Sicilian woes and farewell

Posted by on 20, Mar 2023 in 2023 - Sicily and Italy, Europe, Italy, Tilly the Tandem

Sicilian woes and farewell
Taormina Amphitheatre
Taormina Cathedral
Lazy lunch….
Taormina stairways..
Last Sicilian breakfast…
Good Morning Salerno..

Taormina is another UNESCO  town on top of a big steep hill. We played it sensibly and stayed at the bottom so we could get the cable car up. Naturally it was out of order that day and we had to taxi up instead, though some people were cycling up, but they looked more Giro D’Italia than flip flop tourers, so good choice I think!

When you reach the top the site to see is the Greek / Roman theatre perched on the end of an outcrop with a back drop of the bay far below and Etna smouldering in the distance. Fab-u-lous darling!

It could hold 10,000 people once and ran for around 500 years and still holds concerts and plays 2500 years after construction began. Fortunately it was Greek and Roman, not Sicilian as I’m not sure 2500 years is long enough to actually finish anything here now. As a local said to us, Sicilans are good at starting things but not very good at finishing them.

After a long visit to the Amphitheatre we found a nice restaurant for lunch overlooking the bay and chilled out for a couple of hours before descending in the same taxi we came up in as I needed to change Tillys almost non existent rear brake pads.

There’s much to recommend Sicily for a holiday if you like Archaeology.  Some of the sites are magnificent and there’s so many that you’ll just cycle past a ruin that’s completely fenced in and you can’t visit as they just can’t maintain them all. The inland scenery is spectacular too, though we avoided most of this due to hillphobia and some of the towns are fabulous. Noto and Syracuse being our favourites.

But to visit in a car or by train will be a different experience completely to cycling and we can’t recommend cycling here at all – more than that we’d say, if you’re going to do the coastal route you’re mad. As we have mentioned numerous times, the driving is atrocious and extremely dangerous. Without our flag pole extension we would have given up or have likely been hit.

On our last day from Taormina to Messina we had 3 cars attempt just that…  These weren’t near misses, bad judgement or close calls, these were deliberate attempts to run us off the road by driving so close to us and cutting in infront that you cannot help but swerve off the edge of the road, and bearing in mind many of these roads have sheer drops off cliff faces, this is utter madness. 

Quite what the various police forces do (of course there’s numerous forces), from local old bill, up to the lollipop waving Caribineri, we’ve no idea, they carry guns but would be better carrying a book to read. They seem to do bugger all.  You’ll see the Caribineri stood at the side of the road with their lollipops flagging cars down to check papers but that’s it. No wonder so many people die on the roads here.

We’ve often said about developing countries that life is cheap, and that applies here too.  Seat belts are rarely worn, speeding is compulsory and kids sit on the dashboard or in the drivers laps. The horn is used as a get out of the way and cars then don’t bother to slow down for a junction or bend as they’ve already ‘beeped’. People don’t so much jump red lights as totally ignore them, Near misses are everywhere and almost every car is dented and scratched and hardly any look like they’d pass an MOT.

And of course there’s the rubbish. Everywhere. All. The. Time. Fridges, tv’s, pipes, household stuff, beds… it just is non stop and awful. It really really spoils the place.  And it’s not just us, every tourist we’ve met has complained about the driving and the rubbish, most saying it really spoils the experience (and they’ve been in cars so don’t get to see it all) and they wouldn’t come back, and that’s exactly how we feel.

But, the people are generally lovely and most very welcoming – waving, giving us the Italian hand symbols for iron man as we struggle up a hill and saying ‘tandem’ and ‘wow’ in equal measure.  The accomodation is exceptional, at least west of Pozzallo, and the weather in February/ March is excellent.  We’ve certainly enjoyed the sites, some fantastic accommodation and the food, but what could have been an amazing place is really ruined by the above, so, put it on your list, but come by car!

So we decided to bail out!  We reached Messina and took the ferry to Salerno on the mainland. Naturally this being Italy the ferry was at ridiculous O’clock – 2am… and arrived at 11am. 

After after our near misses day where Linda had had quite enough of cycling and was all for flying home asap, we rolled up at our Airbnb in Messina, which was in probably the poorest area in town.  The hosts were lovely but the accomodation left a great deal to be desired, but was fine for us to have a shower and wait until midnight for our ferry.  The tower block it was in was so noisy, people played music so loud the stairwell felt like a club.  Glad we weren’t staying overnight!

We cycled down to the ferry terminal in a gathering storm, the wind whipping at us from the side and making cycling a bit tricky, but fortunately there was virtually no traffic. 

Many years ago we sailed to Tunisia from Italy and the organisation at the ferry port consisted of people desperately trying to push their car infront of someone else’s to get on board 8 seconds before them.  Plenty of hooting, no signs and no staff.

Well, they’ve upped their game!  We were greeted by a man at the gate with a clipboard who checked us off, then directed us towards to the ticket office where, when we walked in the clerk waved our ticket at us that we’d pre booked.

There were 2 ferries in port, one a cargo roro and a larger ferry. Naturally we got shunted to the cargo ferry to be met by another person with a clipboard, who took our names down and then called another person over to walk us on board. Given that there were Italian Tug masters zipping off on and on the ferry loading trailers and lorries were loading too, we were quite grateful we got priority treatment. There were a few cars waiting but they had to wait until everything else was on board and we were on and in our cabin by midnight, 2 hours before sailing.

The seas weren’t particaully rough but the ferry was as stable as an Italian government and we were bounced around the whole night, at times losing your stomach on the way down. I quite enjoyed it, but Linda declined brekky the next morning until we’d disembarked, where again we got escorted off the ferry then flagged downby the police and told to wait for an escort off the dock! All very impressive and heaven help Italy if it ran Dover!

We’d booked 3 nights at Salerno to recharge and plan our route in Italy as well as get Tilly’s chain seen to, again. And our accomodation was amazing! We lazed about in the sun on the beach and promenade with thousands of other Italians on the Sunday all dressed up to the nines, glaring at Linda in her dress as she’d stupidly chosen yellow not black, the preferred colour for every other female in sight! My sandals also got many frowns. I think we’re not fashionable enough for the Amalfi coast! Though Linda says quite often, that I’m not fashionable for anywhere…..

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