have some lunch. We are directed to a famous sandwich place in the market but it is closed on Sundays. Looking around for an alternative, we see a saxophonist and a guitarist playing at an outdoor restaurant down the street. A table opens up and we have a very pleasant lunch--a shared antipasto, mussels for me and fried shrimp for Diana. A couple of glasses of white wine and the mellow jazz make for a great introduction to Siracusa.

Back at the hotel, we get into our room and unpack. The room is bright with a high ceiling and minimal decoration and a bit tight but the bathroom is new and the shower looks to be terrific. We do have a small balcony with two chairs overlooking the channel that separates Ortygia from the mainland.

I head off to find a parking space for the car. Much of Ortygia is reserved for residents but I park in a space around the corner from the hotel that seems to be unmarked. The system is yellow stripes are for residents, blue stripes is pay parking and white stripes is free, unrestricted parking. No stripes is not part of the system but I leave my car there for the afternoon. I then go out for a reconnaissance walk....and I am immediately struck by how different the waterfront promenade looks than I remember. It is now a broad sidewalk with benches and lots of bars and gelaterie as well as hookups for pleasure boats that might want to dock there. (I later learn that indeed this construction is new and that the city fathers are planning further expansion on the waterfront to allow cruise ships to dock. This does not seem like a good idea to us....)

I also climb up into the center of town and walk through the Piazza Duomo, one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.

Impeccably clean, free of cars and graffiti and lined with distinctive and graceful buildings, it is a treat to be there. My walk back to the hotel was a bit unsettling as I went through streets lined with restaurants, bar and shops--all catering to tourists who were out in force on this warm and now sunny Sunday afternoon. After Diana's rest, we return to the center and have some very good gelato in the Piazza Duomo and wander through some of the back streets away from the tourist crush. This area feels like the back streets of Venice to me...without the canals. We stop at a bookstore on the very elegant Via Maestanza and buy a copy of Elena Ferrante's first of the Naples books in Italian for a friend and then go back to the hotel to enjoy the roof terrace and remains of the sunny day.

We talk with some Americans from Washington State who are finishing their holiday in Sicily. Fiora comes up and we discuss dinner possibilities. She recommends a place close by called "D" Dionisio and makes reservations; then she sends up a couple of glasses of white wine with cheese and salami for us. She also warns me that the parking space I am in is reserved for residents even if not marked clearly so I get in the car and drive (fighting Sunday afternoon traffic) to the big pay lot on the north side of the island.

"D" Dionisio is a very attractive, refined place and the food is actually very good though we don't think that there are too many attractive choices. The menu is a bit more creative than we like and we are turned off by the owner's cloying manner as he greets us and explains the menu. However, we do enjoy what we eat....a braised octopus dish on a bed of pureed potatoes for me followed by amberjack in a concentrated sauce with carrots and a pasta dish with pecorino followed by a filet of spigola baked under salt for Diana. We drink a very nice white wine from Etna....

Tomorrow we will explore Ortygia in more detail...

Jim and Diana
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First a couple of notes from yesterday...I was remiss in not mentioning the desserts from last night's dinner at "D" Dionisio....I had a very good panna cotta but Diana's gelato di pistacchio was outstanding....the pistachio flavor was so true and deep. Pistachios come from Bronte on the slopes of Etna.

And while we were strolling in town, we saw this parade of people wearing old fashioned formal dress marching on the main street. Not sure what the occasion was....

photo by J Zurer

Also I have included too many pictures so I am splitting this report into two parts.

Day 8: Ortygia (Siracusa)
Italy 2016: Monday May 9

The sky is a bit overcast this morning as we head upstairs to the breakfast room at L'Approdo delle Sirene...a covered area on the roof--lots of light and views of the harbor

photo by J Zurer

just steps down from the room terrace.

photo by J Zurer

Breakfast is not extensive but exceptional...freshly baked goods (by the owner Fiora who also runs cooking classes), crusty bread, fresh fruit, etc.

