Sicily is currently one of the directions to which you can get from the Okęcie airport is cheaper than to the Central Station in Warsaw - despite the distance 283 times longer. Really, we paid 135 PLN for a return ticket, and this only because we were aiming for a convenient date, covering a long weekend. Of course, the cost of transporting a bicycle should be added to this, but I always try to remain silent about it. Add to this the fact that we pay up to PLN 50 per head for the accommodation, the idea to spend the whole week like this seemed pretty good.
We sleep in a shared apartment with a beautiful name Sweet Dream. I highly recommend the facility, because you can feel like a purebred Catania resident - 3rd floor of a tenement house where you can hear conversations 2 floors below, 500 meters from the station, 4 different lock doors to pass, the whole neighborhood is covered with hoods.
So if you ask if it's worth it (and I know you are here for this), my answer is: of course it's worth it. Sicily is a great place to die and I invite you to take a look at the best ways: how to lose your life there:
** COVID UPDATE: when we go to Italy, there is currently a record number of infections there: queues for pharmacies, tests and vaccinations stretch to the horizon, where they turn back and then again to the horizon. Italians require a test performed max 24h before landing, and the test says that 48 hours apply - this creates a lot of ambiguity at the airport. We look fascinated as more people are sent away from check-in with a receipt and how further fights grow, to which the airport security is forced to join. It would have made us more amused had it not been for the fact that 2 days later we were immediately asked to leave the train going to Syracuse for carrying unlawful masks.
The most obvious and, at the same time, the most difficult way is to use the Mount Etna volcano. Well, when you live at the foot of one of the most active volcanoes in the world, such a solution just comes to your mind. The only problem is that the 3,357 m high volcano does not erupt too often, and when it does, the lava flows slowly enough that you will be able to escape even on a fatbike.
There is, of course, a better way to use Mount Etna. All you have to do is ride your bike to the upper parking lot. There are many climbs, and the best ones, of course, start at sea level and end somewhere over 1900m above sea level. In these most famous versions, the final 17km can reach an average of 7.5%. And as you are already brave cyclists who have bravely climbed high, you may realize, as usual, that this is really only the parking lot from which the real adventures begin. Driving on roads that looked good on Street View sounds like a challenge. At least until the volcanic ash turns out to be more demanding than the most dusty sand. Without a big tire - forget it. Well, but you know - it's worth trying, and it is easy to die then.
If you are still alive, I recommend you go there like we did - in January. Even if the weather seems good, I recommend waiting a few to several hours upstairs. It should be enough for the snow cover to cover us to the helmet itself.
Here I must mention: the fact that you see the cyclist in the photos "briefly" absolutely does not define the weather. This means at most that the temperature was above 5 ℃.
If you think the volcano's craters are large, then you haven't traveled the Sicilian roads. Sure, you can find very good, smooth and empty asphalts. It takes a bit of luck, but it is possible. I would describe the vast majority of roads as "gravel", even asphalt ones. If komoot tells you that your planned route is paved in the 99%, it means that there was once asphalt or concrete under the mud or stones you are currently standing on. You can even see some of his remains. Unexpectedly pop-up asphalt craters are so large that you can enter and live in them. If there is a path to the center of the earth somewhere, it is somewhere here.
So: it is possible on the road, but it does not make sense. Feel free with MTB or 35mm + tire. Steering wheel catapulting is probably a popular way to eliminate riders here. Plus, even if you're on a smooth road and you're careful about all the potholes, the engineering here can still surprise you:
Southern Italy is not Europe - it is Africa. He confirmed to me it used to be Naples. Honestly, it's a bit better here, but still very bad. Garbage is everywhere and does not seem to bother anyone. The pavements sometimes have more rubbish than proper asphalt - it hurts especially considering the surrounding landscapes. Many times we see people throwing rubbish straight from the car - just diapers. The farther from human centers, the better, of course.
Following this path, we will all die in shit.
