The overnight ferry with the sleeping cabin Patras (Greece) to Bari (Italy) was just perfect. Bought a nice ‘bit of kit’ on the boat that is perfect for bike travellers. It is called a KS cube. It is a little wireless, Bluetooth speaker with a whole lot of punch. It is light weight, measures about 40ml square.. Perfect for the bike luggage! We are lovin listening to our music from the iPad and PC now!!
We arrived at the Port of Bari at around 10am feeing quite refreshed. As we rode into the centre of Bari to look for some breakfast, there was a protest under way for disabled people, and traffic was crazy……What a busy town it is. The traffic was quite confronting after the sleepy pace on Crete, with scooters buzzing past, taking every opportunity to squeeze through. No one seems bothered, they just accept that people need to get where they need to go, the same goes for the cars.
Found a coffee shop, where we managed to get coffee and croissants, after much gesticulating etc..etc… Our Italian is poor and they had no English at all…. think we may need to get used to this!! On the bikes again and headed off south, down the road towards Reggio, where we were to catch the ferry to Sicily. Span and I in were in the lead, followed by Maggie, Dave and Ray.
Not long after leaving Bari, we heard a screech of brakes. We looked back to see Ray’s big Harley Davidson sliding on its side behind us, and Ray just behind the bike. A bloke travelling in a BMW car behind Ray did some very nifty manoeuvring indeed to miss him. Ray had seen Dave stopping, and so grabbed a handful of his front brake, causing the bike to come down. Ray was soon up and walking down the road after the bike. With the help of a passer by, Span, Dave and Maggie righted the bike and wheeled it over to the median strip, where I was minding our bikes, everyone having jumped off quickly to go back and help Ray. He had a bit of bark off both knees and his left elbow, and little bark off the Harley. He says the greatest injury was to his pride!!! Full credit to him, he is a tough old bugger at 75! After a short break, he was back on the Harley and motoring down the road with us. All’s well that ends well…. well almost!
Dave had caught case of man flu and was not feeling at all well. He decided he would be better to stay and rest rather than come to Sicily, so we left him in a town called in Sibari. He then went on to an inland town called Corigliano, where he hunkered down to get over his flu. We would pick him up on our way back from Sicily. Span, Maggie Ray and I continued on to Rogiano (here you need to start looking at a map to know where we are). We started to look for accommodation, as the day was getting late. Maggie and Ray waited in the town, while we went looking. Saw a sign for a hotel called Hotel Ambroglio, and a policeman directed us where to go, but we did not find it. On our third attempt at following the signs with no joy, a guy who was just ‘sitting at the top of the street on a chair’ (cause he could) gestured to see if we needed assistance. We did the ‘head on hands’ sign for sleeping, and he grinned and pulled out his phone to make a call. Next thing he points us down the very steep hill. Off we went, and there was our hostess, resplendent is fleecy pyjamas, madly waving in front of the hotel (no sign out front).
The road to the hotel was very steep, and we knew it was potentially problematic for Maggie, who hates hills, and Ray, with his bloody big Harley Davidson. Span dropped me off and went back to lead Maggie and Ray down. Once at the bottom of the hill, Span turned Maggie and Ray’s bikes around, ready to go the next morning.
Our host Sonja was just delightful, very little English….. of coarse. She was in the hotel with her two young children, Marco (about 12) and Marita (about 7). The hotel was just delightful, very old, and very gracious. Beautiful marble steps and floors.. and somewhat chilly, however the wall heaters came on later in the night to take the chill off.
Marco was besotted by the Harley, so we promised to take pics of him on it the next morning before he went to school. His dad was living in Liverpool, working as a chef, and he very quickly showed us the pics of the bikes he had taken as we arrived to send to his dad. It was here that we started ‘death by food’!!!!!!!!! Bless Sonja.. she was so excited we were there.. she headed straight out to do some shopping. Tea was at 8.30pm – they eat late in Italy. Sonja was the chef and Marco, the most proud waiter!
Dinner started with chilled red wine and lots of bread, then zucchini type fritters that had the lightest of light batter (yummo). Next came a big plate of spaghetti .… ate all that cause we thought that was tea. W-R-O-N-G!!! Out came young Marco , beaming and with a big plate of veal scaloppini held high for each of us. Well we ate, because we felt it would be rude not to….. then came fresh fruit! Off to bed, and really did not sleep well with all that food bubbling and fermenting away.
