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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sunday's Ride

Hi all
Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit warmer than last Sunday at the Wandong Winter Wander - made me wander why I was out there inside of home in front of the fire. Nine am in the usual spot. in the meantime I have collated Meaghan's Tour di Sicily emails. Read on.....

Ciao.....I am writing this on my phone so apologies for typos, punctuation and

Since arriving last Sat we spent some time in Naples getting ferry tickets and
other travel/camping stuff sorted. Clearly finding gas for our camp stove was
going to be challenge! We have had to alter our plans a little due to ferry
availability but all good in the end.

I doubt we did Naples justice as we didn't have time to check out any of the
sights, overall it felt pretty dirty, chaotic and a bit ordinary.  I found
riding out of Naples terrifying. The traffic and poor road conditions were super
intimidating and the fact that we were the only ones on bikes was a little
unsettling. At least in Paris last year there were heaps of other cyclists. But
my fears aside we made it to Pompeii as planned. Pete got his wish and we stayed
in the 'Spartacus' camp ground. It was pretty cute and about 10 metres from the
entrance to Pompeii.   Pompeii was really cool, we both felt like we could see
the Romans walking around in their Togas and gold leaf headbands (well the rich
Romans that is not the slaves) it certainly felt a bit ghostlike to us. It
really is massive.

From Pompeii we rode to Sorrento and camped there for 2 nights. The camp was on
a cliff side overlooking the beautiful sea so not too shabby at all. We finally
found a place that sold gas for our stove, phew! On our last night the hotel
further up the hill had a music/opera concert thing playing and the Italian
singing floated down to us so we were serenaded whilst having our camp cooked
dinner. Bonus!

We then rode from Sorrento to Positano and then along the Amalfi coast to Amalfi
and back again. Kinda like an incredibly speccy great ocean road.  82km and 1340
metres climbing so a biggish day! We were so glad we rode it in both directions
as we had plenty of time to soak up the views and take in how spectacular it is.
I got a bit low on sugar and shakey on the last part so we stopped, there was a
certain desperation to the way I consumed an entire large block of chocolate in
about 30secs, I think I may have offered Pete a piece but didn't wait for him to
say yes before scoffing the lot, it must have looked pretty funny! Pete says I
flew up the last hill after that.

The Amalfi coast road was a bit hairy to ride but not nearly as bad as I had
been expecting (thank goodness for your calming advice Andy, you were spot on).
Having said that a selfie stick on the front of my bike would have captured some
funny looks on my face when the huge tourist buses were heading straight towards
me with room for only one lane of traffic! Pete just get kept calling out "keep
pedalling, keep pedalling". I am finding the cycling a bit different to last
year. Everyone is very courteous but they like to get CLOSE and every car seems
to have multiple dents and scratches which doesn't give me a lot of faith in
their judgement. Last year’s riding has stood us in good form though.

Fabulous weather, mid to high 20's, quite humid but the afternoon thunderstorms
we were getting earlier seemed to have stopped. I am missing the beautiful
French baguettes we had last year but we have discovered a milky coffee Granita
thing which we are a bit hooked on. Pete has been cooking up a storm each night
using Italy's finest garlic, pasta, Pecorino cheese and tomatoes which taste
like they used to when we were kids. Super yummy.

We are managing the language barriers OK with the help of some rudimentary
phrases, sign language and Google translate but it is a poor second to having
you with us Glo. There were lots of big dogs in the Sorrento area, German
Shepherds and the like. Most of them are super fat, super grumpy and act like
they would take your arm off if they could, complete opposite to our little
Harvey. They need some serious disciplining!!

We took the ferry to Sicily last night and rode from Palermo to Corleone today.
Another big day of climbing around 1400 metres. Roads are wonderfully quiet,
people friendly and scenery lovely. A welcome relief after the crazy, busyness
of Naples and the Amalfi coast. We met a bunch of MTB riders who were out
on their regular Saturday 100km ride, they looked super fit but did
seem to spend a lot of time drinking coffee, eating sweet cannelloni and
talking. We kept catching up to them and we weren't riding very fast!

 I do hope all is well back home and it isn't too cold. We think of you often
and wish you were here. 

Hey Andy, thanks for a your news it was great to hear what's been happening at
home. Must say I must admit I am not missing those below zero temperatures you
mention or the reckless drivers.

