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Posts tagged ‘Sicilia’

The Sicily Series | Part VII – Rocky, Resplendent, Regal Ragusa

It was a fair old drive from Noto to Ragusa, although the fact that our satnav tried to turn us right into a mountain ravine did not help. But when we arrived we felt a little disappointed. Sure, it had a grand looking cathedral and some nice-ish streets but what was it worth the near-death experience on the journey? It was only when we sat down at a local cafe, coffee needs predominating, that I opened my Baedeker and realised that Ragusa is actually a town split geographically in two. And we were in the wrong bit. For the real star of Ragusa, and well worth the fuss, is Ragusa Ibla, its ancient town, built on a steep hilltop across the other side of a rocky mountain valley which splits the town in two.

Of course we were parked on the wrong side of the divide, but the walk at least offered us the best possible vistas of Ragusa Ibla: a cluster of houses and churches which appear to defy gravity in their precarious positioning upon the steep slopes of the hill, and which collectively takes the breath away for the sheer feat of this human intervention upon the Sicilian landscape.

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There were many steps down to the crevice which carves Ragusa in two, and many slopes within the old town itself, but the climbing and panting and general opposition to the heat was both a necessity in this car-defying town, and a very useful mode of calorie consumption. It came, after all, just before our arrival in the Piazza del Duomo, where lunch next to a deliciously somniferous trickling fountain provided me with the star dish of the holiday as far as I was concerned: spaghetti with local Bronte pistachios, hard pecorino cheese and gamberetti. Washed down with a little local Etna wine and heaven descended, and that was before the typical ricotta desert of cannoli deconstructed into a mass of creaminess and crumbling texture.

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Stamina recovered, we were able to discover the quaint nature of this beautiful town, another with its fair share of fairytale like Baroque brilliance but on a somewhat more compact scale. Walking the narrow streets provided an inescapable exposure to wafts of garlic and pistachio, and to the perfume of herbs drooping from pots crammed onto wrought iron balconies. Some streets were so narrow as trigger maze-like disorientation. Others gave way onto stunning vistas, such as the great glass dome of the Cathedral of San Giorgio which rises above the old town, or the views across the arid mountainous landscape.

But for all those views, and the indelible beauty of Ragusa Ibla, gosh how we bemoaned its location as we made the hike up hundreds of steps, in full 30-something degrees of heat, back to our car parked in the other half of the city. But as we all know, it’s the inaccessible places that are often the greatest gems, and that was certainly the case with the treasure of Resplendent Ragusa.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

 

The Sicily Series | Part I – Catania, Black City

Over the last few weeks, the Daily Norm was all about Marrakech, and the highly spiced rose city will resonate long in the minds of Norms and the Daily Norm writer. But now this blog has headed back to European shores, albeit not far from the desert sands of Morocco. For one of the Mediterranean’s most southern points, and its largest island, is the Italian island of Sicily, known for some as the ball being carefully nudged by the point of Italy’s toe. Famous for its volcanoes, its mafia, its voluminous seafood and rolling agricultural land, for its ruins and its baroque splendour, Sicily is a veritable melting pot of historical and cultural highlights, and the perfect location for any aesthete on holiday.

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But Sicily is a large island and we would be pushed to do it all in the time available. So with only a little over a week at our disposal, we concentrated our energies on the Eastern coast, and the lands above and beneath the mighty shadow of Mount Etna, one of Europe’s most active and prominent volcanoes. With its proximity to Greece as well as Italy, the Eastern side of Sicily is one heavily characterised by a history of both Greek as well as Roman civilisations, not to mention the Arabic and Spanish influences which also made their mark during their respective occupations. All of these influences were clear to see upon our first stop in Sicily, in its second biggest city and the tenth largest in Italy: Catania.

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Both the scale of this bustling city, as well as its historical and geographical influences were immediate upon arrival in Catania. Bracing ourselves behind the wheel of an all-too-new hire care, our first encounter with Catania was with its wild roads, filled with drivers, irritated by the heat and paying little attention to generally accepted driving rules. Mercifully unscathed, it was only when we parked that we were able to calmly appreciate Catania, a city whose roads seemed to stretch off into an eternity of traffic jams sparkling like slowly moving jewels, whose streets are crammed with more churches than there are shops, and whose landscape is rendered tiny by comparison with the mighty silhouette of Etna which is omnipresent in the background, wherever you look.

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For me, Catania was a city with much of the hectic disorder of Naples, but with the refinements of Rome. It is one characterised by the breadth of its architectural splendour, from frequently arising Roman and Greek remains squeezed between more modern houses, to the exquisite quality of its baroque architecture. And above all, it is one which has earned its epithet: “black city”, forged as it is from the lava stone which nearby Etna has regularly granted the city, Surprisingly hard but tellingly cratered, the lava stone from which Catania is built is a true testament to this city’s unavoidable relationship with its nearby volcano – both the source of its wealth, and the constant threat of its destruction.

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Perhaps it is this vulnerability which gives Catania the undeniable spirit which pervades it. Its residents can be excused for living by the ethos: carpe diem. After all, Etna is continuinuously erupting, and no one can ever be sure just when the next large eruption will reach this heavily inhabited Sicilian city. So seize the day we certainly did, passing 24 hectic hours in Catania in what was a relentless conveyor of churches, coffees, aperol spritz and lots of pasta. And what a great beginning to our Sicily trip it was!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Daily Sketch ITALIA – Norms in Sicily

It’s been a long and varied trip which has seen the Norms traverse the boot of Italy and cross the Med to the funny shaped ball the boot appears to be kicking – Sicily. Sicily is famous for various things. It has its juicy large lemons, its very hot climate, its ever omnipotent grumbling volcano, Mount Etna, and the very sinister undercurrent of Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia. Consulting their guidebooks, our tourist norms sensibly opted for the obvious sightseeing choice of Sicily – the stunning ruins of a Greek theatre in the little picturesque town of Taormina. There they were treated to an incredibly preserved ancient architectural artefact, as well as the beautiful view of the coast below, and an ever smoking, snow-capped Mount Etna lording over the landscape beyond. What they did NOT expect to stumble across was this sinister scene – two members of the Sicilian Mafia teaching one poor Norm the tragic lesson of what happens when you cross Cosa Nostra. Having stumbled across this ghastly operation, the Norms have made up their mind – it’s time to pack up their bags and head home for Blighty… if they get out alive, that is.

(Gosh I do like a good cliff hanger)

Norms in Sicily (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.