Up early the next morning to set off after (thank God) a light breaky. We were waiting at the bikes for Ray when we heard a loud bumph… that was Ray hitting the marble deck like a full bag of spuds. THUD! He had missed the last step……. as any one could. He just lay there, issuing profanities whilst our hostess looked mortified and more distressed than everyone else. Ray proved once again that he is a tough old buzzard, and that he bounces well. He was a bit shaken (but not stirred) and took a bit more bark off his left knee, other than that…. all good. Our hostess however was devastated and cried and cried, but soon brought out her cotton wool and antiseptic…… and we had some dressings in our first aid kit to patch him up before we left.
With the excitement of the morning done, pics of Marco on the Harley taken, and both Marco and Marita safely on he ‘scoula bus’, we prepared to leave, but not before giving Sonja a Koala and a KooWeeRup bike club sticker to cheer her up. She was all smiles.
Span and I had to go up the steep hill first to ensure no traffic was coming down, because Maggie had said that if she had to stop for anything it would all turn to tears. Oh forgot to mention, this street was very narrow, and only allowed for one way traffic.. first in best dressed.. all others have to back up to allow the first there to pass, so quite understandable that Maggie did not want to have to back down such a steep hill on the bike. Safe to say, we all made it up without further mishap.
Ray had decided he would now not come to Sicily, so Maggie said she would take him across to the coast to rest up and wait for us to pick him up on our way back from Sicily. She changed plan slightly, when she realized how close Dave was, so took Ray back to stay with him. We agreed we would meet Maggie at the port of Reggio at around 5.30pm that day, to do the short ferry crossing to Sicily.
Off we headed…..the long way round of course. We headed up over the mountains of Calabria, towards the south east coast to Reggio. The roads, the views, simply spectacular. So many old villages that seem almost to be trapped in time. The buildings so old, the streets so very narrow. So many deserted old buildings. It was just lovely to see the old folk sitting in the afternoon sun, contemplating life and watching the world go buy. Some would look at us with puzzlement, others would give us a beaming smile and a wave as we rode by.
Again, the the roads are simply stunning… and a picture tells thousand words.(see pic from last photo blog). The mountains share their water freely, and springs and taps are scattered throughout the mountains for everyone to share the beautiful fresh and clean water… perhaps that is the locals secret to such beautiful skin???? The gentleman in this pic tells us he is 73!!!
Well … ‘the best laid plans’….. We arrived at the port at a round 4.30pm, earlier than expected. Thought Maggie would have been there by then, so after waiting at the port to agreed meeting time of around 5.30pm, we thought it best to go and find a coffee shop with wifi connection, as Maggie does not have a phone, to send her an email. In the short time we were away from the port, Maggie arrived, she thought we may have gone across, so caught the 6pm ferry to Sicily. BUGGER! Not knowing we had missed her, we sent a quick email, then went back to the port to wait.
We waited and waited, then Dave let us know Maggie had safely made it to Sicily. It was around 7.30pm, too late for us to get the ferry, so we stayed the night on Reggio and planned to catch the ferry first thing in the morning. Stayed at a nice hotel near the port, who provided us with a lockup garage for the bike (NOICE), the concierge was so friendly. On our way back to the hotel after tea we were walking through the revolving glass door, when I looked left to the concierge, waving and smiling…. the door kept revolving and I literally face planted it. Span and the concierge could not hold up for laughing.. it really was rather funny.
Friday 17/04/15 – Caught up with Maggie, who having arrived in Sicily absolutely exhausted, booked into a ‘very lovely hotel’. She decided she wanted to stay put for a while, so we headed off and agreed to be back in a couple of days.
Our first destination was to be Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the European continent (3.329 thousand m). It is about two and a half times the height of Mount Vesuvios, and last erupted in 2014 (missed it by ‘that much’). It is known as the ‘grumbling volcano’ because they can not predict when the next eruption will be; it is in an almost constant state of activity, with sulphur plumes clearly visible. What an awesome spectacle it provides. As we rode up towards the top, it became colder, and there was snow on the ground…..People do go up there to ski.
Stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the way up, and there was a huge pile of salt there, that we presume is for the roads. We noticed anther couple, also having lunch, who were taking an interest in the bike. Next thing the guy was up taking photos of it. Well, we got talking and his interest was generated by the fact that he is the area manager for central and northern Germany for Suzuki motorcycles and ATVs. He was intrigued that we had shipped the bile all the way from Australia, and even more so when we told him we were away for eighteen months. He loved the set up of the bike. We gave him an Aussie cap, and his wife a kangaroo badge, and hopefully we will catch up with them in Germany during our travels.
Mount Etna captivated us so much that we did not get much past there on the first day after we left Maggie. We went around and around, and up and up into the areas of snow and lava flow, all the while above us Etna was puffing out her sulphur smoke. The scenery just spectacular and the ferocity of nature was all around us as we saw, and touched the old lava flows… What an experience! How fortunate we are.
