All is quiet in the harbour and the setting sun leaves red tendrils in the sky. We slip off the dock lines, pass the entrance and are on our way. The overnight sail from Bari to Vieste is as easy as it gets, with Martha keeping Rick company on his watch and Wally joining me on my mine. The hours fly by and before we know it, we are dropping our anchor in the small cove behind the lighthouse on Isola Santa Eufemia. We hope to stay in a spot where we can swim from the boat, but it is not to be. After catching a few hours of sleep, we decide the anchorage is too rolly for comfort and make a quick phone call to Caterina, a Canadian (Torontonian!) who operates the Centro Ormeggi in Vieste. The price of 35 euros a night sounds pretty reasonable for this part of the world, so we head for the marina.
We are instantly charmed by Vieste, which sits high on a promontory of white chalk cliffs. As in many of these coastal towns, the new town is a jumble of concrete structures, while the haphazard streets of the old village on the hill are filled with quaint tiny shops and homes. Many of the marble streets are so narrow that only carts and people can make passage.
Wally and Martha are delighted when Caterina immediately takes on the task of investigating options for their transport to Florence, where they are hoping to visit the Uffize gallery before flying back to Halifax on Tuesday. With everything left in good hands, they head out to explore the town, taking my Italian cellphone with them so that we can track them down later. Just as we are walking up the hill from the marina, they call us from a little café. We join them for a drink, then visit a nearby specialty shop where we splurge on a few delicacies. Back onboard, we open a bottle of prosecco, taste some of our purchases and cook a simple meal of chicken, couscous and salad.
Katerina recommends that Wally and Martha should take the overnight train from Foggia to Florence on Sunday evening. We will rent a car, explore the Gargano and drop Wally and Martha off at the station. This means that they can spend another day with us, but we hope they are not too disappointed about missing the Uffizi, which is closed on Mondays.
Part of the charm of Vieste is that there are few historic sites to make us feel obliged to get out and tour. We all relax and pursue our own amusements: Rick and I visit the market, Wally goes off to a beach and Martha does a little shopping. When we all convene back onboard Aisling, Wally and Martha invite us to dinner in the town. The Lonely Planet's description of the Enoteca Vesta ("If your wine is as important as your food, this is the place for you") certainly makes it sound like the perfect restaurant for Wally!
Our happy anticipation is somewhat dimmed when Wally begins to pack up his belongings and discovers that a box with three bottles of very special wine that he had purchased in Tuscany is nowhere to be found. We search everywhere and it is clearly not onboard. The box must have been left behind on the train from Rome to Brindisi, or in the taxi to the train station. It's a huge disappointment, but he cheers up a bit when we suggest that he may be able to find replacements in Florence.
We all dress up and head out, pausing for Wally and Martha to say goodbye to Caterina.
On the way up the hill, we pause to look at the merchandise being displayed by a young man, Roberto. We ask the prices of his sea shells and he hands me a few small ones. "Un regalo" (a gift) he says, "Capisce?" (Understand?) At first I think he is suggesting that I buy them as gifts, but then I realize he is giving them to me as a gift. Ah, a smart young entrepreneur! He has us eating out of his hand now. Wally and I hand over a few euros and come away with a larger shell and a red painted starfish.
Enoteca Vesta is set in a small grotto (previously the site of a furniture-making shop) with a wine cellar that is truly a cave. Wally climbs into the cave and views the wine selection with all the passion of a fashionista gazing at the latest haute couture collection. He strikes up an immediate rapport with the restaurant's owner, Bruno, and together they chose a lovely falanghina to accompany a spectacular parade of antipasti that seems to go on and on.
It is far too much food, but Bruno insists that we try at least half-portions of their two traditional pastas- troccoli with chick peas and orecchiette with anchovies and rape (to be accompanied by a wonderful Gioia del Colle). And surely we cannot refuse the desserts....a ricotta cake and an orange tart, with just a taste of a Trani muscato...At the end of the evening, the behind-the-scenes maestro (Bruno's wife Dorotea, the chef) comes out to take a bow. She says that she needs a rest, and based on the size of our bill she can probably afford to take one! But it has truly been a meal and an evening to remember.
