With the festivities of Christmas behind us, the thought of staying in Northern Europe through the winter was just not going to work. We found an AirBnB in Siracusa, in the southeast corner of Sicily, with a generous discount because we booked for the whole month. More about how that's working out later...
New Year's Day was "Adventure Day" - formerly known as the "Dreaded Travel Day". We drove from Baden Baden to Zürich to catch an Edelweiss Air flight to Catania. Holidays are a great travel option - there was absolutely no line at security - and having the Chase Sapphire Reserve VISA got us into a very comfortable airport lounge while we waited for our flight - the couple of glasses of Tempranillo didn't hurt.
We arrived in Catania around 7:00 PM, so we made the rare call to take a taxi to the train station rather than wait for a bus - the right decision - we just caught the last train to Siracusa. Once on the train we texted our ETA (10:15) to our AirBnB host who responded with a much-appreciated offer to pick us up at the station. By the time we pulled into Siracusa we were the last people on the New Year’s Day train and our host met us on the platform. We got a quick tour of the apartment from him and his wife - it looked reasonable enough, except that it was quite cold. He showed us how to work the one rolling propane gas infrared heater to heat a 3-room apartment. We set it up in the bedroom as soon as they left. Richard didn’t feel comfortable leaving it on while we slept, so we cuddled together for the night, wondering what had we gotten ourselves into for a whole month. [Note to self - when the listing says “Heating” is included, it might not hurt to ask exactly what that means - legit central heating or propane heater, wood-burning stove, extra blankets?]
The next day we were hunting down a CO alarm at a local hardware store, only to find the these aren’t a “thing” in Sicily. A download of the user manual revealed that “Calda” would shut off automatically if the air was unsafe. Just the same, we dropped 12 Euro for a small electric space heater at the local version of a “Dollar Store” that heats up the bedroom just fine. In the end we have figured out how to stay reasonably comfortable in an apartment that is often colder than the outside temperature, which has been consistently in the high 50’s and sunny just about every day. When you get a bargain on an apartment that is a short walk to both beautiful Ortigia island and the Archaeological Park - the best sites of Siracusa - you may be settling for grown-up camping. All things considered, it’s nice to be in a climate where there are palm and citrus trees everywhere and we’re greeted each morning with the sunrises over Ortigia island through our bedroom window.
For Italy, the Christmas season extends to January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany - so the streets of Ortigia Island were still ablaze with holiday lights that were uniquely Sicilian in their colors and patterns.
For several weeks Nancy has been saying - in her characteristically positive and intentional way - that Richard would play a gig at a bar or restaurant in Sicily. On our first day, while looking for live music venues, Richard stumbled upon a vegan restaurant called “MOON - Move Ortigia Out of Normalcy”. This week’s featured artist? “Come in and play”. The food turned out to be very good, the staff was super friendly, and the piano was a 100-year-old Steinway. After dinner Richard sat down and played to a warm reception from the then-full room. Two days later we were back for another meal and performance before the restaurant closed for an extended vacation. At this point Richard is convinced Nancy has supernatural powers. [See a snippet of Richard playing here.]
Another of Nancy's "intentions" was that Richard would have a piano in our Sicily apartment. We found a fine music store nearby that had digital pianos to rent and in the process made friends with the owner, Maurizio Moscuzza, who invited us to see his band play their annual tribute to the late Pino Daniele at an Ortigia bar called Barcollo. The music would start after 10:00 PM, so these wimps took a nap in the afternoon. We strolled over to Ortigia on a crisp Saturday night to find the bar tucked into the courtyard of the Borgia Palace. The tiny place was packed but we found a great place to stand right by the Boogie Boogie Band. The show lasted 3-hours without a break and the lead singer orchestrated a constant rotation of singers and musicians - one more talented than the next. The show was a love-fest for this legendary Neapolitan singer-songwriter with the audience often singing along with every word. Fueled by Prosecco, we floated home at 2:00am.
Sometimes we just want to stay "at home", cook our own meals, and watch a movie or binge a series or two. In Sicily, the go-to pasta dish is Orecchiette ("little ears") with sausage and greens. We made ours with spinach. We hook up the MacBook Pro to the TV with an HDMI cable (or just bring the laptop into bed), turn on ExpressVPN so the internet thinks we're in NYC, and stream something using Netflix, Amazon PrimeVideo, or AppleTV+. We used the Golden Globe nominations as a guide and watched Rocketman, which was brilliant - be sure to turn on the subtitles so you don't miss any of the great Bernie Taupin lyrics. The Two Popes was surprisingly fascinating. The jury is still out on Fleabag and Catastrophe, but we got easily hooked on Modern Love & The Morning Show and have chewed through season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and all of Derry Girls. We just started Schitt$ Creek, and it's hilarious.
By now you know we like to get out and walk, sometimes just for the steps, but most often to stumble upon things and see where they take us. On one of our walks around the circumference of Ortigia Island we happened upon the Castello Maniace at the very tip of the island. Built in the 1200s it was the residence of various emperors, kings, and queens of Sicily. For 6 euros each we toured the place for about an hour.
With all of the walking, Nancy's boots split a zipper, so her new ones from Zara were irresistible with their sparkles. We were out again hunting down some live music at Punto G but they were closed - come back tomorrow! So we ended up having a lively conversation with a couple from Malta at a seaside bar that convinced us to book a side trip there while we are in Sicily.
One of Siracusa's prime attractions is Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, a sprawling park with well-preserved structures from as far back as 500 BC. For us it is a short walk away and we spent a beautiful Saturday afternoon strolling through the Greek Temple, the Roman Amphitheater, the "Quarry of Paradise", and "The Ear of Dionysius". With the sun shining in a bright blue sky, the birds chirping, and the scent of flowering bushes and citrus trees we could re-imagine life in ancient Siracusa - a perfect day.
Read more about Ortigia in the post Ortigia - Secondo.
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Nancy McCabe &