The Road to Noto is Not Smooth Sailing and Whispers From the North

I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating through Siracusa, but the train station is a little out-of-the-way from my usual haunts, which have by the way expanded greatly.  When I tried to get there to take a train to Catania, Pearl and I got completely lost and a 20 minute trip took well over an hour. Silly me, I relied partly on Google maps, which if you have read my other blogs, will know doesn’t work. I do have to admit that it’s not completely Google’s fault this time as the area around the train station is under construction so it looks like a reroute is needed, but it is not for walkers, only for those driving. Thank the goddesses that the trains between Siracusa and Catania run every hour during the week. 

For the trip to Noto I decided that I would walk there and plan a route the day before, prior to navigating with a dog and a suitcase. Plotting a route in Siracusa is not quite as simple as you might think. You can look at a map and figure out the best way to get there, but when you try to do it via the streets you’ve mapped out you may discover but some of those streets are not conducive to walkers and/or the sidewalks are not usable. This can be for many reasons. First of all, be prepared to walk around the many drying racks. Small town have nothing on Siracusa where laundry (at least it is more or less clean)  is literally hung out for everyone to see. Alternately, the excess water from clean laundry may be dripping on your head as you walk. Also there are apparently no building regulations in Siracusa, so if you want a porch you just build it on the front of your house and if your new porch extends over the sidewalk and onto the road — shrug. It’s also best to know if the street is one that is in particularly bad shape. Wheeling a suitcase across broken pavement that is basically rubble is more difficult than wheeling it over cobblestones! Another factor to take into account is the width of the sidewalk. Sidewalks vary between 1/2 a metre to 2 m. A single person walking on a half metre sidewalk is doable; walking single file with a dog is barely doable, but trying to walk with a dog and a suitcase on a half metre sidewalk is not doable!  Next, one needs to consider the type of street. A via is a small street and easy to cross. Also less likely to have motorcyclists suddenly coming up behind you on the sidewalk and scaring the shit out of you. On a viale one needs to be more careful of that and can run into tricky situations. Do you know those traffic corners where they have lights for left turns?  Well, in Siracusa that is also when you get the crossing signal for walking across the street when people are turning left directly into your path! Because the city is over a thousand years old, nothing is on a grid, so often the people turning left are often doing so from a curve and do not see you until they are a metre or two away. Since all Sicilian drive as though they are participating in a the Monaco Grand Prix or Daytona 500 this makes for a very dangerous situation. Having extras to watch out for such as a dog and a suitcase, make it even more so. It is best to know how to avoid these. So rather than crossing vale Luigi Cordona at Viale Tiocrito, it is best to walk a block south and cross over. This is the pedestrian walkway that brings you into the grounds of the Basilica Santuario Madonna delle Lacrime. I have a theory that drivers stop for pedestrians there because they are entering the grounds of the Basilica. They tend to stop on the other side too and this is extremely unusual behaviour — obeying the regulation to stop at pedestrian crosswalks.

Another benefit of crossing by the Basilica is catching a peak of the gardens as you walk along. This picture is from the second week of February when flowers suddenly started blooming everywhere.

The widest street that you are likely to have to cross is a Corso. For me on the way to the train station I needed to cross Corso Gelone. This is not difficult if you know the right spots. Corsos and some viales are like boulevards with a centre area, so you cross one half of the street and then the next. 

Back to the story:) So I plotted out my best route on the way home from school. Yes, I started taking Italian classes at the Italian Academy. This is from their site and it is actually true! “The main building of our campus is a historic villa that boasts over 2 acres of lush botanical garden filled with citrus trees, Mediterranean flora, century-old palms, and magnolias, as well as many other exotic trees and plants. Outdoor lessons, cooking classes, workshops and other activities are often held within this enchanting setting.”

So while I improved my Italian, Pearl roamed the grounds. I chose individual lessons since I was bringing Pearl to school with me (you really can bring dogs anywhere in Sicily). Luisa was very helpful in cementing and adding to my knowledge of Italian both written and spoken. The written was useful to learn the spoken, but I can’t even remember how to spell simple English words, so within a day or so, I’d forgotten how to spell the Italian words. However, I still remembered how to say and understand them which was what was really important. I dictate all of my posts using Apple Pages and then double check and look up the spelling of words that I know Pages misunderstood so that you all get somewhat legible text to read:)

The news was starting to pierce my bubble. Of course we had all heard about Wuhan, but reports were starting to appear on the news about an outbreak in Northern Italy. It seemed as though one day there were rumblings and the next there were lockdowns in a few small towns quickly followed by reports of Coronavirus spreading to Milan and Venice. A couple of days before, I had been chatting with my niece about meeting her in Florence instead of Naples, but that was beginning to look like a very bad idea. 

My original route back to Canada was Siracusa to Palermo by train, followed by a ferry to Napoli where I would stay for 5 or 6 days before heading north to Milano to meet a friend and a few days later the night train to Paris for a short stay. Then a flight to Montreal followed by a train to Toronto (after an overnight stay), a Go Bus to Hamilton and a taxi home to Dundas. The main reason for this torturous journey was of course Pearl. I wanted to avoid plane travel as much as possible, but also it would be great to see some of Italy and meet my online Italian teacher Cristina who lives in Milano.

I started looking into a possible new way home and cancelling hotels and transportation, but with my intermittent Internet it was just too frustrating so I decided to put it off until I arrived in Noto. at that point in time the virus seemed contained to the north of Italy with most of the cases in a few small towns. So there didn’t seem to be a real rush. I had already given my notice to my landlady because it was just too damp in my apartment plus I didn’t feel like living like a peasant anymore. There was a great spot on the beach in Taormina an hour and a half up the coast waiting for me a few days after I returned from Noto. The condo even included a kayak. And while it may have been cool and damp in my apartment, outside with the sun shining Sicilia was waking up. Temperatures during the afternoon were often hitting 24° and by 10 in the morning it was 18°. My new plan was to head north to Taormina and from there take a ferry over to the tip of the boot in Calabria. I really hadn’t figured out what I was going to do after that. There were so many possibilities and I still had a month to go before my flight home from Paris.

I decided to see how the situation unfolded while I was gone for two nights in Noto and also to check out transportation while I had reliable Internet. A delicious chicken cutlet from the butcher down the street with a bit of pasta, bags packed and Pearl’s toilette finished it was time for bed before tomorrow’s travel.

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