The dogs here are a bit different than all the dogs I have met before. They are big, hairy, bark, chase, guard and mostly don't seem friendly. The vast majority of their goal is only to move us away from the place they are guarding, but there are also less friendly copies. A nice Italian who caught up with us on a dirt road in his jeep to check if we survived the meeting with his seven dogs chasing us, explained to us that the best way is to stop and stay calm. To us, it sounded a bit like coming to terms with a diagnosis that you had cancer. We never risked this strategy, although it probably works. We could probably have a grudge against the type, were it not for the fact that most of the time we drive on roads marked with a traffic ban, with the sign "residents and farmers only". We adhere to the old rule "if you do not understand the inscription, it does not apply to you".
Communication with Italy is generally very simple, the conversation goes like this:
- a nice Italian pronounces 1,300 Italian words at a rate of 15 per second to convey a concise message like: better stop than run
- I answer that "mi skuzi, no italiano"
- the same Italian says exactly the same, but much slower for me to understand.
We were once at the cross-country world championship - I thought Dutch mud was a tough opponent. I change my mind: no mud in the world can compare to the mud found in the Sicilian fields. The local mud can completely seal both a bike and a shoe in just a few meters. Regardless of the ground clearance, the wheels stop turning suddenly and unexpectedly. To our surprise, it happens even on roads where this mud is not visible. Once glued, mud can stick to the hub for hundreds of kilometers. Its only advantage is that it slowly "melts" in the shower, which makes it easy to wash it off, and the drains remain unobstructed. Anyway, if you don't find a stick that is strong enough to rummage through the cracks, there's a good chance you'll never get out of such a surprise.
I know that listening to food advice from guests who practically do not eat food on the 8-hour route, and buy a kilogram of sausages for a regenerative dinner, is not very sensible, but still. In Sicily, two beautiful things come together: firstly, there are often (very) no stores, and secondly, they are closed. It is this beautiful country where eating between noon and evening is considered to be a kind of insult, so food points close just when we want to eat. As people who go to bed around 8pm, we don't even manage to eat pizza during the whole week.
It is also worth adding that grocery shopping in places other than Lidl is not cheap. On the first day, for 8 slices of bread in the shop I pay over 4 euros, and a bad kebab under the central one costs 6 euros (I do not recommend it). I would put a photo of seafood here as a proof that food enthusiasts have a reason to come here, but you understand ... I feel stupid to go into pubs and take pictures of other people's plates.
Catania is a very nice city. Among the main places to visit are: the departure airport; a station from which you can leave; exit roads that you can use to escape from Catania (not very quickly). The drivers are a tragedy, and the more we are in the city, the worse it gets. It's not like they are driving very badly or very fast. Here you just drive without any respect for people. Because, for example, you are crossing the lanes, you are already in the second half of them and you have been seeing this car approaching you for a long time, which should either stop in front of you, or at least slow down. Such a wow, walking with dignity on the belts here does not exist - you will either run or die. It is the same with the exit from the roundabout, etc. Sidewalks and lanes may exist, but in practice they are parking spaces.
Maybe it's winter form, maybe cold temperatures, maybe constant distraction between dogs, holes and drivers, but it's tough. The climbs are long, steep and endless. Generally, I can definitely describe Sicily with the word "hard".
… But it's worth it
Because if you manage to survive somehow and you are able to accept these minor inconveniences that they can kill, Sicily is great and I regret that we managed to drive such a small part of it. Mainly because the diversity of the terrain here is really big. There are every kind of hills, every kind of surface, every kind of road, and everything is “sufficiently” well connected by train, so it's impossible not to drive around.
Do you like sheep, cows and goats:
You like old towns, both those that look like after a zombie apocalypse, and those that are absolutely obvious, which for us are no different from Dubrovnik, Pula, etc., and for people who appreciate such things, they are worth visiting. Although the more so I recommend Malta.
And above all: all those nice roads, hills, canyons, lakes, the sea and all that with a complete lack of people and far from civilization:
I recommend Sicily very much
and someday I will come back to it in the bikepacking version