This is how we made the best use of our four days in Siracusa, a beautiful town in the south eastern part of Sicily including a day trip to nearby Noto.
Arrival in Siracusa
After several years of wanting to visit Sicily, today was finally the day! We landed in Catania Airport from Prague and jumped on the Interbus outside the airport. The bus was only 5 minutes late (great start Siciliy!) and buying tickets was really easy. The bus was also pretty much empty, which put to rest my concerns that we’d arrive to a full bus and need to wait another hour.
The ride to the station in Siracusa was supposed to take about 1 hour 15 minutes, but a car accident meant we arrived a half hour late. The bus makes a number of stops along the route from the airport, but then hops on the freeway for a large portion of the drive. It then makes a few stops in the outskirts of Syracusa and in the town itself. The final stop is near the train station which is about a 15 minute walk to Ortigia. Normally I’d hoof it, but with luggage, that wasn’t ideal or frankly going to happen. The local buses didn’t seem to be running that late (it was about 7pm) so we paid a taxi driver 10 euros to drive us to Ortigia. Definitely worth the (cash) money!
By the time we arrived at the apartment and got ready to go out, it was past 8pm. The first ‘sight’ we came across was the Piazza del Duomo, which is one of the prettiest piazzas I’ve come across. Dominated by the magnificent cathedral, it’s a sight to behold. Like every other Italian town or city, its piazza is the central meeting place in the evenings. Ortigia’s magnificent piazza was definitely no exception.
Wandering around the back streets of Ortigia, we found a lovely restaurant called La Locandiera Di Palazzo Bellomo where I had a pistachio ravioli and Jarrad finally found himself a pizza! Pistachios grow in Sicily so they come up often on menus. These little green nuts became a bit of a theme during our stay in Siracusa as I couldn’t get enough!
2nd Day in Siracusa – Markets and Ruins
We spent a lot of time wandering around on this trip, and this day was no exception. I clocked up 26,000 steps during the day! I started the morning finding the Ortigia markets and a much needed cappuccino. Jarrad then joined me for a walk and we spent a bit more time visiting the markets. The stall owners can be very convincing with their sales pitch (even in Italian!). I think we did ok managing to walk away with ‘only’ a spicy sun dried tomato pesto, some spicy and not so spicy salami and pecorino cheese. This would end up also being lunch.
Next stop was the Parco Archeologico Neapolis. It was a bit of a hike from the apartment, at a distance of about 2.5km. The distance seemed longer since we’d picked the hottest of our days in Siracusa to visit the ruins. We also seemed to pick a day where all the school kids in the area were on a school excursion to the park. Despite the massive groups of kids, the highlights included: the Roman Amphitheater, Greek Theatre (that also hosts plays at this time of the year in the evening) and the Ear of Dionysius.
The latter is in a giant limestone cave. When we visited there was also a group of school kids inside that all broke into song. We found out that it’s called the Ear of Dionysius because Dionysius used to hold prisoners in the cave that had an echo. As a result he’d be able to hear all their secrets. We decided to go back in once the school kids had left to experience it in a bit more peace and quiet! Overall the park was worth the walk in the hot sun to visit. I’m also a sucker for greek and roman ruins and a gelato helped with the heat. Bring lots of water!!
During our later afternoon walk, I saw a sign for the Museum dei Pupi (puppet museum). At that moment I realised I had booked tickets for the puppet show that started at 4:30pm. It was now 4:45pm. Rushing through the side streets, we found the theatre. They were nice enough to let us in despite being 20 minutes late. The play was one of my highlights in Siracusa.
The show is completely in Italian (of course). I really struggled to understand what was going on even though I’ve been studying Italian for some time, . They speak molto fast! The play was called “Agrican Besieges Angelica’s Castle”. It was about a knight trying to conquer another country and take the princess for himself. Despite being a play using puppets, there was a surprisingly large amount of death in the story including a be-heading! It also had a witch who had bewitched other knights who fought on her behalf.
The end of the play had the princess escaping, but the bad knight found out she’d escaped, so he burns the city to the ground, including all its residents. A bit full on and probably not appropriate for small kids though those not knowing Italian probably wouldn’t understand what they’re seeing anyway! Definitely worth the 9 euro admission (if purchased at the theatre, 10 euros online).
You can find the English version of the website here.
After the show it was time to find a good spot for a beer in an attempt to put all the puppet carnage behind me! After lots of walking and not quite finding the right spot, we settled on a bar on the Piazza del Duomo with views of, you guessed it, the Duomo! Later we found an excellent wine bar called Evoe Wine Bar. Grabbing the last table outside, we had a couple of wines and a plate of mixed bruschetta. The place plays jazz music in the background and has a very Italian looking waiter (think dark, wavy hair, dark moustache, glasses). We would come back again a couple days later!
Day three in Siracusa – a day trip to Noto
On our third day in Siracusa, we visited Noto as a half day trip. To read about our visit, click here.
When we returned to Siracusa, it was just about 4pm and I really wanted to visit the puppet theatre again to watch the entire show. I thought a second time might allow me to better understand the story and seeing the start of the play couldn’t hurt either. But what really made it easier was buying a program for 50 euro cents! Jarrad was more than fine with his single viewing so it was just me this time.
Before the show, I read the overview a few times to understand it and that was in English. No wonder I was confused! The tiny theatre has assigned seating so after handing over your ticket you give them your name and they show you to your seat. It’s a cute theatre and besides the abnormally tall man in front of me, all seats have a good view. Since there was extra space, I opted to change seats for a less obstructed view.
