23.01.2013 - 23.01.2013 14 °C
We headed to the south coast of Sicily today. Our camping host in Sant'Alesso Siculo sent us on our way with a few suggestions on towns to see on our way to Floridia which is near Syracuse which we will visit tomorrow. For his earnest efforts I passed on a Canada pin which he liked very much.
We had two main options; follow the coast or try cozying up to Mount Etna. We chose to follow the coast principally because of the snow at the higher elevations. Mount Etna is 3000 meters tall and seems to be a magnet for cold weather and snow even at the 1000 meters level. It is odd to be feeling 17 degrees on the coast and looking up and seeing snow and thick cloud not that far away. Today is a bit cooler than yesterday, fluctuating between 12 and 15 degrees for most of the day but nothing like the freezing temperatures that could greet us a little further inland.
It seems with driving in Sicily nothing is that straight-forward. Following the coastline to visit some of the villages meant trying to stay off the A18, the main toll highway. This is easier said than done since the coast consists of innumerable mountain ridges flowing into the sea, towns clinging to the limited waterfront and the railroad vying for space that a coastal road would require. As a result, the supposed coastal road skips all over the place. If you dare turn off the "coastal highway" you are never sure what sort of rabbit warren of roads you are going to get into. We were not successful in getting into the little towns that were suggested to us. Either our GPS was untrustworthy or the signage failed us.
It was still an interesting drive that revealed lava pillars that formed just off the coast and some glimpse into the gritty streets of small town Sicily. However, the true driving challenge arose when we got to Catania. The real hazards associated with staying off the bland toll highway and sticking with SS14, the coastal route, was illustrated for us as we "navigated" this section. We were encouraged by our camp host from the previous two nights to take this route since it was very straight forward-essentially just stay on the road closest to the ocean. Unfortunately, the Sicilian road system makes generous use of detours which our camp host seemed to have forgotten. Many of these detours look to be decades old but they made following the coast around the edge of Catania an impossible task. As with driving in Rome, lanes are meaningless and roads and lanes merge and diverge like streams of sea water rushing across a tidal plain. Add to this scooters and pedestrians and you have what looks like a slow motion hailstorm with each pellet of ice representing an obstacle to avoid. Once I needed to yield for a scruffy looking man in this thirties leading a parade of at least six large unleashed dogs following him in single file. They were transecting part of a traffic circle. The parade participants looked serene and surprisingly not a car horn was sounded when they crossed a section of road where cars were jockeying four abreast for road space.
After Catania we decided to locate our accommodation in Floridia and get some lunch before attempting to find any of the other towns on our suggestion list. Our 2 bedroom apartment is located on an orange and lemon plantation. As with our previous lodgings in Sicily, the location was obscure and its approach unsettling both in appearance and condition. We found ourselves once again being the only persons staying for the night in rather chilly environs . After several hours of heat our place still has nip in the air. In contrast, our hosts are very warm and had quite a bit of information to share, albeit mostly in Italian. We did understand the suggestions regarding several locations we could have lunch and where we could get groceries for a good price. We headed into the rather decrepit looking town of Floridia.
We found a parking spot in front of the police station which seemed pretty safe. I later found it was actually reserved for police cars but no ticket or imprisonment resulted. We easily located one of the bar/cafes that our host had suggested. We decided to get arancini again (risotto and ragu ovals covered in bread crumbs) and try another item that looked like a cross-section of a calzone that was stuffed with risotto and sausage. We made great effort to find out what was in each item on display and then order it all in Italian. Our 20 year old server seemed somewhat taken by our efforts and was a very cheerful counter server who used some words of English in return. The food we ordered was delicious and with a couple of drinks it only came to 9 Euros which was incredibly cheap. As we ate the young woman who served us came out from behind with a tray holding eight cannoli. She was accompanied by her 30 year old sister who spoke English. She had her sister translate that she wanted to offer us an example of Sicilian pastries on the house. We were a bit stunned by this display of generosity. What followed was a fascinating discussion about the 40 year history of the family business and the fact that the older sister had gone away to university and the other to London but the economics of Italy had forced both of them home to work in the family business. They said family was the most important so they were choosing to stay. At the end we gave another Canada pin and took some pictures to remember our newfound friends by. The kids have noted that we have given out more Canada pins and key chains in Sicily than all the rest of our Europe so far. This is just a tiny indicator of the friendliness of the Sicilian people.
We dropped Abby off at our apartment and the three of us went to explore the nearby town of Noto which is known for its Baroque architecture. Noto, along with several other Sicilian cities, was destroyed in the late 1600s by an earthquake and rebuilt in the Baroque style. The vestiges of this old grandeur still remain although obscured somewhat by many less prosperous times that have followed. One really needs to let Sicily slowly seep in to get to know its charms--it is the people, the food and sunshine. The architecture and even the tired landscape on first blush could cause one to dismiss Sicily as a land worthy of visitation.
After a delicious serving of gelato we quitted Noto and did some grocery shopping on our way back to our apartment. Before we could get home the detour monster raised its ugly head once again. We had been subject to a detour earlier in the day in Floridia but were unprepared for the detour to be reversed on our return. Several rotations through the tight streets and sharp turns with a long car were required before we returned to the cool safety of our home. Hannah elected to make homemade chicken soup which was a brilliant choice and superbly executed. The soup warmed my brain and thus I found a way to increase the output of our apartment heaters so hopefully in a few more hours we may be just a bit warmer.