We write to you from our seats aboard the Fantastic ferry as we brave the Tyrrhenian Sea on a 20 hour ride from Palermo to Genova. After four months (and 5000 km) on the road, we are travelling north for a vacation from our vacation. We are heading to Switzerland where we will participate in a 10 day Vipassina Meditation course outside of Bern, be backpackers for a week, and then meet with Caitlin’s family for a ski trip in Zermatt! It will be different to not be biking by day and tenting by night, but we are looking forward to a change of pace (and being able to see snowy Switzerland without bikes and tent)!
Since our last update in Siracusa, we followed the Sicilian coast to reach the most southern point of Italy before cutting north through the mountainous interior to our ferry in Palermo. After Siracusa, the road became more enjoyable as the traffic calmed down. We were still pretty tired, partially because we were still recovering from our food poisoning but also because we were feeling a bit sick of Italy… the deserted summer home villages were less than inviting, and most of the area was used for industrial agriculture, which also was unappealing. But the area wasn’t devoid of highlights! We enjoyed having the beaches to ourselves, saw some cool historical towns (the very nice Baroque town of Noto) AND we saw flamingos!
Our overall attitude to Sicily changed once we turned northward; after our experiences between Bari and Rome and our experiences in central Sicily, we’re not sure why we ever left the Italian mountain towns! (…. oh yes, the snow). Central Sicily was beautiful: lush mountains, rural hamlets and very friendly people. We had a wonderful experience near a small town called Riesi. On our first night in the mountains, which would have certainly been a chilly one, a farmer named Guiseppe offered us his workshed to spend the night in. In the morning, he greeted us with coffee and stories about the land. He also shared with us homemade wine (interesting breakfast juice choice!) and some absolutely delicious home grown almonds, which he cracked open for us while we chatted, and which were much more sweet and flavourful than any other type we’d tasted. He also gave us a bottle of his homemade olive oil, again better than any other oil we’d had. We then went into Riesi to meet with Giuseppa, a woman we had met the night before. She fed us copious amounts of cookies, pastries and coffee… a true Italian breakfast. We left Riesi feeling very rather overfueled, but very happy to have refound the small town hospitality that seemed so lacking along the coast.
And now our Italian journey has almost come to an end. We spent almost two months in this country we had originally never planned to come to! In many ways, Italy was a country of extremes… some of the most amazing and the most frustrating parts of the trip so far. But regardless, we again thank the Albanian floods. We thought as a little goodbye (arrivederci!) to Italy we’d share some top 5s: of things we’ll miss, things we won’t miss, and our highlights.
Top 5 things we’ll miss
- The beautiful scenery: snow capped mountains overlooking tropical beaches, Italy seems to have every type of landscape, all made even more beautiful by their incredible sunny climate.
- The language: Italian is a beautiful language to listen to and speak. We had a lot of fun learning as much Italian as we could, and are sad we won’t get to continue practising!
- Italian food: we ate incredibly well in this country (with the exception of breakfast) and really enjoyed taking our times with the dinners as we worked through all the different courses. We still aren’t bored of pasta! Oh, and gelato is infinitely better than ice cream!
- Small towns: a lot of the villages seemed timeless, full of very friendly people who are passionate and proud of their place.
- The ancient history! We were continuously impressed with all the remnants of 3000 years of civilization that exists throughout this country.
Top 5 things we won’t miss
- The noise level!! Honking cars, yelling (apparently just talking) Italians, hoards of barking dogs, loud scooters and random fireworks.
- The Italian roads: lots of potholes and lots of aspiring race car drivers.
- The lack of amenities in public washrooms: no toilet seats, toilet papers or soap! Apparently there aren’t health codes here.
- The Italian business hours: open from 9 – 1, closed all afternoon, some places reopen at 5, but closed on the weekends, and maybe on Wednesdays, or Fridays, or Mondays.
- Italian breakfasts: small in size and high in refined sugar, with the main focus being the coffee.
Overall Italian highlights
- Rural, mountainous Italy
- Cilento National Park
- Sharing in the holiday spirit (Christmas here still doesn’t feel over!)
Okay, well, we are off to upload this from the wifi zone on the boat. Although our ferry was surprisingly cheap, it is quite fancy, the closest thing to a cruise-ship we’ve been on! We probably won’t post again until mid-February. Hope everyone is well back home, and so glad you could all share on this first half of our bike tour!
Alec and Caitlin