A week of day trips from Floridia
Trip Start Jan 25, 2007
31Trip End Jun 30, 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
After my big north-west trip I decided to stay near my home town and get to know the local district better.
On the weekend I attended an Aikido seminar. For those of you that don't know I have been practicing Aikido for around 17 years in Melbourne. My teacher is Michael Field, 5th Dan. Before I left I had been teaching for around 5 years, the last 2 at our Prahran Dojo. I was delighted to find in my little home town an Aikido dojo and have been attending it regularly when I'm in Floridia. It felt great to be able to move the body and mind again as I have for so many years. It's very funny training Aikido in Italy - you kiss the instructors and the other students, the lunch break is 4 hours and you go and have a full meal with wine, beer, grappa, etc.
Am invited to lunch at the apartment of my cousin Letizia and her husband, Angelo, and her mother, my zia Ciccina is there too
In the afternoon Angelo takes me to the San Giovanni (St John) Catacombs, which house over 10,000 tombs carved into the soft rock underground. Next to it is the San Giovanni Evangelista church, which is now basically a shell, as the roof caved in during an earthquake, but is still used as a church with services in the open
After spending the morning washing clothes I mount my trusty Aprilia and set off for Pantalica, an important archaelogical site in the Val D'Anapo (Valley of the Anapo river). I believe that Pantalica is considered to be probably the oldest continuously inhabited places by humans (at least in Europe), with traces from 70,000 years ago. The site spreads over a number of steep, winding gorges and has over 5,000 tombs cut into the rock and was mainly used between 1,300 and 800BC. The tombs have been used for refuge by a number of people who were driven out by invaders, and some villages were even built in the gorges in Byzantine times around 500AD.
At the bottom is a river and lush vegetation and it's a welcome relief from the blasting heat above. There are lovely cold pools in the river and boys have fun dive-bombing from rock walls that were built over 3,000 years ago.
I continue on to Palazzolo Acreide, which is higher up at over 700 metres and is therefore cooler
Today I ride to Avola for breakfast (best almonds in Sicily), then I head off for Cava Grande nearby where I've been told there are these lovely little laghetti (small lakes) at the bottom of the valley. After riding up through the dry, rocky mountains I come to the edge of a rugged gorge, and way down below, shimmering green and aquamarine there are indeed 2 beautiful little lakes. Half an hour later, hot and sweating from the descent, I dive in for a refreshing swim. The only other people there are a young Italian couple. I lay out on the hot rocks for a little while trying to get some colour into my legs (my face and top and feet (except where there are sandal straps) are very brown, but the rest of me is quite white, then a bunch of around 10 tourists arrive, so I have one last swim to cool myself off, then trudge up the steep gorge sides arriving at the top dripping with sweat
I'm starving so I pop in to the Enoteca and ask for a restaurant recommendation and so in a few minutes I'm in a restaurant called 'I sapori del Val di Noto' (the flavours of the Valley of Noto) and when I ask what's good to eat I'm recommended the snails. There are 2 types - Crustuni, which are large, and 'ntuppateddi (have fun trying to pronounce it), which are smaller and the meat is more delicate, but they are actually more aggressive and eat the other type of snails. Unfortunately the 'ntuppateddi have just been delivered and will take at least an hour to prepare, so I have pasta and Crustuni for primo piatto, then grilled tuna and roast peppers, and a cassata for dessert, and a glass of sweet wine of course and a coffee.
