[Disclaimer: our camera battery died during this day, so some of the pictures are courtesy of Vicky Phillips, some others from Wikipedia and one from Tripadvisor]
We wake, feeling excited about our exploration of the city, and head out for breakfast. Our B&B has a deal with a local café so we set off with vouchers to encounter a great surprise. We’re dining directly opposite the Cathedral on a beautiful plaza and are treated to two pastries each and two drinks. We’re led in to an exciting display cabinet to choose from and freshly squeezed blood oranges are one of the drink options. It’s delicious and Marie cannot resist disappearing to take photos of the cathedral in the morning light.
After this we go on for a fuller explore of the cathedral, marveling at the fine detail around the pillars outside, the incorporation of the columns from the old Greek temple that was there before for the construction, still visible down one side of the building, and the carved up Baroque facade, which includes beautifully detailed column tops, graceful statues, twisty pillars and a carved figure that looks like it’s vomiting fruit and vegetables.
Inside it’s fascinating to see such a strange hodge-podge of styles: the external walls with the columns still half sticking out, some internal Norman Romanesque pillars and austere style, the crazy Baroque facade and some 19th century ceiling paintings.
From here I’m keen to get up to the local market so we head north, through the windy streets lined with small jewelry stands with the stallholders sat at the side crafting more pieces. We arrive to an open area surrounding the Greek ruins of the Temple of Apollo and can see the edge of the market ahead of us. It looks a little like tourist tack, but I’m hopeful that further inside will be better. I’m not disappointed as I lead the way through to stalls piled high with locally grown fruit and veg, fish stalls showcasing the local favourite of swordfish and spice stalls with paper bags filled with all sorts of brightly coloured and strong smelling spices. All my senses are tingling and I’m wondering how Zaza is finding the experience. I can’t resist some purchases so pick up some local tomatoes and strawberries and some roasted pistachios grown on the flanks of Etna.
We then head to the church of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) to see the Caravaggio masterpiece which remains in the location for which it was originally commissioned. Marie’s a huge fan of Caravaggio so is pretty excited during our walk down. Until now, I had only seen small printed versions of his paintings, which it turns out, hadn’t done them any justice at all and seeing the painting in real life and in its destined location, the characters do ‘pop’ from the background as Marie had described. There’s still a lot of dark and I’m still not a fan though.
From here, we head down to the end of the island for a tour around the defensive castle and a good look out to sea. It’s pretty warm and the main section of the castle is closed but we have a good look around the open sections and I re-purpose the map and video room into a feeding area for Zaza, taking a welcome break from the heat outside. From here, we have lunch in a café with a sea view, stripping Eliza of almost all her clothes in an attempt to cool her off while we’re in the shade of the terrace. It works and we decide to take the tourist ‘hop on, hop off’ bus to see some of the other sights on the mainland.
This transpires to be a bit of an adventure. It begins well, with us all securing seats with only a brief wait- we’re lulled into a false sense of security and opt to get off halfway round to go to the catacombs. These are great, no one else fancies it so they sit in the shade with Eliza while Marie and I go down into what is essentially an underground Roman cemetery. It’s fascinating to see, much larger than I imagined and the guided tour teaches us about the different types of graves, depending on the person’s wealth and social standing and the frequency with which they were visited and the rituals and traditions of these visits. She describes the marble stones covering each body having three indents and on the anniversary of the death the family would visit, have a meal around the grave and (in early Christian times) pour wine, milk and honey into each indent, representing the blood of Christ and rivers of paradise.
From here, we ascend up to the Basilica, the first cathedral of Siracusa (and one of the first in the world as it was built 35 years after Jesus was crucified). It was interesting to see the repurposing of various bits of Roman building- for example, the altar was a sarcophagus turned upside down. The building is now in ruins, although still consecrated and used for private events. The main area of interest is the crypt below. The walls are adorned with Byzantine art- initially we’re wowed to see something so old in such good condition…and then informed that they were painted by Normans in this style- still pretty old and pretty cool though and interesting to see the style in the flesh, having had the religious art education from Marie a few years ago. What’s most interesting, in a macabre way, is hearing that there was a body of a Saint kept in the crypt in a sarcophagus with holes in the sides so people could pray for miracles whilst touching the decaying remains of the dead body- eugh! It must have stank the place out too!
Anyway, back to our family and the little Zaza who’s unsurprisingly requesting some milk. We have a little sit in the shade for this when my boobs decide to become fountains and I literally end up with a handful of milk as Eliza’s found the flow too strong. This proves humorous and educational for Vicky, who’s surprised at the watery consistency of the milk, and I’m sure completely amazing for my Dad, who throughout the holiday has done his upmost to look the other way whenever it’s baby meal time.
We then optimistically walk back to the bus stop, thinking we’ll just ‘hop on’ for the rest of the tour. This is when we discover there is just one bus, wait 45 minutes for it to arrive almost full. With only two seats available a debate ensues with us wanting Dad and Jackie to get on as we can walk back while they insist we need to get on as we have Eliza. With the benefit of hindsight we later all realise the best solution would have been Jackie, me and Eliza. In the end we lose the debate and get on, with the others planning to get a taxi back. Off we set to find several other people at subsequent stops having the same problem- it’s the end of the day so everyone is trying to get back on the bus from the various ruins to their hotels.
Back near our B&B, we stop off for an ice cream. I then get strange looks from people as I’m wandering along with a sleeping Eliza hanging from one arm and an ice-cream in the other hand, and we head back to the B&B to await the arrival of everyone else.
Turns out that getting a taxi with no Italian in the small town of Siracusa isn’t the easiest thing to do and that they’ve decided to walk back instead. This means they’re pretty much walking the entire length of the town, with one dodgy ankle and walking stick, on a hot day having walked most of the day already….They arrive back exhausted and entertain us with stories of Dad’s attempts to hail a passing taxi using the same discreet method that works perfectly in London.
We have meanwhile found out there is a puppet show nearby at 6pm. The region is famous for these so we’re quite keen to experience it. There’s only 5 minutes to spare when they arrive so we have a quick discussion and agree that we’ll go and leave them to rest and have a play with Eliza. We then leg it round the corner and into the theatre reception to be told there’s only 5 minutes remaining of the show….turns out the laptop is still on English time and it’s actually 6:55pm. Back to the B&B it is and then out for our final dinner together.
We were so taken by our breakfast location that we end up having dinner in the same restaurant, facing the cathedral as the sun sets and enjoying the liveliness of the plaza, with a man nearby playing the accordion (which successfully sends Eliza to sleep so we all get to eat our nice hot food together). The food is delicious, although Vicky’s lemon spaghetti is a bit strange- a creamy lemon sauce that feels more like a dessert than a main, and the rose wine we order, inspired by Jackie’s rose in Taormina, is a bit of a disappointment- shame we ordered a litre of the stuff!
The following morning we bid a fond, if early, farewell to our family with an 8am breakfast in front of the cathedral and head toward the mainland. We’ve loved our family holiday here.
Sicily you’ve been great, we’ll be sure to return.