Day 56: Villa San Giovanni – Mazzarò

Distance: 50 km

Time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Average speed: 19.35 kph

Cumulative distance: 2908.21 km

Cumulative time: 147 hours 41 minutes

Word of the day: ‘traghetto’ (trag-ett-oh) – ferry

We didn’t get a great night’s sleep in Villa San Giovanni, because of the heat and the incessant barking of dogs. So it was something of a relief when the alarm went off, and we had a quick coffee and set off.

We intended originalły to buy a ticket then have breakfast somewhere near the ferry terminal, but as we arrived at the ticket office the ferry was loading, so we bought our ticket and wheeled the tandem straight on, happy to have breakfast in Messina instead.

The crossing was serene – we wandered up to the upper deck and found a spot where we could keep an eye on the tandem and enjoy the view.

There now follows a brief diversion into Greek mythology. Scilla, where we took lunch yesterday, is the traditional site of the sea monster Scylla. On the other side of the strait lived the sea monster Charybdis. Odysseus had to choose between the rock shoals of Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis. He was advised by Circe to stay closer to Scylla, and managed successfully to navigate the strait, but was distracted by Charybdis, allowing Scylla to pounce, capturing six sailors from the deck and devouring them alive! From this we get the expressions “between Scylla and Charybdis” and “between a rock and a hard place”, both representing the concept of a dilemma.

Spotting an area of rough water, we decided it must be Charybdis. As far as we could tell nobody was grabbed from the deck and devoured! In this picture Villa San Giovanni, on the mainland, is to the right, and the peninsula north of Messina is to the left.

Soon we left the Italian mainland behind and grew ever closer to Messina on the Italian side. It’s a real milestone for us, and the minimum we wanted realistically to achieve on this trip.

We cycled out into the busy streets of Messina, encountering traffic light after traffic light for what seemed like an eternity. Then the Stoker reported strange behaviour from the back tyre, so we stopped to take a look. Sure enough it was gradually deflating. The tyre valve has been threatening to fail for a few days, so it wasn’t a great surprise. We found some shade and changed the inner tube fairly quickly.

Eventually we spotted a café for breakfast – by now we were certainly too late for milky coffee, according to the Italian “rules”, but we ordered latti macchiati anyway, accompanied by several croissants. It was a good thing we restored our energy levels, as shortly afterwards we had a second puncture. This time it was a split in the side wall of the tyre – I don’t think the two incidents were related, surprisingly. So we went through the whole procedure again, but this time we discarded the tyre and replaced it with our spare folding tyre.

It hadn’t been a great start to our time in Sicily, but we were determined to enjoy the rest of our day. We pedalled along the lungomare for much of the time, with the sea to our left for a change, and increasingly hazy views of Calabria across the straits. The beaches were shingle, and quite busy. To our right were steep hills, and above us the E45 autostrada, sweeping in and out of tunnels. On the beach was a statue representing one of the mythical sirens.

All of the hot work changing tyres and tubes had left us thirsty, so we stopped at a café and ordered three litres of water, half of which we drank immediately. The other half we used to refill our bidons. Suitably restored we rejoined the route, and negotiated a set of hairpin bends climbing up to Castello Saraceno which occupies a headland.

There were also good views to the north towards Ali Terme.

An hour or so later we spotted Taormina, sitting in a notch on the hillside. We’re staying not in Taormina itself but in Mazzarò. Fifteen years ago we stayed here in an hotel called Villa Caterina. Today it is the Taormina Garden Hotel. Strangely we’ve been allocated exactly the same room! Mazzarò is the beach part of Taormina, and from here a gondola rises to the town and its famous amphitheatre. With luck and good weather we should catch our first sight of Etna, too.

For nostalgic reasons we’ve awarded ourselves a gratuitous day of leisure here, so there will be no blog post tomorrow. Our planned route from here takes us on through Catania and Syracusa to the southernmost tip of Sicily, where we’ll turn to the west and head for Agrigento. Thereafter we plan to cross the centre of the island to Cefalù, our final destination.

Here’s today’s track.