Piazza Armerina is a small town located in the mountains, just inland from the gorgeous southern coast of Sicily. It's famous for its nearby ruins of Villa Romana del Casale, a Roman palace whose floors are filled with some of Europe's most gorgeous mosaics. I visited the villa this afternoon, and this evening I camped at a site near the town.
Following the debacle of getting back to civilisation, this morning's ride continued to challenge me in more ways than one. From the back roads of the Piazza Armerina farming area, I rode south-east to the town or Mirabella, and from there continued on to the town of Caltagirone. The weather was a devil: windy with an icy bite, and light rain that came down regularly if intermittently. Plus, I was the victim of bad signage both in Mirabella, and upon reaching Caltagirone. The signs in Mirabella weren't too bad — it's only a small town, and the road onwards to Caltagirone is one of only a handful in the area — but in Caltagirone itself, I got seriously lost. So all up, not the most pleasant start to the day. But not all was doom and gloom: I at least made it to Caltagirone in time for a great hot choc and pastry; and I was able to take refuge in the coffee bar there for about ½ an hour, while I waited out a heavy downpour of rain.
It was a strange start to the day this morning — one bizarre obstacle after another. I woke up bright 'n' early at Agricasale — after a night of fairly heavy rain (luckily I stayed quite dry inside my tent) — to find the place quiet and deserted, and the main building (with the dining hall, reception and kitchen) locked shut. This wouldn't have been a problem: except that I left my camping dishes inside the kitchen last night (on the drying rack), and that I couldn't leave without them. It took me a few minutes to find someone who worked there — two guys rocked up in a ute at about 7:15am — and it took me another hour to convince them to wake up the head of the site (Conrad, I assume), and to acquire the key and let me in. Then — after I finally got out of the place — I realised that apart from being at the bottom of a valley, I had no idea where I was (thanks to last night's "Follow me!" ride in the dark), and no idea how to get back onto the main road. Oh, what joy :P.
When I had dinner with Conrad this evening, it was over nothing less than a bottle of authentic Sicilian red wine. Local Sicilian wine is quite unique, as far as my wine-tasting experiences thus far go: it's quite light, and extremely sweet and fruity. Almost tastes like it's made from strawberries or from raspberries, than from grapes. Can't say it's the best wine I've ever had — Argentinean Mendoza wine still takes that award hands-down — personally I much prefer a heavier, more full-bodied taste from my reds. But for the mild, laid-back climate and atmosphere of Sicily, nothing could be more fitting.
Conrad is — as far as I could tell — the owner of Agricasale, the campsite where I stayed tonight. Conrad's a very nice guy: not only does he speak good Spanish (he too has travelled extensively in Latin America) and some English / French (as well as Italian); not only did he insist I join him for dinner in the dining hall; but he also refused to charge me for my night's camping! Conrad greeted me when I arrived at the site this evening — stressed and worn out as I was, and in the pitch dark — and was happy to have me as the sole guest of the place for the evening.
The mosaics at Villa Romana were the highlight of today's voyaging — and I'm very glad that I managed to fit them in this afternoon. However, by the time I was done with exploring the Roman mansion, and was back on my bike, it was the very late hour of 4:40pm; and the cold, dark onset of night was approaching rapidly. As I rode on towards the town of Piazza Armerina, I sought reassurance from a little brown ferret, who was promoting a nearby campground called "Agricasale" (so-called because it was an "Agriturismo" or "farm holiday" facility, and because of Villa Romana's full name being "Villa Imperiale del Casale"). The Agricasale ferret smiled at me from bright yellow signs (placed everywhere along the road); and under him was painted the instruction: "Follow me!" Pity that the little bugger never cared to mention just how much more following I needed to do, before I found the place.
After a boring morning's ride, I continued east from Pietraperzia this afternoon, towards the town of Piazza Armerina. The weather continued to be fine, and the terrain remained largely unchallenging; but otherwise, the afternoon ride was in stark contrast with the rest of the day's trip. Gorgeous scenery this afternoon: the whole way, the countryside was peppered with green, fertile farms, that blanketed the gently rolling hills of the area. And just short of Piazza Armerina, I reached the big attraction of this part of Sicily (and one of the biggest attractions in all of Sicily), and the reason for my taking the longer inland route through this region in the first place: Villa Romana, the ruined Roman mansion of two thousand years' antiquity, and home of one of Europe's largest and finest works of tiled mosaic art.