Ragusa is out of this world! It’s up high enough to be well and truly on another planet and it beats me how people can live here without super powers.
It’s a weird looking place. In two parts. Two small cities with a sharp and terrifying cleft between them as if a giant, on a whim, had carved a sudden slice in the earth.
Four bridges connect these two halves. All four of them filled me with dismay. A sickening, head-spinning dismay. How do people cross these bridges all day, every day, without succumbing to an immobilising attack of sheer terror or simply falling off the edge?
The two cities are the Upper Town and Ibla. After the dreadful earthquake of 1693 which devastated most of Sicily and destroyed Ragusa, half the people decided to build on the ridge above town and the other half repaired what was left of the old town.
The lower town of Ragusa Ibla is reached, if you’re in peak physical condition, on foot by a series of stairways or, if you have nerves of steel, by bus on an alarmingly precipitous road which reels its way downhill.
I thought navigating my way down streets of steps, with the occasional respite of a small square, was scary enough, the narrowness of the steps was alarming and I hugged the side walls closely, trying not to look down. This meant, inevitably, that I fumbled against peoples’ front doors more than once.
Once I had descended this giant’s maze of intersecting staircases, the full horror hit me. For my return journey I had to walk back up!
I made it back up eventually. It took me the better part of an afternoon, but I lived to tell the tale.
As I struggled interminably up the staircases, I was astonished to be passed by women of my own age with large baskets of shopping. Spry as mountain goats, they darted around my relative slowness like water swirling around a rock stuck in the middle of a creek.
I don’t know how they did it! I couldn’t have leaped up steps like that when I as at my best. And my best was a while ago.
Still, I took advantage of my numerous rests along the uphill climb to bravely look over at the beauty of Ragusa.
Ragusa has 18 UNESCO buildings and there’s a beautiful church around almost every bend.
I’ve wanted to get a close look at Montalbano country for a long time and I’m very glad that I was able to see Ragusa. The house we see on television is at Punta Secca, a quick bus ride from Ragusa although a taxi driver offered to run me down there for 150 euro, an offer I graciously declined.
The house is an expensive B&B reportedly enjoying a thriving trade. It’s a lovely place to live and the owners have a nice little income from tourists. Good for them – and half their luck!
I visited some other Montalbano landmarks and I need to write a post specifically on them.
The Streets of Ragusa
Some of these staircase streets have a clearly defined pedestrian footpath. I was a little hesitant about using this one but there was no other way!
Ragusa was one place where I got lost. It was getting dark and I couldn’t find the street signs (they don’t have street signs as I know them, the street names are plaques on the building walls). It was just my luck that the street I was climbing had no signs at all. It was just my luck that it started to drizzle too. Fa brutto tempo!
My luck continued in the same fashion when the first five people I stopped to ask directions from couldn’t understand me, and I couldn’t understand them either. Not a word! It took a while for the centesimo to drop. They were speaking in dialect! Sigh.
If you ever get lost in Sicily, head for the nearest Farmacia. If you’re lucky enough to understand directions of course. Not like me.
But the story has a happy ending. After more than two hours lumbering about in the gloom of the night getting more and more lost, wishing I had worn my jacket, my scarf pulled over my head as a feeble protection from the rain, I spotted the welcome green cross, croce verde, of the Pharmacy.
As always, inside were lovely helpful people who spoke Italian. And English too! They even gave me a chair while they dispatched a younger son over the road for a coffee to restore my sagging, soggy spirits.
Ever since I’ve been here I’ve encountered this unexpected warmth. Total strangers who treat me like their favourite old aunt. No wonder I love this place!
There’s one last thing about Ragusa. You have to get out the same way you came in.
I like the inter-city bus drivers here. They’re courteous types who drive safely and help old ladies like me up the steps but if ever I felt like swilling down a flask of brandy with a couple of mogadon, it was as the bus hurtled toward that terrifying bridge. I wished I could remember a prayer.
My driver cruised sedately along little streets like this, biding his time until he could send me into mild shock.
I mark this as a significant point in my life.
Bravery is not really my cup of tea. I’m not very good at concealing terror either. But in Ragusa I sailed through not just being lost in the dark and the rain without any means of communication, I got over the bridge without one shriek.
I took a quick self portrait as the bus zoomed over the chasm to what looks like a 40,000 foot drop to hell. Here I am, frozen in time. Frozen in my seat. Literally frozen.