Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bloggo Piccolo: An ICLC trip to Warwick, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Oxford

Hello to the readers of my blog! I've not posted much recently, I won't be traveling all that much for the rest of the semester, and in only 6 weeks I return to the U.S., which thought is making me a bit crazed and less focused than I might be on telling tales of travel. And once back in the States, in the near future at least, I won't be traveling much, and therefore not "blogging" much.

BUT! Allow me to say a few words about the London Center trip we took this past weekend, and put up several photos -- I have already posted some photos on of the excursion on facebook. so have a look at those as well, if you'd like. 

The trip was the fourth and last trip the group took this semester, but only the second I've been on. I had decided against the Bath trip, as I've been to that 
The City of Warwick from a tower in
the castle 
elegant city several times now, was not ready to climb Glastonbury Tor again, nor all that keen on walking around Stonehenge for the third time. Don't get me wrong, the henge is a thrill at first, but in this case I doubt three times would have been the charm. The Edinburgh trip I was looking forward to, as it would have been only the second time I'd have been to that city other than during the festival, but alas I was too ill to take advantage of it. A blessing as it turned out, as I'd have had to climb Arthur's Seat, and apparently a windy snowstorm hit just as the students reached the peak! The third trip was to Paris, which I loved, but for some reason I didn't write about, probably because we pretty much copied what we did in the autumn.

This past weekend's trip was also a fair copy of the fall excursion to Stratford, but even though it's a bit of a tourist trap, I really have fallen for that city, and there was one important difference in that we were to see a new show at the RST, Twelfth Night. So, all in all I had more incentive for this outing than for the trip to Bath. 
Warwick castle on a misty morn
from one of its towers

Almost as soon as we arrived at Warwick Castle, however, I found myself wishing that, like several of the other faculty (Tim Kidd, Patricia Doyle, Ashoke and Mun Mun Chanda, and Lee White) I had gone directly to Straftord by train and given the Castle a miss. Of all the castles I've been to in the U.K., Warwick is the least dignified in that it is the most Disney-fied, or to be more accurate, Tussaud-ified! The good Mme's organization bought it in the 1970s, I believe, and walking through the rooms you nearly have to squeeze by all the wax effigies. The only surprise is when one of the effigies rises! Not a real effigy of course (is there such a thing as a real effigy?) but a historical enactor whose job it is to talk in character a bit about what about the room is of interest. 
The students and the archer, from the
castle ramparts
It's all rather tedious. Give me a ruined caslte, such as Chepstow or Conwy in Wales, any day instead. I DID scale the ramparts and towers while the students stopped by the same archer we'd seen back in September, who was equipped with the same bow and quiver of arrows, and of the same lame jokes. The trebuchet was blared about for 20 minutes and was fired in less than 20 seconds and then was finished, and while the birds of prey might have been better -- the event was placed inside the castle itself this time around, which seemed more appropriate than in the field outside it where it was offered in the fall -- I had had enough and took myself to the restaurant for a large, fattening and very tasty sandwich instead. 

After my lunch I bumped into Claire Mokrauer-Madden, my former student and present member of ICLC staff, and Jim Swafford, the other visiting faculty member, and we headed almost immediately out of the castle and into the city. 
Jim, Claire and a student waiting for tea
I must admit that I found the town of less interest than I thought it might be on my visit last autumn, when I thought it might have deserved an overnight visit, but we had a good stroll, and a decent pot of tea with scones and clotted cream outside in a aquare, as the weather was so lovely. We also took in the Collegiate Church of St Mary, which IS worth revisiting if only for the beautiful chapel in which some of the Earls of Warwick (including Richard Beauchamp, thirteenth of those earls, and jailer of Joan of Arc) and an Earl of Leicester (Robert Dudley, favorite of Queen Elizabeth I) are buried.

The Beacham Chantry has been
called the finest Medieval chapel
in England

The elegant effigy of Richard Beauchamp
13th Earl of Warwick

The effigy of Robert Dudley and wife,
Beauchamp Chantry

A historical and artistic gem in an otherwise not all that extraordinary church. All in all, I was delighted to get back on board the coach and to set off for Stratford.

