Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ragusa Ibla

Last summer, while we were biding our time waiting for the sale of our new house to go through, Nick and I had the opportunity to visit a few places in Sicily that we hadn't seen before.  We didn't always agree on the destination - usually I wanted to go to the places that were close-by and Nick would more often choose places that were farther away.  I did the driving so Nick often would go along with what I suggested, but there were a couple of places that Nick really wanted to see that were quite far from Cianciana.  One was the Acantara Gorge from the previous post.  Another one was Ragusa Ibla.

Ragusa Ibla lies in the south-east corner of Sicily, below Ragusa Superiore.  The original Ragusa was built on the side of a steep hill.  In 1693, the area was hit with a severe earthquake and the town was destroyed, sliding to the bottom of the hill.  Instead of relocating the town, the townsfolk decided that they would rebuild in the same place.  As most of the rebuilding happened in the 1700s, the town today is filled with wonderful baroque architecture.  Many of the people moved to the upper part of the town - Ragusa Superiore, but some still stayed in the lower part - Ragusa Ibla.  While some of Ragusa Ibla is now falling down, some is still standing and is being maintained beautifully.  A stunning example of this is the Cathedral of San Giorgio.

What I loved most about Ragusa Ibla were the winding, narrow streets that took us to surprising places.  We followed one up a set of stairs and past some lovely old row houses - well kept and striking.  We rounded a corner and found ourselves walking along a narrow path lined with baroque shells.  This wasn't apparent immediately until I put my face up to a couple of the windows and found that the interior of the houses dropped two floors to what had become a grass-strewn yard over the years.  Some of these interiors now had trees growing inside them, yet from the outside it looked like you could knock on the door and someone's nonna would answer and beckon you in for a glass of wine or a cup of espresso.

Enjoy here some of my pictures of the buildings in Ragusa Ibla.

For more information about this stunning corner of Sicily, I would recommend you read Baroque Sicily by Jann Huizenga.  Jann lives in Ragusa Ibla and her blog is full of interesting bits of info and lovely pictures about the area.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Alcantara Gorge

Not far from the resort town of Taormina and the slopes of Mount Etna is a stunning gorge formed by the hundreds of lava flows with which Etna has gifted the surrounding areas.  The walls of the gorge reminded me of my mother's pottery studio - the pile of discarded clay that was thrown on piece by piece until she had created a multi-layered ceramic checkerboard.  These towering walls, amazingly, were home to small cacti growing between the cracks.

Cactus growing on the walls of the gorge.

The gorge, or gole in Italian, has 4 hiking trails.  Nick and I took the shortest one, about 1.5 km.  It was a roasting hot day, when we were there - 38 degrees Celcius.  As we walked along the pathways, I found myself grateful for the shade along the path and also for the occasional 'mister' that sprayed cool water over us.  The path took us to lovely viewpoints that gave us glimpses of the river below.

After a nice lunch, we took the elevator down to the river beach. (Yes, an elevator!).  The edge of the river was filled with people - elderly nonnas with their toddler grandchildren in tow, young German women sunbathing topless, middle-aged British men in baggy shorts, Italian men strutting in speedos with gold chains tangled in their chest hair, and shapely young Italian women with perfect make-up and perfect hair wearing brightly coloured bikinis.  

As we made our way down to the river's edge there was a large sign written in Italian, English, German and Spanish warning us that the river was frigidly cold and we should only spend a few minutes in the water.  I stepped in the water.  While chilly, it was most definitely not frigid.  I grew up on the mountains to the north of downtown Vancouver, Canada.  I spent my summers swimming in the snow run-off in Lynn Canyon.  The water here in the gorge was not so cold.

Nick and I made our way to a little beach in the shade of the tall walls.  While he sat on the beach, I walked against the current as far up the river as I was allowed to go before I hit the river rapids.  The walls of the gorge rose up on each side like the dome of a cathedral.  The only sound was the echo of the rushing of the water.  There was a nearly spiritual feel to the place and I felt my cheeks start to hurt, I was grinning so hard at this amazing experience.  Everyone I passed who was walking the other way in the river had the same grin and was sharing the same experience.

I probably stayed in the water for over an hour.  It was a magical day.  Both Nick and I left feeling that it was an afternoon well spent, although I must admit, I suspect one reason Nick was so pleased with the day had something to do with the topless sunbathers!