The Bike ride begins Ragusa our jumping off spot …….

We assemble at six the night before kick off, for a briefing and to receive our bikes. We are told the hotels on our route are tasked with raising the alarm if we don’t turn up by 7 pm. With Google maps and my team having Google locator, we won’t be getting lost. If I leave to go “home” on my own they track me to make sure I make it! Which is a bit spooky, but fine if you actually do get lost.

The very comprehensive bike clues talk of picnics and snakes. We discover that there are two other people who are doing the same tour as us, English and in their 60s. They waste no time in discovering where we all come from. Dawn and Phil say they live in Canada, I say I come from London. Oh we just moved to Crouch End they say, in a tone that suggests they have just moved to the centre of the universe, where do you come from, “Covent Garden” I reply and their faces deflate.    Ask if I’m travelling on my own and I say “no I’m travelling with these two,” which seems to fox them, maybe because my team are a bit younger or maybe from a different continent. Either way I’m not warming to them and have no wish to prolong the conversation.

They then don’t like the bikes because they don’t have an odometer to tell them how far they have travelled and they take themselves off in a huff for dinner. They then present themselves at breakfast the following morning looking like they’ve just escaped from the Tour de France, and complain that there is no porridge!  I Wiki to see where porridge is available and I find it in English speaking countries Germany and Nordic places. So not Sicily then!

I’m pleased to say we don’t see them again until day 3.

The expansive clues for the days ride, give three options the baby bears ride the mother bears ride or the daddy bears ride. 17k, 31k, or 42k.  Ragusa is a divided town astriding two hilltops.   From our hotel it is down a long long way and so steep we get off and walk a little, scoot past the disused railway station and then up what is described as a “short climb”. This was a euphemism for a long steep heart-stopping precipitous climb. My ebike took a lot of the strain and frankly without it I wouldn’t be doing this stuff.

It has 4 options eco, tour, sport and best of all turbo! It had enough juice to last the day and I had 40% left.  This bodes well as the next 4 rides are between 40/49 k.

The rest of the ride was across a wheat plateau, the harvest already in, drying in the sun, before a steep descent into Modica. A total of 31k!

Saturday is a day off and we have a 2 star Michelin restaurant to visit for lunch, back from where we came in Ragusa! A trifle nuts. We were booked in 2 days ago, Dawn was feeling unwell so cancelled. As we were biking out of Ragusa she got an email saying they would be billing her due to the short cancellation notice.  Fortunately we were near the restaurant so she did her stuff popped in and schmoozed them and we go the next day instead. After our rest day we have 3 days cycling on the trot before another day off in Noto.

Dawn and Phil don’t like their bikes. They’ve done other cycling trips before so know the ropes, and don’t feel their bikes are up to snuff. I suspect Dawn would really like a bike like mine, she says not saying she wants the exercise, there are none available anyhow and new normal bikes arrive and everyone is happy.

42k day two gets us to Marina Modica and a country hotel with a pool, my room has a lovely terrace, and Phil finds 3 glasses of fizz to celebrate our arrival. Tomorrow it is a 49k ride. My bum is now beginning to complain and from 8.30 am the hotel says there will be no electricity!  This doesn’t bode well for showering or coffee and breakfast in bed apparently isn’t an option.

My ebike is giving conflicting info lots of juice but little k in travel time, so Sebi our team mechanic brings me a new bike. 9 gears, shock absorbers and only a few weeks old. It goes like a train. Marina Di Modica to Portopalo is nowhere to nowhere with the addition of a few flamingos, pretty countryside oodles of olive trees and all manner of other things found in the countryside.  The miserable pair we met earlier, also staying here have disappeared early, I overhaul them later 3k short of our destination. I say good morning as I overtake them.  He says “ you found the way then”.  Thus confirming my initial impressions.

