Siracusa Italy, on the island of Sicily, was not on my personal bucket list. Since everyone else, my wife Carol and the Sans Souci’s, Ken and Roberta were excited about it, it was fine with me. I was surprised at how much I loved it.
Map of Siracusa, Sicily
After we arrived from our overnight passage, we were all tired and decided to lay low for the day. We were planning on staying for a few days before heading south to Malta, so we were in no hurry to get ashore. We weren’t picking up my sister in law Tina in Palermo for a few days so we had plenty off time to wander about town.
Siracusa, like many big towns in Italy, had a fortress-like inner city that was built 2500 years ago by the Greeks. Over the centuries it was taken over by various empires and invaders and it is amazing that it remains in tact, albeit with many upgrades and improvements since it’s inception.
Siracusa, Sicily Walled City
Within walled city is a massive network of narrow streets and buildings housing restaurants, shops and apartments where thousands off inhabitants live.
Outside the walled complex is a beautiful city of 125,000 people. We had heard about the famous Siracusa markets, but to experience it is really something else. Italians are very expressive people anyway, but the marketeers take it to a new level! As you walk by the booths filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, cheese and pastries, not only are your sight and sense of smell overwhelmed, but your ears too! Imagine a hundred people presenting their products all at the same time, acting as if you would be a fool not to buy from them and their products are the freshest you will ever find at the best prices! All in Italian. Did we understand them? Nope. But with their loud, flowery speech, arms waving in the air and their hands touching their chests over their hearts, you got the idea!
At the end of the market there was a deli, of sorts. Out front there was a team of women dishing out samples of cheeses, bruschetta and bread. They were not quite as expressive as the others, but we ended up spending a fortune because everything was so good.
Carol’s sister Tina arrived in Palermo a few days after we arrived in Siracusa for her annual visit so we rented a car from Avis and drove to pick her up. She was arriving at 6am so we decided to get a hotel room the night before in Palermo. After picking her up at the airport we wandered about town for a few hours and then headed back to Siracusa. Tina is a Special Ed teacher and school had just finished. She was fried and looked forward to some relaxation on Seabird! The only problem for me is that now I had two of them and they don’t like to sit around. I was outvoted constantly for two weeks and had to participate in many, many excursions. On the plus side, Tina likes food as much as I do, so it was a Roman Feast nearly every day!
I lost the original photo, but this is what we saw from the boat at 2am!
I didn’t mention this in my previous blog, but while cruising overnight on June 16th from Crotone to Siracusa, Carol was on watch and noticed a bright orange light in the sky to the north of us. She radio’d Ken on Sans Souci about it, and he thought it might be a reflection from the rising sun. OK, Carol thought, but she looked at her watch and it showed 2am, which was 4 hours before sunrise. She looked through the binoculars and discovered that it was red hot lava flowing down the side of a huge mountain! She realized then that it had to be Mt Etna. When I arrived for my shift at 3am, she showed it to me and we then decided that one of our trips in Sicily would be to visit Mt Etna close up. We were witnessing the last major eruption from the relative safety of the pilot house on Seabird!
After Tina arrived and she had her fill of Frozen Margaritas and a bit of rest, we planned our trip. I have one of these little Garmin navigation systems that we bring with us. It saves us tons of time trying to find places. It did not work so well in Sicily, at least around the Mt Etna area. We had a lot of false starts and hit a lot of dead ends before finally arriving at the main tourist base. On the way there, it was like traveling on the moon. The lava fields extended 10 or 15 miles from the volcano and roads had to be carved out from the cooled rock.
While the base was really a disappointing tourist trap, the tour up the mountain to the volcano was not. It consisted of a long tram ride followed by a ride up in this strange looking vehicle that looked like a cross between a school bus and a Hummer.
our transportation to the volcano
I was surprised at how cold it was up there. When you suddenly realized that your feet were warm, you knew you were in Volcano Country. Although the air was a chilly 45 degrees F, the ground was warm, very warm to the touch, even though the main crater was still miles away. Mt Etna encompasses 459 square miles. I would not want to be around if there was a cataclysmic event there.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO MALTA……
We like to think of ourselves as “flexible”cruisers. Weather patterns, change of heart, unexpected repairs, all of these play a part in what we end up doing on the boat. Our plan had always been for Seabird and Sans Souci to cruise directly to Malta from Siracusa. The passage from Siracusa to Malta was 82 NMR, or about 10 hours. Since we wanted to arrive to clear customs by 4pm, that meant leaving Siracusa at 6am. If we had to, we would, but we started looking for alternatives and found a small town in southern Sicily called Marina Ragusa, which was only 59 miles, or 6 hours from Malta. It was a nice new marina and it looked like a fun place to stop for a few days.
Carol and I have gotten pretty good at Med Mooring. An invaluable addition to this process was a set of two way headsets that we purchased. When we Med Moor, I need Carol in the back of the boat to guide me in, i.e. “Go left”, “go right”. Or “STOP!!!” Which means I am about to hit something. Anyway, when I am backing in between two boats set apart by only the width of my boat and the entire area behind the boat is one big blind spot, these headphones help a lot!
Siracusa to Marina Ragusa – 59 miles
It was really a nice marina. The people were friendly and it was a safe, calm harbor.
Carol, Tina and I took a bus to the town of Ragusa, which was about 10 miles from the boat. The town was kind of a cross between a typical European city and something out of a fairy tale. The oldest part of the city, which we viewed from above, looked like a painting. Look at the photo below. It pretty much sums up exactly what we saw.
While we were at the marina, I decided that it would be interesting to find out what it would cost to keep our boat there for the winter. Both Ken and I had given several thousand dollars in deposits to Porto Di Imperia marina in northern Italy, but our emails to them were unanswered recently and we found out that they had financial problems. In May, they declared bankruptcy. We had also heard that the security there was suspect. I hated to lose the deposit, but we were concerned about leaving our boats there under the current financial strain.
I was astounded by the quote! The cost for the entire winter was about the same as one month at Porto Di Imperia! In addition, they had a great guy there, George, who spoke perfect English and looked after many of the boats there. The weather is mild so there is no need to winterize the boat and Tunisia is only a day away for cheap fuel and meeting the EU requirements for avoidance of the dreaded Value Added Tax (VAT), which could be up to 20% of a vessel’s value!
To me it was a no brainer. I would save over $15,000 on storage and probably another $15,000 in fuel costs.
Ken and Roberta hedged on the idea and decided that they did not want to backtrack to Sicily at the end of the summer, so, the plan was to part company in Elba and meet again in the springtime. Call me cheap……..
After 3 days in Ragusa. It was off to Malta….