After breakfast, we are off for some serious exploration of Ortygia. We start with the daily food market....in the streets outside the old market building. It is much smaller than Catania but very lively (lots of loud pleas from vendors to entice customers) with very colorful displays of fish

photo by J Zurer

as well as produce, meats, spices and cheeses.

On the way to the Duomo, we stop to admire the nearby Temple of Apollo which was a major center of ancient Siracusa and is now at a major crossroads of modern Ortygia.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

A short explanation of the history of Siracusa needs to be included. During the dominant period of Greek power (6th to 2nd century BC), Siracusa was the major rival of Athens for predominance in the Greek world. Aristophanes wrote many of his plays here and Archimedes spent much of life in service to the rulers of Siracusa. It was a cultural center as well as military power and was one of the largest cities in Magna Graecia. So there are archaeological sites scattered throughout the area....

Our next destination is the Duomo, which is set on the very beautiful Piazza Duomo. On the way there, we pass through a number of attractive, narrow streets which are characteristic of this beautiful town. (It reminds me a lot of Venice without the canals, and how easy it is to get away from the crowds.)

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

The Duomo is built on the site of the Greek temple of Athena and has incorporated many of the columns from the old temple into the side walls.

photo by J Zurer

Of course, the front of the church is also very impressive.

photo by J Zurer
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Day 8: Ortygia (Siracusa): Part 2
Italy 2016: Monday May 9

Inside the Duomo, there is a beautiful tile floor

photo by J Zurer

and a Norman baptismal font supported by seven lions dating from the 11th century.

photo by J Zurer

The Greek columns that were incorporated into the structure are visible from inside the church as well.

photo by J Zurer

I want to get lunch at the place that was closed yesterday...the Caseficio Borderi in the market. I had read about it before the trip and it gets lots of notice on the internet for its quality and the inventiveness of its sandwich creations. The plan is that I will go to get the sandwich, bring it back to the b&b and we would eat it on the roof. I wasn't aware that the line for the special sandwiches that are made to order in front by an "artiste" would move so slowly. People don't seem to mind because of the lively chatter and entertaining production values as well as the fact that his colleagues bring out samples of cheese and salami for the waiting crowds to enjoy. While waiting I get into a conversation with some people from Padova who are also on line.

photo by J Zurer

Finally our sandwich is manufactured (I have been on line for almost an hour). It is stuffed with all kinds of meats, cheeses, vegetables, herbs, piled high on a long roll. I pay the 5 Euros (unbelievably inexpensive) and hurry back to the hotel where we sit on the roof terrace and enjoy the feast.

Later in the afternoon, we take a walk along the waterfront promenade

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

to the Fonte Arethusa, a lovely spring next to the waterfront with papyrus growing and ducks swimming.

photo by J Zurer

Here is a link that explains the Greek legend of Arethusa....

Back to the hotel as the sun is going down....

photo by J Zurer

Dinner tonight at Piano B (Plan B) run by Fiora's son...a trendy casual place over the bridge in a newly hip area of Siracusa. The specialties are pizza and hamburgers. Fiora (she makes all the desserts) is there to help us through the somewhat complicated menu and we have a small plate of fried appetizers (zucchini flowers, potato croquettes and suppli) and two excellent pizzas....some of the best that we have had in Italy.


There is a good chance that we will return tomorrow.

It is a pleasant stroll back over the bridge to the b&b.

Tomorrow...serious sightseeing--the Archaeological Park in Siracusa.

Jim and Diana
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Day 9: Ortygia (Siracusa)
Italy 2016: Tuesday May 10

After breakfast, we walk to the parking lot near the market and get the car....the system in this lot is that a picture of your license plate is taken when you enter. When you leave, you key in your plate number and the amount due is computed and you pay the machine. Took a while to figure that out when I left the car....

