Monday, 15 April 2013

higher ground

A Sunday morning and rain is threatening when we ride into Caltagirone.  It's bigger than we first realised - we've arrived at the back, at the top of the town.  There's a cruddy sign - UNESCO World Heritage site.  Everything looks scruffy and shabby, but then this is Italy.  There's a worn-out lived-in look about everywhere.  We take a street that traverses the steep hillside on which the town is perched.  Buildings sweep down a long ridge.  Everywhere we look there are very long staircases, baroque churches turning black with mould and pollution.  The bakeries and bars are open and there are a few people around.  By lunchtime though, it seems almost busy.  The rain clouds have passed over and we can see a storm burst over the small town perched on the next hilltop.  Just another day cycling through Sicily.
packed up and ready with the suncream
One morning we are having our second brew and waiting for the sun to dry the last bits of dew on our tent.  The wild flowers in the field are slowly starting to unfurl in the sunlight.  We hear the sound of a tractor getting louder, nearer, until finally a farmer drives along the hedgerow in the next field.  We wave and he stops and we have a quick chat.  Is it okay? we ask, we're just leaving.  No problem, he insists, stay a week, a month! If you need anything just ask at the house over there.  

The valley below Ragusa is in its pomp - the edge of the road is abundant with flowers - they bulge out into the country road.  Once again we find ourselves cycling slowly uphill to enter the town, emerging in the lower old town that has been wonderfully renovated and spruced up.  We stay a couple of nights in a 300 year old family home now a B&B.  It feels almost decadent to take a much-needed shower and to wash all our stuff in the bathroom.  There's a buffet breakfast and I'm reminded of the photograph I keep seeing from an old Italian film where a group of down and outs are stuffing their faces with spaghetti bolognese.  A famous comic whose name I don't know is cramming his pockets with spaghetti.   

Ragusa is a great place to wander, with steep narrow streets and wonderful views of church domes and frilly palazzos sticking up above the rooftops whilst weird and ugly faces from the baroque facades stare down at us.

'New' Ragusa is built on the plateau above the old town in a more regimented grid - all of it dates from the early 1700s when the city was rebuilt after a big earthquake flattened this part of the island.  The town is full of small shops but many seem to have closed down.  There are out of town shopping malls in the big towns but the old centres remain fairly traditional.  It's hard to know if the abandoned look of so many city centre streets is due to the current recession or just a long-term decline.  There are 'for rent' and 'for sale' signs everywhere.
We pass through Modica and start to head northwards towards Etna, staying in the hills as we're enjoying the cycling.  Here the green fields are divided by dry-stone walls and it reminds us of home, apart from the occasional palm tree and the ever-present sunshine.  Wind turbines appear in clusters now and again - there always seems to be some wind - and at night you can make out the ridgelines from the row of red lights of the turbines.

 Each day we arrive at a new town without knowing what we'll find there.  To our surprise a lot of the towns seem quite large.  Once you get past the ugly modern appartment blocks on the edges you find a warren of streets filled with lovely old buildings and piazzas dotted here and there.  In each town we wonder how can the grand old buildings be left to fall into decay - but there are so many it must be impossible to save them all and so for each one that looks beautifully restored there is another one looking tired and probably past the point of no return.  Maybe this contrast helps the towns to remain interesting and authentic.  

We draw out the ride up to Catania, which sits at the foot of Etna.  We are taking each day slowly and make the most of the sunshine.  We have had a fortnight of good weather, good cycling and good camping.  How could we have known Sicily would be so kind to us?
view from a wild camp near Ferla

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gayle and John,
    We met in Catania. We're in Taranto now and you where are you?
    Maybe see you later in an other place...
    Who knows?
    Elodie, Maxime & Timeo