Marta and Gabrielle have kindly offered to put us up for a couple of nights. They live in the centre so we don’t have to go far. When we buzz their buzzer a lot of barking breaks out up on the second floor. Gayle looks at me and says “You know Marta has a dog, don’t you?” Pedro is not just any old dog, he’s like a hyperactive two year old that can’t sit still. Marta invites us to take some tea while she takes him for a walk and when they come back we are relaxing on the sofa unprepared for a hound to come charging across the room at us, tail wagging like a metronome on speed. Anyone who knows me might know of my fear of dogs and I get quite a bit of 'immersion therapy', as the psychologists call it, with Pedro - especially the bit when he holds my forearm between his teeth. We get our first and very good Italian pizza from the restaurant downstairs and quickly get into a conversation ranging from politics to religion – probably the two best subjects if you want an argument. A couple of friends arrive and the conversation gets more excitable but not without laughs. And I'm happy because Pedro has someone else to jump on.
|who needs religion and politics?|
We are disappointed to find that Marta and Gabrielle do not sound like they really enjoyed their motorbike tour around Tunisia, but when they explain it was August and Ramadan we begin to feel some relief. Marta admits they went a little bit unprepared. It was up to 45 degrees in the desert and that's hot even before you get into bike leathers. We'll be there soon and the warmest we expect it in the south is around 20 degrees. In the back of my mind is the memory of arriving in Morocco for the first time by boat in Tangiers and the culture shock of a place so close to Europe and yet so different. Exciting, thrilling, irritating and exotic. I'm wondering if we'll feel the same thrill when we arrive in Tunisia.
We are conscious that we do not meet many Italians travelling for a long time or travelling cheaply, unlike the Dutch, Germans, English and French we have met. There’s not the same tradition in Italy it seems. But when you understand that finding a job in Italy may be more about who you know than what you know, then maybe that explains why no-one here wants to take the risk. The thought is reinforced when we stay with Fillipo and his wife Anna-Maria. Lea in Cagliari told us that Fillipo is Mr. Couch Surfing. Not only has he hosted thousands but he also surfs every time he goes abroad. He has been to many many places and is keen to talk about them. His enthusiasm is boundless. He's thinking about Central Asia next. But he has to fit his journeys in with his job. They went with their son, who is only three, to Iran last year and of course enjoyed it. We want so much to return there on this journey but are unsure as to the prospects of this happening. Instead, as we look at photos of their trip, we silently reminisce about the people we met and the friends we made there.
Sunday morning in Palermo is a quiet affair although there are large numbers of people around. The main thoroughfare has been closed to traffic and we see more cyclists on this morning than all the other days put together. On Monday morning we buy our ferry tickets for the evening boat. It's a showery day and we take it in turns to peruse a big bookshop, while one of us sits with the bikes outside. At some point in the afternoon when we're sat together like a pair of down-and-outs a young man approaches to ask where we've come from and where we're going. He tells us he'd like to travel by bike and then offers us use of his shared house if we need anything like a place to stay or a shower. We decline with thanks - such a generous thought. We've had such wonderful hospitality here in Palermo - I only wish we could tell those northern Italians who warned us to beware........