The next morning, we are all up early. Martha attends Mass while Rick picks up our Fiat Panda rental car and by mid-morning we are on the way to the Gargano National Park. Our drive to Monte St. Angelo takes us through the Foresta Umbra, said to be a remnant of Italy's ancient forest. We drive under a canopy of oak, beech and pine
Near the visitor's centre, a few small Gargano deer are mooching for food. It looks like a wonderful place for hiking, or to have a picnic, but we have much to see and little time.
We continue our uphill climb to Monte Sant' Angelo, the town where in the 5th century AD, according to legend, the Archangel Michael visited the Bishop of Siponto in a grotto, leaving behind a red cloak and a footprint. Monte St. Angelo has been an important pilgrimage site for more than a millennium. St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul and St. Francis of Assisi all made pilgrimages here.
We won't get to see the footprint today, because it was covered by a statue of the archangel in the 16th century. In any case, when we arrive at the grotto, mass is underway and the room is crowded with pilgrims. No doubt there are many who, like us, have simply driven here for the day. For others, this journey may have great significance. The town itself is crowded with bars, restaurants and kiosks selling pasta and religious souvenirs. It's an interesting contrast to the sacred atmosphere in the grotto.
Now we need a shady spot to have lunch. We settle in at Le Clarisse, where the owner/chef, Guiseppe, comes out of the kitchen to explain the menu. Wally and Martha chose pasta al forno, which Wally says is just like baked macaroni. Rick and I decide to try troccoli with rape, a local seasonal speciality, and it is delicious.
Before we leave, Rick convinces Guiseppe to explain how to prepare the pasta. Obviously, troccoli and rape will be difficult to get in Canada, but we've already discovered that we can make a pretty good facsimile using arugula and spaghetti. (Write to us if you'd like the recipe.)
We seem to be on a pilgrimage today ourselves. Our next stop will be San Giovanni Rotondo, site of the tomb of St. Pio (Padre Pio). Padre Pio arrived in this tiny hamlet in 1916, as a capuchin friar. One of Padre Pio's great accomplishments was building a "Home for the Relief of Suffering", but even prior to this, pilgrims travelled to San Giovanni Rotondo to seek his spiritual guidance. His motto of "Pray, hope and don't worry" sounds just like something my grandmother would have said! We arrive in San Giovanni Rotondo exactly 10 years and one day after Padre Pio was canonized by Pope John Paul II (who also made a pilgrimage here).
I'm gasping for breath by the time we make our way up the steep flight of stairs to the courtyard of the church. When I wonder aloud what the altitude is, Rick whips out his smartphone and sits down on a wall, trying futilely to get his GPS to work. "Go ahead without me" he says. Truth be told, he has little interest in seeing the tomb of a 20th century saint. Martha, Wally and I continue inside.
We join the line-up of pilgrims filing past the tomb and gaze around at the glittering splendor of the sanctuary. "This is tacky!" mutters Wally, "Where's the shag rug?" Martha glares at him. Why hadn't we left him outside with Rick? "No really, think of how many mouths the money that went into building this church could have fed!" Someone calls out "Silenzio!" (we are not the only ones talking) and no more is said. It must be a bit of a trial for Martha to be visiting these holy sites in the company of two Protestants and an agnostic! But the mosaics are very beautiful, and Padre Pio's cell is touchingly simple. Martha helps me pick out a Padre Pio rosary for my mother's friend Dolly before we leave.
Our time together is drawing to a close. It's a quick ride to Foggia, where we have coffee and gelato at a café near the train station before waving goodbye to Wally and Martha. They will have a long wait for their train, but we want to get back to Vieste before dark. Driving back along the coast road, the car feels very empty. It is always more fun to explore these places with friends.
