On the third day we rose bright and early. V was coughing, husband and I were starting to have a sore throat so I made everyone eat some honey from the breakfast table. The buffet selection of dishes were good, but my favourite items were these sesame cookies (some would say maybe that's why I had a sore throat) which went down a treat with a cup or two of milky tea.
We checked out of the hotel and started our coast to coast drive to the south eastern city of Siracusa. But first we had to actually leave Palermo, a not too easy feat considering the terrible traffic compounded by the rain which had flooded some roads. After about 45 minutes we finally crossed the city borders and entered the expressway, leaving the clouds and rains of Palermo behind. Husband decided to take us to see some mosaics at the ancient city of Piazza Armerina. We found the place 2 hours later following some weird directions from the GPS system, and realized that the site was closed for excavation works during winter. Nevermind, we enjoyed the drive anyway, the area under Mt Etna is full of mountains and hills inland yet we can see the coastline on one side, beautiful.
Since we missed the mosaics I thought we should at least get a good meal out of this ancient hillside town. (All the towns that we would later visit would turn out to be ancient hillside towns, Sicily is like that, people live right next to ancient Roman theatres, grand cathedrals and more of such extravagant civic buildings). We saw pizza parlours, little canteens and takeaway shops. Pushing inwards, we decided randomly on Ristorante Amici Miel. We were the first customers, later some local businessmen came in. We were greeted by the chef, who also took our orders. First up, shared antipasto which featured delicious meatballs, capers, roasted peppers and cured meats. miam miam.
Next, a pasta dressed in a pistachio and ham sauce, this was gorgeous. I think the three of us fought for this though to be fair it was originally intended for V.
One of the most expensive dish was beef with nero d'avola which is a Sicilian wine. For 14 euros we got a piece of meat so it can do nicely as two main courses in Paris. The sauce was delicious but the portion was too big.
I had another local specialty, fish fillet with potato crust, fashioned into scale-like pattern and the whole lot baked in the oven. A little too salty but the freshness of the fish was evident. This is about as fancy as it gets, no need to tinker too much when the ingredients are so fresh.
Back into the car, following the expressway to Catania and turning off to another for Siracusa. I did not really pay attention to the signs and we missed one exit and had to waste 30 minutes doing a u-turn. Finally we reached Siracusa, like 3 hours later than expected. At the tip we crossed a little bridge and found ourselves in Ortigia which is a little island. We got stuck trying to negotiate the very narrow side streets, telling ourselves we did pay the maximum car insurance so if the paint was scratched it would not be that bad. After 20 minutes we extricated ourselves and called the hotel for directions. It is not always a good idea to set the GPS to find the shortest route, it will literally take you by all the short cuts and avoid traffic lights not realising you are not driving a Vespa. The Hotel Algila instructed us, erm, holding our hands literally while I relayed directions to husband, to take the outer ring roads and we arrived just in time to take this picture before the rains followed on our heels all the way from Palermo.
The hotel is beautiful, the bed for V is actually a daybed in its own nook. She was thrilled.
By the time we showered and dressed, it was pouring madly outside. We were undeterred, and set out with umbrellas to expore the city. It being after 4.30 pm the sun had long ago went to bed, so our first sights were all wet and dark. What we saw were beautiful though, and along the quieter via Cavour leading to the very impressive Duomo we did a little shopping, buying up many jars of bottarga to bring home. Husband and I love bottarga, dried roe of tuna or mullet which is similar to mentaiko, salty, fishy, pungent, full of umami.
As it was still raining without pause we stepped into pastry shop Marciante for drinks and cakes. Then it was more walking in the rain, until we reached the seafood restaurant Taverna Sveva right at the southwestern tip of the island.
For starters we shared a plate of fish cooked in a variety of ways- smoked, pickled, fried etc; nothing too memorable. Then it was a plate of pasta alla bottarga for husband. This version, for we have tried quite a few this trip, was easily the best we've eaten. I promptly ordered another plate and demolished that after only a moment of guilt. The pasta was tender and yielding, eggy, yet still has some bite. The bottarga sauce was copious with bottarga, the tomatoes which would have balanced the brininess was a little too tart but in view of the dominating roe it came in just right.
This was originally my dish. Misto mare, or mixed fried seafood, was so plentiful I barely made a dent in the pile of squid, shrimps and baby fishies. At 10 euros it was a delicious bargain as well. V meanwhile, didn't really eat much of anything else besides the excellent bread provided alongside. With a bit of wine and more reasonably priced sparkling water we enjoyed our dinner in the restaurant which was not occupied by any other diners. Come to think of it, we haven't seen many other people, local or tourists, these few days. It felt like we had the whole town to ourselves. Certainly when we stumbled out, rosy-cheeked and tummies pleasantly full, the piazza was pissing rain and it was totally dark. We ran back into the restaurant and asked them to call us a taxi; the driver looped around the island for a scenic ride and we reached the hotel in a fairly dry state. A very good end to a long day.