The Apollonian

Our good friends, Lynn and Ruth Shuster have joined us to explore Sicily. After we picked them up from the Catania airport, we drove south to the picturesque island of Ortygia, which is connected to the city of Syracuse by two short bridges. The oldest section of Syracuse, Ortygia was founded by the Corinthians in 734 BC. It’s a very walkable town with several great piazzas and their very own Caravaggio painting of the burial of St. Lucy.
Although we could only stay for one night and part of a day, we had a great time. We started our visit by strolling down the main Corso Matteotti for the evening passeggiata. Besides the well dressed Italians, we admired the baroque buildings, the lovely fountains and the large, pedestrian-only piazzas. The colors on the stone buildings are especially wonderful late in the day when the sun is going down. The walk ends at the Fontana Aretusa—the famous spring where it’s said that the goddess Artemis transformed her handmaiden, Aretusa, into the spring to protect her from the river god, Alpheus.
We are reviewing our Greek Myths with the help of our Lonely Planet guide and some helpful plaques—we don’t have all of these stories memorized by any means. And it’s so amazing to learn that many of the physical settings for these ancient stories are actually in Italy. In addition, there are quite a few Greek sites in good shape. The city of Syracuse has an excellent Archeological Park and Museum that is an easy bus ride from Ortygia. If you happen to visit in May or June, you might even be able to see one of the Greek Classics that take place in the well-preserved Greek Theatre in the park.
It’s easy to find great Sicilian food and gelato in Ortygia. We chose a restaurant that was recommended by Ruth’s friend, Joanne, called Osteria da Carlo and also Apollonion. They don’t give you a menu, they just keep bringing out fresh seafood creations. We think we had about eight different seafood appetizers before they brought out a wonderful pasta with frutti di mare. When they asked if we wanted the grilled fish or dessert, we hesitated before we chose the latter. The guys probably were disappointed, but Ruth and I just couldn’t eat any more fish. We barely managed dessert, but of course we had to taste their unique cannoli dish and a wonderful citrus dessert.
The next morning we went to the fantastic farmer’s market behind the ruins of Apollo, near the entrance to Ortygia. There was lots of fresh fish such as shellfish, swordfish, tuna and sardines caught nearby. We watched the men preparing sea urchins that cost 10 euros for a small cup. The Sicilians make a tasty spaghetti dish with it. I asked the men when they had caught it and they said that they had started at 5 a.m. that morning to be ready for the market. Watching all of the labor that went into preparing the sea urchins helped us understand why it’s so expensive.
Besides the fish, they had all kinds of vegetables, fruits, nuts and cheeses. We went back to our favorite spot—a small salumeria shop with a blue awning on the north end of the market. The owner provides generous samples of his cheeses and meats while you try to decide what you want. If you want the best cannoli in Sicily, order it here and then wait while it’s made freshly for you in the back kitchen. The fresh ricotta cheese that they have here in Italy is the secret ingredient to great cannoli. But getting one minutes after it was created is the only way to go.


About msraaka

I am an artist, writer and desktop publishing consultant living in the Pacific Northwest. After our first visit to Italy, my husband Bob and I have found ways to spend more and more time there and other countries in Europe. We love to travel, but especially to stay in one area and get a better sense of place. I love learning languages, so I continue to study Italian, French and Spanish so I can communicate a bit more with the locals. Even learning the basic greetings can make a big difference.
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