My post on Sicily – part 2 ended with us leaving our beloved agriturismo on 2 January. We settled our bill (for 3 nights in a 4.5 star B&B, 3 gourmet 4-course suppers for 3, plus breakfasts, only €600!) and hit the road for one last trek to another locale.
This time our destination was Siracusa, or Syracuse in English. Now, I grew up only an hour or so from Syracuse, New York and have always had a poor opinion of the city, so even though I clearly knew this was a very different city, my expectations were not high. It also didn’t help that the last city we had visited was the scummy Palermo.
Well we arrived to Siracusa early, due to Sicily’s excellent major highway system (if you’re on a secondary or tertiary road, I don’t have many good things to say for it, but the major highways are top notch). We had an AirBnB booked and weren’t scheduled to meet the host for another 2 hours, so we parked the car and decided to walk around the neighbourhood then grab lunch.
We gravitated toward the dominating and odd church spire a block away from us that Google maps told us was the Basilica of Madonna Della Lacrime. We had no idea what this meant, just another church name to us.
The entire building is made of concrete. It’s very 1960s and such an odd aesthetic, we couldn’t understand why this would be here in an ancient town. When we entered the building it felt like a bomb shelter or bunker. We learned there’s one part of the church downstairs (they call it the crypt but it’s a full church) and then the basilica upstairs (under that weird spire). Both feel weird and you’re still very aware you’re encased in concrete the whole time.
However, we finally learned the meaning and purpose of the church. Siracusa was the location of a Vatican-confirmed miracle in 1953 of the weeping Madonna. There have been reports the world-over of weeping Madonna pictures and statues but this is the only one that was inspected by scientists and clergy and confirmed to be valid.
This church was built with the sole purpose of housing the pieces related to this miracle. There is a reliquary holding some of the tears that were collected from her along with a handkerchief used to dry the face. The statue itself is still there too, just a small bust maybe 18 inches tall. Then there is a small museum dedicated to the miracle and in it is everything that people came and left at the statue while it was happening (it cried for a few days). There was everything from silver candlesticks (families wanted to leave their most valued belongings) to the canes and crutches of the healed.
Altogether it was just the coolest find, to stumble upon this odd church and this miracle story. This sort of surprise is one of my favourite parts of travelling.
It is said she healed many people and still does, so we lit some candles; but I walked away still needing my cane and Sophie still needs insulin so…. I guess we weren’t worthy.
After we had lunch we checked into our cute AirBnB. It was great- large, 2 bedrooms, and so clean. But they clearly hadn’t had the heat on in days or even weeks and it was maybe only 5° inside so it took quite a while to warm (we never turned the heaters off in our 48 hours there- even when it was 18° outside, because the houses are built to stay cool and really didn’t retain any heat well).
We stayed in an area where we knew we could park and was close to a couple ancient ruins but it wasn’t close to the historical centre of town, the island of Ortigia. We had read that you can’t drive on to Ortigia, it is blocked to traffic, but once we got there we learned that there are plenty of cars there (you just wouldn’t want to drive the middle, narrow streets unless you were a local). We wonder if they open it up to traffic in the off season and it is more closed in summer?
Either way, we didn’t want to drive it so took a taxi in to Ortigia for dinner and a walk around the area.
The next day, our full day in Siracusa, we walked from our BnB over to the Greek Theatre and ancient ruins park.
After walking in the hot sun around the amphitheatre, there is this beautiful shaded and oasis-like area below the limestone cliff in the archeological park. We walked around and explored the same caves and sites that the Greeks called home 2500 years ago.
The next day was our last day in Sicily. Our flight wasn’t until 7pm but we had to check out of our AirBnb by 10am. Luckily, by then we’d learned that you can, in fact, drive to Ortigia, so we did. We drove right to the tip of the island in hopes of visiting Castello Maniace. We had seen on previous days that it had short hours but we made sure to fit it into our schedule because it sounded like it had quite the history; over centuries occupied by Romans, Arabs, and Normans. It said it opened at 0830 and we arrived at 1030 to a locked gate. Eventually a man arrived and said he was the ticket agent and hadn’t started work yet, it will open at 1130. The Sicilians don’t seem to have an overwhelmingly robust work ethic.