Stratford-Upon-Avon does not disappoint -- me, at least. There are many that complain it is a tourist trap, and indeed many tourists seemed trapped, albeit willingly there on the beautiful Friday afternoon and Saturday morning that we spent there. But to me it is a lovely Cotswolds town that has retained much of its history and its well and accurately preserved past. And it's not Disney-fied/Tussaud-ified like Warwick Castle, with the exception of of rather tacky-looking Tudor experience that I've never forced myself to enter. Of COURSE it's Shakespeare's birthplace! Damned good reason to celebrate! 
The River Avon and the elegant Holy Trinity Church, Stratford
I must admit that I missed Moss Cottage, the B&B well out of the center (but worth the walk) that I'd stayed in twice during the fall semester. But the Virginia Lodge gave me a great bed and if not as good a breakfast as had Moss Cottage, a more than acceptable one. 
My white bed!

My bed was a fourposter, covered in white lace -- a bit too much like a tiny bridal suite to suit my taste, but the bed and bedding were so warm and comfy that I didn't at all mind the bit of mis-fit. I didn't stay in the room long after arrival, however, as we had dinner reservations at 5 pm, followed immediately by the play, and I wanted a stroll along the river before dining.

I met Jim Swafford and showed him where dinner was to be et, at the Opposition, more usually shortened to the Oppo, on Sheep Street, then took my stroll, then dined VERY well on sea bass with a duck starter, and more wine than was probably good for me.
Dinner at the Oppo with the usual suspects
Twelfth Night, alas, was a trifle disappointing -- some of my colleagues would have called their disappointment more than a trifle -- Orsino usually utters the famous first lines of the play: "If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it..." but in this version that scene is preceded by Viola rising, gasping, out of a pool. Not a bad entrance, not a bad use of the pool, not a bad start to the play, but except for Sebastian's rising in the same fashion later in the play every subsequent use of the water seemed contrived and forced. Orsino was dull and unappealing. What iola might have seen in him is beyond me. Viola herself was on and off for me. I liked Olivia better. Toby and Andrew were fine, but nothing inventive or new with those two. Malvolio handled the letter scene well, but was so sabotaged by his costume when he returned yellow-stockinged and cross-gartered, and...well, there are some things I think it's best to leave out...that I felt bad for him long before his imprisonment in the play -- he was imprisoned so embarrassingly in his own costume that the darkest dungeon would have seemed light and airy in compare. The set was not uninterestng to look at, but what did it have to do with the play?

Ah well, it's a much more difficult play to get "right" than people imagine, and most productions I've seen have been disappointing. Of course none of those had me as Orsino, which role I played back in Washington DC in the middle ages; well, the mid-1970s. I was very good.

After the play I was so tired and as noted above somewhat disappointed, so I skipped the Dirty Duck, which has never enchanted me, not since my first visit there in 1986 when I made a completely lame and unsuccessful pass at Imogen Stubbs. Instead I helped an ailing Bonnie Lawrence and a very tired Jim Swafford back to the B&B, and slept soundly in my wonderful bed.
Tim Kidd explains it all for us,
the new tower of the RST rising in the background
The next morning we heard Tim Kidd speak adroitly and eloquently on Shakespeare in Stratford. The students then visited Holy Trinity Church to pay their respects, and then the good Doctor Kidd took us on a walk to a few of the Shakespeare properties. After that we wandered, and Claire MM and I again slipped off for food -- paninis this time at a place I think called "The Food of Love" across from the Shakespeare birthplace. I then wandered along the river, on this beautiful Saturday one of the few places not completely cram-packed with tourists, before bidding a silent adieu to Stratford (when will I see it again? WILL I ever see it again?) heading to the bus for a short stop in Oxford.
Stratford -- on the far right the Garrick Inn
and the Harvard house
I think I may have written last fall that by this time in the trip I am tired and ready to go home. We had less than two hours in Oxford, which is too little time to take in much of it, but all the students wanted to see waa anthing to do with Harry Potter. Oxford was completely crowded with tourists (us included of course) so Claire MM, my partner in crimes of food and drink this on this hourney, and I went to the indoor market, found a nice place that served tea and cakes, had a chat, then toured through the Greek and Roman section of the excellent Ashmolean Museum, and once more boarded the bus, this time bound back for London! And not a moment too soon for this unusually reluctant traveler. Interestingly, my choice of tv for the evening was Inspector Morse, an altogether easier way to see Oxford than by traipsing through it on a touristy Saturday.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bloggo Trentiottesimo: A Walk along the Thames, from Tower Hill to Canary Wharf, March 2012

It was such a beautiful Sunday (11 March) that I decided to take in another portion of the Thames Path London that I'd not yet seen. I had walked a good bit of the same general area on the south bank of the river, from Tower Bridge to Rotherhithe, but I'd not yet been beyond St Katharine Docks, just east of the Tower Bridge, on the north side. 

