It’s hard to accept that the rest period in Sicily is almost over. We honestly thought we’d be bored after a couple of days and be kicking our heels a bit, but not so. The time has flown by and we were certainly more ready for a rest than we imagined.
I think it fair to say that Sicily has been an education. I’m just reading a book on travelling around Sicily which has supported this view: ‘Sicily is the schoolroom model of Italy for beginners, with every Italian quality and defect magnified, exaggerated and brightly coloured’ This certainly seems the case. You don’t experience Sicily from the sidelines, you need to get in there with your sleeves rolled up or it, and its people, will eat you for breakfast. Sicilians are not interested in nice, or polite, or passive. You’re either in the here and now and up for it or you might as well not be here at all. If you expect to be courted, you will be disappointed. You need to be on the dance floor, signing your own dance card, and strutting your stuff like the rest of them. Well, that’s my take anyway. Let me try and illustrate this a bit.
Now, you could spend a fortune on roads and then spend another fortune on putting in traffic calming/speed limiters, etc. Nah. In Sicily, there is a far more effective system. They largely ignore the roads altogether and let nature do the traffic calming thing for them. Believe me, in the football match that is Nature versus Roads, it’s a home victory by a large margin using some interesting match tactics of washing the road away, turning it to rubble, compressing the tarmac into mahoosive ripples (usually strategically placed on tight bends), and, la piece de resistance – causing the ground underneath to collapse so that you have either holes or massive steps just like taking a swipe out of a block of butter. Hilariously you can experience such roads for many kilometres and then you get a sign that warns you of uneven surfaces – either leading you to think ‘no shit Sherlock’ or ‘holy crap – it can get worse than this???’ Even the wording on signs sounds terrifying – strada pericolosa, strada disestata, strada intransitabile – just as a starter. They didn’t cover the ‘how to cope with those conditions’ in Mod 1. However, it does make you a tad more observant than you might otherwise be but beware of skirting around said obstacles thinking that it will all be ok as natives, and particularly big trucks, give scant regard to such challanges and don’t take any prisoners. I think the best yet is where, as you corner a particularly saucy bend, the road ceases to exist at all – just a short stretch of open ground with loose stones and gravel after which you pick up the road again as if nothing has happened. Often the only warning (sometimes there’s a warning triangle with an exclamation mark in it) is an excited shout from Tim ‘Off-Road!!!!’ Honestly, I just whimper and hold on as best I can.
As I mentioned previously, if you expect courtous, organised and premeditated travel around any part of Italy, you’re in the wrong game. However it comes most interestingly to the fore when you get in and around cities. I would like to say at this point that Italian drivers are not aggressive. Nor are they rude or particularly dangerous. They are just not paying that much attention. They want, and expect, to get from A-B in the quickest possible time with the least amount of interference. And they do not intend to stop talking on the phone for any part of the whole duration of the journey. So, rather than get very upset indeed about the lack of discipline and ungentlemanly behaviour, you’ve just got to adopt the same approach:
be very clear about where you want to go (even if you are not sure it’s the right way)
keep a look out for traffic at roundabouts and junctions but don’t for one minute think that they will stop for you
keep moving slowly to show intent and then just go for the gap as soon as you can
Do NOT make eye contact
Use the horn to let them know you’re there but not as a form of abuse as it’s just confusing for them
Smile and shrug your shoulders if you get something wrong and they will probably do the same
We hadn’t really experienced much Italian city riding really up until Sicily. We did a brief foray into Catania when we first arrived and even that involved us going the wrong way up a one-way street in a bus lane (nb. the final bullet point tip above worked wonders on that occasion but we may still get home to a ticket – well probably several). The full initiation, though, happened in Palermo. Perhaps the busiest city in Sicily (being the capital and all) and my word it was busy. There were cars everywhere, scooters appearing from places you didn’t even know they could appear from and much horn blowing. But, as crazy and, sometimes scary, as it was, it was actually quite funny. Tim got to be expert as some of you might imagine (he seemed to be a natural at the impatient, going for a gap, ‘feck you’ mentality) and I was a willing pupil. I particularly enjoyed being pillion on a couple of occasions as it enabled you to turn fully round in order to give appropriate hand and arm gestures in appropriate Italian fashion – check them out on Youtube; there’s a whole new alphabet I tell you. We were like a crazy, co-ordinated pantomime horse – and maybe looked as comical – but we got right into the spirit of it and held our own. As I said earlier, it’s no place for those that like to sit on the sidelines.
