Yesterday I ascended and skirted the eastern edge of Mt. Etna, from the south-east corner northwards. This morning, the tour of Etna came to a close, as I headed down out of the foothills, and returned back to the Sicilian east coast. Sadly, there was no view of Etna to speak of, as the fog that I encountered while camping last night was still lingering and obscuring the view; nevertheless, it was a sweet and speedy downhill ride, and the villages along the way weren't bad either. From Camping Mareneve, I continued up to the town of Milo (only about 5 minutes further along the road); and once I was through Milo, the looong downhill began. I took the small turnoff for the village of Presa; and from there the road took me ever further down, to the town of Piedmonte Etneo, and then finally to the coastal town of Fiumefreddo di Sicilia. It was a bit cold, and a bit foggy; but very quick, and easy as can be.
What with getting lost, and with the obstacles of bad weather and worse signposting, it was a difficult morning. However, things took a turn for the better this afternoon, as I continued my south-eastern journey today, from Piazza Armerina to Ragusa. Just after lunch, and after passing by (the edge of) the town of Grammichele, I swung onto the lovely new SS514 highway — a road that my friend Conrad recommended I take, when I dined with him last night. And once I was on that road, I managed about 2 hours — and 30 k's — of fun and solid riding. The road is new, smooth, wide, and straight, and it goes dead south towards Ragusa. It's reasonably flat, with some nice downhill stretches at the start, and with a mild uphill tendency towards the end. And the weather decided to cheer up, and to be a lot more kind for the afternoon. So today turned out to be a relaxed, sunny, and productive day on the road after all.
If the morning trek to Erice was hell on ice, then this afternoon's cruise down the Sicilian west coast was heaven with icea tea. Really, after lunch it couldn't have got more pleasant. From Paceco, I cut over to the quiet coast road that runs parallel to the main highway (and the autostrada), and cruised through what is apparently known as "The Salt Road". Signs on the road claimed that this stretch of road had been nominated for some "European prize in outstanding culture and environment" — I wouldn't go that far; but yes, it is a scenic area. And with a gentle coastal breeze, abundant sunshine, and light casual traffic to keep me company, I couldn't have asked for a better way to brighten up a tough day.
Today's cycling was still very windy, and quite cold. But it was very short, and it was downhill virtually the whole way. From last night's field near Corleone, it only took me about 2½ hours this morning to ride north out of the mountainous Mafia heartland; and down to Palermo, the capital and largest city of Sicily. It took a little while to get into the centre of Palermo — plus, I was forced for the first time to cycle on the autostrada (freeway), as there seemed to be no other way to reach the city centre (I don't think bicycles are allowed on the autostrada — but what the hell). Seeing as it was such a quick ride to the capital, I guess I can spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering from my rugged time in the hills.
This morning's ride to Geraci Siculo was a bit tough; but after that, the rest of the day was a breeze. Yesterday, I slogged through the long uphill climb into the Nebrodi mountains; and today, all that paid off, because it was a long downhill cruise through the neighbouring Madonie mountains, and back to the Sicilian north coast. Not only was the rest of the day completely downhill — it was also warm, sunny, and very pleasant scenery-wise. Like the Nebrodi, Le Madonie is also a pristine and protected area of Sicily; and it also boasts rolling farmland, lush forests, and charming mountain towns. I passed through Castelbuono — one such town — at lunchtime today; when I sat down at a cafe on the main drag there, one of the locals was even generous enough to buy me an espresso! Nothing like some warm, rural Sicilian hospitality, eh?
If there's one thing I believe I deserved after this morning's hellish ascent into the Nebrodi mountains, it's a little relief and relaxation. And — once I was another hour or so past the town of Mistretta — relief and relaxation is exactly what I received. For the rest of today's journey into the Nebrodi, I was cruising all the way! For the remainder of the road to Nicosia (the town that marked "as far in" the Nebrodi as I went), it was virtually all downhill, the weather remained gorgeous, and a sumptuous tail wind pushed me always forward. Perfect opportunity to recover from the morning slog, to cool down a bit, and to enjoy the fabulous scenery of some of Sicily's most striking wilderness area.