So I began there, and took in Wapping, Shadwell, and Limehouse, ending at Canary Wharf. Interesting walk, with not much river to be seen at first, but in the latter part of the journey a good bit more open promenades along the Thames were made available to the pedestrian. I knew little of the history along this route, and still don't know all that much, except to say that it's all about sailors, pirates, immigrants made use of as cheap labor -- a bit of a mess recently transformed into very posh neighborhoods with river views.

I started at the Tower Hill tube station and crossed under the Tower Bridge. 
Marina at St Katharine Docks
I must admit that I got turned aound a tad, and at first had a difficult time finding Thames Path markers! And the first ones I found pointed me only in the direction I'd already covered. When I finally got my bearings and found the signs for the direction in which I wanted to go, there wasn't at first much Thames to be seen. Residential buildings sitting right out on the water hid the river, and the walk through much of St Katharine Docks was on a street with expensive lodgings on either side. But! I finally did get pointed to a promenade actually on the Thames, and for a bit the walk became what it was defined as, the THAMES Path.

About the docks, the name St. Katharine comes from a hospital of that name on the site from as early as the twelfth century. 
Dickens Inn, St Katharine Docks
As London grew in power generally, and as a sea power in particular, much of the area on the banks of the Thames, including St Katharine Docks, became increasingly filled with slums housing poor laborers. When the industrial revolution occurred numbers incereased exponentially and conditions worsened  until the early nineteenth century. The slums were torn down, but over 11,000 workers were displaced. Thomas Telford, the famous engineer, re-designed the docks, and built warehouses directly on the river. For a time valuable cargo was unloded here, but in the early 20th century, when cargo ships became too large to be accommodated at St Katharine Docks, the area grew less viable commercially. The docks were heavily bombed in World War II and the site was re-developed in the 1970s, a good example, said some, of urban renewal. 
One of the first chances I had to look back at the river
Today it is a private community of residences for the wealthy, yacht basins, several shops and nice places to eat as well. Perfect for a stroll on a Sunday in early spring!

From St Katharine Docks I walked on to Wapping. The upcale housing continued along the river, but a good bit of the route took me down the narrow Wapping High Street, another not at all unpleasant place to stroll, today. 
New Crane Wharf, Wapping
new posh residences
The Town of Ramsgate Pub  
see the sign about the stairs
Wikipedia quotes a sixteenth century historian who describes the street as "a filthy straight passage with alleyways of small tenements or cottages, built, inhabited by sailors' victuallers." Along this street there is little view of the river, except for tiny passages that lead onto stairs straight down to the water, such as those at the Town of Ramsgate Pub.  Like St Katharine Docks, Wapping depended on the river for its existence, and was not always nearly as gentrified as it is today. Back in the day it was filled with slums and workhouses and pirates, some of whom were hanged here on Execution Dock - the most famous? Captain Kidd! Character-filled old pubs along the river in Wapping include one named for the good (or bad) Captain Kidd himself. Another is called the Town of Ramsgate (I've already noted that one and the photo is opposite). Still another one claims to be the oldest pub on the river in London (though that claim is disputed), the Prospect of Whitby, founded circa 1520. These and others are still very much open today, and were quite busy on the lovely afternoon that Dottore Gianni chose to stroll along this interesting stretch of the River Thames. In fact he was tempted to join in with the many customers in one or another, but he was on a mission - to Canary Wharf or bust!
The Prospect of Whitby pub -
oldest on the river?
Im the light research I find myself doing for these blogs, I discovered another interesting footnote about Wapping. It is the site in the Threepenny Opera of the brothel where pirate (and prostitute) Jenny betrays Macheath to the police. Highly theatrical, so of course I like that...and I suppose it also tells you a little about the atmosphere of Wapping in the good (or bad) old days!

