Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 14 in Sicily

We arrived early afternoon into the town of Monreale, the ending point for our 10 day bike ride through western Sicily. This morning the sun again shown bright and the temps warm as we peddled through the country, with a couple of steep climbs that always reward us with spectacular views. In general the afternoon was downhill but challenging as there were several dark tunnels to go through, a variety of bridges to cross, rough pavement patches, (even 1/2 a road missing), and directions that involved a multitude of turns through this busy city. But we are here and our B&B is spacious. After spending 2 hours disassembling the tandem and packing it into its two suitcases we showered and took a walk through this famous town. It is widely known as the "home" of the Monreale Cathedral, with its breathe taking mosaics! They truly are camera worthy! Our stomachs began to growl but too early at 5:30 p.m. for dinner in Italy. But with a bakery near our hotel we indulged in crusty bread and fruit to tide us over until 7:30 p.m. when an inviting pizzeria says it will begin serving. Why not enjoy true Sicilian pizza for our last night in Sicily! 
We are both sad to say, "The ride is done and we must now leave this wonderful island". This has been one of those "vacations of a life time"! For us that translates into interesting adventures, taking some risks, challenging our bodies, trying new foods, testing our wills and sometimes pushing them to the limit. It also builds our marriage as we ride down the road on the tandem talking, laughing, and sometimes even "arguing" or shall I say discussing which direction to go. We are blessed that God joined our lives together and we share a passion for travel and biking!
I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs of our trip and I pray God is daily blessing you with passions in life!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day 13 in Sicily

 There are some valuable items we are glad we brought along on this trip. Our Italian cell phone is one of them. We have had to use it when we couldn't get to the airport on time for our pick-up last week, called the company's contact when our luggage didn't show up after our first day's ride, called to discuss some bad directions and get some reassurance we could trust the future direction sheets, and finally we have been in touch with our daughter who will deliver our 8th grandchild any day! (We are all praying the baby waits to arrive until we return from Sicily on Wednesday!)
Another crucial item we brought is our odometer. Since the company's daily directions depend on kilometers traveled our odometer is necessary! To pair with the odometer is our handheld GPS with it's European road maps. When our provided directions don't match the roads, signs, or landmarks (which has been almost 50% of the time!) we pull out the GPS and make necessary adjustments. Honestly, without this devise we would have been totally lost in Sicily at least three times!!
Finally, an item we hope never to use but so glad we have it along is our pepper spray. Today we came as close as we ever had to using it. There are many dogs in Sicily, mostly for protection of property and for herding sheep in the country. Our information packet from the biking company suggested we always get off our bikes and walk past any dogs. In Sicily they are not accustomed to bikers, as they are on the main land of Italy, and a tandem is especially foreign to them. We have faithfully followed this policy and found the dogs to be very friendly and mostly just curious. But that is not the case with one particular dog today. We were traveling in the country and had just come down a gentle slope of the road when this vicious dog came racing down the lane. We immediately jumped off the bike and Hunter yelled at him to "go home", which is his customary response to a barking dog and it has always worked in the past but not this time. The dog bared his teeth, barked, growled and continued his approach. Our adrenaline was running high. Hunter had me behind him and the tandem between us and the dog. He had also disengaged the pepper spray from its holder and held it ready. (The problem with our little pepper spray is that the dog has to be VERY close before it reaches him and you have to be very accurate.) We began backing down the hill, past this dog's property, continually yelling at the dog. He followed us for quite a distance before he retreated home. We then quickly mounted the bike and peddled away, only to stop about a mile down the road to sit and rest after quite a scare. (I was bit once years ago by a dog while we were biking and I don't relish a repeat "performance"!) We are glad we had the pepper spray but Hunter would rather have had a gun! 
It was a very hilly ride today and that combined with the dog insident results in two extremely tired bikers who will go to bed early IF we can have our evening meal BEFORE the middle of the night!

