We've been back on board Aisling for nearly two weeks now, and things are (mostly) sorted out. We've put our living quarters back into a semblance of order, stocked the larder and washed the remnants of Mt. Etna dust and Sahara sand off the decks. We've dedicated many hours to fretting about whether the water lock that was installed in our exhaust system during the winter is big enough to do the job. (No definite conclusion has been reached, although Vetus tells us not to worry.) We've spent an entire day with various Italian bureaucrats, in pursuit of the coveted "permesso di soggiorno" that would allow us to legally stay in Italy for more than 90 days in a six month period. With many little tasks to keep us busy, the days seem to be flying by.
There are many English-speaking cruisers in the marina, so our social schedule has also been busy. We've attended two pot-luck lunches on the jetty, spent three pleasant evenings onboard the boats of other cruisers and hosted a lively (if rather crowded) gathering of our own in Aisling's cockpit.
With all this activity, I suppose it is not surprising that our to-do list is growing instead of shrinking. The number of maintenance items to be dealt with seems to be more daunting than usual, partly because of the difficulties in accessing services. The most pressing items are the hot water tank, which has developed a slow leak, and the refrigerator, which has been acting up in a most peculiar way. Sometimes it faithfully chugs away for long enough to actually get the freezer temperature below zero, at other times it will run for only about a minute before shutting itself off. We considered ourselves fortunate to track down the local refrigeration expert, Paulo, on a day when he was actually in the marina. Naturally, the darn thing worked perfectly when he flipped the switch. "I am very sorry but, if it is not broken, I cannot fix it" he said. He very kindly refused to accept any money for the call, but it seems clear that he will have another opportunity.
We rented a car for the first ten days, and although we mainly just used it to run errands, we did a little touring on Friday. After a leisurely drive down the coast to Pozzallo (where we dropped into a boatyard and made an appointment to get the boat hauled and anti-fouled) we continued on to Syracuse. With so much to see on this coast, it may seem silly to have returned to a place we know so well, but we wanted to go to the market and visit the cheese shop. The shop was as busy as ever, and the cheese was even better than we'd remembered.
While we were there, another customer struck up a conversation with Rick and introduced himself. We could hardly believe our ears when we said he was from Halifax! Do any of you know John Poulos? He and his wife have bought and renovated an old palazzo on Ortegia, the island that is the historic centre of Syracusa. Doesn't that sound wonderful?
Our next stop was the duomo square in Ortegia.
It seemed to be our lucky day since the church of Santa Lucia, which we had tried without success to visit on several occasions, was actually open. Hanging over the altar of the recently-restored church is a beautiful (if slightly depressing) Caravaggio painting of the burial of St. Lucy. No photos allowed, but when we dropped some coins into the offering basket one of the attendants called us over and gave us a small card with a reproduction of the painting. (You can also see a pretty good reproduction of it at this link Click Here )
As we stepped back into the sunshine of the square, Rick's cellphone rang and it was Christopher, calling us from Halifax, which made our morning even brighter!
After a failed attempt to have lunch at the restaurant Ristorante Jonico-a Rutta e Ciauli (which looked wonderful, so we plan to try again) we headed for Noto, one of the three baroque cities that are clustered in this region. All three cities (Ragusa,Modica and Noto) were built to replace earlier cities that were destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1693. Most of the buildings in Noto have been recently restored, and the entire city seems to glow. We grabbed a "caprese" sandwich (mozzarella and tomato) in a quiet square outside the tourist area, then drove down the hill and parked outside the impressive city gate. From there we took a leisurely walk along the Corso Vittorio Emanuel, then climbed the steep steps to the bell tower of the Santa Chiara church, said to be the best vantage point for a view of the cathedral.
Photos displayed in the passages along the second floor gallery gave insight into the lives of the nuns of another era.
Unlike most Italian churches, the interior of the Noto cathedral is full of light. This little corner was my favourite...
We wrapped up our visit with giant cups of gelato in the café opposite the cathedral. All in all, a great day!
There is much more to tell, but we will have to save the stories for another day. The to-do list awaits. Ciao!
Marina di Ragusa is a great little village, with a population of about 3000 in the late fall, winter and early spring (now). The population swells to 80,000 in the summer. The marina is new, modern and relatively inexpensive for this part of the world, but the resources for maintenance and repairs are somewhat limited even though the yard has a very large travel lift. Pozzallo has what looks to be a busy and competent yard about 17 miles east of here. We will take Aisling there later this month to have the bottom painted and some other work done.
The town has some excellent options for provisioning, including a large Demeglios grocery store and a few small bakeries and salumerias. Camping gas is available at the Tabacci across from the gas station and US propane bottles can be filled on the way into Ragusa. There is a DIY building store and a good choice of restaurants and pizzerias. The beautiful, large and bustling city of Ragusa is only 20 km (a 2.70 euro bus ride) away.
The biggest draw, in our opinion, is the number of other cruisers who overwinter in the marina. We like it here!
04/21/2012, Marina di Ragusa
We've decided that it's time our blog said something other than "Happy Holidays"! In spite of all our good intentions, we just haven't had time to update it lately. The six months we spent at home in Canada seemed to go by in a flash. On the good days we enjoyed happy family get-togethers and pleasant evenings with friends; other days were consumed by work obligations and the usual worries of every-day life. Suddenly, it was time to pack and head back to Sicily. I must admit, our feelings about leaving home were even more mixed than usual as we said our goodbyes.
After a 24-hour journey, we landed at the Palermo airport and were relieved to discover that all of our baggage, including a folding bicycle and an outboard motor crane, had arrived intact. Our cab driver surveyed the massive pile with dismay and asked "How many days you stay in Sicily?" Fortunately, we were able to store the bicycle and one large bag in the storeroom of the Hotel Garabaldi during the three days we spent touring Palermo. (We hope to tell you more about that later.) The next question was whether everything would fit into the Fiat Panda we had rented for the drive to Marina di Ragusa. Amazingly, it did.
We made the trip from Palermo to Marina di Ragusa in just under four hours, not including a one-hour stop in the chilly hillside town of Enna.
The view was great, but it was entirely too cold to linger, so we grabbed two takeaway cappuccinos at a gas station (served in plastic cups with straws, but absolutely delicious) and continued on our way. Closer to sea level, spring had arrived. The fields that had been dry and brown in autumn were now a lush green and the roadsides were adrift with wildflowers. As we approached Catania, we had a fantastic view of Mt. Etna, still covered in snow, but showing no signs of the eruptions that have been occurring with increasing frequency in recent months. Last Friday, it erupted for the 6th time this year. I guess we won't be hiking up the slopes as we had planned!
Arriving in the marina was almost like a homecoming. Many of our cruising friends have spent the winter here, while others like us who returned to their permanent homes for the winter are beginning to filter in. Today there was a "farewell" lunch for those who will be throwing off their docklines before the end of the month. We, on the other hand, are just settling in. Although Aisling seems to have wintered well, it will take us some time to deal with the remnants of sahara sand, volcanic ash, dust, rust and general wear and tear that accumulated during the winter. The next few weeks will be a "working vacation", but we're happy just to slow down the pace of our lives. And after all, as Rat famously said to Mole, "there is nothing -absolutely nothing-half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats"!