231 – 233: Noto Nocturnes

 231 – Monday 7th December 2015:  A Noto Ordination

Text by James … who will K find next to do the write up?

The morning run started a bit late but we reached Acicastello – I did a bit of speedwork along the Promenade – I am quite determined to race in the next month….

Adieu to Aci Trezza and we journeyed south on the A18 motorway – heading back to Noto. On our previous visit with our guest writer Kerstin, we had met a German lady who lived part time in the area. She told us that 2 new priests would be ordained on Monday night and on Tuesday there would be a large procession and lots of celebrations – this seemed an excellent reason to return – not just to see the wonderful Baroque buildings and churches.

Driving smoothly down the A18 motorway – K at the helm – just approaching the turn off for Syracusa – there was an almighty bang beside us – a shower of wreckage and bits in the air – a car had a high speed impact against the central reservation fence of the opposite carriageway ! We stopped on the hard shoulder and k phoned the Police – a number of other drivers must have done so – the Polizia arrived quite quickly.  The accident car looked completely wrecked – we just hoped the occupants survived….  Our van suffered some scrapes and a small hole in the bonnet from flying shrapnel – if it had hit our windscreen – it would have shattered !  Nothing compared to the possible injuries to the accident victims….  We have come to learn that the driving culture in Sicily is inherently unsafe – because we are 28’ long and a large vehicle travelling slowly, we probably have some advantages (unless it’s a mountain town !).

The free overnight parking area (photo below) looked good and just on the fringe of the old/rebuilt post-1693 earthquake city.  To get to the heart of Noto – there were steps to climb – not too many thankfully and just 10 minutes from the Citta di Noto.  Recce’d (what horrible English, James – just as well it’s not your first language !) and retired to Chardonnay to get suited and booted for the ordinations at 5:30 pm.   Now then – the last such event I attended was 30+ years ago – but I recall it was just like a wedding – invited guests only. However, we already knew members of the public were ok to attend in Noto.  We arrived at the Cathedral at 5:15 (plenty of time, we thought) – to find it was already filled to capacity (standing room only) – a thousand folk ?  Eventually, we sat on the step of a side altar – which had quite a good view. 5:45-ish, the grand occasion kicked off – a hundred priests (!) processed through the Cathedral – K reckoned all the priests of Sicily were there.  The Bishop of Noto delivered a homily – it was theatrical – my Italian/Latin is good enough to identify much use of “pecatta mundi” – the sins of the world.  As a Catholic (not a regular churchgoer), I have had my fill of fire and brimstone in the 60’s.  But, the bishop calmed down and the celebration continued with lovely choir singing – and finally Giovanni and Paolo became ordained priests – to rapturous applause from the huge congregation !  After 2 and a half hours, we slipped away – a lovely warm family occasion – a first for K.  

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View to Acicastello on our morning run

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View back to the Cyclopi Rocks at Aci Trezza

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We took this going back up the motorway on Wednesday: you can see with what force the car hit the barrier, and the barriers here are seriously strong – they need to be.  Less than 1 km further up the road we saw a newly overturned car on the opposite carriageway.

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Bishop’s looong sermon: it sounded full of brimstone and fire

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232 – Tuesday 8th December 2015:  Feast of the Immaculate Conception

We were awoken by 8 thunderous artillery rounds at 8:00 am – K was convinced that Mt Etna was erupting on our parking area – and she complains about my geographical prowess ! No signs of lava in the photo though…..

I had forgotten that 8th December is the feast of the Immaculate Conception – a most important occasion in the Catholic Church. K’s photos show the completely novel (to us) way of placing the floral garland on the statue of the Virgin – at midday outside the Church of St Francis of Assisi.  I even remembered the Latin words of the Angelus hymn – Amelia – can you sing it please ?  

The main procession was scheduled for 5:30 pm and we managed a quick glass of wine at Paolo’s cafe near the Cathedral…. Paolo knew every man, woman and child who passed by en route to the procession… He also serves a good Marsala, K assures me…..

The photos excellently capture the spirit of the procession – it took 40 strong men in relays to carry the statue of the Virgin around town – including one uphill section !

