Monthly Archives: April 2015

The High Road & Low Coast: Europe (Part III)

 A 10 Minute Read

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“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” ~ Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

Follow your nose. Follow the noise. Follow that human need. Food. Delicious and rejuvenating. Traversing the arteries of any city in Italy will eventually heave you like a blessed rat into the magical maze of the market. One of my favourite places in any country I pass through. Here you can understand how a people live. What is good. What makes them happy. We all have to eat. In Italy, they eat well. They don’t take many things more seriously than food. Sellers shout over each other and the buzz of the market roars with excitement. Bright and beautiful colours. Fresh and in season. Some of the best meats, cheeses and fish the world has to offer. These people do not mess around. If you care about food at all, visit the market. Experience it. Whether it is in Italy, Uzbekistan, China or India. Your cooking, enjoyment and understanding of a people, their food and lifecycle will immediately make that much more sense. All these ingredients in their natural environment. The beating heart of modern Italy exists in the markets. Go explore.

As I shoved off from Bari in the province of Puglia I thanked hostel owner David of the ‘Olive Tree‘ for allowing me to store my bike and possessions for a time. An excellent beginning to my Italian expedition. Riding on I watched farmers prepare their fields on backroads not in my vocabulary hours before. Stopping in little towns I filled up my water bottles, took a breather and bought some oranges. Puglia, in all of it’s peace and quiet, I rode. Through low hills I pushed forward to a secluded camp site hidden in the trees. I inhaled the cool air of the setting sun and crawled away to my tent for another night on the road. Unknown to the world around me. Covered by the loving glove of nature, I slept.

In Calabria the climbs began. Soul squeezing. Calf crushing. Lung piercing climbs. They were not by any means some of my longest climbs on this trip, but were some of the steepest and meanest. Sweat turned ice cold down the long beautiful declines. The views from the top were always worth it. A twenty-two kilometre climb was sure to dish out hansom rewards. I flew along the top of ridges with snowcapped mountains in the distance. My eyes and heart getting the workout they deserve. Italian drivers careened along honked in surprise and displeasure to see me.

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” ~ Cesar Chavez, Human Rights Activist

One evening as the sun went down in the hills of Calabria, I was caught with few camping spots willing to present themselves. So, I rang a doorbell. Answering the call was a very nice family who welcomed me in. The son put on a movie and I relaxed in a comfortable chair while answering a few questions. Later with the father, Paolo, we looked at old maps that he had of Italy and the world. Where I had been and where I would be going. We had a delicious dinner, prepared by his wife. Full beyond all belief on a home cooked meal I fell into a deep sleep on a nice mattress set up in their garage. In the morning, I was woken up to a quick breakfast and sent on my way, happier than ever. I came a stranger and left a friend. Over the final mountains I climbed to the western coast and down into Sicily.

I arrived at the southern coast as the next ferry was departing to Messina from San Giovanni. Seeing I did not want to wait, the ground staff waved me onboard without a ticket as the doors shut. The ferry to Sicily made me smile in the afternoon sun. It was like a long awaited homecoming. Feeling an insane sense of pride, I pedalled hard onwards down the eastern coast of Sicily towards Catania. The first night in Sicily, I met a police officer bearing a striking resemblance to a relative of mine. He offered me a whole villa for almost nothing to stay in. On the top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean he showed me his rabbits and gardens. We toured his grape, olive, orange and lemon trees. The next morning before departing for Catania I picked a few fresh lemons from the trees to spice up my water.

The very notion of Italy and all that it encapsulates has drawn people from worlds over for centuries. There is something about it. Whether it is the pictureseque villages, stunning coast, vibrant history or food culture. It is without a doubt, beautiful. My final leg of the journey was no different. I wound around the coast to historic Syracuse for a quick pit stop before heading slightly inland to make the final push to the southern rim of Sicily and catch the ferry to Malta. As I rode, beautiful wild flowers seemed to bloom before my eyes. Little villages sprung up out of the hillsides and castles dotted the landscape. Approaching the coast I was hit with strong winds that called me to stay. The road petered out through the coastal city of Pozallo, with old churches and cobbled streets. I road onto the ferry and waited for departure to Malta. Smelly and tired, I beamed silently, after the long beautiful haul through southern Italy.

“One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity.” ~ Francis Charles Publius, Maltese Psychologist & Writer

Malta is a country I have always been interested in seeing. For those of you who are unsure, it is the small cluster of three main islands to the south of Sicily. With its strategic port position, it has been conquered throughout history between Romans, Moors, English and so on. Resulting in a wonderful mix of culture that features a few modern buildings intermingled with deep historic beauty. Wrapped in a picturesque coast, the shores and hills of Malta made for a wonderful little side adventure. It gave me time to prepare mentally for the trials that await me in Africa. I met interesting people and shared more tales from the road. Camping on the island of Comino, I experienced the beauty of the Blue Lagoon and shared ‘mixed grill’ with some friendly Maltese. But now, I must fly. The road to Egypt is blocked by an impassable Libya to the east and Syria to the west. From Cairo I will begin my third continent as my journey weaves down through Africa towards Cape Town. To all the wonders ahead and all the amazing memories behind.

Ciao, for now.

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Thank you to all of the local schools of Eastern Ontario as their donations from fundraising projects begin to come in. The students of Verdara, India are now that much closer to achieving their dream of a new schoolhouse. Working together we can make this happen. I especially loved the ‘One Adventure Please’ T-Shirts worn by the awesome youth of St. Edward School Westport at WeDay Canada. Amazing stuff! To be apart of the magic CLICK TO DONATE.

I would also like to thank my wonderful girlfriend for making the long trip to visit me in Italy. Time apart on opposite sides of the globe can be harder than anyone can imagine. Thank you for waiting for me as I ride in circles around the world. I couldn’t do it without your continued love and support. You are the one who is strong, not me. Reuniting with my brother and uncle in Italy was also a wonderful bonus. Glad we could all experience a bit of our Italian heritage together!

Dust off those sleepy dreams and get out there. Experience the world and the people we share it with. I now head to Africa to start what will be one of the most trying and exciting portions of my journey. Thank you for following along!

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 Malta Pics

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