We finally made it to the southernmost part of Italy: Sicily, which is the Mediterranean’s largest island. We were pretty excited to exit the ferry from the mainland as at times it felt like we would never reach Sicily. Many things slowed our progress south… wonderful things such as fantastic hospitality and scenery which demanded lingering, but also some not-so-nice things such as a nasty bout of food poisoning.
Starting with the good, last week we reconnected with one of the Italian couples we met at the Pompeii campground, Liliana and Tony. They kindly brought us into their home and prepared us a proper Italian feast (so much food, perfect for hungry cyclists like us)! One part of the meal we really loved was the traditional pizza of their province (Calabria). It was more like a pie, with a spinach, broccoli and pork filling. Delicious! Our visit was strongly enhanced by the use of technology; the Italian-English language barrier was bridged through Google Translator, a pretty incredible online resource for the 21st century traveler! Thanks to Google, we were able to have lots of good conversation, well beyond what our Italian phrasebook would have allowed. Another pretty incredible way Google helped us share was through Google Street View as we were able to show Liliana and Tony our houses in Aurora and Fort Erie!
Liliana and Tony gave us lots of suggestions for the rest of our time in Italy, but one highlight they emphasized was getting a dessert called tartufo in a little town called Pizzo. The town is internationally famous for its handmade gelato-based dessert; in fact, the desserts are exported daily hundreds of kilometres to different Italian cities. There are 60 different cafes that sell tartufo in Pizzo, but we chose a little one in the centre piazza called Chez Toi, and we were glad we did. After eating our delicious dessert, thunder claps persuaded us from leaving. The owner was very friendly and began introducing us to other English speaking people who trickled into his cafe.
Lucky for us, one of these folk was Michael Powers, an Irish teacher living out his dream of having a home on the Italian coast. He opened his doors for us, and as the rain poured down he shared with us some good Irish craic! “Craic”, as we learned from Michael, is the Irish slang for fun, entertainment and good conversation. Indeed, that is what we enjoyed in Michael’s beautifully restored Pizzo home: we ate good food, drank good drinks, listened to good Irish music and poetry, and in general shared in great conversation that has really inspired us for our leg through Ireland! It was fun to share perspectives on Italian culture with another foreigner, and Michael, obviously knowing the country more deeply, was able to offer lots of interesting insight. Moral of the story: good things come from eating ice cream.
Despite Michael’s offer of spending another night we continued forward, worrying that two back-to-back days in a house would spoil us! In retrospect, we should have stayed. After our normal dinner of pasta we watched the movie Gladiator on the laptop (to help compliment our Roman travels). Once the movie ended, we commenced our own battle which (at the time) felt of gladiator-ic proportions. We both spent the entire night running in and out of the tent, expelling everything from our bellies in various ways. But this was just the beginning. We packed up the tent in the morning after essentially no sleep, and decided we should get checked out by a medical professional. The GPS informed us, however, that the closest hospital was 30 kilometres away. Figuring this the best option, we set out on this epic quest… lucky for us, it was all downhill or flat. We arrived at the hospital exhausted and dehydrated, and both running a fever.
Visiting an Italian hospital was an experience all in itself, and one which really made us appreciate the Canadian system. From outside, the building looked quite rundown, and on the inside things looked rather dishevelled as well. Things felt very disorganized and unprofessional, and the hospital in general was dirty (no soap or toilet paper in the bathroom!) and loud (the doctors and nurses always seemed to be shouting). Nonetheless, they put us on an IV drip to combat our fevers and dehydration. The two of us passed out side by side for four hours. They prescribed us antibiotics (in fact, they prescribed the immediately upon us telling them we had been vomiting… a little disconcerting), and we then stumbled to the nearest hotel where, after haggling the price down thanks to it being the offseason, we promptly fell asleep for the rest of the day. We spent two nights in the hotel, not getting too far from the bed but by the third morning we were able to eat and felt more like our regular selves so biked for 30 km (all uphill… unideal) and set up camp. It took us a few days to regain all our energy, but we are back to our regular selves now!
We are uploading this blog from the town of Syracuse on the eastern shores of Sicily. Thus far, Sicily has been a bit disappointing. The weather is fantastic and the tropical vegetation is very cool to see but the roads have been very heavy with traffic (Italian drivers on Italian roads at that!) so we have been having a difficult time enjoying the journey. That being said, Syracuse looks like a really interesting town to explore, with historical roots going back 3000 years. We also think the traffic will calm down as we entering a more rural part of the island, so that will certainly help make biking less stressful. Here’s hoping!
Have a great day everyone!
Lots of love,
Alec and Caitlin