A riverside park in Wapping
As I continued to walk there were increasingly more openings onto small parks and promenades on the water that could be shared by residents and the public alike. Some were more appealing than others, but of course even the dullest did boast a river view.
Open promenade along the Thames
On next to Shadwell, along the same narrow road, another area on the river that was dependent on maritime business and trade. 
A "bascule" bridge in Shadwell basin
St Paul's Church there is known as the Church of the Sea Captains, as seventy-five lie at rest in its churchyard.  In the nineteenth century a large number of South Asian seamen lived there, brought over by the British East India Company. In smaller numbers Chinese and Greeks also settled there.  In the Shadwell Basin canoes and small fishing boats are most of the seascraft you'll see these days, and like Wapping there is a lot of lovely housing to be had, if you can afford it. 
The Thames, and in the distance, Canary Wharf
One site that becomes apparent when one strolls this far down the River Thames is the great business complex known as Canary Wharf. In the photo just above it looks quite a way in the distance. in fact as I look at it now it still does! It was a good long walk I took that Sunday afternoon.

But one more area needs a brief report, just before I get to my final destination,
A narrow pub
on Narrow Street
and that is Limehouse, for me the most interesting of these riverside communities. Like the others it had its roots in the medieval era and specialized in the maritime business. In this section along the Thames a large Chinese community grew up as a result of the booming trade in tea and opium, and in the nineteenth century it became notorious for its many "opium dens" and the crime that went hand in hand with that drug. A 1930s crime film called Limehouse Blues starred George Raft and the first Asian American film star, Anna May Wong, who was frequently cast in stereotypical "Dragon Lady" roles, and there is a famed jazz standard also called "Limehouse Blues," made famous by Gertrude Lawrence, but also recorded by Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Count Basie, Tony Bennett and a host of others.

The central street in Limehouse is so narrow that it is actually called Narrow Street! I walked along it, but by this time there were even more opportunities to walk on the bank of the river, and for longer stretches. That's because I was approaching the final stop on my walk, that futuristic community in service of Pluto and more modern gods of money, Canary Wharf. 
Canary Wharf - last chance I had to get a shot of the full complex
Canary Wharf is so called as it was located in the West India Docks, created just at the turn of the nineteenth century to service goods from the important trade company of that name. These docks became at one point the busiest docks in the world, so much so that more docks were built later in the century and called the East India Docks. The idea was to be able to load and unload ships of those companies there rather than force them to sail farther up the very congested and thus potentially very dangerous River Thames. 

The docks are located on an area in London at a sharp curving or "meander" of the Thames called The Isle of Dogs. The history of the isle goes back much further in time than do the docks built upon it, as maps of mid-sixteenth century London labeled the area The Isle of Dogs. There are too many possible theories to enumerate concerning how the isle got its name, so I'll prefer the most dramatic one; that the name is a satirical reference to the Isle of England. Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe wrote a play called The Isle of Dogs on that subject that was performed briefly in 1597 before being suppressed for its slanderous content. If you don't like that theory, not to worry, there are plenty of other possibilities, I'm just not going to go into them here. Recent history? In 1988 building began on the gargantuan business complex, the then tallest building in the U.K., One Canada Square, and other buildings were completed in 1991, but shortly after the commercial property market collapsed and Canary Wharf filed for bankruptsy in 1992. When the economy recovered, so did the area. In 2004 a consortium of investors took it over and today it Canary Wharf and today it thrives. All in all an isle hardly gone to the dogs!
The riverfront at Canary Wharf
Whether or not I could ever afford to live on it - NOT would be my only choice, unless I win the lottery -- it IS set up rather nicely for an urban space. On that lovely Sunday outdoor seating at cafes along the riverfront were packed with people, and many others were parading  along the promenades or just basking in the sun. I must admit that by this time in my afternoon hike I was more interested in buying a bottled water and hopping on the Jubilee Line for a quicker, easier way to get back to from where I'd started -- ICLC. I hope to write on more of the Thames Path soon -- join me!
Interesting placement of the stairs from the waterfront
to the massive buildings of Canary Wharf

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bloggo Siciliano: Days 4 & 5

Siracusa, particularly Ortigia, would be a tough "act" for most cities to follow. In this tale of two cities, Catania didn't really stand a chance. It's big, second in Sicily only to Palermo. It's industrial, and that shows clearly coming in via train as I did. And it's run down. Once grand buildings in the Baroque style are crumbling. Catania took one of the worst hits from the earthquake of 1693, but was rebuilt in splendor. One of the things that Dottore Gianni found sad about the city is the decay. Once great buildings crumbling -- when a mediocre city crumbles it's not pretty, but when a city with lofty longings falls apart it is visually more evident, and to my mind doubly depressing.