Day 12 in Sicily

This was a tough day! Although the mileage was only around 30+ miles the elevation grade was almost equal to the climb on Wednesday! Today we also experienced some rough roads, as shown in the photos below!

Our B & B tonight is located basically on top of a mountain- no kidding! 

While riding this morning, before I had to simply concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other or pushing down slowly on one pedal after the other out of shere exhaustion, God showed me His glory in the surrounding countryside.
In the umbrella tree I saw Him as a God of protection, covering us with His "umbrella" of love. 

In the olive tree I saw His eternal nature. Did you know that in southern Italy there still exist olive trees that date back to the time of Christ? Basically an olive tree never dies except if destroyed by a disease or man but keeps on producing indefinitely? 

In the vineyard this time of year I saw God's mercy in the pruning process in our lives. The vineyards look dead now but really they are waiting for the "vine dresser" to cut off all the old growth so in the spring the new growth will produce fresh grapes. Isn't that just what God does in our lives? When we get "ugly looking" on the inside He prunes us so we will once again produce fruit for His kingdom.

And in the beauty of the valleys I saw God's creative nature displayed in all it's glory.

So even though I'm tired from a hard bike ride I feel so blessed to have "seen" God all day long!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Day 11 in Sicily

Can you identify this plant? It is all over Sicily. Yes, you "kings"of the garden, it is an aloevira plant. They are used for decoration and grow wild along the roadway. Other "crops" we have seen are olive groves by the acres, vineyards,(not as abundant as on the mainland), prickly pear cactus plants planted in rows, fields of egg plant, yellow melons, and a vegetable which is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. We have also seen little white potatoes, small, firm and incredibly sweet pears, plums, and large green grapes. The grapes take some adjustment since they are NOT seedless, in other words, they have not been "hybriidtized". Can we say natural food in Sicily? Maybe the states needs to learn a lesson or two from Sicily. Did you know GMO wheat and soy beans are not allowed in Sicily? No wonder my stomach problems are much less here!

Today was another sunshine filled day and a beautiful bike ride through the countryside and by the coast. We did had an opportunity to visit an old archeology spot with the remains of an impressive Greek temple. Not certain about the historical details because we didn't take the pricey narrated tour but did walk around the massive and impressive structure.
Our evening is at another beautiful agriturismo, with a quaint room and delicious food. There is only one chage we would make in these lovely establishments-an earlier evening meal! After bike riding all day we are ready for bed at 7:00 p.m. but dinner is not served until 8:00p.m.! Thank goodness for internet, otherwise we'd be asleep and miss the wonderful evening "fare"!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 10 in Sicily

"A walk in the park, a breeze, a piece of cake, a snap of your fingers" or whatever cliche you might use to describe something that is easy is how I'd classify today's ride of approximately 55 miles along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The directions were "spot on" and the morning hills so much lower than our climb yesterday that to describe them as hills is a misnomer.
 I was reminded today of the Biblical principle that trials are allowed by God to strengthen you and Paul encourages Christians to persevere, run the race, finish the "fight" to win the prize-eternal life. In  2 
Corinthians Paul writes that Jesus says, "My strength is made perfect through your weakness". I share all this to remind myself that yesterday's "trials"-persevering when the bike climb was tough-served to encourage me and give me confidence in my physical ability similar to what God does for us as we trust in His leading no matter what life experiences we travel through.
I took many photos today ranging from the Sicilian countryside and the salt flats, to the shimmering, diamond studded waters of the Med. Truly God's handwork displayed for our pleasure! 
Tonight we are staying in the town of Mazara del Vall, which is reported to be the biggest fishing port in all so Sicily. Can you guess what will be on my dinner plate this evening?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 9 in Sicily

