Noto to Syracusa - Springtime Spin in Sicily 2018 - CycleBlaze

May 29, 2018

Noto to Syracusa

Our room at this B&B in Noto was spacious with high ceilings and a balcony overlooking the street... balconies being an opportunity to hang laundry to dry overnight. The bed was another with an ultra firm foam mattress, the standard issue for bed and breakfast accommodation here in Sicily. The building that housed our B&B was likely built in the 1700’s and while the bathroom fixtures were clean and modern, plumbing these buildings is always a challenge. The odour coming from the bathroom drains was almost too much to handle so we made sure the plugs were in the drains and we kept the bathroom door closed and the windows wide open for a good night’s sleep. With the dry heat here, it’s likely the p-traps were dried up and no longer doing their job.

View from our balcony in Noto.
Heart 1 Comment 0

 Our host had already brought in the packages of fresh croissants, buns and cake from the pasticceria by the time we rose from our slumber for breakfast. Each tray of goodies was beautifully wrapped in bakery paper and looking like it had been gift wrapped just for us. It’s the little touches like this that brighten up your day, no matter who you are or where you’re from. 

Noto was rebuilt on a linear grid system in the 1700’s.
Heart 1 Comment 0

 After filling up at breakfast, we asked for a 2L bottle of water to fill our 4 bottles. This is always graciously provided for us at no additional cost. Just before hitting the road we pop the Nuun tablets in the bottles, screw on the caps and put the nozzle in the lock position. Until this tour, we never paid much attention to the locks on the nozzles but we came to appreciate them when we were in Trapani. You see, as the tablets dissolve they fizz quite vigorously and it creates a fair bit of pressure inside the bottle. We usually give the bottles a few light squeezes to release the pressure. However as we were leaving the B&B in Trapani, panniers in hand and bottles tucked under one arm, David unexpectedly squirted our B&B host as she was holding the door open for him and she got a good soaking in goofy grape electrolyte drink! Much laughter ensued and ever since then we use the locks!

The ride today would take us to the island of Ortigia, which is the old city of Syracusa that’s separated from the new city of Syracusa by a smallish canal. It’s always a guess as to how cycle friendly our chosen roads will be so we make our best guess and then head out to find our route. But it’s never simple, even with all the mapping tools at our disposal. To give you an idea of the navigation skills required in this sport, within 14km of our B&B we rode on the SS115, SP19, SP35, SP34, Contrada Calabernardo, Via Guiseppe Cesare Abba, Via Nizza, Via Siracusa and back onto the SS115. It helped that there were quite a few cyclists out on our route to confirm we were probably on the right road. Other cyclists are a rare sighting here so it was particularly good to know we were on a route they thought to be good. And, thank goodness we travel slowly on two wheels because it would require one heck of a navigator to make all the right moves.

 Our route paralleled the coast, just inland from the shore. We passed through small towns, wild overgrown areas and some farm land where we saw vegetables being grown. Occasionally we would see a beautifully cared for hedge or garden, indicating some wealthy property owners. This bouganvillia hedge was a feast of colour and a treat for the eyes. The road itself was another wonder to behold and it constantly tested our agility...how on earth did the roads get such bad shape?  

Thank goodness for flowers like this bouganvillea hedge
Heart 1 Comment 0
A home with a beautiful garden.
Heart 2 Comment 0

As we passed through Avola, we started searching for a place for a mid-morning coffee break. I spied a bike symbol on the awning of a small bar so we did an about face and cruised in for a break. An episode of musical chairs without the music unfolded over the next 15 minutes. It started when the sole occupant of the outside terrace, and old fellow who looked like a local fixture at this bar, kindly vacated his table for us. Shortly afterwards, two more patrons arrived and the bar owner gestured with his head for Luigi to scoot along to another table. Not long after that another group arrived and wanted to play a board game so Luigi was on the move again, only this time he was relegated to a chair without a table. Luigi continued puffing happily on his cigarette all the while. Next to the bar was the Kolosseum Gym, complete with pictures of Arnold Shwartzenegger and Lou Ferigno. That’s the owner, Corrado Carbe' on the blue poster.