The first part of the return trip goes quickly, with a four lane highway and many tunnels straightening out the drive between Foggia and Manfredonia . From there on, travelling 12 nautical miles takes us about 40 minutes.The coast is steep-to and the road twists and turns around every cove, with hairpin after hairpin. Coming the other way are all the weekend visitors leaving Vieste and its beaches. We can tell this is Italy because almost every driver thinks he is in a race and driving a Ferrari, even though in reality he is probably in a Panda. Rick reminisces about his boyhood friend Smitty, who used to speed along in a hot car with a cigarette in his mouth, arm out the window, talking to the beautiful girl in the seat next to him rather than looking at the road.
Finally, the pinnacle rock of Vieste comes into view.
Vieste is starting to feel like home, but it is time to get moving again. Time to do the laundry, fill the water tanks and head for Croatia! Ciao!
|Italy (Mainland) 2012||
We hadn't planned to spend more than one night in Bari, which our Lonely Planet describes as "an exasperating city", and "completely un-touristy". I kind of like the sound of "un-touristy", but Rick doesn't like the look of the teenage punks that are hanging around the dock in the Porto Vecchio, where we are tied side-to. A couple of them even try to board the boat, but fortunately Wally spots them and chases them away. Thinking we should at least get a glimpse of the historic centre, Martha and I take a walk into nearby Bari Vecchia. I am grateful for Martha's unerring sense of direction as we wander through the maze of narrow streets and dead-end alleys. After a quick cappuccino in a little café crammed with university students, we make our way back to the boat for barbecued pork chops, roasted vegetables and a rubber of bridge. After dark, we are surprised when a display of fireworks lights up the sky above the art-deco tower on the opposite shore.
We are all up early the next morning, hoping to set sail for Vieste. The Italian weather site has not been updated since midnight, but diminishing winds that will begin more or less on the nose and gradually back to a broad reach with speeds in the 15-20 knot range are predicted. Rick walks up the hill to get a better look at the conditions outside the harbour, and decides we should give it a try. At 9 a.m., we pull away from the dock, raise the sails and head toward the Gargano. Within minutes, Aisling is heeled sharply and bucking like a broncho in the steep seas. Below decks, the coffee pot goes flying. It is not an auspicious start. I make my opinion known, and we return to the dock. At least now we will have a chance to see the church of St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas of Myra was a 4th-century bishop whose kindness to children and penchant for gift-giving formed the basis of the modern-day Santa Claus legend. In the 11th century, his body was stolen from its former resting place in Myra by fishermen from Bari. (This theft was later justified by claiming that St. Nicholas "chose" Bari as his resting spot.) A basilica was built to house the remains, and today, it is an important site of pilgrimage.
As we enter the basilica, we hear wonderful music drifting up from the crypt below. A choir of Russian Orthodox pilgrims, complete with a director, is singing beside the tomb. The sound of their magnificent voices soaring in the small space is almost other-worldly. When their song ends, each of them kneels and reaches through the grate to touch the altar over the tomb that holds the remains of St. Nicholas, which are said to have miraculous powers.
Outside in the courtyard, a small figure presents the more secular side of St. Nick! Wally snaps this photo with his Iphone.
We continue through the streets of Bari Vecchia, checking out a few ceramic shops and peeking into alleyways along the way.
Then onward to a café with a view of the Norman Castello Svevo, where Wally introduces us to his new favourite, the Aperol spritz.
By then, the guys are ready for a small siesta and some time with their books, while Martha and I do a little shopping in Bari's upscale shopping district. The day ends perfectly with an onboard meal cooked and served by Wally and Martha: a platter of delicious bruschetta, asparagus and pine nut pasta and an arugula salad, accompanied by a wonderful bottle of Brunello that Wally has brought with him from Tuscany. It's a sad moment when Wally realizes that the last of the Brunello is gone!
But later, there are more fireworks to cheer him up. Does this happen every night?
The next day, the wind is still against us. Let's take the train to Trani for the day! Martha and I gather our belongings and walk to the train station, passing through the beautiful Piazza Umberto and Piazza Aldo Moro (named for the Italian Prime Minister who died at the hands of the Red Brigade in 1978). Rick is uneasy about leaving the boat unattended, so he and Wally opt to stay in Bari for the day.