As I flop on the bed Hunter leans over and says, " Remember, what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"! I'm not dead, although my tired body may differ with that evaluation, so I guess I'm stronger. Today's ride was a challenge, both physically and mentally for me. It all began a half hour into the ride, which was to be a loop starting from the agriturismo in the morning and returning there in the early afternoon via the town of Erice, which is a medieval town sitting on top of a mountain. Our plans were to ride to Erice, put our bike on the cable car, and enjoy the ascent. Then we would ride down the mountain after walking the streets and exploring the town. At the bottom of the mountain we would follow our directions back "home" and rest before dinner. 
A mere 2 kilometers into the ride our directions failed us. We back tracked and started over thinking we had simply missed something. No. The directions were wrong. Our choice-give up and return to home base or forge on pulling out our hand held GPS and "breaking" our own trail, which is exactly what we did, but unfortunately we ended up on some pretty busy highways! If you have ridden with me before you know I get a bit flustered when I can't follow the intended directions, but we did locate the cable car in Erice so we were back on track. "What? The cable car is not running today due to high winds? You have got to be kidding!" These were my words to the attendant by the cable car station.
After all the work to get here we weren't even going to see the medieval town? "Just ride up on your bike", he said. "It is only 10 kilometers." Somehow 10k or around 8 miles doesn't sound bad on flat ground but up a mountain on switch-back roads? Hunter was in favor of trying it so why not. We can always turn around, right? The first couple of kilometers were tolerable but I knew I was wearing thin when I thought we had to at least be at kilometer 7 or 8 and I read a sign post that said we were at kilometer 4! We rode for 2 1/2 hours in "granny gear." Sometimes we even had to get off and walk because the grade was SO steep! When finally we reached the summit we had several Italian men cheer us on. I guess they knew I needed a little "reward"-ha! After all that effort we spent only about 1/2 hour or less taking a few photos and stopping to buy a regional pastry and then started down, since the wind had picked up and we didn't want to be out at dark. I had a tense time on the ride down since I am a bit afraid of heights. The wind was so strong that as we rounded the bends it swayed our bike and at times we felt as though we could barely move forward! I was gripping the handle bars with white knuckles! 
Another problem was the return directions-wrong again! Our faithful GPS came in handy once more. It was worth it's "weight in gold" today! Thankfully we were back before dark and in enough time to shower, rest, and relax before dinner. Now my only concern is the direction sheet for tomorrow's ride.
 Will it prove equally undependable? Time will tell...
As I think over the day and our adventure on the "big rock" which holds up the town of Erice, I am reminded that Jesus is our "rock". He is solid, always dependable and No winds of evil can sway Him.
I am so glad He is my "rock of ages" and I can always depend on Him!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Day 8 in Sicily

Pleasant surprise-today's bike ride to Fontanasalsa not as difficult as expected. The morning presented a few rolling hills and one steep climb but by the afternoon we rode on a long ridge and enjoyed the beautiful valleys. We took time to have a leisurely lunch in a little hamlet where Hunter ate the "mother"of all cannolis!

I know there are those of you who wonder why would 60+ year olds with bad knees and other structural problems spend their vacation sitting five or more hours on a bike saddle sweating their way across a less than modern country? Two reasons pop to mind. The first reason is evident in the photo above-FOOD! When you expend the calories we do each day you can eat whatever you want and how much you want.
 The second reason is ADVENTURE! You never know what is around the next bend in the road. When we travel on these self-guided rides we are given a set of directions for each day with the night's lodging as the final destination. I compare it to a big "treasure" hunt each day, the "treasure" being where we are going to sleep each night. I have always loved treasure hunts, and often devised them for our children while they were growing up. In fact our daughter and her husband have started a yearly Christmas treasure hunt for our grandchildren. Like any true treasure hunt the clues, or in our case the directions, can be confusing, challenging, even a mystery which require determination and patient persistence to understand and follow. But unlike a normal treasure hunt we do not have the option of quitting because our luggage awaits our arrival at the "end" of the day-at the "treasure box"!
Well, our treasure tonight is Fontanasalsa Farm, an agriturismo. For the non-Italian in the group an agriturismo is a farm in the country which opens it's doors to guests for food and lodging and most of what they serve is grown on their farm.
Just returned from the 2 hour evening meal, waddling into our room and flopping on the bed, absolutely "stuffed to the gills" with the best Sicilian food to date!! Definitely looking forward to a repeat performance tomorrow night, since we are here for two days! Great place for a "layover"!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Day 7 in Sicily