We drive through the middle of downtown Siracusa to get the Parco Archaeologico....the park includes a large Greek theater (which will present its 52nd season of plays starting next week), a Roman amphitheater and the remains of the quarries where prisoners were held.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

The view from the cheap seats is quite spectacular...

photo by J Zurer

When we were in Siracusa in 2004, we went to a performance of Medea in the Greek theater. Here is an excerpt from my report about the play.

We are not sure how long we will last (I originally think the play might be in Greek, Diana is sure it will be in Italian, which is the case) so we buy general admission tickets for Euro 25 each and walk into the theater....There are lot of school groups in the audience and the theater is about 2/3 full when the performance starts. There is a big crane in back of the stage with a cable still attached to the set for Medea. This is how they change the sets for the different plays. The play is extremely interesting and it is a thrill to be watching a Greek play in one of the theaters where they were premiered over 2000 years before. I call Seth in Chicago before the play begins and he gives us a quick refresher about the plot of Medea. They were selling the text (in Italian) and we wish we had bought one....it would have helped us to know at a minimum which characters were on stage at any given time. We find the leading lady pretty easy to follow and we enjoy the play...although I have to stand up (we are in the last row) because the hard stone seats are not the most comfortable.

We leave after about 90 minutes...the sun has set and it is getting cooler--plus we think it might be wise to avoid the traffic jam that will likely happen at the end of the performance. But we are very glad that we decided to attend.....

The attractions in the quarries are the "latomie"...caverns in the rock faces. The most famous is the Ear of Dionisio...purportedly the acoustics of the cave allowed guards to hear the conversations of the prisoners held in the cave. (The name is attributed to Caravaggio...who spent some time in Siracusa.) The other is the cave of the ropemakers (cordari) which was used until the middle of the 20th century; the humidity level in the cave was beneficial to the production of natural rope.

photo by J Zurer

We spend a couple of hours at the park; by noon, it is getting pretty warm and we are not ready to start our visit to the Archeological Museum (we will do that tomorrow), so we head back to town.

Before lunch, we return to Piazza Duomo to see the Caravaggio painting of the burial of Santa Lucia--the patron saint of Siracusa--that hangs in the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia. Caravaggio stopped briefly in Siracusa after fleeing Malta with the authorities on his trail.

photo from sandradi.files.wordpress.com

The painting doesn't do that much for us so we don't spend much time there. (D: This brighter picture of it doesn't show as much of the looming dark cave-like back wall as is in the actual painting and the grave diggers seem to loom larger yet in the actual painting.) We then head back to the old Jewish section of town to visit the oldest mikve (Jewish ritual bath) in Europe. It was discovered under a hotel about 25 years ago and dates back to the 6th century AD. It was buried by the Jewish community when the Spanish Inquisition forced them out of Siracusa in 1493. (Sicily was then under the rule of Spain.) At that time, the Siracusa Jewish community was one of the largest in Italy.

The mikve is located in the sub-basement of the hotel down 59 steep stone steps. But the baths are intact and quite thrilling to see.

photo by J Zurer

This article--from Best of Sicily Magazine--gives a good description of the history of the mikve and its discovery.

A long trek back to the market for our planned return to the Caseficio Borderi. Instead of waiting on the long line for the "special" sandwiches, we will just go inside and get a "regular" one. Forty-five minutes later, I am still on line....the guy making the sandwiches inside must be an "artist in training" for the outside job. My number is getting close but one person orders four sandwiches and gets the full show along with the sandwiches. When the last person ahead of me orders two sandwiches and seems to want to engage the sandwich maker in conversation, I give up. We go next door to La Salumeria (a rival to Caseficio Borderi), sit down at one of their outside tables, get taken care of right away by the charming waitress and enjoy a normal sized but delicious sandwich of smoked pork and cheese on good bread. Alls well that ends well but the earlier experience was pretty frustrating...