Our train is leaving from platform 3 at 12.39. When we arrive at the platform at 12.30, there is a train on the tracks, but we are not sure whether it is ours. Intending to ask one of the passengers where the train is headed, I climb to the first step of the train, think better of it and step back down. A few seconds later, the door closes and the train pulls away. Yikes, that was close! I wonder where I would have ended up?
Leaving the train station at Trani, we walk down a beautiful oleander-lined street, following signs to the "centro storico'. We have a cappuccino near the waterfront before beginning our sightseeing in earnest. We initially think that this beautiful church is the cathedral, but it isn't.
When we eventually find the cathedral, it is closed for the lunch break and there is hardly a soul in sight.
Two newlyweds are having their photos taken by the sea though. In Italy, weddings seem to take place any day of the week and at any time of the day.
We wander over to the 13th century castle built by Frederick II , but the young woman at the information desk suggests that it may not be a good time to visit, since they are preparing for a cultural event. Time for lunch, then. We head for a nearby restaurant, the Pietra Bianca, and share a delicious selection of antipasti (the mussel soup is especially memorable) and a shrimp pasta (served very "al dente"). By then the cathedral has opened.
This Norman style cathedral, built between the 11th and 14th centuries, is dedicated to another St. Nicholas, "St. Nicholas the Pilgrim". Oddly, we enter through a crypt on the lower level, and a small flight of stairs takes us into the beautiful but simple cathedral.
The original 12th century cast bronze doors are on display inside and an interesting fragment of mosaic, similar to the ones in Otranto is set into the floor near the altar (sorry, my photos were a bust). We take a few quiet moments to enjoy the peace of our surroundings, then climb up up up, high into the campanile, where I am able to overcome my vertigo long enough to take this photo of the town and the marina below by poking my camera through a hole in the grate.
Now it's down, down, down...Martha takes this photo- I can't bear to look!
We're not sure when the train leaves, so we hustle back through the town. Thanks to Martha's expert navigation, we arrive at the station with just 10 minutes to spare. In the main station, I briefly lose sight of Martha, and an Italian man points toward an archway. He is gazing at Martha admiringly, then smiles at me and says "belle signore!" (beautiful ladies!). A few minutes later, we stop to buy water and I realize that he is still staring at Martha. He smiles sheepishly, shrugs and says "ancora bella!" (still beautiful!). But it begins to get a bit creepy when he is still staring at her from the other side of the platform as we wait for the train. When the train finally arrives, we are happy to depart.
We've just bought two large cones of gelato near the Piazza Umberto when my cellphone rings. "Can you pick up a couple of pizzas for supper?" Rick asks. But it is still too early; no one has their ovens on yet, so we return to the boat empty handed. Later that evening, we walk over to Bari Vecchio and eat in a small pizzeria near the piazza. In every bar and restaurant, the televisions are tuned in to the Euro 2012 football game between Italy and Croatia. The game ends in a 1-1 tie.
There'll be no wine to accompany our pizza tonight. With the weather forecast finally in our favour and lots of able crew to share in the watches, we have decided to do an overnight passage to Vieste.
As we walk back through the piazza, a local symphony is striking up the opening bars of a Strauss waltz. We'd love to stay and listen, but it is time to leave. Arrivederci Bari, I hope to see you again!
Cruiser's Notes by Rick:
We tied along side in Porto Vecchio on molo Sant Antonio and there was no fee. It is well protected from all directions. We stayed 3 days and were concerned the first day when some young kids (hooligans) were throwing rocks at some poor old fisherman on the wharf and at our boat. They also tried another time to climb aboard the boat when they thought no one was aboard. After that we had no problems. There is a marina (Sail club) opposite the molo Sant Antonio where friends of ours stayed. They hit one of the mooring anchors on the way in when circling around back. Otherwise they said it was a good stop. Small grocery stores nearby and a larger one near the train station. A fish market on the wharf. Fuel available further in the old port. It looked shallow but we did see a large fishing dragger go in there. There is a busy airport which is convenient for crew changes.
|Italy (Mainland) 2012||
Just as we are setting the anchor in Siracusa harbor, Rick's cellphone rings. It is Kathy MacGillivary, already waiting for us on the dock. "Jeez, I can see why you guys like hanging out here so much" she says. "This place is freakin' amazing!" I dash to make up a berth in the forward cabin while Rick launches the dinghy and heads to shore to pick her up.