Coffee bar with gym next door.
Heart 1 Comment 1
Jacquie GaudetI can't help but wonder why the sign would be in English!
Jacquie (who is also planning a future Sicily tour based on the Andersons')
Reply to this comment
3 years ago

The skies today were overcast and we had that gentle cross/tailwind nudging us along all day. At this beachside town we finally saw someone swimming. I’ve dipped my toes a couple of times and compared to Vancouver Island, the water temperature here is downright warm. I don’t think the locals would agree as we haven’t seen any swimmers until today. 

These were the first brave swimmers of the trip.
Heart 1 Comment 0

The SP104 passed through some populated areas but outside of these, improptu garbage dumps were too common. As we lingered to take pictures of this dump, a small car with a middle aged couple drove up and came to a stop, only to move on moments later. Something told me they were about to add to the pile but had second thoughts. Or maybe that was wishful thinking on my part.

The Problem, again.
Heart 1 Comment 0
This scene almost reminded us of the northern California coast.
Heart 1 Comment 0

We haven’t seen many cattle in Sicily so far. Seeing this herd grazing in the front yard of these ruins right next to the roadway seemed just a bit unusual. It looked as though they might retire to their own rooms in the villa at night!

Laid back cows in the middle of some rubble doing what cows do.
Heart 1 Comment 0

I’ve quickly grown to love eggplant parmigiana and being an urban gardener, I was excited to come across these eggplants growing in tented greenhouses. Across the street the cherry tomato plants, absolutely dripping in gorgeous little red orbs, reached enormous heights inside similar tents. The tents covered a huge area. In this area, they were also growing veggies and melons in small plots. The plants were young however so I couldn’t identify what they would become.

Melanzone (eggplant) in a tented greenhouse.
Heart 1 Comment 0

We knew we were nearing Siracusa when our route took us through a parking lot for tour buses. We wove our way past a horde of milling tourists and along the way found this abandoned cycle-sharing program that at one time even offered e-bikes, an expensive proposition for any city. It’s tempting to believe the bikes are so popular they are all in use but alas, it isn’t the case at all. I’ve since read that the city spent € 2.5 million and all they have to show for it are dozens of abandoned columns. Oh, Sicily....sigh. I wonder what Archimedes, Siracusa’s most famous inhabitant who lived to a ripe old 78 years, would think of e-bikes. Maybe it would be...darn, why didn’t I think of that!

The bike share program, completely devoid of bicycles.
Heart 1 Comment 0

We arrived at the bridge to Ortigia early enough in the day that we had time to enjoy a cruise around the perimeter city walls and lunch at a small sandwich shop. This was no Timmy’s or Subway sandwich shop, no siree. These guys served the freshest seafood, pasta, and paninis under the umbrellas on their outside patio tables. The only thing separating us from the traffic was a box of geraniums but by now, we were comfortable with Sicilian driving habits. Half the patrons at the cafè were labourers taking a mid day break and the other half were people like us who had stumbled across it on our tour of the walled city. We noshed on our paninis and fanta, then carried on to locate our B&B.

The calm serene view of the ancient city below belies its 2700 year history beset with periods of power and periods of siege. In July 1943, it was the launch site of Operation Husky, the WW II allied invasion of Sicily.  Today its population is about 125,000 which is half what it was in 415BC. 

Our steeds on the waterfront at Isola d'Ortigia.
Heart 3 Comment 0

The total distance around the island was only about 1.5km. We would return to Ortigia later this evening to explore its alleyways and piazza’s. For now, our assignment was to find our B&B somewhere along the shoreline facing us. We carried along the water’s edge as far as we could and then began honing in on the B&B.

Our B&B is somewhere over there.
Heart 1 Comment 0

So this next picture is what 'honing in' looks like. The GPS is pretty good, but still only locates you within 25-30 metres. In this case, there was also heavy city traffic buzzing all around us. Part of the reason we couldn’t identify the B&B is that it was in a building that looked as though it had been hit by a bomb and patched together again, not the sort of place you would actually stay overnight.  Of course, street names on buildings are hit and miss as well. Finally, we've found that signs for most B&B’s are non-existent so you only discover it’s your B&B when you walk up to the door and look at the name next to the buzzer. Those are my excuses and I’m sticking to them!

