“It’s close ed” Modica & Ragusa, Sicily

Modica from Belevedere

Modica from Belevedere

Traveling in off-season has both pluses and minuses. On the one hand, no crowds at any of the sites meaning almost never having to wait to get in and discounts on accommodation, while on the other, you are often faced with a sign saying “Chiusa” (closed in English).

Our visit to Modica and Ragusa gave us a great opportunity to experience both!

Train Station - Siracusa

Train Station – Siracusa

Modica our base for a couple of days is about an hour and half by train from Siracusa. Its a direct line and definitely the best way to get there if you can coincide your travel plans with the off season timetable.

Modica is one of the towns rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693 and consists of two towns – Modica Bassa (lower) and Modica Alta (upper) and a lot of steps between the two!

Taking the advice of our guidebook on Sicily and numerous informative blogs, we stayed in Modica Alta at the delightful Palazzo Failla Hotel which was offering a very good off- season deal. Its a delightful old hotel with a grand entrance staircase and large rooms with recently renovated bathrooms (almost unheard of in Sicily). Attached to the hotel is one of the region’s finest restaurants.

Modica is well known for its great food, not just its chocolate and baroque architecture. However, as we quickly found out most of the restaurants, including the hotel’s, that were on our hit list were, as the Sicilians say so delightfully in English “Is close ed”. The hotel also gave us a list of places to eat, however as we wandered the delightful streets, alleyways and stairs of Modica we were able to see that most were in fact “close ed”. Continue reading

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Book Review – Syracuse City of Legends – A glory of Sicily

Cathederal (Duomo)

Cathederal (Duomo)

While sitting having breakfast at the delightful Movimento Centrale Coffee shop on the island of Ortigia, Syracusa, we discovered Jeremy Dummett’s paperback version of “Syracuse City of Legends – A glory of Sicily”. It seemed an ideal companion to our extended stay in Siracusa. Just as Dummett notes when referring to the comments of late 19th Century Englishmen, Douglas Sladen, “it is a place where you can spend any space of time”.

The book is written in two parts. The first, takes the reader through the rich history of Syracuse right upto today. The second, describes the principal monuments of Siracusa. As a result it is both a history of this quite amazing place and a form of guidebook, although to call the second section a guidebook does quite an injustice.

I read the book in sequence, first the history and then the monuments, however each section is discrete which means if you are visiting, looking at the second section first would also work well. In fact, that’s what I will be doing with Jeremy Dummett’s recently published book on Palermo where will be in a week or so.

While Sicily fascinates me I am not a student of the classics and as a result have only a passing knowledge of Sicily’s rich history. Jeremy Dummett’s book provides a rich and easy to read account of the incredible history of Siracusa and with it so much of the history of Sicily itself. He provides insights into Siracusa’s wealth built and plundered on a number of occasions, as well as stories of tyrants and rulers, it’s eventual decline to a secondary city on the island of Sicily and concludes with Siracusa’s place in 21st Century Sicily.

As someone who finds social histories much more interesting than a dry account of events, regular quotes from visitors and writers from the past bring Siracusa’s history to life. References extend far back in history, including the suggestion that Homer’s reference to the small harbour and fresh water spring in The Odeyssy is to the island of Ortigia.

The city’s list of important residents and visitors seems endless. It was fascinating to read about Archimedes, his inventions and senseless death while he was apparently engrossed in resolving a mathematical problem. Siracusa was also visited on more than one occasion by Plato, I particularly enjoyed reading the rather humorous account of Palto’s final exchange with Dionysis. Continue reading

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Catania, Sicily – does it really deserve the bad press?

The elephant obelisk - Piazza Duomo

The elephant obelisk – Piazza Duomo

We’d heard so many stories about carjacking and having the contents of your car stolen that in our two previous visits to Sicily the nearest we’d got to Catania was the airport. However my interest lifted after reading Shamus Sillar’s “Sicily it’s not Quite Tuscany” a couple of years ago. In addition, our eldest daughter had made it clear that she wanted to visit Mt Etna in the short time she was with us in Sicily and its much easier to get there from Catania.