Day two of biking began at our hotel in the fisherman village of Castellammare del Golfo. Although it was a short 25 mile day it was tough, with a roller coaster of ups and downs over one hill after another.  Love the descents but you pay on the ascent! The ride began with a steep climb out of the town and continued along the coast with stunning views. Our final destination was Zingaro natural park. It is a picturesque park which required more exercise since we had to hike "down" to the pebble beach where I could wade in the cool waters of the sparkling Mediterranean. Our backpacks carried our noontime meal of Italian bread, cheese, fruit, and of course our melted chocolate. Time passed quickly as we enjoyed watching the Italians and others swim and snorkel. All too soon we had to climb out of the park and onto our bikes. On our return ride we were directed through the hamlet of Scopella, where we filled our water bottles from the town's water trough in the town square, hoping the water was drinkable! 
The evening is upon us and with no afternoon nap it is early to bed, especially after reading our itinerary for tomorrow's ride-a long, hilly day! Until tomorrow.....

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day 6 in Sicily

The ride begins! As we pedal through Mondella in the early morning we witness sites of a Sicilian city just beginning it's day: fruit stands opening boxes and revealing their wares, old men with wine "bellies"  arguing politics at the local bar serving the daily hot espresso, cars slinging yesterday's garbage bags onto overflowing garbage bins, fishing boats " setting sail" hoping to return with today's catch for the local restaurants. 
From the city we head south following our detailed instructions and enjoy the scenery of the Mediterranean while riding along the coast. The day is sunny and warm, averaging upper 80's. Thankfully we are well supplied with water and food because most of the day is spent away from towns, out in the countryside. We travel up and down hills and over some rough terrain but find joy in it all. Communing with God and his creation on a bike is a real delight! My camera snaps photos of sheep being herded right next to us as we ride, an old castle perched high on a hill, and a fishing village at dusk, which is our final destination. After 50 miles we are tired, take a nap, then head into town to feast on the local "catch of the day".

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Day 5 in Sicily

A test run was necessary to work out "bugs" in the bike and to attempt an understanding of the directions provided by Iron Donkey, (the biking company directing us through western Sicily). This morning we rode a short distance and all systems are a go for tomorrow's "maiden voyage". We had lunch by the harbor in Mondello and Hunter fed the hungry pigeons, (missing the grandchildren who would love this activity!).
On our return trip to the hotel we stopped at a local fruit stand and learned about prickly pears, the edible fruit on the cactus, now being the ripe season. We learned they are called the "mother of Sicily". Full of seeds yet incredibly sweet we bought a few to eat this evening. Before cutting into one it must be soaked one hour to soften the thorns. Not my favorite because of the multitude of seeds-definitely not a fruit Americans would buy, but another interesting experience!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Day 4 in Sicily