So we ambled through Ortigia, our first time seeing it in the daylight. We wanted to make our way to the market, as our taxi driver (who we’d had 3 times and liked very much) suggested it was the best place to lunch.
After lunch we made our way back to the castle and it was finally open. However, it was a bit of a let down. We could tell they’d tried to restore it. According to them, they’d been doing various restoration phases since the 1970s, but we still felt like there wasn’t a lot of information, there was no staff (only the one ticket-man who showed up late) and not a lot of access to most parts of the castle. There sure were beautiful views of the water and town, though. And seeing as it was only 4€ to get in, I guess we got what we paid for.
When we were done at the castle we packed into the car and hit the road. We had about a 40-minute drive to the airport in Catania, had to return our rental car then brave airport security in a language we didn’t speak. We had to beg for a security agent who knew enough English for us to explain that these 2 clear bags are medical equipment and cannot go through x-ray. They still wanted to put it through! I had about 5 words written out in Italian – diabetic, insulin, medical equipment, no x-ray, and medicine. Eventually they relented and hand-inspected our diabetic gear. For this reason though, is why I always keep it in clear Ziploc bags, separate from all other luggage/gear, and have the choice words translated ahead of time– also why we always give ourselves even more extra time to get through security (though in reality, I think we’re always through faster because we don’t have to wait in the general line).
Now we’re home safe and sound. Sicily was an awesome trip but we also learned some things to take forward in future trips:
-They don’t need to be so long. In Canada where flights cost so much and are usually the biggest chunk of your travel budget, we often think we need to prolong the trip to ‘make it worth it’. We’ve realised we need to get out of this mindspace here in Europe where flights are much cheaper and we’re travelling more. Three of us together 24/7 gets exhausting and we get on each others’ nerves. Maybe a city or trip can be more enjoyed in 4 days rather than extended to multiple cities and weeks, and we won’t come home so exhausted and ‘over it’ all.
-Don’t be shy with the insulin. When travelling and unsure of the carb counts, we’re learning to be a bit more vigorous and gutsy with the insulin dosing. In Paris we were conservative with counts and dosing like we were at home and she was almost always very high. In Sicily, we gave large doses and it worked. She started out the trip sick with a cold and on very high doses just because of that, and we realised it was working. We won’t be so shy next time that we’re dealing with unknown or foreign foods.
-Unless we have to, don’t take the evening flight home. We took the 8pm flight home from Paris because we thought this would give us an extra day in Paris without having to pay for a hotel. This time the only flight to Bristol was at 7pm. We got home around 11pm, exhausted. I decided that if we can swing it, we’re taking earlier flights from now on. I just hate the feeling of coming home all groggy and falling asleep immediately. When I wake up there’s no food in the house and still so much work to do and bags to unpack, etc.
Overall, Sicily is an amazing place to visit. There is so much to see an do. It is steeped in history and culture. The food is out of this world. Things I would suggest are must-dos in any trip to Sicily:
-Go off the beaten path and enjoy an agriturismo. Eat the food!!! Live like a local (a very well-taken-care-of local).
-It’s very touristy but there’s a reason for it, go to Taormina! It’s the prettiest place in the world. It’s the only place in Sicily I saw regular street janitorial staff keeping the town clean, and the restaurants were some of the best we encountered. It’s not the cheapest in Sicily, it’s not the quietest, but it is the prettiest.
-Make sure to catch the Greek ruins at Agrigento. Especially if you’ve never been to Greece/won’t make it any time soon. Sometimes just seeing an ancient city around you reduced to bricks, the people all long gone, helps put your own life into perspective.
Most importantly, enjoy!! Safe travels!