Sicily – Lost in a Syracuse Street Maze

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe – Italian Journey

Looking for a short Winter break we decided upon Sicily. We had first visited the largest island in the Mediterranean in 2009 when we went to the capital Palermo and had a shared desire to go back and see more of the island.  The island of Passion, History, Garibaldi, Opera, Crime and an active Volcano.

We had booked flights for 2020 but Covid put paid to that and then again in early 2022 but Easyjet cancelled the flight out to Palermo.  The return flight from Catania remained operational so because of that we only got a 50% refund.  Undeterred we booked again for December this time to Catania there and back and a few days in the ancient Greek/Roman/Byzantine/Norman city of Syracuse. 

The early morning flight left at the scheduled time and approached Catania late in the morning and on its final descent passed surprisingly close to the volcano Mount Etna which is less than twenty miles from the city centre.  Not quite as close as Naples is to Mount Vesuvius at only thirteen miles but Etna at eleven thousand feet is almost three times as high and is in a near constant state of activity.  Rather like living next door to an unstable man with a loaded gun.

We had a sort of vague plan to visit the mountain but soon after arrival learnt that this may not be such a good idea in December because the peak was covered in snow, the railway line was blocked and it was bitterly cold and we didn’t have suitable clothing so we shrugged our shoulders and took the bus to Syracuse, forty miles away to the South.

Once on the bus we slipped out of Catania  through edge of city suburbs with streets and streets of unattractive apartments which looked as though they had been put up in a hurry at a time when neither style or good design was considered especially important. 

Like most of Sicily, Catania suffered greatly during the Allied invasion of 1943 and lack of finance, Government corruption and the influence of the Mafia has in some areas restricted the process of rebuilding and regeneration.  The Mafia took control of the post-war building contracts and skimmed off most of the money by cutting back on basic building standards.

The route through the city of Syracuse wasn’t especially promising and for me first impressions were  not that good.  Sicily is one of the poorest regions in all of Italy where those living below or close to the poverty line is as high as 40%.  Compare that with Aosta Valley in the north and neighbouring Switzerland where the figure is 0.1%.  Italy is a country of many contrasts.

From the bus terminal we had to walk a mile or so to our accommodation which was on the island of Ortigia which is the historical centre of the city and the modern day tourist area which is connected to the mainland by a couple of bridges.  Once across there was quite a transformation as suddenly everywhere seemed more cared for and wealthy and my early misgivings began to quickly ebb away.

After we had found the apartment, approved it and settled in I went off to do an important job – find a shop for some beer and wine so that we could sit and relax on the charming little balcony.  I found one quite easily, made the necessary purchases and then set off to return which turned out to be a problem because I had neglected to bring with me either a map or my phone and I couldn’t remember the street name that I needed. Whoops.

I estimated that it was barely five hundred yards away but I was hopelessly lost, completely disorientated and just couldn’t for the life of me remember the route back.  My mind had gone completely blank. I explored the deep holes of my memory, the crevices of my mind but there was nothing there.

Ortigia is built on a grid system inherited from the Ancient Greeks which I suppose in theory should make things easy but my problem was that every street looked exactly the same and I quickly became lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleyways. 

I realised the next day when I had finally got my bearings that at one point I was barely twenty yards away but I had turned around and tried again and repeated this mistake several times over.  A shopping quest that should have taken ten minutes by now had taken almost forty and I thought that I was surely destined to wander the streets of Ortigia for eternity.  

Racking my brains I suddenly remembered that the apartment was opposite a puppet museum so once I had found a direction sign it was plain sailing all the way, I found my way back, opened the wine and enjoyed an hour on the balcony in the delightful sunshine.

“Why have you been so long?” asked Kim

“Oh” I said ” It was a bit further than I thought”

My stress levels leaked away and returned to somewhere near normal.



33 responses to “Sicily – Lost in a Syracuse Street Maze

  1. Another cautionary tale of the perils of alcohol.

    But I’m curious. Doesn’t your phone have a map app?


  2. Now that is a great story. Forget the churches and cathedrals. Just remember Kim now and then. Or maybe next time Kim will inspect you for maps and phones before you leave.


  3. Sounds like me after leaving my car in a multi-storey hospital carpark and forgetting to take a note of which level I was on!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The realisation that you are lost is certainly a very strong one, and it’s very difficult to stay cool and analytical.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Haha! That very thing happened to me in May in Albania. I knew our hotel was near a church, but I couldn’t remember its name. My Albanian is non-existent and it’s not the kind of place – not that part of town anyway – where anyone speaks English. Total nightmare which only patient and systematic step-retracing got me out of.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I once encountered a distressed woman on the vaporetto in Venice, who had become separated from her daughter, who had gotten off the vaporetto at some earlier stop. The poor woman had absolutely no idea of what part of Venice they were staying in, the name of the hotel, etc. It took a long time before we were able to retrace her steps and get her back to familiar territory and find the hotel. It was not a good start to their stay in Venice for that woman and her daughter.

    Like you, Andrew, she had no phone which could have solved the problem in a flash.


  7. My Sicilian tells me is not Italy….typical in old Europe!


  8. Oh, dear. That must have been quite stressful. Perhaps Kim needs to check that you have your phone (and that you have the address of where you are staying on your phone) before you are let out again…


  9. Oh dear. This happened to me in Barcelona. I always pick up a card at the hotel’s front desk so I did have the address. I eventually asked an older Spanish man by showing him the card. With hand gestures, he showed me how to get back, which wasn’t very far. I had been sent out to buy ice cream. Fortunately, it had not quite melted by the time I returned, about 40 minutes later.


  10. That could so easily happen to me. Hopeless sense of direction. But I wouldn’t leave without access to Google maps!


  11. I’ve been looking forward to Sicilian stories, Andrew, and you don’t disappoint. I’m equally hopeless at orientating myself. At least you had a drink with you! Probably no corkscrew though.


  12. Ah we’ve all done it bud. Valencia was my worst. But that’s another story altogether. I can so relate to the moment when it dawned on you that you didn’t know which way to turn.


  13. Thanks for the experience and your story Andrew


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