A post by the “Long-suffering Friend”
Why am I here?
Like “The Husband”, I too have been asked by the Travelling Surveyor to write a guest piece for her blog. It is difficult to say no to the Travelling Surveyor. As one of her very good friends over the years, I’ve tried to say no many times. Mostly I’ve failed. So, here I am to tell you about my trip to Ragusa in Sicily.
Where did I go?
Ragusa, on the island of Sicily.
When did I go?
How do you get there?
Pay a little to fly from Luton or Gatwick to Catania Fontanarossa (CTA) on Wizz Air or EasyJet.
Pay a lot to fly from London Heathrow or Gatwick on British Airways, Lufthansa or KLM.
Direct flights from London and the South East in a little over 3 hours.
From Catania Airport take a 2-hour bus ride through the mountains to Ragusa. Tickets cost €9.00. Pay at the Etna Transporti kiosk at the airport or buy your ticket in advance online at: https://www.etnatrasporti.it/. There was some level of air conditioning on the bus and happily for me, my seat had a USB charger.
I had a long-standing invitation to visit Ragusa from an old friend who has retired out there with her two cats. The cats were flown out at great expense on a KLM flight as the cheaper carriers don’t let you bring a cat on your travels, even if you’re staying for good.
Cooped up in post-pandemic UK and longing for the sights and sounds of somewhere new, I took up the invitation to go and see her just after Easter.
“Have cat, will travel” has bought a house in Ragusa Superiore, in the Upper Town. It’s an old 3 storey town house with an attached apartment and seems an absolute bargain at €42,000.
The house has all the charm of the quarter, cool inside with marble floors and a balcony on the third floor to hang out the washing. The neighbouring houses across the street are so close you can hear them snoring or arguing during the afternoon siesta.
My enchantment with Ragusa began before I even arrived on the long coach journey from Catania that wound through the Hyblaean Mountains. This is scenery you can’t take in in an instant, you need time to drink it in. Where the bus drivers are called Salvatore. The cacti spring up from the gutters and roadsides, their growth enveloping everything that doesn’t move. The land is mesmerising. There are dried up river beds, young vine trees covered in nets, huge hares alert in the morning sunshine bound away into the olive groves. Occasionally a tall thin cypress, mixed in amongst the cacti. And everywhere, neat cultivation on uneven land.
Once I arrive at Ragusa, dragging my luggage, we start to climb. And it doesn’t stop until I leave. Ragusa is not a place for the unfit. After a day my calves and knees ache from the steps and the hills. I got used to the hills and stopped noticing them after a while, but the steps are another matter.
We walk to the edge of Ragusa Superiore to get the best views of the Ibla, the old town. We’re tired now and exploring will have to wait until tomorrow.
Get a bus to the Ibla so that you have some energy left for all the steps and stairs. It is a wonder of baroque architecture, open squares, palaces and churches. The roads so narrow and winding you are constantly surprised by cars attempting to navigate the twists and bends. And given the numbers of bumps and dents on all the cars, the locals often surprise each other too!
Just a half hour’s train ride from Ragusa lies Sampieri. A beautiful beach with constant white waves and perfect sand. You can walk along the sand to La Fornace Penna, a ruined and picturesque brick factory on its own peninsula. The factory has featured in the Inspector Montalbano series and draws its own crowd of tourists in high season. In April, there are few other people on the beach. Not many tourists, mostly just local dog walkers. Cover up and wear maximum sun factor though, a few visitors on the train home had underestimated the sun and they had huge blisters on their skin after just a few hours.
We had breakfast and a light lunch at the Hoky Poky café on the beach at Sampieri. I can highly recommend it, the staff are friendly, food delicious and the ice creams are amazing. https://www.facebook.com/hokypokysampieri/
Take time when you are in Ragusa to walk about during siesta time. The shops are shut, and you’ll be alone apart from a few hot tourists struggling up the hills. There is silence except for the screeching of dozens of swifts calling to each other over the rooftops. I can’t get over the number of abandoned houses, neglected and empty, free newspapers tucked hopefully into the letterboxes and door handles as though the owners long gone might return at any moment.
My time is nearly up, it’s time to go back to the real world. “Have cat, will travel” has baked me a simnel cake to take home to the family. I’d definitely visit Sicily again and next time take in Messina, Syracuse and Modena.
You can’t visit Sicily and not see Mount Etna. It towers over the island. To see it from the plane as you fly in, get a window seat on the right-hand side of the plane flying in and on the left-hand side as you leave.
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