Not massively into customer service I think it fair to say, but direct and very helpful when you need it. Mind you, I have really been hacked off with my lack of Italian language skills. I can understand a bit and say enought to get by, but that’s really not good enough. I meant to brush up on it before we set off on the tour but I never managed to and I really wish I had. Mainly because most people in the places in Sicily we are staying in and visiting just don’t speak much, if any, English. Nor should they. It’s actually lovely that it’s not a major tourist destination for many countries. They seem to appreciate me trying to speak to them in Italian – and google translate is a bit of a god-send at times – and so we get by with a bit of give and take, hand gestures and a fair amount of pointing. We’ve done ok.
The emphasis on and value given to family life has been a really warming experience but it does have two sides (as all things do). It is extremely lovely to spend an evening in the local town (Noto) watching or participating in the evening passeggiata – an evening ritual/tradition of a slow stroll through the main street of an old town (centro storico) – and observing how all generations are out and able to enjoy themselves creating a much more ‘safe’ and ‘open’ atmosphere. No 6 o’clock bedtime for the kids here – they are still strutting their stuff and playing at midnight with no tears or tantrums! However, the other extreme, as explained by Gaetano and Ivan, is that boys generally end up staying at home until they are in their 40s. They were seriously gobsmacked at a) Will living in London and not Cornwall, and him travelling the world etc and not being round the corner from his dear old mother and b) his dear old mother travelling around Europe at a grand old age on a motorbike. They spoke about their situation with an equal mix of affection and suffocation. Movement away from the family home and/or base is not something that happens very much it seems.
We all need a service….
After a massive 10,000 km, Tom was up to 11,349 miles from new (it was his first birthday two days ago!!) and so was ready for his 12,000 mile service. There are two Triumph dealers in Sicily. One in Palermo and one in Catania. Given that we were going to Palermo anyway, it made sense to book him in for his service there. In a less-than-posh back street we left him to the very interesting mechanics – Lorenzo was also a classic bike racer so he and Tim had a lot of photo sharing to do – and arranged to collect him the next morning so that we could sample some of the delights of Palermo itself – some by foot and other by bike two-up. Rather embarrassingly, when we collected him and having been talked through what had been done – he started but wouldn’t tick over. Much hurried intervention and back onto the laptop for diagnosis later, he was up and running and so off we set. Went like a star all the way back to Noto even though it was a long old ride in temperatures above 40 degrees.
Now, having not missed a beat since we left the UK, we now have a problem. What’s more it’s that bloody intermittent type of problem that is hard to pin down. The bike starts and holds tick-over fine for a number of journeys, then on another, it starts and won’t keep ticking over. It cuts out every time you come to a junction and need to idle. It will re-start no problem but you have to keep the revs up. Then, after getting back ‘home’ the next time you need to use it, it’s all fine again. Bugger.
It seemed a good idea to take it to another Triumph Sicilia dealer in Catania for them to have a look – obviously it was running fine there (and back) and it didn’t present the problem whilst hooked up to the laptop, and so all the checks came back ok. Maybe all sorted then. Afraid not. Did it again a few days later. Then ok again. Aagghhh. Decided to ring Bridge in Exeter in case there were any updates that might have been missed over here but no, approved dealers will have all the latest updates and it’s all linked to a central system anyway. So no better off. Suggestion is that the throttle position sensor might need adjusting. But, surely it would happen everytime if so??? Any ideas anyone???
We will get it looked at again but with the remaining 8,000 km or so to go it is a bit concerning. I can see me checking out every Triumph dealership en route at this rate!
He’s fine. Had a very good oil change over here in Ragusa and he’s all set having had a full service in the UK before we left. At least we have one reliable bike if shit hits the fan…
Managed to tweak my back doing some light sweeping of floors in the villa – note to self, housework is bad for you so don’t do it. After a few very painful nights and awkward days of restricted movement, I decided a physio was needed. Enter stage right Giuseppe Squasi with as much English as I have Italian – a very interesting diagnosis experience – but who, after a couple of sessions managed to free it up and enable less troublesome movement. Just got to get it right before I have to carry Tom on my back when he won’t tick over….. Mind you the best bit was when I was given the address to go visit him (see below) – didn’t bode well…!
Very nasty throat infection which needed antibiotics. ‘You won’t be able to see my doctor’ says our host Ernesto ‘as you are English and I’m Italian’ Mmm, clearly how it works in the UK (not). However, you can go to any pharmacy and buy antibiotics over the counter! Throat is definitely improving but has left a very painful set of mouth ulcers – crap. Hopefully it will clear up very soon 😦
All’s well that ends well…
All in all the experience has been a very positive one and I would certainly return. It’s the sort of place that irritates you a bit at times but at least you are experiencing it. It is a place of contrasts, adventure, beauty and ugliness, highs and lows – just like us and the trip really!!