Kathy bounces onboard, bubbling with excitement and looking fantastic in the new clothes she has bought in London. "I found a wine store" she says, passing me a bag with two bottles of Sicilian wine; one red and one white. She had also gone to the Binnacle before leaving Halifax and picked up a new fitting for our spinnaker pole. "I'll be your easiest guest ever" she promises, and when we discuss the itinerary for her visit she quickly endears herself to the skipper by nixing my suggestion of visiting the archeological park (which, although boasting an impressive Greek theatre, is a long hot walk from the harbour). Our time together will be short, since Kathy must fly to Barcelona for a business meeting in less than three days. "It would be nice to go for a sail if we could, though."
We decide to eat onboard, beginning with wine and antipasto in the cockpit as we admire the view of Ortygia, Siracusa's historic district, onshore. After dinner, we sit up talking in the cockpit late into the night, long after Rick has gone to bed, finishing off the red wine and opening another long-forgotten bottle purchased during our visit to the Spanish Alpuharas with our friends Doug and Liz in 2007.
The next morning, we are all up early for a run along the Ortygia waterfront in the sunshine. I'm feeling timid about running over the cobblestones, having barely recovered from a nasty fall in Marina di Ragusa, but I quickly relax and enjoy the experience. Kathy is exuberant. Twenty minutes into the run she spots a flat piazza, drops to the ground and does a few dozen push-ups. Has this woman even heard of jet-lag?
We have come prepared with our knapsacks, and make a stop at the morning market. We drop in to the cheese shop and buy baked ricotta, smoked mozzarella and salami. "Where have you been?" the young man at the counter asks Rick. "I haven't seen you in nearly a week." Continuing through the market, we buy mounds of fruit, a kilogram of melt-in-your-mouth ciliegino (cherry) tomatoes, three orata (sea bream) and much much more. Next, a walk through the streets of Ortygia.
I pause in front of a hairdressing salon, remembering that it has now been nearly seven weeks since my last haircut. The girl at the door makes it clear that if I want my hair cut they must do it "subito" (soon) , since they are about to close for the weekend. "Do it" says Kathy, "We'll go back to the boat and get lunch ready, then Rick can pick you up at the marina".
Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to look up the phrase "Not too short, please!" in my phrasebook. Shortly after we landed in Spain in 2007, I had the misfortune to nod with too much enthusiasm when a matronly-looking hairdresser held up her scissors and asked "Pequeno?" The results were so disastrous that I was obliged to wear a ball cap every time I went out for the next two weeks. So now, having placed myself at the mercy of this unknown Sicilian hair stylist, I sit worrying for a full ten minutes while he helps a friend choose a necklace from a small jewelry display at the back of the salon. He nods at my plastic-caped reflection in the mirror and holds up a finger. "Arrivo!" (I'm coming!) Fortunately, when he eventually arrives, it is clear that I am in good hands. He even knows the English word for "short" (surely the most useful word in any hair stylist's vocabulary!)
He decides to tell me a little story. "You understand a little Italian, don't you?" he asks. (Most Sicilians seem to assume that everyone understands a little Italian, perhaps because Italian is in some respects a "lingua franca" in this country where many regions also have their own languages or dialects.) When I nod, he continues. "My friend has just been asking me how I can communicate with all the stranieri (foreigners) that come in here. I told him there's always a way. A few weeks ago, a Chinese woman came in here. She was asking me for something and I didn't understand. She was asking for the toilet, but she was speaking Chinese, not even English. Finally she did like this..." (he lifts his leg)"...and said "pssssh..." I howl with laughter and he is satisfied that I have understood. He looks at his friend with satisfaction. "You see, she understands." I leave with one of the best haircuts I have had in years, at less than half the price I would have paid in Halifax, still laughing as I walk toward the dock.
