New Year in Old Ragusa

It’s six weeks today since Team Anima set off from Edinburgh one bright November morning.  And one week into the fresh,  new year.  So maybe that’s why I’m feeling in a bit of a reflective mood today.  We’re sitting here in Iggy gazing out over the picture postcard, rocky, chiseled coastline of Castellammare del Golfo on Sicily’s north west coast.  ( N38.0251  E12.8905 )  These views are becoming normal now and the hues and lines of Edinburgh’s fair city are almost forgotten.  Hazy things, half remembered from a fast dissolving dream.  Even New Year in Ragusa seems a lifetime ago.

The pretty old fishing port of Castellammare del Golfo

The sky is lightly clouded today.  The wind strong and the temperature is down to 18 degrees C.  Are we really that same team that woke up to a carpet of snow in Troyes just five weeks ago?  That drove through that Christmas card perfect, white, winter wonderland to Dijon?

Italy has made me lazy it seems.  Not so desperate to jump up in the mornings and seek out new horizons.  Happy to just sit and watch the surf roll to shore instead.  And I’ve definitely not been so keen to write up a blog post or two!  Although when I don’t write them I dream of them until I do.  I’ve written about New Year’s Eve about ten times in my sleep by now!   So I shall attempt to get it all down on paper now and free up my head for new adventures!

We left Syracuse on the morning of the 29th and headed along the coast to the small town of Avola.  There’s a long sweep of seaside as you come into the town, and Iggy’s free parking spot by the beach looked promising.  Unfortunately this was not to be the case.  I hate to speak against a place without good reason, and Avola is not a bad place.  It’s more of a nothing sort of a place.  One of those nowhere towns we sometimes come across.  A place that seems to have no obvious reason for existing  As we walked the rather drab, shabby streets I tried to imagine what people do here.  And why they choose to do it here!

I may have pimped the sunset just a teeny bit. It’s got nice sea!

For all that there were quite a lot of people around, there was nothing on the surface to say why they would be here.  It’s one of those places where the children dream endlessly of escape.  Where life goes on beyond some invisible curtain that encircles the town and sucks all the energy from it.  It’s not a bad place…It’s just not a good one either.  A waystation where people pass the time waiting for their transport out to arrive.

Needless to say we didn’t fancy spending New Year there, so next morning we carried on along the coast to Marina di Ragusa.  If this didn’t work out either we could head inland to Ragusa the next day.  We had a hankering to go for a swim in the sea on New Year’s Day though so we figured we’d give the coast one last shot.

Nice spot for a New Year’s Day swim?

Marina di Ragusa is an okay beach town.  The free municipal Sosta was full but we were able to empty the toilet and fill up our water tank.  The free parking next to the children’s park was big and quiet, lined with trees and only a couple of minutes walk from the beach.  The town had a pleasant enough feel, but still had that touch of a ghost town about it.  Not characterless like Avola, but it wasn’t shouting “Hogmanay” at our Scottish souls either.  We had a nice evening wandering the little streets and the shore, and come the morning we hightailed it inland to Ragusa.

I really like murals on the sides of buildings.

This was our last shot.  If Ragusa didn’t cut the mustard we were stuck with it.  It was the 31st and we didn’t fancy spending all day driving about looking for somewhere.  We made a plan that if we couldn’t get parked we’d head back down to the beach and bring in the bells on our own on the sand.  We’d had a great time at Christmas and such are the risks you take when you just drive around willy nilly in a great big van with no idea where you’re going!

That’ll be Hogmanay then!

Ragusa is an old hill town that was destroyed by the great Sicilian earthquake in 1693.  When the people decided to rebuild it there was disagreement about whether to do it on top of the ruins of the old city, or across the ravine on the hill next door.  The town was divided and in the end the people did both.  Some built a new town Ragusa Superiore next door.  Some rebuilt the old town Ragusa Ibla on the same hill as the original.  According to the internet they all fell out about it for a few years. (233 to be more precise)  Before becoming united as one city again in 1927.

The towns were rebuilt in the Baroque style and seemed like an interesting place to visit.  Not to mention one that sounded like it might have the odd firework going off on New Year’s Eve.  Which is Vigilia di Capodanno in Italian by the way.  This translates literally as something along the lines of Vigil of the Head of the Year.  The first of January being Capodanno – the head of the year.  It’s got a ring to it that I really like, and where better to greet Capodanno than in an ancient hill town in Sicily?

Baroque aviator specs? Who knew?

