“Sicily was a gift from the gods to the Greeks.” – Salvatore Furnari
It was a glorious afternoon, a big blue sky, a burning yellow sun and unexpectedly high temperatures so we left the balcony and returned to the labyrinth of streets below.
I was no longer panicking about being lost in the maze and I immediately liked the place with its unique combination of cultural heritage which was evident everywhere we turned and along every sinuous street that we explored.
Sicily, probably more than any other part of the Mediterranean, maybe even all of Europe, has been subject to so many invasions and waves of migration over the centuries. From the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish, to finally becoming part of Italy only with the unification of Italy in 1860 makes it a melting pot of cultures and we had five days ahead of us to explore it all so we were in no real rush this evening.
Some areas were surprisingly run down. What was surprising was that in some of these part derelict buildings there were clearly family apartments with people living in quite appalling conditions, their occupation of inadequate accommodation given away by the laundry left to dry over rusting balcony railings and from washing lines stretched out randomly across the streets.
After only a few minutes we came across the shop that I had used earlier and I immediately realised my earlier geographical mistakes, I had simply selected the wrong turning and that had disorientated me completely. I was happier now and a lot more confident on account of having a map and mobile phone with Google Maps.
We walked as far as the centre of the island of Ortigia to Piazza Archimede named after the famous Greek mathematician and all round clever dick who was born here in approximately 287 BC and which now hosts an impressive collection of statues and a spraying fountain.
Towards the end of the afternoon the main square was beginning to get busy with a tsunami of people coming in waves into the old town and then just walking backwards and forwards like an Atlantic tide. The pavements were flowing with people like lava spilling from a volcano, the piazzas were packed, the pizzerias overflowing and the gelateria noisy with babbling chatter.
This was the passeggiata, an Italian tradition where local people descend on the town at dusk and just walk and sometimes stop to talk. Some people had bought fold up garden chairs and were just sitting and chatting, others were playing cards, some were hanging around the bars but mostly they were just walking up and down and around and around and they were still coming in as we battled against the flow and made our way to the seafront just a few yards to the west.
At the fishing harbour men were still going about their daily chores and preparing their boats to put out to sea later and this gave way to a long elegant promenade, Foro Vittorio Emanuele II where people were beginning to gather in expectation of a sunset. As local people they will all have seen this sunset many many times over but it still draws them in like a moth to a flame.
We finished at the Fountain of Arethusa, a natural fountain and according to Greek mythology the fresh water fountain is the place where the nymph Arethusa, the patron figure of ancient Syracuse, returned to earth’s surface after escaping from her undersea home in Arcadia. The Fountain of Arethusa is the only place in Europe where papyrus grows (allegedly) which explained why the gift shops nearby all had postcards, book marks and fridge magnets made from the stuff.
The sunset came and went, we returned to the apartment and thoughts turned to evening dining. The owner of the apartment had earlier made a recommendation so based solely on that we returned to Piazza Archimede and discovered a charming trattoria with a traditional menu and enjoyed a vibrant plate of Sicilian pasta. We knew instinctively that we would be returning.
The day finished with a night of terror. It was a hot night and in the early hours I pushed the duvet back to cool down but as I lay there a heard zzzzz, zzzzz, a bloody mosquito and we had foolishly travelled without insect repellent. It simply hadn’t occurred to us. Not taking any chances we pulled the duvet up to our necks and checked for bites because we had been lying out of the sheets laid out like an all-you-can-eat buffet table for creepy-crawlies.
I don’t like all-you-can-eat buffets much myself because I invariably overload the plate and eat too much and the mosquitoes suffered from the same lack of self restraint and sure enough we had been attacked.
I had only a couple and considering how many glasses of wine I had drunk the previous day took I pleasure from imagining that the little blighter that got me would most likely be suffering from a monster hang-over! I had a vision of him in my head sitting there with his pals, rubbing his head and saying “never again. never ever again…!”
The next day we made it a priority to buy insect repellent.