Back at the boat, Kathy has prepared a delicious tomato and cheese salad, garnished with a few olives and some delicious Sicilian olive oil that Katherine had left in the galley. After lunch, I am ready for a nap, but Kathy hops into the dinghy and helps Rick scrub the sides of the boat, removing the muddy stains left by the marina's lazy lines. By now I'm wondering how I can convince her to cancel her trip to Barcelona!
In late afternoon, we dress up and head back to shore for a little shopping. Kathy is looking for ideas for her maternity wear business, as well as things to wear in Barcelona, but she periodically points out things that I should try on. "I used to love picking out things for you when I went on buying trips with Rick" she says. Ah yes, those were the good old days! An hour later, even Rick is carrying a Zara bag.
We head for the Piazza Duomo and peek into the cathedral, where a wedding is in progress while a few tourists are still roaming the side aisles. We tiptoe into the back corner to show Kathy the ancient baptismal font, then go back into the piazza to soak up the ambience.
Eventually, we settle ourselves at a small café. "Can I treat you to a pizza?" asks Kathy. ""I'd love to try a real Italian pizza". Unfortunately, the waitress tells us that it is still a bit too early for pizza, but she brings a small plate of antipasti with our drinks. Soon, the wedding guests pour out onto the steps of the cathedral and the waiters and waitresses rush out of the restaurant to see the bride and groom.
This is clearly an elegant affair, and we're delighted when the wedding party heads straight for our café. The bridesmaids are happy to let me take this photo, and their friends seem tickled pink that I want them in the picture too!
Now it is definitely late enough for pizza. We decide that our fish will keep until the next day, and head for "Il Gattopardo" just on time to get the last unreserved table. It is already dark by the time we get back to the boat. (This is a good illustration of why it is wise to turn on the anchor light before leaving the boat, even if you don't plan on staying ashore for dinner!)
The next morning, Kathy takes another run through Ortygia and I meet her a little later, bringing along her bag and a change of clothes. We stop at a little café, where I have a cappuccino while Kathy ducks into the washroom to change. I spot some unfilled cannoli shells and decide to introduce Kathy to my latest obsession. I have now figured out that the best cannoli are the ones that are filled on the spot, just before you eat them. Knowing that Kathy does not often eat sweets, I decide against the full sized cannoli, but have two of the small ones brought to the table before she emerges from the washroom. Her eyes widen when she tastes the first bite. "Can we order another one?"
We intend to do more shopping in the modern section of Siracusa, but everyone we ask tells us that the best shopping really is on Ortygia. So, after dropping in at the bus station to confirm the schedule for Kathy's bus to Catania airport the next morning, we head back over the bridge. By the time we phone to ask Rick to pick us up at the dock, Kathy has some new clothes to wear in Barcelona and I have a new pair of soft green chinos.
After lunch, we decide to go out for a sail. It has been years since Rick and I have "gone for a sail" simply for the joy of it. As we sail out of Siracuse harbour I recall the lovely days when we have sailed out of Halifax harbour to Herring Cove. Kathy takes the wheel and we enjoy the ride.
The day is perfect and Aisling's bottom is clean, so we are able to reach speeds of nearly 5 knots even though the wind speed is less than 10 knots. So often, we resort to the motor to make our passages faster. We resolve to slow down and enjoy the ride a bit more often.
That evening, Rick cooks the orata in lots of lemon, oregano and olive oil and we serve it with roasted potatoes and fennel, carrots and beans. It is a quiet night, because we will have an early wake-up call the next morning. Before 8 a.m., I am waving goodbye to Kathy as Rick ferries her to shore and finds her a taxi. She will have a long wait at the bus station, and an even longer wait at the airport, but she is not taking any chances on missing her plane. At 10 a.m., I receive a text from her. It says, "I just had a large cannoli!"