That's a pretty grim way to start, but my own trip crumbled somewhat when I arrived in Catania - as I wrote in my introductory post on Sicily -- it was the best of trips, it was the worst of trips. I'll amend again what I amended then -- hardly the worst! And I did find pleasures in this big, boisterous city. I also noted when I  began to write on Sicily that my own planning fell apart. In a sort of sub-theme for this post, that we might call "Jack vs the Volcano," there was no reason I should not have seen Mount Etna, for example.
Mount Etna from my train window
 I DID see it, from several different angles, on the train from Siracusa. It's quite a powerful presence, in that it dominates the landscape physically, but also in that one knows what's going on deep inside it, and that eruptions are always possible. I convinced myself that I had seen enough from the train, I did not come prepared for the much cooler temperatures I'd have experienced heading to the peak, I hadn't given myself enough time in Catania to do the city justice, I also really wanted to make a day trip to Taormina, primarily to see the fantastically placed Teatro Greco there. But then I didn't do that either. Reading about the difficulty of getting from the rail station toTaormina itself daunted me.

In fact I began to be daunted in general upon arrival. I tried to find my hotel, very near the rail station, on my own, and could not. A kind taxi driver at the station did not take me for a ride, literally or figuratively, instead pointed in a direction I'd not thought to search, said "Azzuro?" (which means blue). I saw the building he pointed to immediately, only a very short walk away. Then he said, "Rigel." (the name of my hotel. I thanked him profusely and headed toward it. On the way I was accosted by several rather frightening men aggressively offering to carry my bag, to drive me where I wanted to go, to feed me, to sell me things -- god knows what else! And I had to push my way past them to get away from the station and across the few streets that separated me from my destination. And as I had walked the area searching for the hotel I saw just how run-down it was. I remembered the reviews of the hotel I'd read: "Great hotel, lousy area." They were right!

When I arrived at the hotel at about 12:30 pm I was warmly greeted and immediately shown to a very nice room. In fact, such was my state that I thought, "Well, I can always stay in the room!" The receptionist spoke almost no English, but when I asked for it gave me a good map of the city, and when I came back down helped me by signs and gestures in my search for the center, about 15 minutes away on foot.

So you see I didn't just stay in the room. I plunged into a city that grew more interesting to me as I walked. Probably the most important area is the Piazza Duomo, and it was the first place I came upon. Not one, but two enormous churches dominate that square; obviously the Duomo itself but just across the street from it Sant'Agata, named for the patron saint of the city and martyr. 
Piazza Duomo, Sant'Agata on the left
the Duomo on the right
The story goes that after attempting to evade the unwelcome advances of the Roman in charge of the city, she was whipped, mutilated and burned. Another cheerful tale of martyrdom! Apparently her church is in a sad state of disrepair today, and is seldom opened, though in early February every year she is celebrated in a three day feast, and relics from the church are marched around the city in grand processions. The Duomo had closed after its morning hours and would not re-open until 4:30 pm, so I had to be content until the next day to see its facade, which is pretty impressive. Its history is as well, for while little of its medieval original structure (it was begun in the eleventh century) survived the earthquake of 1693, the Duomo was rebuilt in the Baroque style, using stones lifted from the ancient Roman amphitheatre only a few blocks away. It also houses the tombs of three Aragonian monarchs and that of the opera composer Bellini, who is one of Catania's very favorite sons.
The Duomo
In the center of the square there is a fountain with statue of an elephant made from lava, the symbol of the city since the thirteenth century, depicting its triumph over the ever present threat of the volcano. 
The lava elephant
Opposite the Duomo there are a few nice outdoor cafes. It's a pleasant urban space, and the beginning of a more-or-less pedestrian zone. I had to dodge cars and buses while walking through it, but I'm sure they mean well by the appellation. To the right of the Duomo is a seventeenth century grand gateway called the Porta Uzeda which leads out of the square and towards the gardens of the Villa Pacini beyond. It's also one way to get to the famed market, the Pescheria, but that was closed on Sundays.

I continued walking the pedestrian zone (carefully). It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, though relatively few people seemed to be out and about in it.I walked north, on the largest and longest road in the city, the Via Etnea, which leads to, you guessed it, the very foothills of the great volcano. 

