As you may have seen from the videos, we arrived in Siracusa after only three days of sailing from Cephalonia. Siracusa (Syracuse) is a beautiful old town with a marina that charges exorbitant fees for their meager services. There was no wi-fi available, the bathrooms were in a pre-fab little shed with no separation between the shower stalls and our berth faced outside, i.e. not protected from waves or swell.

We explored the old town of Siracusa, which is called Ortigia. It’s an enchanting collection of winding alleys and piazzas. Their duomo is an impressive Baroque building that actually incorporates the columns of the Greek temple to Athena. They also had a few dodgy internet cafes, mostly populated by African immigrants calling home from the call center phone booths. In fact, the first “internet cafe” we saw had no computers, just phones. That first night, Ben, Andrew and I found what we thought was an authentic little restaurant called Mariano’s squeezed in the confines of a narrow alleyway. The food, served by our tattooed and somewhat severe waitress, was decidedly sub-par; the house wine, even worse.

The next day we “hired” a rental car from the local Avis and went touring around. We drove very fast over to the Baroque town of Noto. Noto is a very scenic small town that was mostly rebuilt during the Baroque period. There’s several nice churches there and a palazo (now the City Hall) where you can fork over two euros (approx. $17) to see one, count ’em, one room. Luckily we had been fortified by the espresso at the nearby cafe Calazo’s to overcome that error in judgement. We then proceeded to climb up the tower of the Church of San Carlos al Corso to take in the views over the town. Afterwards we stopped by the highly-recommended Caffe Sicilia. A very pleasant young lady in a military cap served us canoli and caffe latte in the air-conditioned luxury of their back room. The place was a delight for us and we sat around discussing the various and manifold merits of Italy, Italians and the cafe’s bathrooms.

After Noto we took a long drive that lead along the coast. We stopped in a beachfront cafe to have some pizzas and Peronis before heading up to Ragusa. Ragusa is another beautiful town set up a steep hilltop. They also have Baroque churches and buildings there. As we wandered around on foot, we came to the Church of San Giuseppe where a group of nuns was singing and praying to the empty pews. It was stunning when they broke into song. Their well-practiced voices made that church hum like a tuning fork. The three of us went down the main street a but farther and came on the gardens on the edge of the city that look out over the surrounding valleys. There was a wedding going on and Ben made sure to get a shot of Pedey the penguin with the happy couple.

Driving in Sicily was quite fun. The landscape is gorgeous, gently rolling fields edged with cypress trees, oleander and sometimes cactus. Occasional patches are planted with olive orchards or, near marshy streams, citrus trees. The roads are in good condition and speed is not only encouraged but expected. Sicilians feel they must overtake you on the highway whether it helps them get where they’re going or not.
It was a little hectic in the cities, but out in the countryside, the driving was just a treat. My constant diversion was dreaming about buying and restoring one of the many crumbling country homes for sale that we’d pass.

We returned back to Siracusa as night was falling. I think we thought we would cook dinner, but then it turned out to be somewhat late. So we got some gelato at the nearby gelateria as a snack. It was delicious.

Day two and a half had us driving all the way to Mt. Etna first thing in the morning. It turned out to b a n exhausting drive as we hit traffic in the small towns one is forced to drive through. This is where driving in Sicily becomes tedious. It did give us a chance to hear the Armed Forces Network on the radio. Imagine the worst parts of commercial Top 40 radio stations combined with announcements from the military. After finally passing those snarls, we began climbing up the sides of the volcano. There weren’t many cars around as we drove up past the alternating slopes of volcanic rubble and lush vegetation. Imagine our surprise, then, when the top opened up to a huge parking lot surrounded by tourist shops (all touting Kodak). Everything was expensive, from the parking to the coffee and croissant (5 euros) to the aerial tramway. The cable car, which takes visitors up to a further viewing area, cost 27 euros a person! So, having some principles about not getting extorted, we decided to climb up by foot. However, 2/3 of us were wearing sandals and the loose volcanic rocks of the slope were not easy to negotiate. It was also quite hot. We decided to turn back and climb up to a lower crater that actually had a path around it. The day was a hazy one, so we were hardly missing out on the view. The volcano is cool because it is still growing and changing. Usually one see mountains or granite valleys where one is impressed by how old they are. These rocks, on the other hand, were only eight years old, because they came from the eruption in 2001.

We piled back in the car for a rousing discussion of Scientology, Landmark training and other cult-like nonsense on the drive down. Then we headed for Taormina. The town is renowned for it’s beauty and its greek theatre, both of which are highlighted by the town’s position on a hill overlooking a dramatic sea vista.

We arrived in the intense heat of the afternoon to find a town wholly devoted to tourism. In one of the few restaurants that was open, La Cisterna del Moro, we languidly ate our lunch, gulping down cold drinks under the ceiling fans of the patio. The owner or manager that waited on us was a big fan of America. He hooked us up with coffee and limoncello at the end of the meal. I told him the place was expensive and he told me that it was in the guides as a cheap alternative. The whole town is expensive. We didn’t go to the Greek theatre because it cost 6 euros to see and was crawling with tourists. I’ll see my Greek theatres in Greece, thank you very much.