Since I last wrote we have long since left Corleone where we headed further
inland and south toward the coast. In Corleone we were lucky enough to enjoy
watching a traditional Sicilian wedding which was a few doors up from our B&B,
the bride looked stunning and it was really special to see. Lots of dark haired
men in dark suits and dark sunglasses and Sicilian women in tight dresses and
high heels, I have no idea how they managed the steep cobbled streets in those
shoes but I guess I am showing my age when I say that. I think some of the
guests at our B&B were wedding guests as they came in at around 3am and to say
they were noisy would be an understatement. The speed with which an excited,
most likely inebriated Sicilian woman can talk is to be heard to be believed. It
was like hitting fast forward on the DVD player only louder. I am not sure who
was the loudest, the woman on her mobile or the other guests who kept trying to
shoosh her up.

Our B&B host was over the moon when she discovered that we came from Australia,
she had been wanting to have guests stay from every continent around the world
and our visit completed the globe for her. She gave us a jar of Corleone honey
as a present to celebrate. As touched as I was I thought we should leave it
behind because when you are riding up such big hills every kg counts but Pete
wouldn't hear of it and I must say it has been delicious.

From Corleone our plan was to ride 100 km south to Agrigento in a day but we got
completely sidetracked in a beautiful town called Cianciana along the way. I was
so glad we did. The town came alive at night, Pete has some great photos of the
town lit with festival lights and everyone including babies and children
promenading till very late.

The riding continues to be mmmm....honest......that is a nice way of saying damn
steep! They certainly like to build their towns at the top of big hills here so
you can be sure that whenever you are approaching a town it is going to really
hurt before you reach your destination. However we continue to find the people
wonderfully warm and sooooo helpful. The most notable experience (and there have
been many) was when we popped into a Barber shop to ask directions to our
accommodation, one of the clients left his chair at the Barbers and amid a
flurry of hand gestures which translated to "follow me" hopped into his wee Fiat
and drove to our B&B in order to show us where to go. Meanwhile we pedalled
furiously behind the car. Actually if I am totally honest I got left behind on a
very steep hill but Pete kept up.

The food specialities of the areas we have ridden through are goats cheese, in
particular Ricotta, which is to die for (I think the lack of pasteurisation
adds a heap of flavour) and cherries, a mere $3 a kg so we are eating more than
our fair share of both. Oh, and of course there are the cannelloni and Gelato,
super yummy.

From Cianciana we rode to Agrigento which completed our coast to coast ride. We
camped there for 2 nights before riding to Licato where we camped also. Weird
campsite, felt like a deserted 'Carnivale' location but luckily all the other
campsites have been great.

We have had many changes of plans along the way, I think we are up to Plan G by
now. One section of our original route has been turned into an expressway, we
tried riding down it but after the peace and quiet of the remote hills it felt
too scary and I got the yips so we hopped off it. Going by train for a small
section was our next best option but the train line was being repaired so no
trains were running. The bus would take our bikes part of the way but then it
connected with the school bus and we weren't allowed on that, I wonder why? So
we decided to give up on the coast and head inland. We pretty much just chose a
town (Mazzarino) for no particular reason and headed towards it. As a result our
ride was up (of course!) through lots of vineyards and we arrived here today. As
luck would have it, Mazzarino is gorgeous, a hidden gem of Sicily with again
wonderfully friendly people.  Rita, our current B&B host says Sicilians are
"warm hearted" and I think that is a perfect description of what we have
experienced so far. Rita and her husband Reno run a vineyard so we are enjoying
a bottle of their red wine with dinner tonight which they gifted us after we had
 drinks in their apartment and met Rita's family.

Think of you lots and wish you were here.


Hi there, here is my latest and most likely last update from Sicily.

On leaving Mazzarino we headed east. We stopped at Piazza Armenia and Caltgirone
to check out the very,very old remains of some amazing mosaics and a stunning
ceramic staircase.  Both were well worth the ride uphill, particularly the
ceramic steps. The scenery continues to impress us.

Our stay in Piazza Amerina was another fun surprise where we met Giovanni.
......we were standing in a little side street looking for a street number when
Giovanni drove past, stopped his car, rattled off something in Italian, handed
us a business card, pointed up a ways and drove off. Since it was hot and we
couldn't be bothered looking any further for accomm we decided to go check out
'Umbreto 33'. Turned out Giovanni and Mrs Giovanni ran a great B&B with the
worlds best breakfast and we had a blast staying there.