The first major square one comes to on this route is the Piazza dell'Universita, with two grand buildings dominating either side of it. Catania is among other things a college town, and particularly around this square I felt a good deal of youthful energy, and hope for the place in the future as well. 
The university
Shortly after that and off a few blocks to the right is the famous opera house named the Teatro Massimo Bellini. It's quite an ornate affair, and is set on two piazzas, one at its side, the other, longer and quite elegant leading directly to its front. Of course it's named for Catania's most famous composer. Vincenzo Bellini, who wrote in the bel canto style. His operas include Norma and La Somnambula, and they are frequently performed here. Sadly, nothing was on during my two nights in Catania, so saw only the impressive and ornate exterior.
Teatro Massimo Bellini
Getting back onto the Via Etnea one comes to still another square which has several interesting things to see. There is a statue of Bellini at its center, 
Bellini statue
and on one side the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, or at least of one small portion of it. After this square I had several choices, and made one that proved to be fine in the concept but less than grand in the carrying out. Continuing the theme of "Jack vs the Volcano" I decided that should walk the length of Via Etnea (it begins at the Piazza Duomo, so I'd made a start, get to the foothills of the volcano, and take some great photos. Except I had a less than perfect sense of just how long that walk would be. I have noted in several travel blogs that maps can be deceiving, usually in my favor, as I find areas more compact and easily got to than they seem when I first discover them on maps. The Via Etnea is a very straight thoroughfare, and the walker can glimps Etna frequently, so I walked toward it. And walked...and walked...I passed many places of some interest, including the Villa Bellini, a large public garden in the center of town, named again for the composer, but it was nearly an hour when I reached the Piazza Cavour, looked at the map, realized I was still not even halfway to the end of Via Etnea, and sighing inwardly (I HAD wanted to accomplish this) turned around and walked briskly back.
The Roman amphitheatre
By the time I got back to Piazza Duomo lunch had ended, and I had had nothing since breakfast except for a delicious but small clementine, so I was about to go in search of some kind of food when an open top tour bus materialized in the square. I leept aboard and spent an hour seeing much of what I'd already seen. I had hoped to get a closer look at Etna from the bus, but the tour ignored it (why!?). 
Stones of the Cyclops?
I DID see one area of interest that I'd not known about before, the coastline filled with black volcanic rocks. There are Homer's Odyssey connections in Sicily, and the area that would become Catania was, according to legend, the home of the Cyclops Polyphemus, who is outsmarted and then blinded by Odysseus, but who in a literal blind rage hurls boulders at the ship as it sails away. The legend goes that these large outcroppings of lava-based rocks are the stones that the enraged cyclops heaved at Odysseus's ship. Dottore Gianni likes that story very much!

I had had nothing but great weather up to this point, and when I left the hotel the sky was so blue I didn't think for a minute of taking an umbrella or hat. In fact it was so warm that I wore a short-sleeved shirt. During the bus tour the weather worsened, clouded up, got a good bit colder, and it began to rain lightly. When we were returned to Piazza Duomo from the less than illuminating bus tour I found myself stuck, but several men, in fact a frightening amount of them, came to my and other tourists' rescue, running out into the square aggressively selling the ugliest, flimsiest umbrellas imaginable (echoes of my experience at the rail station). I bought one from the least aggressive fellow for 5 Euros - a wretched looking brolly of blue plaid. It only had to last me the walk back to the hotel and it did, barely. 

But in my haste to get out of the rain I had completely forgotten to eat, and around the hotel there were a few cafes open, but with only the most grotesque looking tiny pizzas to eat -- lots of gelato and outrageous sweetcakes, but nothing that would satisfy me. So I determined to fast, and successfully did so! At about 7 pm I thought I might go out in search of food, but it was dark, the area WAS spooky and I'd not seen anything resembling a proper restaurant in the neighborhood, so I decided I could wait until morning, and I did.