Katherine arrives back on the bus from Palermo just in time to attain the honour of being the youngest person in attendance at the Friday night dinner in the Marina Bar. With lots of Sicilian wine washing down the paella and pasta carbonara, everyone is in good form by the time the dessert arrives. Audrey, our across-the-dock neighbour, is celebrating her birthday and the cruisers from the UK (of which there are many) give her a rousing chorus of "Why was she born so beautiful, why was she born at all?" The silly song replays itself in my head for two days.
Late the next morning, we launch an expedition to Caltagirone, another baroque town that was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693. Although Caltagirone is a Unesco World Heritage Site by virtue of the architecture in its old centre, it is best known throughout Sicily for the colourful ceramics that are produced by its artisans.Our friends Ni and Krissy follow us on their motorbike.
With our usual flair for poor timing, we arrive in Caltagirone just as most places are closing for the long afternoon siesta. But a few shops are still open, and we quickly see that we will have endless choices of beautiful bowls, platters, tiles and figurines. We have purchased ceramic items in almost every Mediterranean country we have visited, but here the craftsmanship is outstanding. The local artisans have had plenty of time to perfect their skills, since ceramics have been produced in this area for over a thousand years. Many of the techniques, colours and designs used today were introduced by the Arabs.
The 142 steps of the impressive "Scala Santa Maria Del Monte" have majolica tiles as risers. Today, the staircase has been decorated with potted plants.
We do not climb the stairs, nor do we give the beautiful baroque buildings more than a cursory admiring glance. We have seen more than our share of baroque architecture in the past two weeks and we are here to shop. Krissy is looking for a straight-sided jar to hold kitchen utensils in Finalmente's galley. Rick is determined to find a set of the ceramic address numbers that he has admired on the walls of Sicilian houses. Within an hour, the ceramic numbers are "in the bag", as well as several bowls, two olive oil spouts, an owl and a beautifully decorated tile. The quest for the kitchen jar will continue throughout the afternoon, and the perfect one will not be found until a nearly-perfect one has already been purchased.
A man on the street has recommended the restaurant "La Piazzeta" for lunch, and our Lonely Planet concurs. After a bit of searching, we find it on a quiet back street and settle in for a memorable lunch. The parade of antipasto choices is delicious, as are the pastas. It is our 33rd wedding anniversary, and what a great way to celebrate it! The meal keeps us occupied until the remaining shops have reopened. As we settle our bill, a young man walks out of the kitchen wearing riding gear, and we speculate on where he might be headed. Someone suggests that he might be a polo player. "I doubt that anyone here is rich enough to play polo" says Ni.
We head back to the shops and before long, we are all carrying bags stuffed with beautiful, breakable items that have only a remote chance of making it home intact. One of the most exceptional shops is Casamano Giacomo, where the artist has created lifelike figurines, some set up in animated scenes.
As we leave Giacomo's shop, crowds are gathering on the street. Riders on horseback clatter into the square. Many of the horses are wild-eyed and skittish, clearly not accustomed to being ridden in an urban environment.
Krissie spots the young man from the restaurant. Ni had been right; he wasn't going to a polo game! Neither is this guy:
We are mystified about the reason for the procession, but eventually learn that it is a springtime blessing of animals and farm equipment. The equestrians are followed by tractors and trucks, decorated with signs saying "Queen of Peace, bless our family".
As I dig my camera out of my bag, I glance down at the curb, where a small face is peering up from the sewer grate. I am staring at the twin of our long-dead pet rat Jo-Jo. Despite the similarities, I am not at all happy to be in such close proximity to this one!
He peers around. Surely he sees the crowd above him, but he scurries out anyway. Quick as a flash he grabs a piece of food from the curb, then disappears back into the grate. I am reminded of how Rod Heikel's cruising guide to Greece warned of "big and bold rats who will not hesitate to come aboard....". Suddenly, I have better insight into what he means by "bold". Of course, we know that rats are a fact of life almost everywhere in the world (the Canadian province of Alberta being one of the few exceptions) but I prefer it when they keep themselves out of sight. I'm a bit jumpy for the rest of the afternoon.
