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May 7th 2016
Published: May 7th 2016
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Day 10 - Thought I might tell you about the hotel here in Ragusa. The bottom floor was originally a stable and wine and storage area. Now it holds reception, a lounge and two suites. The lobby floor is limestone with oil so it looks like marble. The rest of the rooms are staggered in what seems to be a hodge-podge arrangement with one suite plus a breakfast room and banquet room on the first floor, three suites on the second floor and three more rooms five steps up and opposite two of the suites. All this is done without an elevator and with wide deep stairs. Get a lot of exercise just walking to my room. Oh, did I forget to tell you that Mary Ann, I, and Luca have the uppermost rooms? Ragusa is on an extremely steep hill and there are two parts -Ibla or Old Town Ragusa at the bottom and Ragusa Superior at the top. Our hotel is just about 50 meters from the juncture of old and new to meet out guide, only it is on about a 45 degree slope. Good thing this group is all pretty healthy. We hiked all the way down to Ibla,stopping along the way to learn about the town. When a lot of the old town was destroyed during an earthquake, they decided to rebuild. Feeling that the town would be safer if the buildings were not too high and if most of the buildings were connected to each other, they did not rebuild many of the streets and built arches across alleys to strengthen the buildings. Our guide said by rebuilding this way they were eliminating the domino effect in case of another earthquake. Although the Baroque period had ended, many of the buildings incorporated those decorations. Baroque architecture was flowing, with curved railings and balconies and even the supports created the impression of movement. They also decorated the supports,many in caricatures of people and animals. Some on the bottom corners seem to be sticking out their tongue at you. All the supports were done in two levels mad usually the top left and right were topless women, so usually there was a man or animal on the bottom level not looking straight ahead but slightly turned with eyes upward toward the corner. Men, eh?. We went to visit the church of St George, the patron saint of Ragusa. The guide told us that usually the statue of St George and the xxxxxxx supposedly holding his relics were both out because they were celebrating his feast soon. she said actual date was in May, but her town of Modina got the rights to use the actual date, so Ragusa was in May. It takes 14 men to carry the Statue and it has to look like he is actually riding a horse, so men have to be trained how to walk. The Italian story of St George is quite different from the one I had always heard from England. In England, he was a knight who just slew a dragon to save the girl. In Italy he was a Roman soldier who slew the dragon (pagans), saved the girl (early Christianity) and the town (all the people) and later the dragon was construed as the Saracens during the crusades. St George is no longer on the list of saints from the Vatican, but the guide says Sicily is too far from Rome for them to care about patron saints. After lunch on our own and dropping temperatures, we head to grab a bus back up to the hotel. While waiting we got to see a bride and groom visiting the park for wedding pictures. Made me feel colder just watching her in her gown.
Headed to Modica late this afternoon for rides in vintage Fiat 500s driven by the Modican Fiat Club. Mary Ann, Sandy and I were assigned to the oldest of the cars, a Fiat from 1960. No seat belts, toggle switches for the lights and windshield wipers, only one gauge, and a steering wheel as big as the tires. The entire group ended up splitting into seven cars at a lookout right below the city. It was an amazing ride split into three parts. We drove up into the beginning of the city and suddenly made a sharp right turn into what only can be described as the size of a horse cart road. I remember how the roads in Pennsylvania were windy and narrow, especially along hillsides overlooking creeks, because they were laid out to make use of the existing Indian trails and cow paths. This was even more harrowing. We would go whipping up and down roads less than five feet across with door stoops jutting out. No pavements here, think I would go crazy being on top of the street after only stepping down one step from my door. Anyway, imagine the most frightening roller coaster you have ever seen or been on and multiply it by at least three. I was in the backseat and could not actually see when a drop off came, but I sure felt it. Now imagine that this roller coaster does not loop, but every 15 or 20 feet does a sudden turn to the left or right several times and then drops again. We came down this steep, steep section and suddenly stopped at an intersection (it is a good thing these guys and girls take care of their brakes, they got used a lot. Suddenly from our right, two of the fiats in our caravan came swooping down the hill. We immediately assumed they had gone the wrong way, but oh no. The turn to the left was too sharp for the cars so they had to turn right, go to the end if the street and turn around, and then the wild ride started again. We finally stopped at the top of the city for a photo op. We thought the bus was going to pick us up there for our trip to the next destination. Instead, we hopped back in the cars to go down the long and winding hill. We were laughing and grinning like crazy kids. More dips, more sharp turns and finally we were on the flat in front of a church that was about 12 feet underwater in the flood of 1902. After a short tour by one of the drivers, once more back into the cars for a trip to the chocolate shop and dinner. Being in traffic was almost worse than on the hills. First we had to get out into traffic and then weave around all the cars out for Saturday night dining. Definitely one of the highlights of this trip.We met our tour guide again from Ragusa, Graciella, at the chocolate shop. She told us that almost everyone in Modica made their own chocolate and bought the cocoa mass, or pressed cocoa after it is roasted and ground. They do not make chocolate like we are used to in America, no milk chocolate at all. They melt pieces of the mass in the double boiler, take it off the heat and then stir in some sugar, and any flavoring, spoon it into flat pan-like molds and then bang it flat on the table until the top is smooth and shiny. We tried a bunch of flavors. I actually tried the one with peprocini and did not notice the pepper in it until the chocolate was gone, then I got a burst of heat. Cooled it off with one with citrus flavor. The chocolate has no cocoa butter so the sugar remains crunchy and grainy. Very intense.Well that is all for tonight. I am really tired and tomorrow is another adventure.

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