Later in the afternoon, we take another stroll along the water and stop for a prosecco at a restaurant overlooking the sea....and walk back to the hotel through some back streets and the Piazza Duomo.

We were both not too hungry for dinner so just went to a nearby trattoria and have a light meal.

Tomorrow the Archeological Museum and a visit to the city of Noto.

Jim and Diana

P.S. from Diana
I've read 3 good books since we left home that I'm happy to recommend.

1. Let Me Finish by Roger Angell. A seriously wonderful memoir by a beautiful writer. The chapters about his childhood, family and the New Yorker were all fascinating - the ones about baseball and his step-father E.B. White were especially wonderful. The only one I didn't like was about sailing and he wrote that it mystified him why people tuned out when he started talking about sailing. I proved his point.

2. Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter. His first novel, I think. A cop story, set in Spokane, featuring two policemen, their atraction, the tension between old fashioned policing and new technology, th e FBI and locals, the toll policing takes on relationships. And the solving of quite a few murders. Very well done.

3. The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam. Americans came late to this wonderful author and this 1981 book of hers won the Whitbread Award for children's novel. Recently issued in the US, it's for adults too. It's set in Cumbria and here's the link to a 2015 NY Times Meg Wolitzer review, which is probably what turned me onto it in the first place.
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Day 10: Ortygia (Siracusa)
Italy 2016: Wednesday May 11

After breakfast, we plan to do a laundry at the laundromat just around the corner from the hotel. We are greeted by the young attendant who then explains that we can leave the laundry with him and come back later to pick it up, washed, dried and folded, at no extra price. An offer that we can't refuse.....

We then get in the car (I hate to leave my free parking space) and drive to the Archaeological Museum located near the Archaeological Park. The collection at the museum is extensive....finds from digs all over southeastern Sicily (and some from southern Italy since that was also part of Magna Graecia.)

The museum is actually too much for "regular" people to absorb--room after room of beautifully displayed (but less clearly explained) artifacts. We start in the basement numismatics section, which you enter through the door of a bank safe. Too many coins from too many places...it is amazing what a sophisticated monetary system existed more than 2000 years ago.

We head upstairs to begin the chronological trip through the collection....so many beautiful and fascinating things to see--vases, statues, jewelry, tools, temple facades......

We last about two hours and give up.....we are museumed out.

We drive back to Ortygia and have lunch again at La Salumeria...we even find another free parking space in the same area as we had earlier. The charming waitress welcomes us back warmly (it is nice to be a "regular") and the sandwiches are excellent again. We tell her that we will see her again tomorrow.

We decide to take the car out of town and drive to Noto, one of the baroque towns of southeastern Sicily. We get a tour of the back streets as we look for a parking space and end up parking in the first parking area we had passed on entering town. It turns out to be very convenient to the main street of Noto. Destroyed by the major earthquake of 1693, Noto was rebuilt in a very harmonious style--public buildings, churches and palazzi. The main street is pedestrian only so it is easy to appreciate but it is also marred by the presence of many vendors hawking souvenirs, live birds and balls on rubber bands.

We actually are not that taken with Noto...not sure why but we don't fall in love with the architectural harmony in the face of the tourists and vendors.

After a gelato, we go back to the car and drive back to Siracusa. On the way, we pass a road sign for a dolmen (a Neolithic tomb dating from 6,000 years ago and found all over southern Italy and the rest of Europe) so--as intrepid dolmen hunters--we turn off the road to investigate. However, after finding another sign directing us to the dolmen, we park in the designated lot. But there is no sign of the dolmen....just a lot of vegetation growing thickly over what had once been a path. After further research, I find a picture from 2009 showing the dolmen clearly visible....

photo from flickr

....but in 2016, it is completely hidden from view with no apparent way to get to it. Oh well, next time....

