Monday, March 7I am back in our room at the Hotel Posta in Siracusa on the island of Ortegia. What a treat to return to the same hotel for two nights in a row and have a room to return to. The hotel has a little bar, so I ordered some tea and now have my feet up resting. Traveling is such hard work. Or at least the kind of traveling I do where new days bring new sights and experiences and streets and neighborhoods to discover. Richard is out exploring so I have some time alone.
We finished our bike tour yesterday, our fifth day of cycling about 50 km a day (30 miles) , not really much if you are an experienced cyclist and you are going out for a weekend ride. Here in Sicily, though, there has been so much to see. Each view and turn has brought us different scenery, geography, architectures, agriculture, and cityscapes; each meal new cultural interactions with restaurant staff and fellow customers and new foods. In addition to cycling, we were stopping regularly to walk through towns, nature reserve areas, and along beach fronts. And then there are regular espressos to be had.
Our bike tour was a self-guided tour. That means that bikes were delivered to us at the start of our tour, hotel reservations were made for us, someone drove our luggage ahead each day to the next hotel, and we were given a route to follow. There was no guide and no fellow cyclists, just Richard and me. Compared to the Adventure Cycling maps I used last summer or even just any of the cue sheets that fellow ride leaders in Athens create for our weekly rides, the map and directions were laughable. Before we left home, I had received a PDF narrative of the route description that I had to print out. I assumed we would be given a cue sheet on arrival but instead just received a photo copy of a not-detailed map with the route highlighted in different colors for each day. The road names were not marked and the turns not totally discernible. Still we did fine, with the help of my $30 AT&T passport data plan that allowed us to stop and check directions on Google maps. And the route itself was absolutely wonderful with well chosen towns and cities to pass through and incredibly beautiful landscapes. We road along the coast for three days. For whatever reason, I hadn’t expected the coast line itself to be so breathtaking. The highlights of the trip were supposed to be the Baroque towns but the water and coastline were just as special.
Here is a list of the towns and destinations we’ve visited so far and perhaps a few notes with each: (boldfaced means that’s where we stayed)
Comiso – Flew here from Milan. Much more interesting and charming than expected. And of course, there was Marco, our hotel owner, who was so helpful picking us up from the airport and driving us to Palazzo Acreide the next day. If I had it to do again, I would have has us stay in Comiso another day to rest from the plane trips and missing out on so much sleep.
Palazzola Acreide – Small Baroque town. Stayed here on day 2 in Sicily and received the bikes at the hotel we stayed at there. Lots of the towns are Baroque because they were ruined in a 1693 earthquake and then rebuilt in the Baroque style that was popular in that period.
Giarratana – First espresso break of the ride. Nice little town. Not a tourist town at all.
Ragusa Ibla — Next incredible Baroque town rebuilt after earthquake. Made the mistake of having a beer here two-thirds of the way through the ride. We had been riding through valleys and then up into towns on high points and getting used to our bikes. The beer was too much for my still fatigued from jet lag body. No more beers after this during bike rides. Ragusa Ilba felt more like a movie set than a real town. Very beautiful though.
Modica – Were we stayed on our third night in Sicily. Loved Modica, even though we were very weary when we went out walking and couldn’t find the restaurant recommended by the Rough Guide and Ettore. It was closed for a break when we finally did find it. But produce store vendor suggested another and then came after us down the road in his little tiny truck to make sure we found the turn. Modica was built on hills with the main drag running horizontally through the center. If you turn left or right off the main street, you are walking up a hill.
Scicli – Another Baroque town, this one featured in the Italian TV episodes of the Inspector Montalbano mysteries. I look forward to viewing those episodes, subtitled of course, once we find out how to view them. We wanted a light lunch here. In the main square, Piazza Italia, a pizzeria had rolled its front gate mostly down but the owner saw us looking for something to eat and opened it back up for us. We had spent the morning exploring Modica so got to Scicli late.
Pozzalo – From Scicli, we dropped to the southern coast of Sicily and road along the water to Pozzalo where we stayed the night. The winds were very strong, about 25 mph. Fortunately, they were mostly at our back and so we moved quickly, all of which was extra helpful since we had gotten such a late start on the day. This was the second day of bike riding and our third in Sicily. We were more tired than we expected to be, between the normal traveling/jet lag fatigue and riding 30 plus miles on bikes that weren’t sized specifically to our bodies as our Georgia Cycle bikes are. The result of all this is that this was our grouchiest day. Pozzalo is a seaside city that thrives in warmer months. Somehow I had expected the small cities on this southern coast to be tackier and smaller than they actually were. We loved Pozzalo. As we have learned, a few interactions with friendly Italians or fellow travelers creates very warm feelings towards a place. The owner of the restaurant we ate in, a Sicilian who had spent 30 years in Argentinia, turned on his charm with us and made sure we had the best to eat. We are suckers for charmers like him.
Isole delle Correnti
Riserva Naturale Orientata Oasi Faunistica do Vendicari
Faro Capo Murro do Porco
Siracusa / Ortiega
We ended our bike ride on Ortiega, the island that is the oldest part of Siracusa, a city that was originally started by the Greeks several centuries BC. We stayed another night there and then traveled north by train along the coast to Taormina, a high-end tourist destination, the Riveria of Sicily. This town is high on a cliff above the sea with a Greek Temple that opens to the sea and a view of Mount Etna. We stayed at a very reasonably priced and special B and B run by Rita and her husband. After one night in Taormina, we got a four pm train to Palermo where dinner prepared by Francensca at our AirBnB place awaited us. The apartment room is just across the street, literally, from the side door of the train station. Besides a delicious home-cooked pasta dish, there was wine, dessert, and a glass of grappa for us before we headed to bed.
Our days are packed with experiences and visual delights. I started this blog post on Monday and I’m finishing it on Thursday, sequestered in our room with shutters protecting me from public view. Ours is a first floor apartment in the middle of city of a million people. Richard is out walking again. I wanted some time to finish this blog post. We are in Palermo for four nights. How I relish the idea of not changing rooms and getting to know one city for three days before we head off on Sunday to Morocco and Anne and a whole other experience.