Last diary blog left us parked in San Leone in a delightful free car park, on May 4th. How can it be May 11th already? I am definitely beginning to lose track of the days.
More sightseeing! Certainly making up for lost time when we had the battery problem. We drove to Ragusa, a hill-top town, parked Gertie in a great free car-park which had an area reserved for campervans, and climbed a load of steps up to the old town. We had a happy day wandering through the mostly Baroque streets. This town was flattened in a 1693 earthquake, and then rebuilt in two parts. The Baroque rebuilding on the original Medieval town plan was the most interesting area. One church was closed as they were filming an episode of Inspector Montelbano there. Ate an extremely pleasant lunch out.
We drove on to Noto, and arrived at a campsite 1km from the town centre. Met our first fellow Brits since France. The campsite was set amongst lemon trees and mosquitoes.
Spent the morning wandering around Noto – another Baroque glory, also rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake (along with the rest of south-east Sicily from what I can gather). I have seen more Baroque churches in the last few days than in the rest of my life put together.
Moved on to a campsite near Avola on the coast. This one was down a very narrow lane. When we arrived I said to the Dutch woman who ran the site, stating the bleeding obvious, ‘that lane’s very narrow’. ‘Is it?’ she said, horrified, and called her Sicilian husband over, ‘Honey! Our lane’s very narrow!’ I guess everyone arrives and says the same thing in whatever language they speak… This campsite was full of cats.
The plan was to check out a possible overnight car-park in Syracuse before heading back up to Etna to allow Ignatius to cycle up it the day before the Giro, but the car park was stuffed full, and traffic was horrible, so we ended up going straight back to Etna. We were parked in a layby half way up in enough time for Ignatius to do his bike ride the same day. So the road bike came off the back of Gertie for the first time (we are carrying 3 bikes), and he kitted up, cycled down to Nicolosi then turned round and cycled up to the top, then back down to Gertie. I spent the time cleaning the van (oh I know how to live, me!) He had a few problems – his electronic gear shifter seems to be out of charge and guess what, he’s forgotten to bring the charger; and he couldn’t get the bike into lowest gear so had to do the entire ride (up and down) in 2nd lowest gear… So at some stage we will need to find a bike repair shop to get this looked at and buy a new charger. All Ignatius’s cycling buddies will be reading this and laughing, muttering ‘serves him right for having poncey electronic gear shift’.
We spent the night in that layby. Pretty cold but not as cold as the night a couple of weeks back when we camped at the top. There were a few stray dogs lurking around. Friendly, but you don’t want to trust Sicilian strays. They freaked me out when I went outside in the dark and two of them were nosing around the van.
Took a morning walk up through the woods to a mountain refuge (which conveniently was open and had a toilet!) then drove back down to Nicolosi where we had lunch and went to the Volcanology museum, which was very interesting – free and we had a personal guided tour around. It also shows a 30-minute video of the 2001-2 eruption of Mt Etna. I feel we know this mountain quite well now.
Spent the night back in ‘our’ layby on Etna.
The day of the Giro! As soon as we were organised in the morning we drove 4km up the road to the last layby before the main car park which is where the stage finish was. There were already a couple of campers there. This was about 1.5km before the finish line. We walked up to the finish for a look around, then spent most of the day waiting. Road cycling is an odd spectator sport – you spend all day waiting for a few minutes activity! It’s all about the atmosphere. The layby filled up, and we chatted with a Slovakian family parked next to us, and several Italians. All day there were people cycling up, ahead of the race. About an hour before the race arrives, the ‘caravan’ of sponsors drove through. When we’ve seen stages of the Tour de France in the UK or Ireland the sponsors have been chucking free stuff out as they pass but that didn’t happen today.
Ignatius watched part of the earlier Giro coverage on his laptop, sitting outside. He made a lot of friends as people crowded round to see what was happening. Finally the cyclists arrived – we could see them pass the 5km banner down the mountain. The leaders passed us pretty quickly but the stragglers and ‘autobus’ took 30 minutes or more to arrive. One of the lads who’d been watching Ignatius’s laptop stripped off to his undies and chased the leader up the road a bit. All good fun to watch!
When it was all over we drove further down the mountain to camp overnight (too darn cold up the top when the sun’s gone down!) So that’s a total of 4 nights spent camping on Etna.
The next stage of the Giro was due to start from Pedara, the next town to Nicolosi. We hadn’t planned to see the start, but decided why not? So we parked on the edge of Pedara and walked in. Huge crowds everywhere. The main town park was taken up by the sponsors’ stalls. A central square was cordoned off for the stage on which the cyclists sign in for the stage. There was a lively atmosphere. We watched most of the cyclists arrive and sign in, then moved to another spot to see the race start. So another several hours watching and waiting for a few minutes activity!
Once it was all over and we’d had lunch, we got on the motorway and headed south again, to Syracuse. This time we were able to get into that car park but decided we would not want to stay overnight there. But we had a few hours to walk around the old part of the town (Ortigia) which is another Baroque masterpiece, also largely rebuilt after that earthquake. Parts are much older, and the Duomo (cathedral) was built on the site of a Greek temple, using some original Doric columns in its construction.
We got back to Gertie to discover she had an almost flat tyre (front, passenger side, and no, not a result of my weight sitting above it thank you very much). Thankfully Ignatius had packed a compressor so we were able to re-inflate the tyre running the compressor off the engine battery, but it was obvious it was a slow puncture and would need to be fixed. So we drove a short distance to a campsite 10km from the city centre, checked in and called the AA to advise us where we would be able to source a replacement tyre. Of course motorhomes don’t use standard car tyres.
While waiting for the AA to call back (as it was evening by now and they needed to call round Sicilian garages to see who had the right tyre, and they’d be closed) we got talking to the campsite owners. I say talking, but as we had very little language in common it was mostly points, grunts and Google translate. Anyway, when I told Mrs Campsite that we had called breakdown assistance assistenza stradale she laughed, hugged Mr Campsite (whose name was Salvo) and said he’s your assistenza stradale.
And he was. He jacked up the van, whipped off the wheel, took it away, came back this morning with the puncture repaired, and replaced the wheel. Turns out we’d driven over a screw which was embedded in the tread. He took just 20 euro for his trouble. We spent the night with the van on a jack (and with a support thingy Salvo had, in case the jack failed) which was a bit unnerving. The repair seems good – we’ve driven a fair way today and it’s stayed at the right pressure.
Salvo, our saviour, alternatively known as Giorgio 2. We are collecting lovely helpful Sicilian men.