Sunday, September 15, 2013


So, you know how E and I went to Dublin and stayed with that friend of a friend of hers who turned out to be pretty cool? Well, he's half Sicilian and got even cooler when he invited me (albeit drunkenly) to Sicily!

Being the opportunistic traveler that I am I said yes immediately and sometime in August ended up, after a night on a bus, in Fontane Bianche!

Sicily is super cool and this is basically going to be an incredibly braggy post. To be fair, I had a local showing me around which always makes places better but still.

The first thing we did after dropping off my bag was grab some sandwiches and pop down to the beach. It was extremely crowded and the only way to get a spot would have been to pay for one of the umbrellas. As a Kiwi I'm against paying to be at the beach, so we found a spot on some nearby rocks and got comfy.

Swimming out past these rocks I got stung by my first ever jellyfish! I didn't see it but got an uncomfortable rash on my hip. I was very excited!

Something that surprised me about Sicily was how full of cacti it was! Mainly prickly pears.

We drove into Syracuse to P's parents house. There we met Ben, P's dog, who we took for a walk around Ortygia as a cover for being touristy. Ortygia is an island just off Syracuse.
There was something special about this spot of coast I think, as we saw about five couples having wedding photos! I was a little creepy and snapped a pic of this one.

A new take on the duck face

We sat down and tried some arancini - Ben couldn't go inside so I went to order. With all my Italian the server held up two fantas and looked at me questioningly. Arancini is not fanta by the way, so I ran away and made Peter sort it out. What arancini actually is, is a kind of fried and crumbed rice ball with a tomato-y delicious sauce in the center, soaking the rice. The arancini thing wasn't entirely my fault as apparently it also means 'small oranges'. 

I don't know who this woman is but I couldn't get a pic of the fountain without her.
We returned Ben, picked up a friend of P's and drove out to a beach party for August 10 - the night of shooting stars in Sicily! We had a boogie to some reggae, considered a late night dip and ended up back at the tent star gazing. It was quite successful despite nearly being toppled on by a rather drunk young man navigating the maze of tents.
The only photo from the night, you probably don't need more anyway!

The view I woke up to... sigh
We attempted to pack up the tent (which is one of those 2 second pop-up ones, which are impossible to put away), grabbed some brioches and granitas di mandorla and went to another beach for a morning swim. I have to have a quick rant about granitas di mandorla - they. are. amazing. They're kind of like a slushy but creamy and almond-y (that's the mandorla bit - Italian for almond) and so. good. I told you this would be a braggy post! Sadly for me they apparently exist almost exclusively in Sicily (the proper ones anyway, I've seen a few around Milan that I'm suspicious of).

We made our way back to Fontane Bianche and had a nap (beach sleeping doesn't make for a lot of sleep) then P's parents dropped off Ben and we took him swimming.
We returned to Syracuse with P's parents and went out to a performance in an old Greek quarry. It was entirely in Italian so I was riveted of course, but between Ann (P's mum) and P I got the plot. It was a children's story about a giant chocolate cake in the sky above Rome. I thought P was tricking when he first told me! It was performed with shadow puppets and musicians acting out the plot so was still enjoyable for me and the venue was unlike anywhere I'd quite been before.

Heading down to the stage

Shadow puppets
We got some pizza for tea which was super cheap (as it should be I'm told) and watched a movie - nice relaxing night.

In the morning, Peter had real life stuff to do so I made my way to the catacombs - something we'd be meaning to do the night before as they have a late night creepy tour. Again fully in Italian so we gave it a miss.

Below is an incredibly old church. St Paul came to Syracuse in 69AD an legend has it that he prayed in this church.

The rose window was a later addition by the Normans and the twelve pillars represent the twelve apostles.
These steps lead down to either a second church or another part of the one above, but this second one is older - originally built around 600BCE, though it has been destroyed by earthquakes a couple of times and rebuilt.

The body of Saint Marciano (sorry if I've spelled it wrong) was buried here and early Christians would touch it through a gap in the tomb to take some of the saintliness. Syracuse is possibly the first Christian city of the West.
Unfortunately photos are not allowed in the catacombs, though I've included the map just to show you how easy it would be to get lost in them. They now only allow guided entry after that happened one too many times!

The catacombs date to around 400AD and have always been used as a cemetery. There are about 10,000 tombs but an unknown amount of bodies. It was built over an aqueduct systems and Christians used the aqueduct system as chapels (the round rooms you can see on the map).

They are 7m underground and contain three types of tomb - small tombs for babies, plain narrow tombs for the poor and larger, decorated tombs for the rich or religious. Bodies were buried in the foetal position because that is how you are born and death is just religious rebirth.

It was used as a bomb shelter during WWII and the bones were removed to a different cemetery.

There is the chapel of the seven virgins - two women died around age 84 which was incredible at a time when most women died at 30  from childbirth. The women were virgins, a sort of first community of nuns.

