Friday, November 18, 2016
More Siracusian Surprizes
Monday, November 14, 2016
More Siracusian Surprizes
Magnificent Breakfast at Hotel del Coloniali:
I awoke after a really sound sleep in the quietness of the side streets of Sicily in Hotel del Coloniali. A swift shower later, I packed up and descended the stairs for breakfast as my reservation came with one. What a magnificent repast awaited me! Apart from coffee any which way (capuccino, café latte, mocha latte, ciocolatto, con latte caldo, Americano), there was a buffet bar with all sorts of bread and a toaster plus a variety of cheese and cold meats. On the cereal side, there was muesli with dried fruit and nuts and yoghurt and cold milk. There was also fresh fruit and a fruit salad and as if this were inadequate, there was a whole section with Italian cakes and tortes! I ate my fill and more. Then thinking that I had really lucked out with finding this hotel on Hotels.com, I got ready to move out.
But when I got to the check-out counter, I had a nasty shock. Although I had a print out with me from Hotels.com confirming my reservation and assuring me that I had paid them (Hotels.com) already by credit card and did not need to pay a penny when checking out of Hotel del Coloniali, the receptionist (who had also functioned as the kitchen aide and the waiter) refused to let me depart without paying--again! I do not have enough facility with the language to have argued with him. I tried as best I could, I even showed him my printout but he refused. He said that his hotel had not been paid and I could not leave without paying. I tried to tell him that the man who had checked me in yesterday afternoon (while being unaware of my reservation and not having had a room ready for me), had not told me that I needed to pay. Had he told me so, I could have contacted Hotels.com overnight and sorted out the issue. He called the man and spoke in Italian to him. Then he told me that the man informed him that I had not paid and needed to make a payment before leaving.
With no choice on my hands and deciding to take up the matter with hotels.com, I left. I had initially decided to leave my backpack there and return in the evening to pick it up. But after this unpleasant experience, I simply decided to take my bag and leave.
Off to the Archeological Park della Napolis:
The main reason tourists flock to Siracusa is to see its Greek and Roman ruins which are in a fantastic state of preservation. These are concentrated in a 'Park' which lies in the north of town. From my rambles yesterday, I realized that Siracusa has a Hop On Hop Off bus and it was that I wished to board to go from one place to the next. However, since I did not have a map of the bus route, and since no one was able to tell me where to board the bus, I ended up walking all the way to the Archeological Park--a distance of about 20 minutes.
Once I got to the Park, I bought a ticket for 20 euros and was fortunate to find a lady at the souvenir store next door who agreed to stash my backpack while I surveyed the sights. At that point, the Hop On, Hop Off bus came along. I raced to the driver and asked him when he would make his next round to the spot. He told me he would be back in an hour and that I could buy a ticket on the bus. This left me an hour to see the park's major sights.
The Roman Amphitheater:
The first important site you come upon as you enter the main gates of the complex is the Roman Amphitheater--almost perfectly preserved. Here, the Roman love for blood sports was manifested. They used the oval shape and dimensions of the space--reminiscent of the Coliseum in Rome--for human gladiatorial combat and for man versus animal fights as well as for horse chariot racing--Christians that were thrown to the lions were often part and parcel of this sport. The Spaniards also spent some time here in Sicily, had little interest in archaeology and apparently used the marble seats to built Ortygia's city walls--which explains why so much of it is in such poor shape. Needless to say, it is not a space in which, being conscious of all these facts, I wished to linger. In fact, I wanted to take some pictures and get out of there as quickly as I could. I have to also admit that having seen these ruins already, in other parts of Sicily, they no longer hold much fascination for me. I am actually glad I confined my travels in Sicily to just one coast--I am certain I would have actually gotten quite bored seeing the same sort of thing all over the island.
You walk out of the amphitheater and uphill a few feet past a huge limestone quarry to arrive next at the Greek Theater. At each spot, you are required to show your ticket--a stub of which is torn out with each venue you enter.
The Greek Theater:
The most important of the sights to be seen here is the 5th century Greek Theater which is hewn right out of a rocky hillside and lined with pearl-white marble. Its shape and its location could not have been more striking. What is remarkable about this theater is not only its historical and archeological significance but its literary importance as well. In its capacity of 16,000 seats, this theater saw the production of the works of one of the greatest Greek tragedians of all time--Aeschylus whose play The Persians was debuted here in his presence. I tried to keep this stirring fact in mind as I climbed up and town the well-maintained tiers of this ancient stadium.