We make a return visit to Piano B tonight....it is hard to pass up the chance to eat such good pizza. Our plan tonight is to share an appetizer (a delicious beef tartare from Piemonte cows) and a pizza (a sausage and cheese). The pizza that arrives is very different than the pizza we had last night...much thinner with less bite from the crust. Diana diagnoses the problem...Piano B serves two styles of pizza--Neapolitan and Roman--and though we specified Neapolitan, we got the other. Halfway through the pizza, we ask Fiora about it and she confirms that we got Roman pizza by mistake. She has the kitchen make a Neapolitan style pizza for us...which is excellent.

Diana can't resist trying a piece of Fiora's ricotta cheesecake before we make the short walk back to our room.

Tomorrow we leave for Ragusa.

Jim and Diana
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Day 11: Ortygia (Siracusa)-Ragusa
Italy 2016: Thursday May 12

Time to leave Ortygia....Fiora stops by at breakfast to say goodbye and we enjoy our last view over the harbor from the breakfast room.

photo by J Zurer

We leave our bags at the hotel and walk across town to visit the art museum in the Palazzo Bellomo. This is a beautiful old palazzo

photo from wikipedia

that houses the regional art gallery which is an example of the smaller local museums that we like so much. It has one certified "masterpiece"--an Annunciation by the Sicilian painter, Antonello di Messina

photo by J Zurer

and lots of other paintings and artifacts ...all beautifully displayed and well identified.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

I was particularly struck by a more recent painting that shows St. Paul preaching to the ropemakers in the Cave of the Cordari in the Archaeological Park that we had visited yesterday.

photo by J Zurer

There is a beautiful display of crests on the wall of the open courtyard

photo by J Zurer

and--for my collection of Italian Judaica--four stones with Hebrew inscriptions from the Jewish cemetery in Ortygia.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

A very enjoyable visit.....

Before heading back across to the market to have our last lunch at La Salumeria, we sit in a cafe in the Piazza Duomo and have an orange juice while being entertained by teachers trying to herd of a large group of young Italian school children to their next stop.

We are greeted warmly again by the same charming waitress and order one of the attractive sampler plates that they put together--meats, cheeses, vegetables, etc. served in a series of small dishes and bowls.

photo from tripadvisor

It is more successful for Diana than for me (too much eggplant, zucchini and pepper)- I would have preferred another sandwich--but we are glad that we tried it. We also have a nice conversation with an English couple sitting next to us who are in Siracusa for week...they are "molto simpatico."

We say arrivederci to the waitress telling her that we will see her "next time", go back to the hotel, say goodbye to Daniele at the desk and head off to Ragusa. We have had a very good time here and really find the town a great experience.

The drive to Ragusa takes about 1.5 hours...partly on the autostrada...but at Rosolini, we begin to climb into the mountains. The scenery is quite striking...long vistas over valleys and hills. The mortarless, stone walls that we remember from our previous visits, are everywhere, dividing most every hillside into smaller sections, but there are few if any wild flowers this year...perhaps not enough rain.

photo from cookingintongues.files.wordpress.com

We enter Ragusa and suddenly the entrance to our hotel appears on the left. The San Giorgio Palace is built into the side of the steep hill where the centro storico of Ragusa is. You have to park on the street, wrangle your luggage up a pedestrian path to the entrance of the hotel grounds, then negotiate a long (200 yards) tunnel to the elevator that takes you to reception on the second floor. Rooms are located on six floors up the side of the hill and the entrance to the town is from the 5th floor. Sounds complicated....and it is.

We do get checked in. The manager--Ivan, who I have dealt with in the past--is very solicitous wanting to make sure that we are comfortable. Our room--very modern with a luxurious bathrooms--is on the entrance level; this part of the hotel has only been open for a few months so there are still some rough spots. The big issue for me is the very weak and unsteady wi-fi. I am ready to change rooms but Ivan wants us to stay in one of these superior rooms. I reluctantly agree to try it for the night and he says he will have someone take a look at the problem.

