04/12/2017 - 04/13/2017
After Taormina, the logical next stop would have been Siracusa, just an hour and a half down the coastal highway. However, the Siracusa market is open every day except Sunday and the Modica market is only on Thursdays, which meant that we had to drive all the way to Sicily's southeastern tip. Markets are a very big deal for us. Thankfully there wasn't any traffic and the roads were on low ground so we made it to Ragusa in time for a late lunch. Ragusa is one of four towns in the area renowned for their beauty and Baroque architecture. What is Baroque? I wish I could explain it. As best as I can understand it, it's an architectural style best defined by its era (immediately post-Renaissance) and its ornamental flair. In fact, the word "baroque" has come to mean excessively ornamental or extravagant in style in popular parlance. Having seen examples of Baroque architecture throughout southern and central Europe I have a difficult time describing it, but I know it when I see it.
Ragusa's Duomo di San Giorgio is a beautiful Baroque church and brings considerable gravitas to the main square of the old town. Between our illegal parking spot, the intermittent drizzle, and the long staircase up to the front door of the cathedral we decided to confine our exploration to the main square and an excellent gelateria that inhabited it.
Before leaving Ragusa we drove across the ravine to the upper town Ragusa Superiore for the classic view of the old town.
The nearby town of Chiaramonte Gulfi is nicknamed the "balcony of Sicily" for its lofty position on an isolated hilltop and the sweeping views supposedly available from many locations around town. Soon after we arrived at the center of town the skies really began to open up. During one downpour we took refuge in the town's main church where we got to enjoy a choir practice.
We braved the rain and explored a few more streets but never found anything close to a view. Eventually we gave up and retreated to our car, with dampened clothes but undampened spirits. It was the only rainout of our trip, so we had little to complain about. We proceeded to Modica, where we had an Airbnb for the night. On Via San Benedetto da Norcia, the elevated road that took us to our residential mini-suburb, there was an overlook with amazing views of the old town.
The Airbnb was an entertaining place run by an elderly couple who didn't speak a word of English. It was one of the few times that my efforts to learn a few words of Italian paid off. The apartment was filled with fragile tchotchkes and assorted bric-a-brac so we had to incarcerate the kids in the main bedroom the whole time we were indoors. That was motivation enough to get ourselves moving quickly, but there was only time for dinner on the main drag of the old town (unsurprisingly named Corso Umberto I).
In the morning we were excited to see the Thursday market, which had the annoying habit of moving back and forth between the widely disparate locations of Modica Alta and the Sacro Cruore suburb. I had researched the expected location of that morning's market and all my inquiries pointed to Sacro Cruore, but twenty minutes of driving around the area revealed nothing. Eventually a solitary vendor informed me the market was actually in Modica Alta that day, so we reversed course and entered that rat's nest of tiny residential streets. We did find the market, but it was largely focused on clothes and other dry goods and there was very little produce to be seen. It was quite disappointing, because we had structured our itinerary around the weekly markets in Taormina and Modica and it turned out we shouldn't have bothered. Due to some blocked streets, it was also a mighty struggle to get out of the neighborhood. We still hadn't seen the old town of Modica, so we drove back down to Modica Bassa and stopped in front of the main church, Duomo di San Giorgio. Was it the same Duomo di San Giorgio we had seen in Ragusa, being trucked back and forth between the two cities every day? Probably not, but given the similarity of the facades I wouldn't have been surprised. There wasn't anywhere to park, so Mei Ling and I took turns exploring the immediate surroundings.
We had a mediocre lunch at the far end of Corso Umberto I, and then headed to Noto. Noto's historic center proved to be much more walkable and impressive than anything we had seen in Ragusa and Modica. It seemed like there was another gorgeous church or palace everywhere we looked.
Cleo, Ian, and I climbed the narrow, winding staircase up to the bell tower of Chiesa di Montevergine for views of Noto's cathedral and the rooftops of the old town.
We took a brief tour of the Nicolaci Palace and then stopped at the famous Caffe Sicilia for gelato. It was nice to be outside on the main street of the beautiful old town, but I couldn't detect any difference between Caffe Sicilia's gelato and any of the versions we'd had previously. Perhaps I'm not cut out to be a gelato connoisseur. I recorded one last stroll down Corso Vittorio Emanuele with my video sunglasses and then we got back on the road to Siracusa.