Road Rules?

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

First stop is the garage to retrieve our little car. 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 from Ortigia to the motorway. This relied on us passing the very prominent Siracusa Pantheon, which is a very distinctive large round building. We reach the point where we should be next to it, but now we can't see it. We can see it from everywhere else in Ortigia and Siracusa, but apparently not when we're right next to it. I wonder how this can be. The only possible explanation I can think of is that someone moved it overnight. On reflection this seems a bit unlikely. We are now a bit lost again, but we plough on, and eventually we find our way onto the motorway. We approach a toll booth, and there are lots of signs telling us to slow down. There are no people at the toll booth and no boom gates, so we drive through without stopping. Everyone else seems to be doing the same thing. A bit further on the same thing happens. We think that this is a bit strange. The toll booths are a very tight fit even for our tiny car, so we think that maybe they've 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. We reach the end of the motorway. The road gets a lot windier, and we find ourselves driving through lots of small towns and villages. It is very humid and overcast, and it rains on and off.

The traffic here is completely chaotic both in the villages and on the open road. It appears that it is compulsory to talk on your mobile phone while you are driving, and to have your hand on the horn at all times. Speed limit signs appear to be 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 are at least a hundred years old, and are virtually invisible. We have 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 in. At T-intersections, if you decide that you've waited long enough and you can't get out into the traffic, you just barge in anyway. You can apparently make this decision provided that you've waited for at least five seconds. You can apparently park anywhere you like. Double parking is always allowed, and triple parking is generally alright as well. Pedestrians have their own sets of rules. The main one is that if a car is 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.

We reach Ragusa. It is built on two hills above a deep gorge, and is in two sections. Ragusa Ibla is the older part, and is on the lower of the two hills. We read that settlement here dates back to the second millennium BC. Much of Ragusa Ibla was destroyed by the great Sicilian earthquake of 1693, and around five thousand residents were killed. Many of those who survived 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 is tight, and the only way out of the car for both of us is via the passenger door. We walk up to Ragusa Ibla. First stop is Giardini Iblei, which is a nice and well maintained garden in the lowest part of the town. Half way around the garden I decide that I'm fairly sure that I didn't lock the car. Issy thinks that it will be safe unlocked, but I'm not so sure. I thought that organised crime was invented in Sicily. I trudge back down the hill to the car and lock it. We walk up the hill from the garden, and get a snack in the Piazza Duomo. We continue to walk uphill through the rest of Ragusa Ibla, and then up some steep steps into Ragusa Superiore. The views down over Ragusa Ibla against the very dark sky are stunning. We walk on up through Ragusa Superiore to the main square outside the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, where it looks like they're preparing for a festival. There are lots and lots of churches here, but they all seem to be closed for siesta. We walk into the Cathedral gardens as it reopens. I go inside while Issy has a rest in the gardens. The gardens are beautiful and the Cathedral is massive.

We have noticed death notices printed on A4 pieces of paper posted outside houses and on notice boards all over Ragusa. It seems that a lot of people die here. We have just had lunch so I hope that this doesn't have anything to do with the food. We decide that putting up notices is a very efficient way of getting the word out that someone has passed away. We think that you're far more likely to see a sign in the street than to notice something hidden away at the bottom of the third column of the obituaries section in the paper.

We walk back down the hill to our little car, and are very pleased to find that it is still there. We drive back to Siracusa. We keep our eyes open for a supermarket, but we can't see one. We go back to the one that I found yesterday, and stock up on supplies. There must be hundreds of restaurants in Ortigia, but no supermarkets, or even shops where you can buy simple things like fruit. We are now completely convinced that this is a deliberate ploy by the restaurant owners. We buy a big bottle of limoncello, which costs the equivalent of about seven dollars. Alcohol here seems to be dirt cheap.

We chose a restaurant on the waterfront. I am hungry so I start gorging on bread. There is oil and vinegar on the table and I am keen to use this on the bread. I spend a couple of minutes trying to work out how to open the oil. Issy grabs it from me and it is open in seconds. I start to question the value of an engineering degree. We share an entree of mixed seafood dishes. It is magnificent. It is also very big, and we are now questioning our decision to order main courses. This is a mistake that we make a lot. We then compound our mistake by gorging on gelati. It is midnight. There are people everywhere and the whole place is buzzing. We pass an outdoor dance floor where everyone is doing the salsa, and the fire stick juggler is doing his thing again in front of a large audience in the Piazza Duomo.

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