We disembarked from the ferry out into the waiting arms of the port town of Messina. With the sun beating hot down upon us, we threaded our way through the congestion of this industrial city. Cars and scooters rushed past us on every side - budding in front of us, squeezing in between us, hanging onto our rear wheels... we quickly realized that the mythical crazy Italian drivers? They were all here in Sicily!
"Oh my god, they're crazy down here", I radioed to Neda. As if to underscore my point, a scooter zoomed past us, running the red light that we were stopped at. I looked behind me wondering if there was an impatient driver ready to yell at me, "Che cazzo fai?!? The light is red! Andiamo! Go, GO, GO!!!!"
Riding south, hugging the eastern coast of Sicily
It took us a good long while to make it out of the city centre. I decided that maybe we should bypass the Autostrada to save some money, but as the slow ride continued, the heat and the traffic were beginning to take their toll (no pun intended) on Neda. We passed several small towns on the coast and I remarked to her how ever since leaving Rome, the towns and buildings in Southern Italy had really begun to resemble Latin America - everything was a bit more unkempt and a bit less maintained than the north. Neda grunted her agreement. She was in no mood to converse.
Our route down the eastern shore took on a pattern: small unkempt sea-side towns, coastal road, sea-side-town, coastal road. After a couple of hours, we got the general idea. So we sucked it up and hopped on the Autostrada and headed towards Syracuse, or as they say in Italy: Siracusa. The toll turned out to be not that expensive. And even though the communicators remained silent after paying, I could hear Neda's voice in my head telepathically admonish me, "We should have taken the Autostrada"... :(
I think we may be overdoing it with the whole take-the-backroads-all-around-Europe thing. It may be a good idea to hop on the high-speed roads once in a while, and to pick up the pace a little bit too...
Ever wonder what's in that huge topcase behind me? Groceries!
We booked into a very luxurious apartment just outside of Siracusa and stocked up on yummy Italian groceries since we had a kitchen for the next couple of days. Our AirBnB host told us of some great places to visit in Sicily so we took some notes.
Our first stop, Ortigia!
Ortigia is a small island that's basically attached to the coastal city of Siracusa by a couple of very short bridges. It's the historical centre of town and is where all the touristy stuff is located, so we ride down to take in the sights. As usual, we do like the scooters do and park anywhere and don't pay a single cent!
The Fountain of Diana in Piazza Archimede
Did you know the famous Greek mathematician Archimedes was born in Siracusa? Although he was known for a whole bunch of mathematical stuff, the one fact that sticks out for me is that he was the first to exclaim, "Eureka!"
"Oh Don Juan, you charmer, you!"
Piazza del Duomo
The most famous sight in Ortigia is the Duomo di Siracusa. It's in the Piazza Duomo which dazzled us with its expansive white stone floor. In the bright Sicilian sunlit afternoon, you definitely need sunglasses to shield you from the glare!
The Duomo was actually originally an old 5th-century Greek temple (the Temple of Minerva) that was converted to a church. Carve an arch here and there, add a few columns and voila, instant church! Sacramental pita bread for the Holy Communion...
Here you can listen to some nice accordion music, and then drink from the Holy Grail...
We watched a photoshoot for a magazine on the boardwalk. No socks. Is that the fashion these days?
Someone forgot to tell the weatherman that RideDOT.com is in Sicily.
The weather is beautiful down here!
The coastline of Ortigia
Writing on this tablet doesn't look very native to Sicily? Aramaic maybe?
Expensive restaurants in the historical tourist town of Ortigia. We have homemade pasta waiting for us tonight!
R1200GS sightings all over Syracuse
I noticed something very peculiar in this area of Sicily. There are tons of R1200GSs here! Not BMW motorcycles generally, but the R1200GS, and specifically the old air-cooled version like mine. These are just a few that I took some pictures of, but there were many, many others that were riding around that I didn't get a shot of. I know it's a popular motorcycle in Europe, but this was the highest concentration I've ever witnessed. So funny seeing my bike all over the place.
One thing I am really glad about in Europe is that our German motorcycles don't stand out all, not like in Latin America where our big bikes got a lot of (sometimes unwanted) attention. But here in Syracuse, not only did I not stand out, but I looked like a local! At least with my helmet on and the visor down...
Even parked on the smaller streets
Before we headed into Syracuse, we gassed up outside our AirBnB apartment. The gas station attendant showed some interest in my bike, so I started explaining what it was and all the features. He smiled and shook his head. I had misunderstood his Italian. He wasn't telling me he was interested in the bike, he was trying to tell me that he OWNED the exact same bike.
Huh! R1200GS. The official motorcycle of Siracusa!
Opra dei Pupi
A popular attraction in Siracusa is the Opra dei Pupi, an elaborate puppet show with intricately detailed marionettes that enacted classic stories of Knights, Love and Honor in Medieval Europe. This is a modern Sicilian tradition from the 19th-century (but the roots date back to Medieval times) that is being kept alive in this town. Puppet builders and operators practice their craft to the delight of adults and children in daily showings.
We didn't attend the show. The official reason is that it was too expensive for our budget, but truthfully, life-like puppets and dolls kinda creep me out. Some people have an aversion to clowns, I dislike puppets and dolls. There's a scientific explanation for this mild phobia, you can Google "Uncanny Valley" if you're interested.
The ruins of the Greek Temple of Apollo, right in the heart of Ortigia. Too much work to turn this one into a church...
20 paces and Nikons at dawn! DRAW!
I have no idea who this guy is, but I'd like to think that somewhere on the Internet there's blog with this exact same picture of me doing the same thing.
Riding to the Necropolis!
The next day, we set off for the Necropolis of Pantalica which is about 25 kms outside of Siracusa. The road to get there is fabulous and twisty, goes up and down and around the mountainous terrain and thankfully is very well-marked. However every time I saw the sign for Pantalica, I couldn't help but think that would make a great name for a heavy metal band. Like if Pantera and Metallica ever decided to get together, this is what they would call themselves. And their first album would naturally be called Necropolis!
Neda: "We're going to find this place, because Nothing Else Matters!"
The Necropolis of Metallica is a cemetery made up of over 4,000 tombs carved into the limestone overlooking a large gorge, covering over an area over a km long and half a km wide. It's considered a prehistoric site, the tombs were all built during the Bronze Age!
Did they even have ladders that tall in 1200 BC?
As we got closer, it was quite a sight to see all those square holes cut into the rock like the regularly spaced windows of a large apartment building.
It didn't occur to me until later that I was suntanning in front of someone's tomb...
I read later on that the earlier tombs in the 12th century BC are elliptical in shape, but later on they had better tools, so the tombs built in the 6th century BC were more rectangular, and had little vestibules and porches. Neat!
Excavation was done in the early 1900s, but all the tombs had all been raided long before that.
We spent most of the morning hiking around the area before the sun got too hot. I really liked visiting the Necropolis of Pantalica and not just because of the cool-sounding heavy metal name.
Farewell Pantalica! What else is there to see in Sicily?