After the show it was time to get ready to head out for the night for more strolling. I’d picked a bar called BOATS (it stands for ‘based on a true story)’ that has outdoor tables overlooking the Temple of Apollo. I couldn’t picture a more fitting place for an evening cocktail as the sun was setting on the ruins. Picking cocktails out of a book is fun, especially when you only understand half the words that are all written in Italian.
Jarrad’s came out in a tin pineapple with a straw and was rum, almond milk and a few other yummy additions. I’d misread the description for mine that included jalepenos so it was quite spicy. Needless to say, I swapped drinks! (Jarrad’s used to this – I think it’s why I bring him along!). Jarrad then had another cocktail while I had a Hendricks gin and tonic. They don’t do single shots around here, I found that out rather quickly! Holy moly! They use Fevertree tonic so it was a top quality drink. Yum!
The night was starting to cool down, so for dinner we ate at restaurant Bistro Bella Vita and sat at one of the tables inside. It was much more high end than the previous places and was almost a bit too quiet! For starters we had the tuna balls and more seafood. For mains we each had ravioli. My dish was pink and had salmon (weird but good). Jarrad had ‘Alla Norma’ which was ricotta cheese filled ravioli with a tomato sauce and with bits of eggplant. I had to say no to dessert because once again, I was too full!
Another night and another wobble home to the apartment with a short stopover a bookstore where the owner teaches Italian. I’d signed up for a conversation lesson the next afternoon, because that’s what you do when you’re tipsy, full and wandering the streets of Ortigia at night!
Day four in Siracusa
Today was meant to be a chilled out wandering day and wandering is what we did! Our first stop was the Castello, which makes up the southerly most part of the island. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and for 4 euros I didn’t expect much, but isn’t it great to be pleasantly surprised?! The grand hall of the castle, while empty of any furniture or decorations, was highly impressive. As were the views from atop of the castle walls. Unfortunately I only spotted the small building with the castle overviews and displays after wandering through the grounds. Perhaps look at those first before going in! There’s also pretty much no signage within the castle itself so be prepared to wander around without any direction. It was still great and a real highlight of the time on Ortigia.
We went back to ‘our cafe’ along Via Roma called Viola Bakery. It was always busy and quite big with extra rooms in the back. Shame the two ladies behind the counter were not friendly at all. And this was despite returning two more times. There’s a teeny tiny dog from across the laneway that pops into the cafe. He wears a bib that reads “I love my mom”. Very cute!
We made it back home just in time for some pretty serious rain and lightning!
For lunch we we mixed things up and had pasta instead of waiting for dinner. I’ll blame it on the crummy weather! We ate at a place called Trattoria Spizzuliamu which was packed inside because of the pretty average weather outside, and of course the good food! We were entertained by the group of Aussies sitting behind us getting rather tipsy. The tables were crammed into the restaurant so you couldn’t help but hear your neighbours’ conversations. I had a very tasty pistachio pesto gnocchi and Jarrad had the winning dish of Siracusa – a prawn linguine with a fairly basic, but very tasty sauce.
By this time I wanted to spend more time in the cafe to catch up on some blogging so back to Viola Bakery we went. I then went to Biblios Cafe to have a private Italian lesson with the owner, Paola. She’s originally from Palermo but now works and lives in Ortigia. She’s fluent in English and used to work as a translator in Rome.
When I booked the lesson (we’d stumbled in there the night before), I wasn’t sure what I was going to get her to teach me but decided to just have a chat. She told me about the local food specialties and then I realised I wanted to work on pronouns and we also covered when to use conguintivo, condionzale, imperativo (all verb tenses/types) and when to put those pesky pronouns at the end of a verb. 1.5 hours flew by and we covered so much material. It was 25 euros definitely well spent.
Even on our third day, fourth night, we were still coming across new parts of the island. It was the first time we walked along the west coast waterfront and it was really busy despite the strong westerly breeze coming off the water. We ended up having drinks at a bar on the walls overlooking the water. Despite the wind, it was a lovely view looking back at the mainland.
Afterwards it was back to the wine bar from a couple nights ago (Evoe Wine Bar) but this time we were the only ones there. It didn’t take too long before it filled up. We had a couple glasses of red with a plate of pork, rocket lettuce and the tastiest dressing ever. Oh my goodness. I wanted to lick the plate (which was an old decorated tile they use as a serving board).
Day five in Siracusa
Seeing it was our last day in Siracusa, we started the day with a walk around the walls of Ortigia. It was a beautiful walk, with not a bit of wind. I can’t believe we waited until the last morning to do so!
We had to return one last time to the same coffee shop as the other mornings, seeing as it was our last day. This time we saw the tiny dog and our Italian mate from the wine bar! He waved very enthusiastically when he recognised us. Just when we’re starting to feel like a local it was time to leave … 🙁
Our next stop was Taormina. Since we’d already taken the bus, this time we were going to travel by train using Trenitalia.
Where we stayed
Our accommodation, Ortigia Dell Sole, was up a couple flights of stairs with a communal terrace. The apartment was a bit smaller than I was expecting based on the photos but it was still a good size with a separate bedroom from the kitchen area that also has a couch. The apartment was spotless and seemed to be recently renovated. Our host, Marco, showed us around the apartment, and was so thorough, he pointed out the microwave, sink, stovetop, etc. He was lovely and spoke only Italian but we were able to understand each other. My first practice of Italian for the trip! The apartment was down one of the side streets in Ortigia, which suited us fine. I don’t think there’s really a ‘bad’ part of Ortigia to use as a base given the area is fairly compact.
- For the bus between Catania and Syracusa, head left out of arrivals to find the small both selling tickets. Two one way tickets cost about 8 euros.
- The taxi from the train station to Ortigia island should be about 10 euros (have cash handy)
- We booked regional train tickets to both Noto and to Taormina directly at the train station in Siracusa using the kiosk machines.