The next day, my last in Sicily, was when I could have tried to get to Etna or Taormina, but instead gave up, or gave out, not certain which, and decided that I should give Catania another chance. While I'm sorry that I missed both of the above places, and while I'm fairly certain that, much as I liked Siracusa I will not return to Sicily, I had a rather nice last day in Catania. 
On the outskirts of the fish market are
stand after stand of vegetables and meats
that seem to go on forever
I can be brief (believe me, dear readers, I can!): first I took in the Duomo (nice, but nowhere near as interesting as the Duomo in Siracusa), then hit the Pescheria. 
Looking down into one
of the alleys of the Pescheria

The photos I have do not do it justice, but I had been warned to not look too touristy in that wild melee of fish, meat and veggy stands and  sales people shouting at bickering customers, as it was pickpocket heaven, so I was maybe a bit too careful going through it. A confession: I do not think I could live well on even such a beautiful island, because I am not the type to throw myself in and fight for my dinner, haggling and insisting only on the perfect cut of swordfish or beef steak. These people seemed to revel in it, while I was exhausted just observing it. But it was something to see!

I spent most of my time that day at the Teatro Romano and Odeon. If you do not know about it you'd never find it, as it sits behind buildings on the Via Vittore Emmanuele, but once you find the entrance you're in for a treat - if you're a nerdy theatre historian like Dottore Gianni at any rate, having seen this hidden gem your day could have been considered at least a somewhat successful one. 
Teatro Romano
As soon as you've entered you see a fair sized and fairly well preserved theatre, completely surrounded by later buildings. It was discovered after the destruction caused by the great earthquake back in the late seventeenth century. The historians have done a wonderful job in the rooms off the theatre which explain its various parts, how it was found, and how preserved. 
Teatro Romano again
After my "fast" the afternoon and evening of the day before, I decided that I would have a very substantial lunch as the main meal of the day, and have a sandwich of ham and cheese that I had made from the breakfast buffet for a light dinner. 
Rigatoni alla Norma
I spent a good bit of time looking for good restaurants and found one in Anticha Sicilia, very near the Piazza dell'Universita. Except for an insufferable headwaiter it was a great experience. I started with antipasto crudo, which I selected from a table full of yummy foods, then had a gigantic and delicious portion of Rigatoni alla Norma, and ended with a large insalata mista. For drinks I had ordered a small bottled water, and a half bottle of Sicilian red wine. I was too stuffed for dessert, but did have a nice espresso to end it all.

And that ended my trip to Sicilia! In the story of Jack vs the Volcano, Jack had clearly lost, and though I had wanted to see Taormina ever since I played Deeley in Harold Pinter's Old Times - there's a line in the play about it, and I loved saying it - first time I'd ever heard of the place - I obviously did not get there. Too bad, and not a perfect trip. But in this tale of two cities Siracusa, or Ortigia at least, had been wonderful, and Catania, despite some disappointments, was a nice surprise. I hope you've enjoyed reading about it!
I somehow forgot to have cannoli while in Sicily -
this one at the airport on the way home more than made up for it

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bloggo Siciliano: Day 3

My last day in lovely Siracusa - or to be more clear, in strange Siracusa where I was fortunate enough to spend most of my time in lovely Ortigia - started very well, and remained so, for the most part. 

After another tequila sunrise and excellent breakfast at my hotel I found another route to the Museo Archeologico and beyond it to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, where the Teatro Greco was located, and it was quite simple to get to both. I stopped momentarily at the Museo Archeologico, from which spot you are not likely to miss the gigantic and rather bizarre looking church called the
Santuario della Madonna delle Lachrime
Santuario della Madonna delle Lachrime, built in 1994 to house a statue of the Virgin that was said to have wept for five days in 1953. The church is supposed to resemble a giant teardrom, but to Dottore Gianni it looks like a Native American teepee of enormous size, or an umbrella not all the way open! 

I decided that it would be better to see the Parco before looking through the museum and headed off in that direction, finding it more quickly and easily than I'd ever have thought. In fact it was much more difficult to find the box office for the parco, as it is located across a very busy road, and then not well marked. Once across the road you have to get past some very tacky tourist stands, and then off in the distance there's a building that can only be the box office, as that's all that's left in the area. Sure enough it was, I quickly bought a ticket, escaped the tourist stands, very carefully crossed the road and found myself in the Parco Archeologico. 
Anfiteatro Romano
The first of several interesting sights in this park is the remains of the Anfiteatro Romano, or Roman amphitheatre, built in the third century AD. While there is not all that much of it left (no Colosseum this!) it is impressive, and carefully planned paths around it give you a good view from several different vantage points. One of its more interesting features is a small tank at its center, too small for aquatic spectacles, instead thought to have been a drain for all the blood spilt in the animal hunts and gladiator battles that were prime fare for such amphitheatres. I actually wandered into this area before buying my ticket, but the two attendants who were supposed to check for tickets were too busy jabbering to notice me. Who knows? If they'd been paying attention they might have been able to show Dottore Gianni how to get to the box office!
Ara di Ierone II

Next to the amphitheatre is located a site sealed off from the public, but where what looked to be a group of archeological students working the morning I visited, called the Ara di Ierone II. This is a gigantic altar, 200 meters in length, built in the late third century BC, the longest of any in all of Magna Graecia. Apparently for the annual celebration 450 bulls were led up ramps to the altar, to be slaughtered  for the feast.

