Just a stone's throw across the water from the Italian mainland, Messina is a bustling port town that's the gateway to the island of Sicily. Messina was the first stop on my great Sicilian ride, since I caught the train down to Villa San Giovanni (from Rome), which is directly across the channel from the town. Nice town, but not much to see here.
They called me weird, they called me twisted, they called me crazy. But I did it. Twenty days. Almost three weeks. On the bike every day. Up mountains, in fields, through storms, against winds, and all alone. All the way around the island of Sicily, plus plenty more in between. The Great Sicilian Ride has been an utterly unique and inredible experience: it was the perfect thing for me to do on this trip, and it was the perfect time to do it. It's an experience that I'll treasure for the rest of my life, and that I wouldn't trade for anything else in the world. It's certainly had its ups and downs, and its trials and tribulations. There are certainly things about it that I could have done better, or planned better; and obstacles that I could have confronted better. But that's all part of the learning experience. Hopefully this will be my first great cycling trip, but not my last — and everything I've learnt here in Sicily will come in handy for Great Rides of the Future.
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?
As my mate Dave would say: very saaad news, folks. This was it — today was the last day of the Great Sicilian Ride, all around Sicily and back again. And it wasn't a particularly long or memorable day either: just a quick, flat, straight 50km's or so of easy coastal road, from Giardini Naxos back up to Messina. Most of the way, all that I rode through was an uninspiring sprawl of beach towns and beach resorts — less beautiful than most here in Sicily, although not the worst I've seen or heard of. The landscape on this final morning's ride was dominated by the Monti Peloritani, an extremely rugged range of mountains that's virtually uninhabited, and that leaves naught but a very narrow strip of coastal land for most of the way: the result of this is that between Taormina and Messina, you can see towns, highways, autostrade and railways, all crammed in between the mountains and the sea. I managed the ride in around 3 hours, which meant that by midday today, the loop was complete. 20 days straight on a bike — and now I'm back to square one!
After much ado, today my great, epic bicycle ride around Sicily began! To commence, I rode north from the city of Messina, up to Capo Peloro — Sicily's northernmost and easternmost point — and then around the coast, to Capo di Milazzo and beyond. I was scared, I was nervous, and I was pumped: but the day started out incredibly, and it just seemed to get better and better, as I went along. The Great Sicilian Ride is in progress — let's just hope that this awesome first day has set the standard for the whole voyage.
After a crazy day of trains and ferries, I've made it to Messina, my first stop on the island of Sicily. Messina is a nice enough town, but certainly nothing special: there's nothing here to attract tourists; apart from the fact that if coming by ferry, it's the main way in. Anyway, although I'm all geared-up for camping during my Great Sicilian Ride, I decided to just stay at a hotel here in town tonight: by the time I reached Messina, it was already too dark to get out into the countryside; plus, I need to buy food and other supplies, and I need to finalise the setup for my bike.
This North African balloon-maker and clown caught the train down with me this afternoon — from Paola to Villa San Giovanni — and then stayed with me, on the ferry across to Messina. It was hard to communicate with him — my Italian sucks, and his English is no better — but he's a really friendly guy, and we were buddies while our paths crossed today. The first thing that I did in Sicily, was go for a coffee with Wahmoud.
Once I finished my three-legged train journey to the southern tip of Italy today, all that was left was to catch a ferry, across the small channel that separates Sicily from the mainland. The ferry goes from Villa San Giovanni — a small coastal village in Calabria — across to Messina, one of the larger cities of Sicily. I don't know why they've never built a bridge or a tunnel over to Sicily: but anyway, the ferry is quite cool; not only do pedestrians ride on it, not only do cars and trucks drive onto it, but they even take the trains straight across on it! As for me, it was just my crazy self and my crazy bike that made the journey.