The boat always seems a bit empty after friends leave, but after Hans and Dani left it wouldn't feel empty for long. We have just enough time to change the sheets and wash the new layer of dust and sand off the boat before Nancy and Bob's arrival. We've been waiting for this visit for a long time! Nancy has not been onboard Aisling since 2007, when she joined us in Gibraltar and sailed with us along the southern coast of Spain. Bob's only night aboard was in Tanner's Pass in Nova Scotia, in 2006. Even Sicily can't match the beauty and tranquility of that anchorage, but we're pretty sure he's going to like it here.
May 13th. Everything is shipshape well before Nancy and Bob's scheduled 8.35 p.m. arrival on the bus from Catania. We chill a bottle of Planeta "La Segreta", one of our favourite Sicilian white wines, and Rick prepares some appetizers. As we walk along the shady street toward the bus stop, I wonder aloud what we will do if they are not on the bus. Rick peers down the street in the dusk. "Is that Nancy?" he says. The bus has arrived 20 minutes early! Even worse, they have not realized that the bus is early, and have concluded that there has been a mix-up in the plans. Bob has gone off in search of the marina and is nowhere to be seen. We eventually find him on the waterfront, dragging two suitcases behind him. We are so relieved to see him that we don't even ask why he didn't leave the suitcases at the bus stop with Nancy. When we finally get them safely settled in onboard Aisling, they regale us with tales of their travels in Florence, Sienna and Pisa. We share the appetizers, open a bottle of Chianti they have brought with them from Tuscany and cook a pasta dinner. The first night is always the best!
The next day is market day in Marina di Ragusa. In the realm of Italian markets, this is a very small one, but we buy some olives, nuts and green beans as we stroll through. There is just enough time for cappuccinos and marmalade croissants in a café in the town square before we catch the bus to Ragusa. At the Ragusa station, we catch another bus to our final destination, Ragusa Ibla.
Ragusa is part of the "Val di Noto" World Heritage site that comprises eight towns in southeastern Sicily. All were rebuilt in a flamboyant baroque style following the earthquake that devastated southeastern Sicily, Malta and Calabria in 1693. Over 60,000 people died in total, about 5,000 of them in Ragusa (which would have been approximately 50% of the town's population.) An interesting twist to Ragusa's story is that, after the earthquake, many of Ragusa's citizens were not happy with the decision to rebuild Ragusa on a higher site at Ragusa Superiore. The wealthy middle class relocated to Ragusa Superiore, while the former aristocracy rebuilt on the old site at Ragusa Ibla. Each built their own cathedral, and the rivalry continued until the two Ragusas were reunited under Mussolini. Dictators may not be nice people, but sometimes they can get the job done.
Rick and I have already been to Ragusa Ibla twice; once for a quick visit with Katherine, and once for an evening visit to a rained-out Busker festival. (You can see photos of the Busker Festival in our Photo Gallery at http://www.sailblogs.com/member/aisling/index.php?show=gallery&aid=23860&p=1 (Marina di Ragusa Fall 2012).
With Nancy leading the charge, this time we'll be sure to explore Ragusa Ibla properly! But we have our priorities straight, and the first thing on the agenda is lunch. We check out a few places, and eventually end up on the patio at Il Barocco. We all follow Rick's lead and order a selection of antipasti from the "window buffet". It looks so wonderful that we spend the first five minutes taking pictures of our plates.( Yes, it tasted as good as it looked.)
Now we're off to explore in earnest, through winding alleys, past courtyards where colourful potted plants thrive on balconies and terraces, to the church of San Giuseppe.
Rick and Bob are underwhelmed at the idea of seeing yet another church, but inside, it is lovely, with a painting of the Glory of St. Benedict in the dome. Another beautiful painting shows St. Gertrude with a brilliant red heart throbbing in the centre of her chest. Remembering the tendency of Italian painters to include features that illustrate the manner of a saint's suffering (St. Agatha with her breasts on a plate, St. Sebastian pierced by arrows) I wonder aloud whether St. Gertrude had her heart cut out. Some of these paintings are the stuff of nightmares, but Nancy saves me from a sleepless night by explaining that this most likely just symbolizes the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
These galleries were once used by the nuns, so that they couldn't be seen from the church below. There aren't as many nuns in Italy now, but the ones that are here certainly aren't hidden behind cages. Last week, a group of them were roaming the docks at the marina!
We are touring Ragusa at the same time as a group of high school students from Palermo, who take turns asking us "Where ya from?" This clearly is the only English phrase that most of them know, other than one pretty girl with braces on her teeth who talks to Nancy and me on the steps to the cathedral. Her smile becomes very wide when we complement her on her English and tell her that we wish we could speak Italian so well.
At 4 p.m., the cathedral of St. Giorgio finally opens. Our guide books say that the interior is not as sumptuous as the incredible baroque exterior suggests, but even the guys are impressed by St. George on his horse. This statue is paraded through the town on festival day.
After a quick stop at Gelato Divini and a few shopping detours, we head to the bus stop outside the public gardens. The girl in the tabacchi assure us that the bus will be arriving any minute, but it doesn't. Arrive. At all. After waiting half an hour, we realize that we are in grave danger of missing our bus back to Marina di Ragusa. Fortunately, a cab appears at exactly the right moment and delivers us to the bus station with lots of time to spare.
Back at the boat, Bob is horrified at the idea that we are even contemplating cooking dinner. "How can the Italians eat like this?" he asks. We compromise, and cook minestrone. After all, we have to conserve our strength for tomorrow. Next up, Caltegirone and Casa Romana!