04/13/2017 - 04/14/2017
One of the most difficult decisions in our short itinerary was what to do about Siracusa. Because of the limited ferry schedule, the two nights I wanted in Siracusa would have only left one day to explore Malta which would definitely have not been enough. In the end, I decided that we would likely be returning to Sicily but Malta was much more questionable. Better to allocate more time to Malta so we wouldn't feel like we'd missed too much there. Because that only left us with one evening and one morning in Siracusa, I decided we would stay on the island of Ortigia and not make any attempt to see the mainland half of the city.
I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but our Booking.com B&B in Ortigia was even smaller than the one in Taormina. The door from the street opened directly into the first bedroom, and there was a smaller bedroom in the back. Instant zero to 100% occupancy. We immediately plunged into an enticingly narrow alley which led us through charming small squares and more alleys to Piazza Archimede and Giulio Moschetti's epic Fontana di Diana.
We were now in the heart of Ortigia. From Piazza Archimede the touristy but charming Via Roma coursed southward and we followed it to Piazza Minerva, a white flagstone-paved pedestrian street lined with cafes and stately buildings. Piazza Minerva took us to Piazza Duomo, where the setting sun was throwing an orange glow onto the upper part of the Siracusa Cathedral.
South of the cathedral, we encountered the seaside promenade Lungomare Alfeo where people were gathering to watch the sunset. Rather than battle for an unreserved table at a highly-recommended restaurant, we took an educated guess at which of the waterside restaurants looked best and did fairly well with our choice. On the way back home, we stopped at the gelateria at the corner of Piazza Minerva and Via Roma for cake, cappucino, and a cold glass of Zibibbo.
The next morning we were laser-focused on Ortigia's daily produce and fish market, which my research indicated was one of the best in Sicily. The first place we saw was a food truck selling horsemeat sandwiches and we sat down without hesitation. I purchased more amazing strawberries and we had them with the sandwiches and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Before tackling the crowded market, we passed by some stalls where local fishermen were selling such oddities as skate, eels, and slipper lobster. At one stall a couple of guys were extracting sea urchin roe from the shells, but at ten bucks for a shot glass of roe we decided to pass.
The Ortigia market wasn't as large as the ones in Palermo and Catania, but it was the most artisanal we had seen. The cheese and sausage vendors seemed to have every variety imaginable, and every fruit and vegetable looked like it had been individually polished. It was also one of the more crowded markets we had seen, mainly with tourists.
We didn't have to leave town until two, so we still had plenty of time to explore the island. We plunged back into the network of alleys we'd discovered the previous evening and did our best to make our way down to the southern tip of the island without using any of the wider streets.
We emerged from the alleys at the base of the small peninsula at the southern end of Ortigia. At the very tip of the peninsula is Castello Maniace, a well-preserved medieval fort that we had just enough time to explore.
We made one last stop at the Ortigia market before retrieving the car. I'd spotted an absolutely amazing deli on the main market street that morning but we'd just finished eating. Now that we'd burned off some calories walking around, it seemed like a good idea to get some sandwiches to eat on the drive down to the Malta ferry at Pozzallo. My only regret is that there wasn't an option for a panini with everything.
Another day in Siracusa would have definitely been welcome, but as always I was amazed at how much we were able to see and do in less than twenty-four hours. We had given ourselves plenty of time to get to Pozzallo and there wasn't any traffic, so I had time to drop everyone off at the check-in for the ferry before returning a short distance up the road to the paid parking. I followed the signs up an incline and immediately encountered a guy in a yellow safety vest who waved me into a spot on an ungated dirt lot close by. I got out and the guy immediately came over gesturing and making sounds that sounded like Italian but were mostly incoherent. It was clear he wanted money, and eventually he wrote down a figure that didn't seem too unreasonable. I was about to pull out my wallet, but I suddenly remembered the parking scam for the Erice funicular that I'd read about. I asked the guy if he would give me a receipt, and he pulled out some slips of colored paper and waved them in front of me. I could see they were completely blank, which was enough for me to take a closer look at the surroundings. At one end of the dirt lot, I saw a gated lot that was clearly marked "Ferry Parking" in Italian, so I walked towards it with the vest guy following and gesticulating next to me the whole time. He peeled off as soon as I walked into the lot and I quickly found an office with a woman sitting inside. I asked her if the vest guy worked for her and she shook her head. "That parking isn't safe. He should not be there." I walked back to my car, half expecting the vest guy to attack me, but he was nowhere in sight. I drove the car into the real lot, paid 18 Euros for three days, and got my real receipt. Having foiled my first scam attempt in Sicily, I walked down the hill and joined Mei Ling and the kids just as they started allowing people to board the ferry. We were all about to experience a brand new country.