Road Rules?

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August 23rd 2017
Published: August 24th 2017
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Today we decide to head to the ancient hilltop town of Ragusa which is about an hour and a half's drive south west of Siracusa.

We manage to navigate our way off Ortigia and then hit a traffic jam. We did a lot of homework this morning on how to get to the motorway. This relied on us passing the very prominent Siracusa Pantheon, which is a distinctive large round building visible from everywhere in Ortigia and Siracusa… well it was yesterday. I guess it’s possible someone moved it overnight. We’re now lost, but we plough bravely on, and eventually find our way onto the motorway. We pass multiple signs telling us to slow down as we approach a toll booth. There don’t seem to be any people in the booth, and no boom gates, so we drive through without stopping. A bit further on the same thing happens. The booths are a very tight fit even for our tiny car, so maybe they've just been put there to slow everyone down. I hope it's something like that and not that the operators have all been kidnapped by one of the local crime families. The motorway ends, and the road gets much windier, and we now find ourselves driving slowly through a seemingly endless stream of small villages. It‘s very humid and overcast, and it’s been raining on and off.

The traffic here‘s completely chaotic both in the villages and on the open road. It appears to be compulsory to talk on your phone while you‘re driving, and to have your hand constantly glued to the horn. Speed limit signs are a waste of space. We're not quite sure why they bother fitting cars here with indicators, as it appears that use of these is completely optional, and this option is only exercised rarely. Most lane and pedestrian crossing markings look like they’re at least a hundred years old, and are virtually invisible. We‘ve got no idea what the rules are at roundabouts. It seems like you just have to nudge your way in, irrespective of whether you've got right of way or not, and if you do this without hesitating, someone will probably let you through. If you decide that you've waited long enough to get into the traffic at a T-intersection, you just barge in anyway. You can apparently make this decision provided that you've been waiting for at least five seconds. … and you can apparently park anywhere you like. Double parking is always allowed, and triple parking is generally OK as well. Pedestrians have their own sets of rules. The main one is that if a car‘s silly enough to give way to you and not run you over, you must amble across the street in front of it as slowly as possible.

Ragusa’s built on two hills above a deep gorge, and is in two sections. Ragusa Ibla, the older part, is on the lower of the two hills, and we read that settlement here dates back to the second millennium BC. Much of it was destroyed by the great Sicilian earthquake of 1693, and around five thousand residents were killed. Many of the survivors then moved up to the second section, Ragusa Superiore, which is on the higher of the two hills. Much of Ragusa Ibla was rebuilt after the earthquake, and many of the current buildings date from that time.

We park our car near the bottom of the gorge. Parking‘s tight, and the only way out for both of us is via the passenger door. We walk up a steep hill to Ragusa Ibla. First stop is Giardini Iblei - a nice and well maintained garden in the lowest part of the town. It’s a pleasant stroll, or it was until I realise that I haven’t locked the car. Issy thinks that it will be safe as it is, but I'm not so sure. I thought that organised crime was invented in these parts. … so it’s a long trudge down the hill to the car and back up again. We grab a snack in the Piazza Duomo and then stroll on through the narrow backstreets of Ragusa Ibla, and up some steep steps into Ragusa Superiore. The views down over Ragusa Ibla against the very dark sky are stunning. It looks like they’re preparing for a festival in the main square outside the massive Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista. We stroll through the peaceful Cathedral gardens and then on into the church.

We’ve noticed death notices printed on A4 sheets of paper posted outside houses and on notice boards all over Ragusa, and there seem to be an inordinate number of them. We’ve just had lunch so I hope that doesn't have anything to do with the food. This seems like a very efficient way of getting the word out that someone‘s passed away, and far more likely to be noticed than something hidden away at the bottom of the third column of the obituaries section in the paper.

Back in Siracusa, and we dine at a restaurant on the waterfront. I spend a couple of minutes trying to work out how to open a bottle of olive oil. Issy grabs it from me and it‘s open in seconds, which leaves me questioning the value of my two engineering degrees. It‘s midnight as we leave. There are people everywhere and the whole place is buzzing. We pass an outdoor dance floor packed with salsa enthusiasts, and the fire stick juggler‘s doing his thing again in front of a large audience in the Piazza Duomo.

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