We ventured up to one peak, where some guys were working, they had the most beautiful fluffy long haired German Shepherd with them. Like so many people we meet, they were flabbergasted that we were not only from Australia, but that we had brought the bike across as well. Any way, we chatted and laughed (they spoke little English and we little Italian, so I take much liberty in using the word ‘chatted), and we gave one guy an Aussie badge – with that he rushed inside and came out with two small cups of red liquid for us to drink. When we asked what it was, he laughed and said ‘red fire water’. It was very aptly named… phew.. just as well we held out breath after we drank it, it was so strong and did warm us as it went down. They laughed heartily, because we did not cough and splutter.
On our way down the winding roads of Mount Etna, we came a cross some wild dogs with a litter of seven puppies (in the previous photo blog). While they barked as we stopped, they readily came up to us, with tails wagging ….. felt bad that we had nothing to give them.
It was getting late, and cold, so we reluctantly said good bye to Etna and headed down to find some accommodation. Found a great BnB, with the loveliest, loveliest family. Here we were to resume our ‘death by food’!!!!!!!!!
After settling in, we went down to the dining room. The three knives and four forks were a dead give away! First out came the big bowl of bread (they love their bread) and red wine, followed by zucchini fritters, then a pastry with ham and cheese. Next came a pesto tagatelli, followed by veal scallopini. At this point, each time we saw them coming with more food we just giggled helplessly. Next came the Tiramisu, followed by fresh fruit. I think they may have thought us a little ungrateful, as we did not finish each course, however they just smiled broadly, as we laughed our way through. Breakfast was likewise a huge affair. Our hostess Rosetta,who seemed to take a shining to us, even presented us with a small parcel of zucchini fritter rolls to take for our lunch.. so very kind.
From there we headed to Palermo, which is at the western end of Sicily. It is a bustling city with a huge port, and the traffic was frenetic to say the least. Thankfully Span is ever alert for the scooters that come past at every angle, his dirt bike days are certainly paying off.
Palermo is noted for its street markets, its food, culture, art, music, history and architecture.. just to mention a few. In short, a city full of ‘eye candy’. The streets are so narrow, full of people and yet scooters still whizz past at such close quaters. They have food stuffs of every description for sale, all kinds of goods for sale, and restaurants and cafes everywhere.
The local market in canopied and in narrow streets. the fish stalls were particularly interesting, with the men cutting up fish as they smoked their cigarettes. Fresh fish of all shapes and sizes were lying on beds of ice under the canopies or in the sun. There were meat stalls, cake stalls, fruit and veg and so many others others. They just went on and on and on and the hustle and bustle was invigorating and tiring at the same time.
There were a huge number of African / Sudanese people, who also had stalls and shops. Span had been saying he wanted a haircut and beard trim, but declined to go into this shop I pointed out to him… No guts no glory!!!
Off we headed to the coast, where we spent the night, before heading back to Maggie . We travelled through more beautiful mountain ranges and had more great views of Mount Etna from a southern prospective.
There are many old villages up on the mountain tops and mountain sides. The streets in these villages so very narrow, just allowing the bike to pass, and often so very steep.
We were up in one such village, only about 50km away from Maggie, and the Tom Tom wanted to take us down goat tracks at every turn. Had do do a stop and recalculate!
Sicily, is amazing, we did not realize how hilly and green it was. It also has a HUGE agriculture industry – many, many hot houses, and olive trees, vineyards and citrus trees every where else. Some of the trees so very old and with huge trunks. They use every bit of land available and the steepest of hills are terraced with the olive groves. Huge nets are bundled up and tied to the tree trunks for use during harvest. Sicily also has huge banks of solar panels in many locations, and there are large wind farms dotting the hill tops everywhere.
The Wysteria is everywhere, and so aromatic. Spring flowers are blooming , making for beautiful sights and smells.
We saw the beautiful big white dogs guarding the sheep. They are called Maremmas, and have been used for centuries to protect the sheep from wolves. It is not uncommon to see a flock if sheep, with the dog near by. Unfortunately they were not close enough for a good picture, suggest you may google them.. they are worth the look. We also saw people with them in the street, it seems they will guard just about anything.. they are indeed gentle giants …… except to the wolves that is! We also saw many a shepherd herding their flock along the road. The sound of the sheep’s bells clearly audible and adding to the vista and general feeling of happiness for us.
Arrived back at Roccalumera to spend the night with Maggie before catching the ferry back to Italy to pick up the boys, who hopefully had recuperated.