Yet another warm family event – all ages out on the streets. We probably celebrated these feasts in Ireland in a similar fashion 50+ years ago – clearly, Italy has maintained traditions that go back many centuries…  It definitely gets the whole community involved – not a bad thing ?

Paolo’s cafe seemed to draw us in again – was that Marsala K ? (K: yes another two glasses and they were not sherry schooner sized!!!)

A lovely day – one of those magic moments that we are lucky enough to find.  Will K become a convert – and drag me off to church every Sunday ?  I don’t have the heart to tell her that altar wine is not Marsala !  

Ciao, amici….




View down to our car park – 4 of the Italian vans went off early – up and at ‘em


Part of a nativity scene that filled a small room in a side street.


The Bishop emerges with the floral tribute to the Madonna …


… who hands it over to the fire fighters? ….


… aah – now I see why.


Tied carefully in place.  And then a cacophony of canon fire.


Town officials … sporting white blouson jackets … some were filled by their bellies!


The band struck up and this cheeky chappie caught my eye.


Bishop and church dignitaries posing for the press.


We celebrated with a coffee and J had a Tiramsu (just for you Sylvie – he did not really want it! – forced himself, honest!!!)


Church of Francis of Assisi ready for the parade of the Madonna


Clerics and church orders descended from the Mass first …

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The Madonna carried by a lot of burly priests and accompanied not by canon fire, but fireworks and showers of paper contain the words ‘W Madonna’ 


People and the band followed through the streets of Noto


Many watched on their balconies … this lady dressed to match her poinsettia plants.


We peeled off and returned to the bar, and about an hour later the nuns arrived, heading the procession



Once the Madonna was safely back at the church, there was a superb firework display


233 – Wednesday 9th December 2015:  Abortive Dentist and Motorway to Palermo

Minor dental treatment is required – not to sew up the outlet for the hot air – but a filling of sorts.  I visited a dental clinic in Noto but failed to get an appointment – K photo blogged while I pounded the cobbles and steps…..

Palermo beckons – for the second time – A18 again northbound this time. We passed the scene of the bad accident – the photo above speaks for itself. Later, a car on it’s roof on the carriageway – these motorways are not busy – what is it ? Speed seems to be the problem everywhere…..  Rush hour in the streets of Palermo en route to our overnight stay – the van fuel gauge suddenly indicated empty – somewhat adding to my driving stress levels….  a quick fuel fill and onwards.  K navigating by Google maps (Brad sidelined) – I managed to overshoot the gate of the parking area – K had to guide me reversing (the van, not K reversing) in the dark and rain and traffic, successfully…..

Buone notte, readers……


Postscript:  Well done Maddy

Well done to my Munchkin:

a) massive hair chop and donated it to Little Princess Trust

b) all selected Universities have offered her a place … she just needs to do enough work to get into the one she really wants … Kent Uni.

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227-228: Miracles – Etna Erupts, Weeping Ladies and Kerstin Arrives

227 – Thursday 3rd December 2015 – Tyre Fix, Syracuse with Kerstin

James was up and out taking more sunrise shots … don’t tell him, but I have deleted a lot of the Sunsets and Sunrises as they would fill the hard drives!

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IMG 3771 Our parking with water on two sides – may be getting used to the sound of the waves as we sleep.

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The view in the other direction.

One rear tyre had deflated a fair bit after being pumped up only yesterday, so it was imperative we got this fixed.  

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The first tyre place in Augusta attempted to jack our near 4 ton truck up using two 3 ton load bearing jacks much to our slight consternation.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, even with the addition of rubber wedges, the jacks would not go high enough so they had to abort.  They told us about another tyre place nearby …. that does trucks.

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Hard to see, but Chard is actually jacked up a) alongside the road and b) blocking in cars.

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Relaxed H&S: a make shift flag that kept falling down to warn motorists of the hazard!

Again it was a roadside repair using a very long compressed air cable.  The problem …. when the tyre had been repaired in Norway, they had not removed the nail.  So Italy 1 – Norway 0.  And at only EUR20 a bargain.

