To continue my wanderings in Barcelona, this afternoon I took advantage of the improved weather, and I decided to go for a walk up to Montjuïc. This hill — literally meaning "hill of the Jews" — holds some of the city's most important landmarks; and from its slopes and peak, it affords gorgeous views of the whole of Barcelona. I started by walking west up Las Ramblas, and by then cutting south, along the main avenue that leads to the hill. I passed between the two towers that guard the main road up to the hill; and I ascended the lavishly decorated hillside that faces this road, and that's flanked by numerous museums, sweeping stairways and grand fountains. After, I wandered further up the hill, getting quite near to the 1992 Olympic Stadium, before wandering down past the teleférico (cable car) that straddles the eastern hillside, ahead of the onset of dark.
This morning I said goodbye to the crazy Wombat's Munich — and to Germany, for now — and hopped on the train down to Vienna. Just a quick 4-hour morning ride: I caught the 9:30am train (direct), and I was in Vienna by 1:30pm. The train went through Salzburg, which I'm going to visit after Vienna: it's a bit of a funny route, I know; but I can't help it, since Vienna's somewhat out-of-the-way from everywhere else I'm visiting around here.
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.
Once I'd finished finding my way north-west out of Catania today, I continued straight up north, into the eastern foothills of the ever-looming Mt. Etna, which watches over the city of Catania and over much of the Sicilian east coast, from its lofty peak of 3,326m asl. While this morning's riding was flat and easy, the afternoon ride through the towns east of Etna was uphill virtually all the way. Nevertheless, the ascent was reasonably gradual, and it was worth it for the rewarding and diverse scenic views. The steepest uphill was actually at the edge of Catania itself; once I was past the town of Sant' Agata li Battiati, I was basically through the worst of it, and also through the extent of Greater Catania. While the immediate landscape did change throughout the afternoon — the populous mountain towns eventually gave way to farmlands, and eventually to forest — the presence of Etna to the west was constant, and the view of it just kept getting better and better.
I quickly ate breakfast and packed up this morning — in my field near Pedagaggi that I camped in last night — then managed to sneak out of the farm unobserved (despite the occupants of the farm going along their driveway again, just before I left). As I continued riding north, downhill out of the Monti Iblei, I was greeted with a bitter morning cold (explained by the fact that I was on the road at 8am), but also by lovely, rolling farmland scenery. The other amazing scenery that greeted me, was that which I first saw yesterday afternoon: the Plain of Catania stretching away below me, and colossal Mt. Etna looming on the horizon. I'm going to be seeing Etna all day today; but regardless, I highly doubt that I'll get sick of the view. Put simply, it's a bloody big, bloody nice mountain.
Once I'd returned to Ferla this afternoon — from my visit to Pantálica — I took the road north out of the "valley of Pantálica" area, and up onto the ridge that comprises the north edge of the Monti Iblei. I'd originally planned to head west to the village of Buccheri this afternoon, and to spend the evening near or beyond there; but upon reaching the north ridge, I decided that it was getting too late in the day (about 4:15pm), and that Buccheri was too much extra ascent (the town is marked on my map as being several hundred metres higher than Ferla). So instead I turned east, and headed along the ridge road towards Sortino. Along the way, I turned my gaze north: and boy, was I greeted with a vista and a half! Spread out below me was the broad, flat expanse of the Plain of Catania; and beyond it, rising up out of the horizon like a stone monster, I had my first sweeping view of Mt. Etna — the highest mountain in Sicily, and the tallest active volcano in all of Europe.
It was meant to happen yesterday afternoon; but due to technical difficulties, it happened today instead. This morning I jumped on my newly-repaired, newly-serviced bike, and headed west out of the city of Syracuse, into Sicily's Monti Iblei highlands. The day was kicked off with a fantastic B&B breakfast (I vote it "best breakfast I've had this year" — it was That Good™): the owner of Caravaggio — whose name is Mario — not only prepares an enormous and delicious spread; but he's also really friendly, quite fluent in English, and full of interesting things to talk about. Since I was expecting mountains today, I was pleasantly surprised by the first hour or so of the morning ride being flat and straight, through the town of Floridia, and all the way to Solarino. However, the mountains appeared in full force from Solarino onwards: it was a fairly tough slog ascending through the foothills; but once I was up, I was up — and once the scenery started getting good, it just kept getting better.
Call me a silly cyclist if you will, but it seems that I just can't get enough of these Sicilian mountains: after a (rather aggravating) morning coastal ride, today I'm headed inland again, into the mountains. From Términi Imerese, I rode south up a gruelling mountain road, until I reached the town of Caccamo. This is a quaint little place, which is most famous for its imposing Norman castle, of at least 1,000 years' antiquity. It was a hard slog: but I had a good rest and a big drink when I reached Caccamo; and the castle (although I didn't explore it) is worth at least passing by.
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?
For this morning's ride, I left my field near Gangi bright and early, and rode west through the town of Gangi, continuing on until I reached the turnoff north into the Madonie mountains. From here, it was only a short ride to the mountain town of Geraci Siculo, where I found a lovely (albeit mostly ruined) hilltop castello ("castle") to explore. It was a tough ride to Geraci Siculo — the weather turned quite cold, and it got a bit rainy, plus there were quite a few minor uphill sections — but when I got there, I was rewarded with great scenic views, a quaint village atmosphere, and a bar that served an excellent hot chocolate for the morning break. Plus, after reaching the town, the weather improved, and it was all downhill riding.