Catania is about an hour by train from Siracusa, assuming the train runs on time, which of course ours didn’t! Regional trains not running on time is apparently the norm in Sicily, so rather than getting frustrated, just relax and enjoy the view, unless you are stationary in a tunnel for 10 minutes as we were!

Whether it’s Trip Advisor, the guide books or just general commentary, Catania does not get great press.

Catania like a number of towns in Sicily was destroyed by the Etna eruption of the late 17th Century and rebuilt in an imposing baroque style. Unlike Noto it’s not a rich cream sandstone but much darker, with its buildings being made of darker volcanic stone. A visit on a wet day gives it a closed in feeling even when walking down a wide boulevard of which there are many. It’s very Gotham City! I’m sure this adds to why Catania doesn’t enjoy a great reputation as a place to go.

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Once settled into our apartment and assured by our Airbnb host that we would not be murdered, we ventured out. An early wrong turn Continue reading

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Walking where others have been – Parco Archelogico Della Neopolis

It’s interesting to know about the history of a place like Siracusa in a chronological sense but reading the personal accounts that are provided through books such as Jeremy Drummett’s Book Syracuse City of Legends – A Glory of Sicjily bring the place truly to life. Visiting Sirucusa means walking the streets and places that Plato, Archimedes and Cicreo also visited. Its a way to see these ruins not just as large stones but to imagine what it would have been like when these icons of times past were in the very same spot.

The Altar of Heiron - dedicated to Zeus Eleutherios , built by Heiron II

The Altar of Heiron – dedicated to Zeus Eleutherios , built during the time of Heiron II

Our visit to the Parco Archelogico Della Neoplolis with our two adult daughters (who joined us for a few days) brought this home quite starkly in a most disturbing manner. As we looked at the excavations of the quarries (Latomie) my eldest daughter and I discussed how they were built and the numbers of slaves that would have been needed. Her comment that she would not have made much of a slave and the subsequent obvious realization that her role as slave would not have been in the quarries was a reality check – how lucky we are to be visiting some 2 plus thousand years later.

Upper terrace - Greek Theatre with my daughters

Upper terrace – Greek Theatre with my daughters

A walk through the quarries( Latomina del Paradiso) includes the Ear of Dionysis and a Grotto dedicated to the rope makers (seems so odd to honour rope makers in today’s world). The quarries provided the stone for the ancient city and extraction would have been back breaking work for the slaves, many of whom were vanquished soldiers from the seemingly endless battles over Siracusa. The perils of losing the war in these items didn’t bare thinking about!

Latomie - The QuRries

Latomie – The Quarries

Ear of Dionysius

Ear of Dionysius

These quarries became prisons for the defeated soldiers. Continue reading

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Setting sail for my next challenge

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It’s now nearly three weeks since I checked my email after waking early to see that I had received my results for my Honours. It was a genuine feeling of pleasure and exhilaration to see that I’d achieved my goal of First Class Honours. It seemed surreal to have received my result in Florence, where so many scholarly activities had taken place.

Basilica - Duomo Florence

Basilica – Duomo Florence

Most importantly achieving the grade level made entry into the PhD program at my preferred institution highly likely. In the following days as we continued to enjoy the amazing sights of Florence, I waited somewhat anxiously to hear about my scholarship application.

Much to my delight an offer arrived.

This post is not, however about my receiving the offer that I’d wanted or to show-off about my results. That said I’m pretty chuffed. This post is actually about setting sail for the next challenge.

“What’s Next” is truly before me now.

Working Identity - the most important book I have ever read

Working Identity – the most important book I have ever read

As I considered “What’s Next” nearly three years ago, I realised that I wanted to do something different. At that stage I wasn’t quite sure what that would be. In my mid-fifties I knew it was not going to be time to sit in a comfy chair with my feet up. I also knew that I was not going to leave my firm to continue in a similar vein, Continue reading

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