Day 57: Mazzarò – Catania

Distance: 52.6 km

Time: 2 hours 48 minutes

Average speed: 18.8 kph

Cumulative distance: 2960.81 km

Cumulative time: 150 hours 29 minutes

Word of the day: ‘fame’ (fah-meh) – hunger

We enjoyed revisiting Mazzarò and Taormina, going up in the little gondola to Taormina for a look at the view and some dinner…

… and spending the rest day on the beach at Mazzarò.

The water was beautiful, warm and crystal clear, and we realised that we had now completed the trilogy of Adriatic, Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. At least our toes had – we didn’t swim in the sea at Chioggia.

Last night the famous amphitheatre at Taormina was having an illuminated night opening, so after dinner we wandered along for a look. It was free for some reason, even better! It’s a stunning place, by day you see the blue waters behind, but at night it’s the modern lights of the bay – not something the original builders of the amphitheatre could possibly have imagined.

I’m afraid we were unable to resist spouting the usual “Life of Brian” references. I wonder if Michael Palin does that when he visits an ancient site?

This morning we had breakfast on the little terrace of the hotel, and then set about packing and checking the bike over. The back tyre was flat, argghh. It finally became clear why – the rim tape had shifted, allowing the inner tube to bulge into the spoke hole until it failed. We patched the rim tape temporarily with some insulating tape, fixed the inner tube, and put it all back together.

It was an uphill start out of Mazzarò, and a last look back at Isola Bella and the bay.

Round the next corner, though, Giardini Naxos, and behind it, look! Etna!

It’s very often clouded over at the top. On our last visit a local told us of a spot to drive to in the early morning, before 8am at the latest, when you could get a great view before the clouds gathered, and he’d been right. We’d also seen it last night up in Taormina, a great view just before sunset.

It wasn’t going to be a complicated day of navigation, at least not until we reached Catania itself, the largest city we’d have navigated into for quite some time. It was just a question of following the strada statale all the way. Once we left the sea behind us, there wasn’t much to see. Etna was always there, of course, with its woolly hat of cloud, but other than that it was just a fairly straight road, with occasional villages along the way.

We stopped in one, at a pre-researched bike shop, for a new tyre to replace the one we abandoned on Saturday. They were very efficient, so we now have the emergency folding tyre safely restowed, two new inner tubes and a funky new Michelin tyre on the back with an orange side-wall (ugh). Oh, and some new rim tape, of course.

A quick rehydration at the café opposite, and we were off again. There was a long shallow hill to get over, a short descent, and then another, steeper and more winding hill. After all the climbing, the Stoker reported her fuel gauge reading rather low (!), so we began keeping an eye out for lunch stops.

On we went, for kilometre after kilometre, and no cafés, not a one! Fortunately it was pretty much all downhill, so no emergency, but it was very unusual – we’ve not struggled at all really on this trip to find somewhere to eat along the road.

As we sped down towards Catania, we were overtaken by a solo cyclist! That never happens on a tandem going downhill, but he wasn’t half going some! He was an ancient road warrior, comprised of Lycra and gristle, and baked to a nutty brown by the Sicilian sun. He raised a gnarled hand to us as he flashed past.

At last we found a little bar, and had a quick snack and a huge bottle of water, with just 8km remaining in the day. Hunger assuaged, we were feeling ready to tackle the city navigation, but it was actually fine – a very good cycleway to start with, and then a short section of road, roundabout, road, roundabout, repeat until dizzy.

We found our accommodation and checked in – it has a lovely roof terrace where we’ll eat later if it’s cooled down a bit.

We’ve been out to have a mooch around, it seems like ages since we last did any exploring, it’s been so long since we’ve been anywhere but a little seaside town.

We’ve had a look at the duomo, very impressive:

… accompanied in the square by an elephant made of lava.

Catania has been buried by lava seventeen times in recorded history, apparently. You can see Etna from Piazza Duomo, it must be quite something when it’s erupting, which it does quite often.

Syracusa tomorrow, a longer day.

Here’s today’s track.