The star attraction of the park is the very popular tourist spot the Teatro Greco.
Teatro Greco
I spent a good bit of time walking around it. Not as large as the Theatre of Dionysos in Athens, it is an impressive sight. As I noted in the last post, Aeschylus came here to see his plays performed, The theatre that he saw would not have much resembled this, as there was no stone seating in the fifth century BC. This theatre would be more accurately called the Teatro Romano, as there is only a half circle orchestra (dancing space) and the remains of a large scaenae frons (a monumental wall backing the stage), whereas a classical Greek theatre had a full circle orchestra and a comparatively small skene (scene hut) hehind it, where the actors went to change costumes and wait for their next cue, etc. This newer theatre built on an older one was very common in the ancient world. The theatre in nearby Taormina, which features and amazing amount of scaenae frons, is another example of a theatre known as the Teatro Greco, which is, in this theatre historian's view, a bit of a misnomer.

After I'd had my fill of the theatre I wandered through the quarries, which are now grown over with lemon and orange trees, quite lovely. And then I left the Parco Archeologico, after a morning I considered very well-spent.

Next stop was the Museo Archeologico, a very impressive museum focusing on local Siracusan artifacts from pre-history through the Greco-Roman period, 
Museo Archeologico
but also offering some interesting material from further afield. It is divided into 4 sections. I had a good wander around the museum, but spent most of my time in section D, which focuse more on the Greeks and Romans than on earlier eras. There was a particularly lovely Venus in one room, and in another restorers were working on an object that had been found in the Teatro Greco. They were very friendly, happy I suppose to see an enthusiastic visitor. By the time I left it was nearing 1 pm, and I had packed a sandwich of excellent cheese from breakfast, so I sat in the park outside the museum and had a quick but pleasant lunch. 
The lovely park where I ate my lunch
I then made the trek back to Ortigia, rather easy and less time-consuming now that I knew my way, headed straight for the hotel and got some rest before heading out in search of the puppet theatre on the island.

Teatro dei Pupi
Which I found rather handily! Not just the theatre, but the Museo Aretuseo dei 
Museo Aretuseo dei Pupi
Pupi and the Laboratorio, where you can go in and watch the makers of the puppets at work, Alas no one was at the Laboratorio, and there were no shows scheduled at the theatre, but the Museo was open. I was the only visitor, and though it was tiny a lot was packed into it.

And then I had another wander, as I needed to buy oostcards, and ended in a shop/cafe that featured local treats. I decided on an aperitivo there, was given one similar to and every bit as delicious as the one I'd had the day before, and with it a plateful of local snacks, which I enjoyed while writing out the postcards I'd just bought in their shop.
My yummy aperitivo!
However! Having done just about all I'd planned to do in Siracusa, I was still early for dinner, my last dinner of my stay in that lovely city. So I strolled around a bit, catching on camera the last rays of the sun on the facade of the Duomo. 
The Duomo just before sunset
And then I took myself back to the  ristorante/pizzeria that I'd tried the night before. I was told rather sternly, "NO pizza!" Not sure what was going on with the pizza, but I said I just wanted food. That made them happy and I ordered swordfish, which was really mediocre -- but at least there wasn't much of it! However, before the main course I had tried an antipasta called caponata which was delicious. I may have to get the recipe and make it for myself...regularly! 

The best you could say for the restaurant, called the Luna Rossa, was its location. It was on that promenade near the Fonte Aretusa and even after sunset it was warm enough to sit outside and gaze out across the continually darkening bay. While not all the food was perfect, my last night in Siracusa was not all that bad.

The next day, one last sunrise, one last breakfast, and I was on my way to the rail station to catch the train to Catania. A bit about that rather different city in my last post about Sicily!