Dave the motorhome almost caught himself out a few minutes ago, halting just shy of the Mediterranean as we drove over a patch of packed earth in the pitch dark (N36.7795 E15.57013). We’re in Marina di Ragusa, back on the south coast of Sicily, which is proving to be very motorhome friendly indeed.
Sleep came easy last night, despite our overall lack of physical activity. Wary of sinking 3 tonnes of Dave into the beach, we stopped shy of it on some gravel. A few locals tootled past onto the sand, or parked in another corner of the gravel car park, chilled out for a while and left, leaving us alone for the night and the morning. We awoke to a warm sun lifting itself over the ocean; soon we had to open a window for fresh air.
Modica and Ragusa both lie a little way inland, about 30 minutes of Dave driving away from the coast and about 20 minutes apart. The drive in was along a yellow road on the map, which means it sports two lanes no less, and is possible to drive without risking a nervous breakdown, possibly. In this case, the surface was even pretty smooth, saving the cost of a replacement set of teeth apiece and giving me time to glimpse the scenery as we drove. The low hills rolling past were thinly painted green, parcelled up by white stone walls which were all, at best, breached; some were spread wide, their broken bodies poking through the grass like the bones of the Earth. Citrus groves and unidentified trees filled in the gaps, there’s not much here.
As Modica drew near, my palms’ sweat glands limbered up. Our brief time in Sicily has taught us to be a teeny bit fearful of the towns. Roads which seem at first wide enough to pass quickly compress down until an abandoned car finally springs the trap, leaving us beached like a whale with drivers behind getting as excited as Captain Ahab. Pulling into Modica the route stayed broad, despite the usual mid-morning crush of cars. Following signs for bus parking paid off, bringing us to the train station and into an area marked out with yellow lines. These normally mean residents-only parking, but we looked around to see a line of cars parked in the ‘No Parking Here, Ever, We Mean It’ area and thought ‘what the hell’. Within minutes we were flanked by Italian motorhomes, maybe we’ve gone more native that the natives?
We jumped out and stocked up on some vegetables from a stall next door. A small faux-pas perhaps, picking up the veg myself? It’s hard to tell, but I caught a surprised glance from the stall keepers as I looked up from fondling a butternut squash. In the supermarket yesterday, an attempt to bag up a few mushrooms was intercepted by ‘veg man’ who’s job it transpired was to do this for me. I felt like a prince, with my own shroomy-selecting butler.
Modica, like everything and everyone around here, has been around for ever, for 3000-odd years. It’s defining moment though was the 1693 terremoto, the earthquake, which battered everything and everyone around here. Like Noto (and Ragusa, and all the towns here) it was rebuilt in Baroque style and despite being hit by floods over the past couple of centuries, it’s survived. Ju sniffed out the the tourist office who happily drew us out a walk, taking in church after church. We followed the line for about ten minutes, spying the duomo, ignoring a persistent beggar who later pulled out his mobile, and then took an about turn to get to a viewpoint on the hillside, hitting dead-end after dead-end on the smoothed-round stone steps. The view over the tiled rooftops was fabulous, the old town looking like yellowed-lego poured into the valley.
As we wanted to take in Ragusa too, which we could see was much larger on our Michelin map, we walked back down the road, thankful we’d not tried to get Dave up here (maybe all the churches are there to pray for wider roads?), and returned to find yet more motorhomes surrounding us, all Italian. By this point we were past the magical 1pm, and the place had flipped over dead, car parking spaces magically appearing and the road out of town becoming blissfully our own.
We’d read about Ragusa in the Rough Guide. For some reason not explained, the town split into two following the terremoto. The original bit was rebuilt on the same crooked medieval, soulful plan and named Ragusa Ibla. The new part, built higher up and separated by a ravine was called Ragusa Superiore, and was built along the same lines as the French colonial new towns in Morocco – a sensible and dull grid of blocks. The two parts competed, building ever-grander churches and palaces, until finally being re-united (again without reason) in 1926 under the fascists.
Again aware of cramped streets we pulled Dave into a streetside space in the upper town, buying a parking ticket for once, but accidentally for four hours after missing the fact it was free until 4pm. Walking in the general direction of the town centre, crossing one of the ravine bridges gave us our bearings. Or gave Ju her bearings I should say, I followed. I drive you see, and Ju is The Navigator, and a damned fine one.
Another tourist info office located, this time with a buzzer to gain entry, and we had another map with a highlighted walk drawn out, plus leaflets with page after page description of portals, columns, vestments, sacred texts and yawn. This time we stuck to the path, toddling along staring at playful sculptured façades and dodging cars. The upper town seemed to merge slowly into the lower one, its straight-laced street slowly becoming malleable until it twisted like a piece of hot Blackpool Rock being bent into some edible shape or other.
The lower town was the most fun, and seemed happy to save itself just for us. Few other tourists appeared, the Petit Train driving about at walking pace was nearly empty. Once we’d enjoyed some of the buildings and streets, the ones that followed were left short-changed as we entered the Architecture Fatigue Zone, a place we visit often. At the bottom of town we bought a couple of bus tickets from a tabac and caught the number 11 back up Dave, the driver giving us a shot of freebie adrenalin as he improbably managed to miss oncoming traffic along the stupid-narrow streets.
From there to here, via a free motorhome service point (thanks Ragusa!). Food is cooking, the heating is on (it was 21 degrees C today but the nights are cool) and the sea sounds like it’s lapping around Dave’s rubbery rounded feet. It’s been a good day on Planet Buckley.