Once the capital of the ancient Greek establishment here in Sicily (which was significant, in its day), Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) is now the heart of modern Sicily's gorgeous south-east. The historic centre of the city, the island of Ortygia, is where most of the tourists hang out. I spent one night in the city, while getting some repairs done on my bicycle.
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.
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.
Things haven't gone exactly according to plan today: due to my bike's snapped axle, I had to end the day's riding far earlier than planned; so my hopes of reaching the Monti Iblei now have to be postponed until tomorrow. When I realised that I'd just missed the morning opening hours of the bike repair shop, and that I'd have to wait all afternoon to get my bike fixed up, I decided to find somewhere to dump my shwag for the rest of the day, and to put my feet up for the night. I checked in to the nearby Caravaggio B&B, a nice little place several blocks away from Ortygia (hence somewhat more affordable). I then had the whole afternoon to explore, enjoy, and relax in Syracuse.
So I'm sitting in a cafe in the middle of Ortygia — having just finished my little tour of the island — polishing off my hot choc and croissant, and having a pleasant chat with the locals. I get up from my table, dust off a few breadcrumbs, wave goodbye to my fellow patrons, and jump on my bike. The plan is to head straight out of Syracuse — having seen the city centre and its sights — and to make my way west into the Monti Iblei, for an afternoon of uphill riding, and an evening of rough mountain camping. Possibly to see the Syracuse archaeological park, and famous Greek theatre, along the way. But all those plans suddenly disappear out the window — and the day's cycling comes to an abrupt and premature end — when I start pedalling, and I realise that something is really, seriously wrong with my bike. Something far worse than the usual problems of squeaky brakes, unresponsive gears, or even flat tyres. I have a snapped axle.
From my little milk stop in Cassibile, this morning I continued straight up the SS115 highway (the main highway of Sicily's east coast), and by 11am I was in beautiful, famous Syracuse. It was a quick and easy ride: as with yesterday, I continued to be blessed with beautiful weather (something that I don't take for granted these days), and with flat and smooth roads. Although it's one of Sicily's major cities, I actually thought that Syracuse would be much bigger: I was surprised at how quickly I managed to whiz through the moderate sprawl of outer suburbs, and to reach the island of Ortyiga, the historic centre of the city. This gave me plenty of time to cruise around on my bike, and to give myself a leisurely tour of Ortygia.