From coast to coast, across an island by car in a day can be challenging at best, frustrating at least-in general for us a day " for the books"! After a continental breakfast, a brief walk up to a church, and a stop to purchase "world renown" chocolates we programmed our beloved GPS system with the Palermo airport car rental, to drop off the car before we start our biker trip.  Driving out of the Modica valley of hillside houses was majestic. Actually I was a bit sad to leave wishing we had more time to explore and especially eat once again at The Osteria, where the night before we bathed our tongues in Sicilan delights! But on to new adventures I thought, little realizing how the day would truly test us!
A day which was to take 5 hours was to stretch into 9 long hours! 
The morning and early afternoon went fairly well, GPS leading us a bit astray twice-once on a narrow road high up in the hills that had guard rails but half the road was missing, thankfully not our half! The second GPS "blunder" led our car onto a road which simply got narrower and narrower until we had to turn around and find a new route or go over the edge-not a hard choice! But these problems paled in comparison to what happened as we got close to the airport. In fact we were actually only about 45 minutes from the car rental, just entering the outskirts of Palermo when it started to rain-not just a light rain but a downpour accompanied by hail, so much we had to get off the road and try and wait it out, which we did. Our GPS seemed a bit confused again so we ventured on our own looking for the autostrada. After driving a short distance we became entangled in a traffic jam compounded by an accident which grounded us to a halt for 1 1/2 hours! Hunter, a bit ADHD, can't tolerate just sitting so when opportunity became available he drove over the median, much to my shock, and we joined oncoming traffic! ( I suddenly had visions of jail time in Sicily!) Now we were going in the opposite direction from our destination! GPS loudly protested but finally "recalculated" and we were in the heart of Palermo driving down little side roads, having to back out of alleys, and drive through rain soaked streets,where the water almost reached the doors! (Later we learned from a local that there are no storm drains in Palermo so when it rains hard the streets literally become rivers!) It took about four hours to get through Palermo to reach the airport rental where we met our contact from the biking company who took us to our hotel. So after such a day what are we doing now? Guess!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Day 3 in Sicily

God's power is so event when you consider the forces of a volcano! Today Hunter and I toured the old lava fields and volcanic caves of Mt.Etna, a volcano whose last eruption was in April of this year. It was a fascinating "lesson" and good exercise as we hiked over old lava flows. The jeep ride up to the volcano was in itself an adventure!
In the afternoon we drove south through the hills of southern Sicily on miles and miles of " hairpin" turn roads. The countryside was beautiful, mostly farming and rural agriculteral villages. By 6 p.m. we had arrived at our destination-Modica, a fascinating old town with magnificent churches, mouth watering Sicilian cuisine, and world renown chocolate! Our bed & breakfast is in an 18th century stone building!
Our room is amazing-should be an interesting visit!  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Day 2 in Sicily

On the road in our car rental after a wonderful European breakfast of croissants, ham, cheese, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, and of course the espressos to wake up my husband! We drive along the northern coast of Sicily with rugged, lively green hills on our right and the sparkling "med" on our left. I would have to describe this part of the island as a myriad of tunnels connected by glimpses of the sea. It took approximately four hours to reach our final destination of Taormina, a quaint coastal town nestled into the rugged eastern hillside of Sicily. Once again we are thankful for our GPS because our hotel is on the TOP of the "mountain" and located only after a harrowing drive through twisting, narrow roads. (Thankfully, I am blessed with a husband who "cut his teeth" driving in New York and in Italy in 1968!)
The evening was spent walking down MANY stairs to the towns center, wandering the streets of this beautiful little town, and eating a delicious meal at a local pizzeria, where we met a delightful couple from the Netherlands, sharing traveling adventures. Now how do we find our way back to our hotel in the dark??

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sicily in October 2013

Day 1

Arrived in Palermo via AiItalia airlines, thankfully both bike bags came off the baggage claim belt on time and in good shape! Successfully navigated the outskirts of Palermo onto our final destination of Mondello, with the help of our hand-held navigation system. What would we do without that tool?!
Hotel Palace Mondello is far from a  "palace" but remember this is Sicily. It's old but clean with wonderfully friendly and helpful staff! Our evening meal was served in a small sidewalk cafe overlooking the Mediterranean Sea "kissing" the rugged coastline of the island. Hunter and I shared a seafood pasta dish with shrimp, mussels, and clams accompanied by crusty fresh Italian bread and grilled egg plant. A lovely white wine completed the dinner. Currently, while I am composing this blog, Hunter is assembling our tandem in our bedroom. Wish I could video this process, think you would be amazed at his skills, but then again he is doing this in his underwear so maybe a video would not be a good idea! Can we say a warm evening in Sicily?