Giovanni loved to chat and Pete and Giovanni had a long chat about running
marathons which was pretty funny to observe since Giovanni spoke no English and
Pete no Italian. There I was sitting watching them, somewhat bemused, convinced
that they both had no idea what the other was saying when along came Kim, an
artist from Tribeca, New York who was also staying in the B&B and who spoke
Italian. Anyways Kim joined in the conversation and it turned out that both Pete
and Giovanni knew exactly what the other was saying despite the language
barriers. I felt a little sheepish after that.

Giovanni also ran a local wine shop and when we popped in for a look he was so
eager for us to taste  everything that we ended up doing just that, they were
mostly fortified wines so high in alcohol. For a girl who is pretty much a two
pot screamer I felt completely undone by the time we tottered out the door with
some of his wine and local olive oil under our arms for our dinner. Gotta learn
to say no more often!

From Piazza Armenia we decided it was time to get some serious miles under our
belt or we were going to run out of time so we headed east away from the
mountains and towards the flatter coastline. It was fairly uninteresting terrain
so the riding wasn't much to speak of but we did make up some much needed
kilometres. Siracusa I loved, especially the old section and we had our first
(of many I hope) seafood meals. Delicious. Ricotta cheese continues to be a
feature of the food here, by golly it is good! Since finding anything remotely
like a good latte has been impossible I have succumbed to drinking the local
espresso on Pete’s advice and I must say they are very smooth. Stand up coffee
and cakes x 2 (that is standing at the counter to eat and drink as opposed to
sitting at a table) costs about $4 in total, cheap.

Leaving behind the more remote inland region I couldn't help but reflect on the
fact that no matter how small the town you could always find a shop that sells
cigarettes, lotto tickets, coffee and water. Clearly the essentials! And in
particular no matter how small or remote the town there will always be a large
and very prominent wedding photography business. We happened upon another
Sicilian wedding last Saturday and the importance of weddings was never more
evident than when we noticed a Drone filming the bride’s arrival and the
arranging of her dress and metres long veil before she entered the church. For
an economy that looks to be doing it hard I found the filming of the wedding
using a drone an interesting contrast and thought it spoke volumes about the
wedding ritual.

Pete has done an amazing job of navigating and keeping us on the smaller, less
busy roads. After nearly two weeks of riding in Sicily I now feel much more
comfortable with the traffic and road culture. Most cars toot us but it is a
very gentle toot which indicates "I am approaching"or "I am passing you" so it
is more reassuring than intimidating. I can't say the same for the cobblestones
however, I find them very unnerving on a bike with skinny tyres and heavy
panniers on the back and I doubt I would ever get used to am
thinking........I won't be riding my bike in Rome!

On leaving Siracusa we took the train North to Taormina and Mt Etna. The FOMO (
Fear Of Missing Out) side of me had trouble not getting down South to Ragusa and
Noto but our days were fast disappearing and Mt.Etna was a must see for both of
us so North we headed.

Taormina was lovely, the campsite was brilliant, literally on the beach of a
very beautiful coastline and we had some great views of Mt.Etna. From Taormina
we rode uppity, uppity, uppity to Linguaglossa, a town at the base of Mt.Etna
and as I write this I am sitting on the grass watching the gas and smoke pluming
from the top, it is pretty cool. Apparently 2 years ago this particular area was
blanketed in black scoria from an eruption so I am hoping it is an uneventful
night and that we don't end up looking like the Pompeii mummies by morning!

Pete is doing a guided mountain bike ride of the North side of Mt.Etna tomorrow
(his 55th birthday present from me) and we are both doing a full day guided tour
of the South side on Friday...... in 4x4 jeeps legs will be happy about

Saturday we take the ferry back to Naples and then a train to Rome so our Sicily
cycling is drawing to an end. Pete has calculated we have climbed a total of
9000 metres so far which he tells me is the equivalent of a Mt.Everest and a bit
more so I am pretty chuffed at that figure.

Hope you are all well and the cold weather is not too hard to take.

Love Meaghan and Pete

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting Meg's emails Andy. They were a great read. The City Lairs will be absent tomorrow as we are doing the Melburn Roobaix.