In the afternoon I head off for Vendicari, which is a nature reserve on the coast comprising marshes and low sand dunes. There is also an old tonnara which is abandoned. Tonnara's are tuna processing plants - they were sited near where tuna congregated or passed and there were once 50 of them in Sicily. Commercial fishing by Japanese and others has depleted the number of tuna so much that all have closed. In the old days there was a season when they held the 'mattanza' - the boats went out to catch tuna in their nets - they used to sing songs influenced by Arabic chanting to give them the strength to haul in the nets and kill the tuna, many of which weighed 500kg
I spend most of the day updating Travelpod and have lunch with my cousin Maria Grazia, who lives just around the corner. She's always saying she can't cook but every time I go there she's made a nice soup, or something else nice, and today she has bought us each an octopus, which fills the plate (if I opened out the tentacles to their full length it would be more than 30cms wide). She boils it and it is cooked to perfection - soft to the bite and juicy and full of flavour. She also fries sardines, which I love, so with a salad and lemon and oil and bread you could not wish for a simpler or more enjoyable meal. In the early evening I meet Letizia and Angelo at the Greek Theatre in Siracusa to see the play Eracle (Hercules) by Sophocles. Siracusa has the largest existing Greek Theatre in existence and every year in May and June puts on ancient Greek tragedies. I have been to Siracusa many times but have never been to a performance so jump at the chance to go - how many opportunities do you have to see a tragedy performed that was no doubt performed in this very same theatre 2,400 years ago. The theatre is still in a pretty good state and reputedly could hold 10,000 spectators
Today starts bright and hot (again; every day has been like this), and I want to explore the coast north of Catania and have a swim. I ride the backroads from Floridia to the mountain townships of Lentini and Carlentini, then along the long Playa south of Catania, which is a seething mass of people on the long curve of sandy beach.
I ride along the coast road through Catania and out to the Costa degli Ciclopi (Coast of the Cyclops)
Sicily is attached to the African plate, which in pushing up against the European plate (Italy, etc), has caused Etna and most of the other mountains in Sicily. There used to be elephants, hippopotamus, deer and other African animals in prehistoric times. There were in the region of the coast north of Catania many caves found with the skulls of dwarf elephants. To the early human inhabitants these seemed like the skulls of giant men with one eye (where the trunk is) as they had no idea about elephants being there. Thus the legend of the Cyclops was born.
It is a beautiful area - first Acicastello with an old Norman fort, then Acitrezza with the faraglione, then Acireale, etc. A word of explanation - there are 8 towns the river Aci flows through so they all have Aci in their name. Aci was a shepherd in love with Galatea, and the Cyclops Polyphemus became jealous and killed him. The gods turned him into a river and thus he is united eternally with Galatea in the sea.
I have a lovely swim at Acitrezza, directly in front of the faraglione - again I am struck that I am swimming in the sea and clambering on rocks that Homer wrote about nearly 3,000 years ago. I have an enormous lunch at a nearby restaurant - antipasto of fried baby octopus the size of a fingernail, boiled baby prawns, octopus, calamari and clams, fried sardines, clams baked in shell and topped with breadcrumbs, marinated fresh anchovies, fried baccalà cakes, fried baby fish - then a plate of mixed grilled seafood - whole small fish, calamari tubes, 2 large prawns, a small octopus and 3 lemons to squeeze over the lot
I need exercise so I go to the Gorge of Alcantara, which at one point has rock walls only a couple of metres wide, through which flows a freezing cold river. I am there too late to go canyoning in a wetsuit (there are waterfalls upstream).
I ride on up to Taormina, which is the tourist capital of Sicily - the international jetset and hordes of northern European tourists come here, but it's still beautiful, then I ride up to Castelmola, which is high above and has a stupendous view in all directions. Another little story:
Most people will have heard of the book Lady Chatterley's Lover - it was banned for many years in Australia and most schoolboys would have given their right arm to get a copy when I was a teenager. The author David Herbert Lawrence and his wife Frieda von Richtofen (related to Baron von Richtofen, the Red Baron flying ace of WW1) lived near here in the early 1920's - she was 41 and was described as blond, happy, sensual and exuberant. Frieda often used to visit a friend of hers near Castelmola for afternoon tea. One afternoon in 1922 her friend sent a muleteer and mule to bring her over as it looked like it might rain. A thunderstorm broke out and the muleteer, Peppino found shelter in a hut for them and started drying off the saddle and mule. When he turned around Frieda was dancing in the nude outside in the rain and asked him to join her. He didn't need to be asked twice and their relationship lasted until September 1923. Frieda told her husband, who was impotent, and he turned it into Lady Chatterly's Lover. Peppino died in Pittsburgh in the US in 1990 aged 92
I marvel at what you can do in one day in this area - ride through dry, rocky mountains to medievcal hilltop towns, down to a large gulf on the edge of a volcano with sandy beaches, swim near a 100 year old Norman castle and the rocks that the Cyclops threw at Homer, wade through a gorge with unusual geological formations, go mix with the jetset at Taormina, and visit the tiny town near which the inspiration for Lady Chatterly's Lover was born. All on a little Aprilia 150 scooter.
I get home to Floridia at midnight.