We set out for the Piazza Duomo, just above the hotel. The receptionist gives us directions which we apparently misunderstand. We take a set of steep stairs which drops us on the street above and we are immediately faced with another even longer set of stairs which leads to the back of the Duomo. We make it but it doesn't seem likely that we are going to make this climb several times a day.

We walk around inside the Duomo--San Giorgio is the patron saint of Ragusa--which is quite ornate featuring a number of statues and paintings of San Giorgio (St. George) and the dragon.

photo from www.sangiorgioragusa.com

The outside of the Duomo is the real attraction. Set at the top of sloping, irregular piazza, it is a stunning example of Sicilan Baroque architecture; we like it much more than the baroque churches in Noto.

photo by J Zurer

photo by J Zurer

We walk around a bit, have a gelato on the piazza and discover a much easier way to get back to the hotel avoiding stairs completely...which makes me relieved. On the way back, we see the stairs that the desk clerk meant for us to climb...many fewer stairs and easier to climb.

Miraculously the wifi has been fixed and it is working well when we return so I take the chance to do a little work before dinner.

We walk back up to the center (the easy way) and have dinner at La Rusticana. Ragusa province is where the very popular Montalbano television show is filmed (based on the Andrea Camilleri novels about a Sicilian police detective; the location of the books is in the Agrigento area.) A lot of tourism has developed around this television series and La Rusticana is the place where they film many of the restaurant scenes in the show. Unfortunately, following the footsteps of Montalbano did not provide us with a good meal...the food here was undistinguished at best though the atmosphere and the service was pleasant.

But the walk back to the hotel through the lighted streets of the town was charming...the town has a very good vibe and the setting is spectacular. More about that tomorrow when we explore the centro in more detail.

Jim and Diana
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Day 12: Ragusa
Italy 2016: Friday May 13

A beautiful morning....not a cloud in the sky.

photo by J Zurer

After breakfast, walk up to town (the easy way.) We sit in the square in front of the Church of San Giuseppe to get our bearings and I get this picture which shows the lovely baroque church and the intense blue sky.

photo by J Zurer

While strolling around the Piazza Duomo, Diana goes into a ceramics shop that features work from Caltagirone and buys some presents. Then we discuss whether to take the little tourist train that makes a circuit of both the new town and the old town...

photo from tripadvisor

....but by the time we decide, the train is filled with a large student group.

It is close to lunch time so we decide to sit down at an outside table at La Piazzetta....a restaurant just off the Piazza Duomo with a large umbrella shaded terrace.

photo by J Zurer

The host greets us warmly--in English and Italian--and we have a very pleasant, very delicious, very leisurely lunch. Diana even succumbs to the appeal of a glass of wine. We split a caprese salad--okay tomatoes but delicious mozzarella; Diana has a version of one of her favorite pasta dishes--spaghetti siciliana...aglio, olio and capperi (garlic, oil and capers) which she enjoys and I have a plate of penne with a pesto trapanese based on tomato - not basil- and very good. By the time we finish, we decide that the train can wait and we head back to the hotel.

This is turning out to be one of our "vacation from the vacation" days...we hang out at the hotel in the afternoon and enjoy the beautiful weather. Later I head out for a restaurant reconnaissance to choose a place for dinner. I also set out on a secret mission to arrange a surprise for Diana's birthday dinner tomorrow.

Dinner is at Il Banchi, the junior restaurant of Ciccio Sultano who runs Il Duomo in Ragusa, one of the best (and most expensive) restaurants in Sicily. Il Banchi is an all purpose establishment--a bar, an enoteca, a sandwich place, a bakery, a pizzeria and a restaurant. Open from early in the morning for breakfast to late at night, it is quite hip looking and trendy. But the food is supposed to be excellent and affordable.