The Latomia del Paradiso is yet another part of this complex that bears seeing. It is a massive limestone quarry from which the rocks that form the seats and flooring of the amphitheaters of this area were quarried. Today, it is overtaken by wild vegetation which actually only adds to the atmosphere and antiquity of the spot as the hanging tendrils of banyan trees flow to the ground from great heights.
In this same quarry is a 23 meter high grotto in which the tyrant Dionysius imprisoned 7000 prisoners of the war between Syracuse and Athens in 413 BC. The artist Caravaggio named this the 'Ear of Dionysius' as the perfect acoustics of the place enabled the ruler to eavesdrop upon the prisoners without their knowledge. I entered this space which reminded me very much of the narrow canyon in Petra, Jordan, through which visitors pass upon entry into the complex that leads directly to the Khazana or the Treasury building. Here, you are dwarfed by the soaring heights of the stone canyon and even when you get out of it and enter the sunlight again the sheer rock face of the canyon climbing to dizzying dimensions is quite overwhelming.
Once you have seen these main attractions, it only remains to linger, if you wish to, in the complex although it is vast and sprawling and likely to tire one considerably as it is also built in tiers--which involves some climbing up and climbing down.
As I had taken almost an hour to see these sights and was keen to catch the Hop On Hop Off bus, I made my way back towards the ticket office to pick up my backpack. I managed to pick it up and make it to the bus stop in time. In five minutes, the bus appeared. I paid the 8 euros for the ticket and settled myself in a seat. I was also given a set of red earphones and told to tune in to the running commentary in English which gives details of all the locations through which we passed.
The Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour:
By this time, I was tired and needed to rest my feet. The bus tour was the perfect place in which to find respite from all the walking I was doing. I also enjoyed the commentary as I learned so many interesting facts about the places through which we were passing. Furthermore, when we returned to Ortygia, we passed the same spots through which I had walked yesterday, but by staying on the bus I learned a great deal about them and was able to get some more pictures from an interesting vantage point. One of the parts of Siracusa that I had not covered on foot was the War Memorial that was at the water's edge, past the Castle Maniace, which was an interesting monument.
The Basilica and Catacombs of St. Giovanni:
We were caught in a massive traffic jam as we tried to negotiate our way out of Ortygia and on to the main part of the city. When we did eventually get out, it started raining--a slight drizzle, but enough to dampen the entire city. I was not sure how to proceed as I still had my backpack with me. However, somewhat miraculously, when we reached the interesting almost-adobe style of the Basilica of San Giovanni which is said to contain some interesting catacombs, I thought I would get off and check them out.
Sadly, they are closed on Mondays--this meant that we (myself and two other male visitors) could not get into the church or the catacombs. I did take some pictures of the outside of the church which its lovely walled and arched entrance and then, knowing that right across the street was another very modern church, I made my way there.
Basilica di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro:
The slight drizzle continued. I had no option but to cross the street and get to the very modern-looking octagonal church on the opposite side of the street that looks like an upside-dwn cone. This church has much significance for devout Christians with a devotion to St. Lucy as there is a sculpture of the saint that is supposed to have perspired miraculously. The church has two levels: an upper level and a lower. I did spend quite a while in the church looking over its many chapels and its objects of interest.
A little later, I moved away from the church and went to the bus stop to get back on the Hop On Hop Off bus. By this time, the drizzle was steady, the bus was delayed and as it was the end of the day, there was very little interest in the driver to continue the route. I, therefore, waiting until it reached the bridge between Ortygia and the main island.
Tea at the Harbor:
Left with little choice but to get off at the harbor, I found a shelter from the rain and to have a cup of tea with a canoli--for Sicily is known for this dessert and I had yet to taste. one. I did order a chocolate canoli which was delicious and perfect with a cup of tea. I then got back to the Hop On, Hop Off bus stop for which I waited ages and requested the driver to take me to the main bus terminus so that I could get my bus back to Catania.
Return to Catania:
To make a long story short, I did get to the bus stop after a very long wait. I did get the bus that took me back to Catania. I did reach at about 7.30 pm and once again got myself a salad from McDs which I ate back at the Hotel Gorizia where I made myself comfortable again in the same room that I had occupied earlier. The same Receptionist gave me my key and I made myself at home for the night knowing that I would be leaving Catania and Sicily, the next morning, for my flight to Venice for the next leg of my journey--to the University of Padua where I was invited to give a lecture.