The only bit that was worrying me was those two words – hill town.  Our Iggy isn’t the biggest of motorhomes but at 6 metres long and nearly 2.4 metres wide he’s not a little boy either.  I’d seen pictures of Ragusa.  A spiralling cluster of Mediterranean buildings, clinging to the top of a rounded pyramid type of a hill.  It sounded difficult.  It sounded narrow, with long drops for the unwary to drop off.  We followed our normal attitude that if other motorhomes had gone there before us then we should be able to get there too.  Park4night said other motorhomes had definitely gone there before us.  Lots of them.  So we grinned our best gun fight grins and got on with it.

If you have any worries like we did…Don’t.  The drive to Ragusa is a pretty painless experience.  The road rises steadily from the coast in a long, slow slope that takes you to the top with no effort at all.  It’s a decent, wide enough road with pretty stone dykes and farmland dotting the countryside.  A huge improvement on the pretty bland south coast of the previous two days.  A few sharp, but non scary switchbacks down from the urban sprawl of modern Ragusa and the road tumbled us out into a designated motorhome area and car park at the foot of old Ragusa.  Steps wound their way up into the town, the river gurgled beneath us, and orange trees decorated the parking bays.  New Year was looking up!

The motorhomes hang out below.

We both loved Ragusa.  It’s everything a fancy, 300 year old, Baroque hill town should be.  We climbed up the many, many steps of Ragusa Superiore first for the stunning views across to Ibla and down into the tree studded valleys around us.  There’s many a step, but many a place to stop as well, and a winding road if you think the steps will be a bit too much.

I’ve got a LOT of photos of steps!

Ragusa Ibla has a tourist “train” for those who find  the hills too difficult.  Or maybe who just want a quick “look, see”.  We’re far too tight to pay out for such a contraption.  And I do like to explore in my own time as well, so we followed the signs uphill for the Duomo – Italian for cathedral.  Ragusa Ibla is just a lovely town to wander around in if you don’t mind the hill.  The roads all spiral up, so it’s really not too bad at all.  Coming out at the Cathedral we discovered the “tourist part” in the warren of streets leading down the other side of the hill to the park and ruins.

Lots of nice restaurants and shops in the streets below the Duomo.

We spotted many a nice looking restaurant and decided to head back to Iggy for a break and come back later at night in search of a blow out supper for Vigilia di Capodanno.  We’d read that in Italy a big meal is had on New Year’s Eve and everyone eats a dish of lentils which brings good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

As luck would have it the restaurant that caught our eye earlier had one table still available when we turned up at 9pm.  There was only a special New Year’s Eve menu though.  Was this okay?  Yes! Absolutely!  Perfect!  We were delighted at having a pre selected choice, so we knew everything we ordered was proper, fancy, New Year’s fare.  Everything was delicious.  Including the lentils!  The restaurant was nice, the staff friendly – a perfect place for a special night out.  Particularly for two travellers, wandering a long, long way from home and family.

Suitably stuffed and only slightly merry we emerged into the warm night air a short while after 11pm.  Christmas music was playing on loudspeakers around the Duomo area.  Here and there happy looking couples and families emerged from restaurants and houses to stroll through the softly lit streets.

And it’s Buon Anno from us.

There was no sign of an official gathering but we wandered through the pretty lanes around and above the Duomo.  Breathed in the soft air.  Sang along to the old tunes and waltzed through the roads together.  Then – as midnight struck – fireworks exploded into the air over the Dome of the cathedral.  We laughed, and hugged, and kissed.  Took photographs.  Had a swig each from the bottle of brandy we’d brought with us.  “Buon Anno! Buon Anno!”  smiled all the passing people.  There are no strangers on New Year’s Eve, as we all wish each passing soul a good year from the bottom of our human hearts.  “Buon Anno!”

Happy and stuffed we begin the wander back through the city to Iggy.  Jay is wearing his kilt and all night polite Sicilians have pretended not to notice.  A young couple pass us.  Happy.  Full of the spirit of the night.  “Where are you from?” she smiles.  “Scotland.”  We laugh, pass a few words, they invite us to a party.  We’re tempted, but decide to say no.  We’ve had such a magical night and all that remains is to call the family back home.  More Happy New Year’s and we slip into bed and drift off to sleep.  Safe and warm in Iggy on the ancient isle of Sicily.

Thank you 2017. And here’s to the days yet to come.

What marvels would this new year bring us?  We can’t wait to find out.

Fi. x

 

 

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