Unfortunately, dinner doesn't work out too well for us. When checking the menu earlier in the day, I had missed the trendiness of the menu which became more evident as we read it over. My first course was fine....a ravioli filled with pork ragu and sitting on a bed of ricotta based sauce. Diana's "cocotte of melanzane" was not at all sformata-like which we expected. Things got worse for our secondi....first there was a too long gap between courses and when they came, I had made an ordering mistake because I was confused by the menu terminology. I thought I was getting some type of pork meatball (polpetta) but what I got was three kinds of pork and a potato "polpetta". Diana got a steak but it was incredibly fatty...we probably should have said something but we didn't. To make matters worse, once we were finished we were ignored interminably by all the waitstaff. We finally just got up and paid at the register and grumbled about the experience all the way back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we celebrate Diana's birthday and go in search of Montalbano. We also plan on doing another laundry.

Jim and Diana
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Day 13: Ragusa
Italy 2016: Saturday May 14

A beautiful day for Diana's birthday, which has taken place in Italy for quite a few years now. At breakfast, the hotel manager presents her with birthday flowers from the family; he is very pleased to be part of the celebration. Here is Diana with her flowers on the terrace of the hotel.

<image missing>

After breakfast, we are planning to take the car out and visit some Montalbano locations in the area. But first we need to locate a laundromat. One of the ones in Ragusa is closed on weekends and the other that is listed is nowhere to be found. So Plan B is to find the laundromat in Modica hoping that they will do it for us while we go off and sightsee. The GPS overshoots the address but we make a correction (using Google Maps), find the place, drop off the dirty clothes and head off...to find ourselves in the middle of a colossal Saturday morning traffic jam. Deja vu...all over again.

From my 2004 report......the traffic at 7:30 is bumper to bumper. Modica is set in a narrow valley...there aren't that many streets...so everyone has to pass through a one block long stretch of the broad Corso Umberto before dispersing to alternate streets that leave the town. [NOTE: The reason that Modica's main street is so wide is because the town filled in the river that ran through the valley after a disastrous flood in 1908.]

We take the first opportunity to turn around and escape....next destination is the port of Marina di Ragusa, another location shown in the opening credits of the Montalbano television series. The scenery is quite lovely....hills with long, low stone walls but still no wildflowers like we remember. We get out for a stroll in Marina di Ragusa. There is a brand new modern harbor that is different than seen in the show

photo from geotagstatic.edgesuite.net

We keep driving along the coast to Punta Secca...which has become the center of Montalbaniana. The house that they use for his home on the beach is there and, while 12 years ago it was mostly unknown, today it is a magnet for fans who arrive by car and tour bus to see it and walk on the beach.

<image missing>

<image missing>

The restaurants closest to Casa Montalbano are all booked up for lunch but around the corner on the new waterfront promenade, we eat at a very modern and stylish trattoria called Sand Design. The dining room is upstairs with a good view of the water

and the food is quite good. Diana has a shrimp salad, I start with mussels in white wine and we split a pasta with pesto trapanese (but it seems to be made with the traditional basil like in Liguria.) A very pleasant lunch.....

On the way back, we drive through another Montalbano location--Scicli--but a number of roads in the center are closed so we quickly t urn around, go to Modica, pick up the clean clothes (unfortunately not folded - we were spoiled in Ortygia) and return to Ragusa.

The birthday dinner at La Piazzetta is very nice....although it did take a long time--something we are finding frequently in Sicily. When we arrive, the restaurant is quite full and the owner is preoccupied with other diners. He does finally greet us warmly and wishes "Madam Diana" a happy birthday. After a while, we get some celebratory prosecco and have a leisurely dinner giving us plenty of time to observe the other diners in the restaurant. Diana has a good plate of ravioli followed by grilled spigola; I have an excellent dish of pasta with seafood followed by a tasty sausage. There is a long pause before the surprise birthday cake with candle arrives, with "Aug uri Diana" on the icing.

The boss and I (along with the Germans at the next table) sing "Tanti aguri" and we enjoy the cake. We offer some to the Germans but they decline, having already had their dessert. The owner, Guiseppe, assures us that he and the staff will enjoy the rest of it. It is nice that he gets into the spirit, making it a very memorable birthday.

