Located in the rolling and ancient countryside south-west of Palermo, Segesta is a set of Greek ruins that harks back to the empires that ruled Sicily millenia ago. The ruins at Segesta include a beautiful temple, as well as an expansive ampitheatre. I visited the ruins today, and I camped in a field nearby during the night.
While I was in the quirky village of Erice today, I stopped in one of the mountaintop cafes there, for a quick slurp of some much-needed hot liquid. The place I entered was serving something called "spicy coffee": a shot of espresso, infused with what I think was a bit of chili. Very bizarre drink — but it actually didn't taste too bad. I never expected to find coffee beans and chili peppers floating round inside a cup hand-in-hand; but then again, in Mexico they live on strong chili and strong coffee, so why not combine the two simultaneously?
This morning's ride — both parts of it — was one of those times that really tests you. If you want to do something big, you have to expect to be challenged at some points — and in my big Sicilian ride, this was one of those points. Part one of the ride was a battle against various odds: rough and confusing roads; a cold battering wind; and angry roadside dogs without relent. Part two was simply a question of pure, uphill determination: the ascent to the mountaintop village of Erice, located 750m asl, was not for the faint-hearted. But I endured, and I persisted, and I told the dogs where to shove it; and I made it through. And proud to have done it, too.
By the time I was done visiting Segesta this afternoon, I had very little daylight left, and thus precious little time for stopping and finding a campsite. Thankfully, however, I didn't need to go very far, or to look very hard: all around Segesta was rolling farmed countryside, much of it perfect for rough camping, and packed with little dirt trails and often-unfenced fields. So I only rode for about 20 minutes more — crossing under the nearby autostrada and train line in the process — before I found a spot that was just right for me. Nothing grand: just a little vineyard, with a long road leading into the heart of the fields, and with a fence that was missing in many places; and with plenty of nice, green space amongst the vines for pitching my tent, and far enough away from the farmhouses to afford some privacy as well.
To finish off my travels for today, this afternoon I stopped by the Greek ruins of Segesta. Located smack-bang amidst rolling countryside — near the town of the same name — Segesta is a large and impressively well-preserved temple (and ampitheatre), and is believed to be about 2,500 years old. It's also, as far as I'm aware, the first set of ancient Greek ruins that I've ever seen in my life; and it seems to be that it was a very good place to be introduced to it all. I reached the archaeological site rather late in the day (4pm), so I wasn't able to take the shuttle bus up to the hillside ampitheatre. However, I had plenty of time to explore the temple, and to admire both the ancient construction and its pleasant rural surroundings.
One thing that's really struck me, during my time in Sicily so far — but I assume it would strike me almost anywhere in Europe — is the amazing way in which old meets new around here. Europe is such an endlessly rich historical region: the cities are sometimes thousands of years old; patchwork farmlands have remained virtually the same for generations; and relics of past civilisations abound everywhere, from lonely mountaintops to musky caves. They've managed to preserve all of this history remarkably well; and yet amidst it all, they've also laid gleaming train tracks, industrial-strength power and communication lines, and wide tarmac freeways. It's a constant, in-your-face contrast and clash of eras, everywhere you go — but somehow, it all fits together — rather than conflicting, the interwoven old-new, natural-artificial tapestry of the European landscape is forever complementing itself, and giving an image of harmony and logic. How do they manage it?