For dinner tonight, Mark and Susi took me out to a super-upmarket Italian restaurant in downtown Zürich, where I didn't hesitate to order a delicious plate of home-made gnocchi (my all-time favourite food on Earth) in a rich cheese sauce. Maybe it's just because I was too cheapo to afford hitting the restaurants down there — but it was better than anything I had while in Italy. The wine and the dessert were nothing to complain about, either. Stopping and seeing the family certainly does have its advantages!
No visit to Zürich would be complete without a visit to its most famous chocolate shop, the Sprüngli. And Mark and Susi would never let my visit go incomplete: so naturally, this afternoon we popped in to the establishment, for an experience of true and utter decadence. The highlight of the visit was the Luxemburgerli: divine little "buttons" of chocolate, best eaten fresh (i.e. within 24 hours of them being made), and filled with all manner of artery-clogging richness. Also incredible were the Truffles: each of these balls of chocolate comes in a variety from milky-white to dark brown, and is variously filled with rum, cream and liquid chocolate. The truffles kept me nourished for well over a week after.
Ask any German, and he/she will tell you that food doesn't get more Deutsch than Bratwurst. But ask my uncle Mark, and he'll tell you that the Swiss variety of the famous European sausage is even bigger and even better. I can't yet compare; but so far, the Swiss one has been pretty good. At the famous Berghaus-Keller restaurant in central Zürich, they cook up a mean veal bratwurst, served hot and fresh with a delicious helping of kartoffel-rösti on the side (baked mash potato). Also goes well with a nice big Swiss beer (my first ever).
When I arrived back in Messina today, the main order of business was to try and sell my bike. I'm not planning to do any more cycling in Italy (or anywhere else in Europe), so I don't need it any more. Unfortunately, I didn't have any success in flogging the daym thing off to anyone. I spent about an hour cruising around the streets of downtown Messina, looking for bike shops that might be interested in purchasing it. I only found one place that was a dedicated bike shop: they flatly declined interest in the bike, saying that they only sold new bikes, and that none of their customers would be interested in my third-hand (at least) piece-of-junk. The only other place I found was a hardware store, but they also sold a few bikes: they too had no interest in buying. Doesn't anyone want a nice, cheap Roman bike here in Sicily?
There may not be many other reasons to visit Catania: but this alone should make the city a "must" for anyone in the area. While passing through Catania this morning, I stopped at a very upmarket cafe on the city's seashore promenade, that proudly advertises letting you choose from 32 different types of chocolate, to be used in making you a hot choc. I was sold in two seconds flat. I walked in, closed my eyes, picked a number, and ordered no. 17. I really doubt that it would have mattered which number I'd chosen, though: I'd say they were all just as divine as each other. I also ordered a truly decadent, cream-filled cannoli pastry — all this was about double the price of the average morning coffee stop; but hey, sometimes you just gotta live life, and love life.
After three weeks in Italy, I would like to officially announce that — despite its being delicious — I am getting kinda sick of all the pizza and pasta. Tonight, I decided it was time for a break. I walked past a kebab restaurant in town, and I simply couldn't resist a meaty, spicy banquet of doner, bread and salad. As well as serving a delicious plate of kebab, the place I found was also nice and relaxed and informal: take-away-ish, fast-food-ish restaurants seem to be rather hard to find, here in Sicily (it's either pure take-away, or a super-formal super-pricey trattoria). I followed up the kebab by stopping by at a pasticceria, and indulging myself in a truly decadent cream- and strawberry-filled pastry for dessert. Sometimes you just gotta indulge.
Continuing north along the coast — from the southern tip of Sicily — this afternoon I visited the town of Noto. Noto is the last and the most impressive of the three towns here in south-eastern Sicily which — according to my guidebook — are the jewels of Baroque architecture and town planning in Sicily. As well as a gorgeous historic centre — all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — Noto also boasts some delicious gelato. When I arrived here, I found quite a lot of tourists on the street — and all of them were eating the stuff. I felt it prudent to follow the "when in Noto" principle, and to do the same. I had no regrets.
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.
Seeing that I've done a record three nights straight of rough camping — and that I'm in a big city with plenty of eating and accommodation options — the time has come for a night of splurging. After a thorough exploration of the Valle dei Templi this afternoon, I rode into the city of Agrigento, and found myself a nice budget hotel in which to spend the night. I was looking for a B&B — it seems that around here, hotels and B&Bs are virtually the same price-wise, and have the same offerings, except that one includes a meal and one doesn't — but the hotel was the best I could find. Also, Agrigento is a nice enough place, but it seems that the ruins in the valley are the main attraction — the city itself is nothing special, and doesn't warrant more than a night's stay.
Cioccolata calda is Italian for hot chocolate; and if there's one thing I've learned lately, it's that hot chocolate is indisputably Italian. Nobody makes a hot choccy like the Italians do. It's thick, it's sumptuous, and it satisfies every time. You can't get one at every coffee bar — sometimes you have to subsist on cappuccino — but since I'm not such a coffee man, I try and go hot choccy whenever it's available. It's becoming a tradition, during my Sicilian cycle trip: every day, for morning tea, find a cup of the stuff.