The taxi came at 3.30 in the morning. The M62 was virtually empty. Tim drove his sleek Audi to Manchester in silence. The self checkin and baggage drop at the EasyJet counter was painless but the security was exhausting. “What’s in your pocket?” the man at the scanner asked. I gave him my snotty hanky and he winced. “I have a cold” I said. I resisted the temptation to buy Hendricks and Givenchy at the duty free and ate oranges until the boarding gate opened. The flight was smooth and comfortable and I munched pastes, drank black tea and did the Times Sudoku. We glided past glistening Mont Blanc and dipped down to land smoothly at Catania. After fifteen years, I was back in Sicily.
The airport is no longer the large shed it was then. Two drivers in black suits, white shirts and black ties drove us to Siracusa in smart black SUVs. They spoke little English. The new highway, built in 2010, has many land tunnels and runs through fields and lemon groves.
We stayed at the Royal Maniace Hotel in Ortigia. My large seaview ‘superior’ room had an extensive balcony. Beyond the promenade, the sea was almost still and the water was crystal clear. Few brave souls were stretched on the pebble beach despite the cool breeze. The hotel has no restaurant and there was no coffee in the rooms. The complementary infusions were undrinkable.
The girl at reception said Solaria is a good wine shop and gave me directions. It was closed and the pregnant girl from the pharmacy across the road said it would open at 6 in the evening. A man in a large Tuk-Tuk offered a tour of Ortigia for 15 euros. I bought bottled mineral water as the hotel does not supply any.
That evening I met Giovani, the elderly owner of the Royal Maniace Hotel. He does not speak English but the receptionist translated for me. ” Some parts of the hotel are 1700 years old” he said. It belonged to a noble family who donated it to the church. The derelict building was sold, renovated and turned in to a four star hotel he explained. Giovani suggested small, family owned restaurants serving only local food. “Drink Grillo/hardonnay blends and Nero d’Avola wines” he advised me.
Dawn next day was breathtakingly beautiful. Suddenly, the sky darkened and torrential rain fell with thunder and lightning. The streets were flooded. It rained for a couple of hours and stopped just as suddenly. The sun came out, the flood waters cleared and once again, all was well.
I took a Freedom Taxi from Harrogate to Manchester and flew to Catania with EasyJet. The minibuses from Catania to Siracusa and accommodation at Royal Maniace Hotel were arranged by our ground agent Tour of Sicily.