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Into the Countryside

October 2, 2017

About 40 kilometers from Siracusa lie the charming towns of Modica and Ragusa. My plan was to explore and have lunch in Modica (described by Lonely Planet as a “foodie town” — right up my alley) then go on to Ragusa Ibla.

Plans don’t always work out the way you want them to, especially when it’s Saturday in a popular tourist site and you’re trying to find a parking place. There was no parcheggio (parking lot) to be found in the historic center, so I cruised, looking for street parking that was allowed for more than 15 minutes. When I finally found a space a few blocks away, the sign instructed me to purchase a ticket at the machine…which I couldn’t find. So I parked anyway, praying that the polizia wouldn’t be issuing tickets.

[Aside: Parking has generally been one of the more anxiety-producing issues in my travels, and Italy has to be among the worst places for it. In Ortigia, where I’m living, there’s a pretty big lot a few blocks away. But it costs 2.50 Euros for 3 hours, which gets pricey when you’re leaving the car overnight. Plus the machine only takes coins, not bills or credit cards, so every day I’ve had to make sure to have at least 10 Euros in coins to buy a ticket when I return in the evening. A couple of nights I only had enough to pay till 2 or 3 a.m. One day the machine was broken, so I parked for free; another day a young boy armed with a roll of blank ticket paper claimed the machine was broken and was taking money and hand-writing the hours paid for. One night an enterprising twenty-something was sitting in the last empty spot and demanded payment for it when I pulled in. I told him I absolutely was not paying him, and he finally went away to fleece someone else.]

Though I liked Modica well enough, and found an artisanal shop offering tastings and selling its famous chocolate, I found it difficult to get oriented. There were no signs pointing to its landmarks, nor did I find a tourist information office. There are several baroque churches in Modica Alta, the most impressive of which is the Chiesa San Giorgio, pictured below.

I thought of my friends Sebby and Joanne when I passed by this little café…

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Trying to find my way out of town I got a little lost and found the best views of Modica — and easy parking!

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Unlike Modica, Ragusa is welcoming and accessible to tourists, with its important sites well sign-posted, even including walking time from one to another. Ragusa Ibla (the old town) is the historic center, with Piazza del Duomo at the heart of it.

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A thirty minute wander took me to the piazza, where I found La Piazzetta, a friendly spot for my overdue lunch. Spaghetti with little shrimps and chopped pistachios — a delightful combination. Sicilians love pistachios and use them in many different ways: on my first night in Ortigia I had garganelle pasta with tiny clams, small shrimps and pistachio pesto (a dish the restaurant calls Garganelle Montalbano, for the fictional Sicilian detective star of popular novels by Andrea Camilleri and Italian TV).

While I was waiting for my lunch I spied a tempting sign across the way —

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— and no, it doesn’t mean divine, but rather with wine. So a copa of red wine gelato was just the right digestif.

Wandering these maze-like streets, it’s remarkable to think about the sheer number of elaborate churches in small towns like this.

Taking myself back to Ortigia, I decided on pizza for dinner, and pistachios showed up again, along with pancetta, panna (cream), and fresh and smoked mozzarella — an inventive combination. The results are in, and Sicilians make the best pizza!

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