When the procession ends, Rick and Ni retreat to a café while Katherine, Krissy and I plunge back into the shops for one last look. The perfect countertop jar reveals itself at our final stop, just minutes after Krissy has purchased another. It is some consolation to see that the price is nearly triple that of the one she has chosen.
Just as we prepare to leave, it begins to rain. Krissy decides to ride back to Marina di Ragusa with us, which will keep her dry and make it easier for Ni to control the bike in the wind and rain. But fortunately, rain rarely lasts long at this time of the year in Sicily. Within 20 minutes, the sun begins to break through and a glorious rainbow appears on the horizon.
We round off the day with pizzas at the "American bar" pizzeria in Marina di Ragusa. As we are finishing our wine, Katherine slips away from the table and pays the bill. A nice anniversary surprise!
We still have the car for another two and a half days. We consider going to Chiaramonte Gulfi (famed for its delicious pork and olive oil) or perhaps even as far as Villa Romana del Casale (site of an ancient Roman villa with extensive and extraordinary mosaics), but we are running out of steam. Instead, we spend Sunday afternoon at the shopping mall outside Ragusa and cook pasta onboard Aisling in the evening. But Katherine mounts a campaign for a return trip to Siracusa the next day, since her previous visit had been a bit of a bust. Rick is growing tired of so much driving, but eventually caves in.
We arrive in Siracusa on time to visit the morning market, then have cappuccino in the Duomo square.
As we wander through the streets of Ortygia, a small shop called "Olive" is offering tastes of olive oil and chocolate. Delicious! Naturally, we cannot resist. We hand over a fistful of euros, hoping to bring a taste of Sicily back to Halifax.
Katherine's ulterior motive for the return trip to Siracusa is to have lunch at the Apollonian on Via Campisi. This restaurant has no menu, but instead offers a multi-course meal at a fixed price (35 euros per person, tax and service included). We feast on cold seafood antipasti, oysters, breaded mussels and clams, fish cakes topped with sea urchins, seafood spaghetti and so many other things that I'm too embarrassed to list them all. It is after 3 p.m. when we finally waddle out the door. We are all in agreement that dinner will not be served onboard Aisling this evening.
The next morning, we pay a quick visit to Ragusa Ibla (Ragusa's baroque old town).
The baroque architecture in Ragusa Ibla is reminiscent of nearby Noto or Modica, and it too was constructed after the 1693 earthquake. The story of Ragusa Ibla has a bit of a twist though. When the earthquake flattened the original Ragusa, the new town of Ragusa Superiore was built on a higher ridge. Later, many of the town's aristocrats disagreed with the decision to relocate, and rebuilt their palazzi on the site of the old town. The two towns eventually merged, but not until 1927. This morning the streets of Ragusa Ibla are quiet, although a few people are up and about.
We'd like to linger, but the car must be returned by noon. Katherine and I squeeze in one last bit of shopping on Via Roma while Rick returns the car, then we all reunite on the bus to Marina di Ragusa. The only thing left on the agenda is a trip to the beach, and goodbye visits to Deep Blue and Finalmente. Katherine is impressed by the bright and spacious boats of our friends. We all love Aisling, but we do wish the guest quarters were a bit roomier!
We know we've been eating out far too often, but Katherine still hasn't had a chance to try our favourite Marina di Ragusa restaurant, the Imperial. The caprese salad and spaghetti vongole are delicious, the owners are friendly and our bill is always reasonable. After dinner, we enjoy one last walk along the boardwalk, sad to realize that our wonderful two weeks together have come to an end. The next day, Katherine boards the bus to Catania airport, and a hollow, "empty nest" feeling pervades Aisling.
But the guest quarters will not be vacant for long. Onward to Siracusa, and a rendezvous with Kathy MacGillivary!