It is a pleasant walk down to the hotel...

Tomorrow off to Selinunte for more Greek temples.

Jim and Diana
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Day 14: Ragusa-Agrigento
Italy 2016: Sunday May 15

Another beautiful day...we pack up and get in the car. Overnight, the terrace area outside our room has sprouted a few benches....does a lot for the utility of the area.

photo by J Zurer

We are going to stop in Piazza Armerina on the way to Agrigento to revisit the Villa Casale Romana....a luxurious Roman country house from the 4th century BC...to see the amazing floor mosaics that were uncovered in the early 20th century. The scenery enroute is very appealing...long vistas with rolling hills and cultivated farmland.

At the villa, we park in the lot, pass the usual gauntlet of souvenir stands and bars, climb the hill to the ticket office and climb some more to the villa. The mosaics are seen mostly from a system of elevated walkways (although you can walk directly on some of them) and they are now all under cover.

photo from panoramio.com

There are room after room showing very descriptive scenes of life from Roman times including a football-field-sized long mosaic showing how animals were hunted in Africa and shipped back to Rome

photo from twoyeartrip.com

<missing image>

scenes of games and athletic events including the famous one with girls in "bikinis"

photo from twoyeartrip.com

as well as beautiful mosaic designs.

photo by J Zurer

I am including a link to a blog by Andrew and Julie (found on the internet) about their visit to the Villa Casale Romana which includes good explanations and terrific photos.

If anyone is traveling in Sicily, you shouldn't miss the mosaics.....worth a detour.

We eat lunch at a nearby trattoria--La Ruota--which is is filled with a combination of tourists and Italian families out for their Sunday dinner. The meal is very low key and pleasant--we split an antipasto followed by a very tasty rabbit dish for me and a plate of tagliatelle with ragu for Diana.

The drive on to Agrigento is also very scenic and, after one false start, we find the hotel--a very modern place near the train station. The desk clerk is very friendly, creates a makeshift vase for Diana's birthday flowers and delivers a plate of beautiful fruit to mark the occasion.

The room is small with a balcony with a view to the sea. The desk clerk says that you can see the temples illuminated at night "if you look through the trees". The most notable thing about the room is the profusion of mirrors...supposed to make the room feel bigger but, in fact, quite disconcerting.

We join the Sunday afternoon passeggiata on a very nice street that overlooks the Valley of the Temples

photo by J Zurer

and stop for a late afternoon gelato.

We are meeting Michele Gallo for dinner; he runs a guide service in Agrigento that I use. We had met him on our previous trip to Agrigento in 2004. He takes us to a restaurant high up in the hills over Agrigento--the Montemare. He tells us that he had only recently discovered it--by reading on Trip Advisor that it was the number 1 rated restaurant in Agrigento, so he had to check it out. It seems surprising since it is so far out and hard to reach.... It is one of those big Sicilian fixed menus...endless appetizers with the possibility of repeats of favorites, a skippable duo of pastas which were followed by plentiful and delicious plates of sausage, pork, lamb chops and a Palermitan specialty (that we had to look up on the internet)--stigghiola.

According to the Best of Sicily website, stigghiole are: the roasted intestines of sheep or goat. It's that simple. Stigghiola is cooked on a skewer, perhaps braided with a strand of green onion leaf (scallion), lightly seasoned with salt, and eaten in bite-size chunks. Like spleen sandwiches (historically called "vastedda", it's far tastier than it sounds, though perhaps not the kind of thing you would want to eat every day.

I ate them all.....

A very enjoyable evening filled with discussions of tourism, books and films....

The ride back is downhill and curvy and I am glad that I am not driving, but we make it back, say good night, take a look at the temples through the trees and go to bed.

Tomorrow, we explore the archaeological site in the Valley of the Temples.

Jim and Diana
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