There is a unique tomb we were shown that has three holes drilled in the top. On anniversaries (birthday, deathday) the family of the deceased would pour milk, honey and wine into each of the holes. Milk and honey for richness and wine to symbolise the blood of Christ.
I've grabbed some pics off google so you can have a peek inside.

Those square holes are tombs.
I popped back for lunch then went to wander round Ortygia while Peter did more real life stuff. Ortygia is one of the more touristy parts of Syracuse so I was aiming for postcards.
Just over the harbour you can see the island of Ortygia.

I saw this on the way. Horse meat is a thing in Italy, by the way.
Ortygia is the oldest part of Syracuse and the name comes from the ancient Greek ortyx which means Quail. Legend has it that the goddess Leto gave birth to Artemis - the first of her twins - on Ortygia. One of my favourite parts of traveling this part of the world is all the legends that attach to everything.
Another story says that Archimedes defeated attacking ships (possibly from Athens) by aiming mirrors arranged in a parabola at them, causing them to catch fire. This has been 'busted' by mythbusters but a group of MIT students concluded it was possible and a Greek scientist successfully carried out an experiment.


A church.
The below is the trinacria which features on the flag of Sicily. The three legs supposedly represent the three points of the island of Sicily and in the centre is the winged head of Medusa.

This is the actual flag of Sicily. The red and yellow represent the cities of Palermo and Corleone.

Below is a statue found at the fountain of Arethusa, a freshwater fountain that flows right to the sea. Arethusa was a nymph who, upon seeing a river began to bathe. The river turned out to be the river god Alpheus. He fell in love and she, upon discovering the truth of the river and his intentions, fled. Artemis hid her in a cloud but she began to perspire from fear and turned into a stream. Artemis broke the ground so she could flee as a stream and she flowed under the earth to the island of Ortygia. Alpheus flowed through the sea to reach her and mingle with her waters, which I guess means she lost.

Another cool thing about the fountain is that wild papyrus has grown at its centre for millenia and, together with the papyrus of Ciane/Anapo river (also in Syracuse) is the only wild papyrus in Europe!
Anyway, back to touristing. This time it's a series of pretty streets.

A good swimming spot!

That evening we had dinner with Peter's parents then scootered back to Ortygia to grab a beer. Here's the church from earlier at night.
The next day P had to do some more work, but organised for his friends to take me swimming at some rocks. It was really lovely (I prefer rocks to sand!) and one of them lent me his goggles and snorkel so I could have a look at the sponges and fish. The water was so clear I had a great time snorkeling around.

That evening we met P's friends in Ortygia for a beer. The bar had a whole lot of circus stuff in the corner which I spent most of the night playing on, and a fire performance in the evening which was very cool.
Trapeze, slackline, juggling ball, unicycle, hoolahoops juggling rings, and stilts - sadly without straps so I couldn't use them.
The next day was my last and P came to do touristy stuff with me. We went to the ruins of the Greek theatre. The one directly below is actually a Roman theatre.

This is the ear of Dionysus which is a cave which was built by political prisoners of the tyrant Dionysus. The shape of the cave gives it incredible acoustics, leading to the legend that Dionysus used to sit at the top, secreted away, and listen to the whisperings of his prisoners.
You can see a place he might have sat right at the top - it's paler than the surrounding rock.

The whole place is actually a quarry where slaves or prisoners would have worked.
This is the Greek theatre. I talked Peter into getting his tourist on with me!

After that we went for lunch with P's grandparents which was fun even if I just smiled quietly for most of the conversation! (They don't speak English and I've yet to master Italian).

Afterwards we went to a spot by a lighthouse that had rocky cliffs and crashing waves. The sea was an amazing deep blue that my camera will give no justice to.

Just on the other side of this cove was a rock wall that you could climb up from the sea. The waves were pretty rough but we had a few attempts - super fun! I also managed to scratch up my forearms which made me look tough.
We made our way back to Fontane Bianche by scooter - a form of transport I'm quite a fan of an packed up our stuff. Then we loaded up the pack-scooter and with tend under one arm and my pack on my back I hopped behind P and we returned to Syracuse.

That night we met P's friends for August 14th which is a special night because August 15th is a public holiday for summer. We went to Marzameni and danced through various crowded squares with DJs. Eventually we got separated from the rest and made our way to the southernmost point of Sicily. We slept in the car and explored the island in the morning which is called the Island of the Currents or Isola delle Correnti. No photos again because I suck!

This is my second to last granita (I had them pretty much every morning while in Sicily). I decided to try something different to my standard almond one. Quite impressive don't you think! That afternoon I got back on a bus and took another 18 hour trip back to Milan. Luckily sleeping in cars makes for a horrible sleep and I was unconscious basically the whole time.

Also, just because I'm never sure which language to write the names of things in:
Sicily = Sicilia (the 'c' is pronounced 'ch')
Syracuse = Siracusa
Ortygia = Ortigia

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