I find an amazing lunch, discover I’ve stolen the last hotel key, which is posted back, and then retire for a shower and snooze. Three days down two to go. Legs still working, but my rear end is complaining. Noto tomorrow more UNESCO stuff and we have a rest day there.  Hurrah!

Lunch at the Locanda Don Serafino a Relais and Chateau joint all very troglodytic and hewn out of the rock-face.




Sicily: Ortigia to Ragusa

Antico Roma Hotel 1880 bike use included!

The bike ride this morning couldn’t be called an unqualified success.

It started out ok. I set off down the hill from my hotel freewheeling, (tested the bell and discovered I had 6 gears to play with), and then I hit the sea and the bike turned right as if by magic, into a one-way street with oncoming traffic. I managed to negotiate this ok. And then I found myself in a square, the way out was either to negotiate a one way street the wrong way again, which seemed optimistic, or take a back route that went uphill to the Piazza Duomo, which I did.

Despite changing down a few gears the bike wobbled and I fell off! Fortunately very slowly. My pride and left elbow were dented. As it was so early in the morning there were few spectators. I pushed my bike to the top of the “hill” tried to get on, only to discover the chain had fallen off. In days of yore I would have wrestled with it and got oily fingers. In days of yore.

I pushed the wretched thing back to the hotel and gave it back. The whole episode has taken me longer to write about, it than do.

I am not sure how well this bodes for the real bike trip, which starts Friday.

I will not bore you with the rest of the day in real time! My aunt in her 90’s tells me this bike idea is “a bit drastic” and she got to be as old as she is by having the odd walk with the WI and a pub lunch. You heard it here first, the recipe for longevity, is a pub lunch!

Ortigia the island part of Siracusa is a wonderful island of white stone buildings, with shady courtyards hiding restaurants and cocktail bars, streets full of local artisan stuff, ceramics, leather, art, very little chain stuff. Max Mara has infiltrated and has a shop on the roundabout where the Diana Fountain is. I’ve never had my own fountain before.

I found the food market at lunchtime and had a happy time having lunch, and bought some herbs. On the way out I stumbled across a police car. I have never quite understood why our police need BMW’s to drive around in but here, the cops have taken Euro one upmanship to another level, they have a Lamborghini! I kid you not. Blue and white with lights on the roof. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it.

The Piazza Duomo said to be one of the most beautiful squares in Sicily has 2 churches abutting, one with a Caravaggio (done in a hurry, so not great) and the cathedral of St Lucia, which envelops a Greek temple. Lucia translates, as Saint Lucy seems a tad odd, Lucy’s are usually 6 and not saints. The Doric columns are still visible. It is a joy to sit in the Piazza and while away the afternoon, a bonus being a wedding is held in the Cathedral whilst I’m there.

Later that afternoon we are collected and taken to Ragusa, part of Montalbano country, the Italian detective who has a murder a week to solve in an hour. Our bike briefing is later. The hotels on our route are tasked with raising the alarm if we don’t turn up by 7 pm. With Google maps and my team having Google locator. We won’t be getting lost. If I leave to go home on my own they track me to make sure I make it! Which is a bit spooky, but fine if you actually do get lost.

The bike clues talk of picnics and snakes. One picnic seems to be compulsory as we are so off the beaten track that day, will probably be a nice covered cabana, chill out music, wine ….  This is the second time I have been on a moving bicycle in years.



France to Sicily

First came St Tropez then the Classic Grand Prix in Monaco. Old cars, not so old, and I’d positively like to be 19 again.

This was nothing but a drinkathon so I won’t detain you further. Our ever-smiling waiter with one of many magnums kept us topped up all day.

The trip continued from Nice, with a drive to Genoa just to overnight before flying to Palermo. We counted over 120 tunnels on the way! One bit of travel advice comes to mind as I think about Genoa. Never ever book a hotel that doesn’t have a front door you can drive up to. Unless of course you only have a handbag or a small backpack. This is what we tried to do with a car full of luggage in Genoa rush hour.