We collected Kerstin from Catania airport.  I did circuits around the airport in Chardonnay whilst J went into the airport to find Kerstin.  Her first question of J, was ‘are we still married?’  As if!!!

We parked up in Syracuse … right by the bridge to Ortygia.

A mystery Guest writer takes over from here!: Guess what, we had to walk around the old town before making our way to the real attractions of Syracuse – the Roman amphitheater. After going up and down the main street three times, (a female person not to be named lost confidence in her map reading and asked helpful Italians for directions!!) we finally made it up the hill! Just before closing time we were able to admire the Roman Amphitheater in the dark. It only meant that we had to come back the next day to see the rest of the archaeological sights. And I am not allowed to say anything about Mount Etna as this is only going to happen tomorrow. 

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Temple of Apollo: early 6BC is the oldest surviving Doric temple in Western Europe

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IMG 3822Duomo: Baroque architecture outside …

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… an wonderfully plain interior main nave.

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More real bones!

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Part of the attraction of the Piazza 

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We’d all like one of these!

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Another sunset … from the bridge between Ortigia and Siracuse

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Into Siracuse – an example of Fascist Architecture

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Poinsettia’s being sold on many street corners.

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Roman Amphitheatre by night

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Our overnight parking.  We got confused on how to pay for the ticket, and ended up getting away with EUR1 instead of 30… not sure how we got away with it, but we did!

228 – Friday 4th December 2015:  up the hill again and your are not to mention Mount Etna 

Now I am allowed to say something about today, Friday 4th December and the eruption of Mount Etna. James and I were fascinated to hear that Mount Etna has erupted. Unfortunately a certain person prefers to stick to her traveling plans (and I thought  campers are flexible) therefore we first picked up our tourist trail from yesterday.

Going up the hill once more we looked at the Greek theatre and the cave of Dioniso. This cave is huge in terms of its hight and I mean huge. The acoustic is great, whispers are transformed to loud echoes. Then we went to the catacombs of San Giovanni. On 10.000 m2 more than 10.000 bodies were buried. As far as I understood the guide, the bones are all gone to dust, that is why the tombs are all empty (in case somebody wonders). We checked on the weeping Madonna but there was no reaction from her seeing James.

Still my wishes for seeing Etna were ignored (this is me coming all the way from Germany and just being ignored)  and we had to walk up to another town – Noto. I was checking out the highest building in Noto but there was not one tall enough to see Etna. 

Tonight I thought I get my chance, because the hostess asked me what I would like to do tomorrow. Before I could mention the E word, she said apart from going to Etna. I think she is only worried that Chardonnay is going to be covered in ash. But would not this be a really good picture for the blog? 

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Greek amphitheatre: end of an aqueduct.

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Greek amphitheatre 5BC: it was more complex than indicated by the ruins here as Emperor Charles V nicked much of the stone to build walls around Ortygia

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The Ear of Dioniso

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The K’s bemused watching an Asian lady mince and tip toe over the bird droppings

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OK, so it took two of us to hold up the rock …

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… and a certain person did with his little pinkie!

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Santurio of Madonna delle Lacrime (Madonna that cried in 1953). The church was erected to house the Madonna. Information on this: http://www.visionsofjesuschrist.com/weeping1.htm

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All these miracles … people no longer needing their back and limb supports.

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The Weeping Madonna – only a small mass produced plaster work.

Sadly no pix of the catacombs, but they were pretty amazing … 

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Noto: also flattened by the 1693 earthquake and rebuilt in Baroque style

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The Duomo: more impressive on the outside than …

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… the inside

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Palazzo Ducezio 1746: with ‘an impressive series of columns’

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Annually flower petals create images that fill the street

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Ornate balconies of the Palazzo Nicolaci Villadorata. The socially aspiring family did rather well out of the earthquake as it killed off 10 of the 19 noble families in Noto, so they became more important and even purchased a number of titles.  They made their money in tuna processing … money in fish – then!

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A bit dark but Kerstin is battering (oops sorry, think I mean bartering!).