This day was also Ben’s last. Sadly, we spent the evening crawling through traffic on our way to Catania. We finally got there and found the hotel he was staying at in the twisted warren of streets there. The lady at the front desk was very nice and rustled up some beers for us to enjoy. We thought that we had to get to the airport to pick up Avner, but then his flight was delayed. Ben’s flight out was early the next morning from the same airport. Anyway, the delay afforded us the chance to go out to dinner in a piazza dominated by a 13th century castle. Andrew was stoked on the place. We ate in a little joint called Camelot which was right next to a leather goods store that sold all types of leather. Like Roman-style body armor.

**UPDATED**

We bade Ben farewell after dinner and drove to the airport to pick up Avner.  Avner had come from Israel that day on a flight with a 10 hour layover in Rome.  Avner is Israeli, but was born in Italy and studied there.  From this point on we had an official translator.  It was great seeing him again after a month at sea.  It was the first person to come on board as crew that I knew beforehand.  And it was the reunion of the Tel Aviv crew.   Which is to say nothing of the two bottles of Talisker that he brought from duty-free.

We drove back to Siracusa while catching up with Av.  The next morning we decided to spend a lazy day around Syracuse just soaking up the local flavor.  Avner had already been to Sicily and so he had no great desire to go sightseeing.  We had had enough from the previous couple of days.  So we went and had coffee in a small cafe near the piazza del duomo.  Then we took a long walk through the narrow streets until we found the next cafe to stop in for lemon granitas.  Now our walk was like a guided tour because Avner would comment on the buildings, the attempts to restore them and the Italian knack for leaving construction projects half done.   That night we had dinner in the Trattoria Porta Marina.

They sat us in a small side room that doubled as their wine cellar.  At first we felt slightly offended that they didn’t want to see three shabby dudes like us in their main dining area, but then we started to rather enjoy the fact that we had an intimate space all to ourselves.  The service was very professional and the food was great.  The wine, a Cusumano Merlot, was especially tasty.

The next day we decided to leave Siracusa.  It was Sunday and we still had to return the rental car.  Luckily, we caught the couple who runs the Avis office while they happened to be there for a few hours.  We rushed over to take care of all that and then made ready to cast off.  Our destination for that day was Marzamemi, a small marina on the Southeast corner of Sicily.  Avner had come out in order to sail with us to Malta.  By stopping first at Marzamemi, we were shortening the trip by a couple of dozen miles.

We arrived in the quiet, but nicely run marina of Marzamemi after a pleasant sail.  The sea started out with a big swell that made Avner a little uncomfortable, but once we passed the Murro di Porco, or Pig’s Wall, she flattened out.  After cleaning up the boat and and ourselves we set out into town to see about a place to eat dinner.

The walk into town went around the whole expanse of the marina.  It didn’t look too promising at first, but we kept on following the people who seemed like they were going out as well.  We got to the beginning of tourist-oriented shops and found a cool store selling local products like wine and sun-dried tomatoes.  We bought a few things and continued on to find the old part of town.

The old part of town was in the middle of hosting an international film festival.  When we came into the main piazza, a mass was going on in front of the open-air cinema screen.  We had mojitos at a little bar on the side and sat amazed that people were sitting through this service in the middle of the bars and crowds around them.

A beautiful Italian girl rode up on a bicycle and then sat down on the stoop of a nearby house.  We were all egging each other on to see who would go up and talk to her.  I decided to do it and screwed up my courage to go over and ask if I could buy her a drink.  As I was crossing the few yards that separated us, I noticed that she actually had a drink.  A moment ago, when I had last dared to look at her, she hadn’t.   I couldn’t abort because I was too close and obviously walking towards her.  I wasn’t mentally nimble enough to come up with another plan or opening line either.  So, I asked her in English and then broken Italian if I could buy her a drink.  She raised her glass a bit, as if to say, “Got one, thanks.”, and politely declined.  Having just played my first and only card, I returned to the table, Mr. Smooth.

After that ignominy, we had dinner at another place on the square.  We waited for a long time for our food because the place was packed with people coming for this festival.  We could watch the screen from our seats.  We were treated to the winning entry in the short film category; an unwatchable pastiche about the disappearance of old ways of Sicilian life.  Regardless of the quality of the film, we knew the three rules of cinema are location, location, location and so we were stoked to be at “Europe’s southernmost open-air cinema.”

I stopped for my last Italian gelato on the way back to the boat.  We left early the next morning for Malta.

**UPDATED**
This post is was not complete, but I wanted to give you all an update. I’m leaving Malta today for Tunisia by way of Lampedusa. Despite having internet access the whole time in Malta, I have failed to write a complete post. Ill work on it on the way over to Tunisia, which will be the next four days. Meanwhile, I’ve uploaded a ton of photos to my flickr page. All unlabeled, but they’ll give you an idea. Sorry for the delay.

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