The arrival instructions that we should have looked at before arrival amounted to; put car in car park. Hotel sends a taxi to take us most of the way, they come and help carry the luggage the rest of the way. After driving around fruitlessly trying to gain access to what we discovered was a pedestrian area with an estate car I was all for chucking it all in the river and just buying a new hotel. But we persevered, eventually arriving at the charming Le Nuvole Hotel “tastefully decorated in a strategic position in the heart of the city”. The website completely omitting to mention that the hotel is set in the middle of a pedestrianised area.

After the fun and games we explored the old medieval part of Genoa with its high ceilings and still just visible in places frescos.  Giving a great suggestion of how splendid this place was back in the day. Same as the rest of Italy I guess, all a bit broken in places.

Another drawback to being in a pedestrian area is that the locals have nowhere to walk their dogs. And they aren’t as fastidious with their plastic bags as they should be. So as you’re trying to look up at the marvellous architecture you have to look down to avoid the inevitable. Unfortunately I was caught out once.

Genoa to Palermo the next day.

Sicily. Well this is a place that is edgy, broken; fly tipping abounds to avoid paying for garbage removal. Locals we spoke to talked about Sicily being forgotten by central government and thus receiving less funding. Certainly it feels poor in many ways. But the richness of the cuisine and the culture make up for the rickety footpaths and an air of slightly brokenness that is found in many places.

Palermo conjures up wonderful “street food”. Pane con la Milza (stewed veal spleen with cheese in a bun) wasn’t a great hit, not unlike gristly liver. Assorted arancini (rice balls stuffed with meat or spinach and cheese) on the other hand are fabulous. Ice cream is everywhere and of course excellent. Breakfast includes lots of assorted cakes, sweet things are in here. An Ice cream sandwiched in a brioche bun for example, is not unusual for breakfast. Bread is good and varied but even croissants get a dusting of sugar just in case you’re not getting a good enough energy hit already.

The typical Sicilian food is excellent lots of vegetables, caponata (similar to ratatouille but sweet and sour with the addition of sugar & vinegar). Pastas, “Norma” after the opera, aubergine and tomato, and “Sade” with sardines raisins and pine nuts, and of course lots of fish. Not surprising they live a long time here.

We have been on a road trip. Seeing the Greek and Roman antiquity stuff. Agrigento with the temples. Piazza Amerino for the amazing mosaics, best in the world says the blurb and they are expansive covering a dozen or two rooms. Taormina followed. On the way to Taormina we took a helicopter to fly over Mt Etna still with some snow in May, the “recent” lava flows still visible dating from the 1920’s to more recent times. We also flew over Taormina to see the Greek Theatre, still used today for concerts. Sting and Pink Floyd were to come later and workmen were busy putting together the stage.

Fortuitously we arrived in time for the Taormina Food festival. 300 or so chefs showcasing the 20 food regions of Italy plus oodles of Sicilian wineries with samples galore. We went, and grazed up and down the Main Street sampling as we went till full. 40 Euros for a wristband, gets you as much food as you want, and the money raised goes to charity. Wine glasses were for sale together with a pouch on a string, to wear conveniently round one’s neck. I now have two as one came with the earlier Marsala tasting, so I’m now fully kitted out for any summer concerts! Have glass’s will travel!

Syracuse followed Taormina then Ragusa when the biking starts. In Syracuse the Antico Hotel Roma 1880 another hotel in a pedestrian area but one that allows visitors to drive to it has some bikes outside. It is also very central and a great jumping off point for visitors to Syracuse and Ortigia on the northwest bit of Sicily. So I thought I’ll take one just to experience a real bike on a road. The one in my living room has been good. But it doesn’t wobble like a real one!

Only in Sicily have I seen so many depictions of the Ark. Here building it.

Ark – now being filled with all the animals of the world that turned up especially for the occasion.

Ark – gently bobbing along looking for dry land. Which does I assure you turn up, and there are other Arks landing and disgorging their cargo.