This is how we find our B&B’s.
Heart 3 Comment 0

We finally located the buzzer for the B&B and got buzzed in. Once inside, we found a large spacious entryway with a huge stone stairwell off to our left. Our host came down to meet us and explained that we should bring our bikes up to our room on the 2nd floor. She was the most beautiful refined young woman and had to be the most gracious and kind host we had met on the trip...and we’ve met some incredible hosts. Immediately, any second thoughts about our booking melted away.

Building that housed our B&B. First impressions not great!
Heart 1 Comment 0

Our room faced the harbour with its small fishing boats and further on from that was Ortigia. This would end up being one of our favourite B&B’s on the trip. Ersilia told us she could store our bikes securely in one of the other rooms for now but we’d have to take them into our room if it was booked in the next little while. Well, it didn’t take long and our bikes were tucked in our room beside our bed. We got cleaned up and took in the view from our balcony of the activities on the waterfront. Fishermen were cleaning nets and generally hanging out on the wharf.

Our plan was to locate the train station and find the schedule for the train to Taormina from the horse’s mouth and then wander in to Ortigia for drinks and dinner. We’ve learned to be cautious about schedules as it may be just a suggestion. So, off we went in search of the Stazione Centrale. We located it easily and the clerk sold us two tickets to Taormina for any train the following day, and the bikes travel free (music to my ears). 

Waterfront activity.
Heart 4 Comment 0
Syracusa on the left; Isola d’Ortigia on the right.
Heart 2 Comment 0
Main entrance into Isola d’Ortigia.
Heart 1 Comment 0

We wandered in to Ortigia and found a bar near the Temple of Apollo, or what at least what was excavated of it in 1938. It’s the oldest Doric temple in Sicily (2nd oldest in the world) and was built in 575 BC. Over the years it has been a Byzantine church, an Islamic mosque, a Norman church and a Spanish barracks. When the Antiquities and Fine Arts Commission came knocking in 1938, it was an apartment occupied by a notary. Today, we can see two of the Doric columns and a large portion of one wall on the site. We admired the site as we sat at a bar for our evening beer, waving off the clouds of smoke coming from the table next to us.

Remains of the Temple of Apollo, 6th C.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Window in a wall at the Temple of Apollo.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Ortigia came alive in the evening and the restaurants started to buzz with activity beginning at 8pm. We had chosen O’Scinà for dinner and boy, did we pick a winner. It was a family owned and operated restaurant and served typical Sicilian dishes, which is to say everything was beautifully presented and delicious.

Night street scene where we ate dinner.
Heart 2 Comment 0

When we arrived back at the B&B and stepped out on our balcony, we were greeted by this scene: a full moon reflecting over the water. It was another 'pinch me' moment, one of many on the spectacular tour of Sicily.

A full moon over Syracusa, from our B&B balcony.
Heart 2 Comment 0

Today's ride: 50 km (31 miles)
Total: 679 km (422 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 6
Comment on this entry Comment 3
Keith KleinHi Anne,
I have been following your journal with great interest but have refrained from commenting until now. Your pictures of Siracusa are what got me, though. My wife Sue and I rented an apartment on Ortigia some (too many) years ago and it is one of our favorite places in the world. In fact Sicily in general is very high on the list of favorite places and I am really enjoying seeing it through your eyes. Yes, you have to put up with the garbage, bad plumbing, faulty electricity, etc. but the people make it so special. Thanks for sharing.
Cheers,
Keith
Reply to this comment
3 years ago
Anne MathersTo Keith KleinHi Keith, Glad to know you are reading along and enjoying re living some of your fond memories. I agree completely that the people we met along the way made it very special. I have many more stories to write about so stay tuned. I have to say it takes a lot longer to write this up after the fact than it did to ride it!
Reply to this comment
3 years ago
Sharon PledgerHi again Anne. Like Keith's comment above, my hubby and I are so enjoying Sicily through your bike trip blog and also Scott and Rachael Anderson's current one. Pictures are beautiful. We have now added Sicily to our cycling Bucket List. Thanks for all the work you do to put this blog up, even after the trip is done. It is appreciated!
Reply to this comment
2 years ago