topics: minestrone (food), Lipari Islands, Homer, Mount Etna, volcanos, history; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: November 10–11, 1997

Breakfast: Not being on a rushed bike-breakfast schedule has its advantages. When we are lucky, we can relax at a real table with an English- or German-language newspaper. At Mongi and Myriam's house, it was even better. andrEa never knew that a kitchen was something she could miss so much. Using teapots from shelves, a fridge, or pulling bread out of a closet made us feel a little like we were on a holiday. And then, what could be better than drooling over a computer keyboard in a warm corner or on the living room floor while munching on piles of breakfastries like super-fresh baguettes, lemon butter, and endless cups of coffee?

Once again, Mongi and Myriam: choukran choukran choukran! click to hear an audio clip

Lunch: On our last day in Tunisia, Myriam surprised us with excellent homemade pasta with either octopus or veggies. Historians later recorded a constant flow of BikeAbouters to the pots in the kitchen for more helpings. After all, we were on our way to Europe and the journey would be long. We had to be prepared.

Dinner: Waiting in La Goulette, the port area outside of Tunis, for our overnight ferry from Tunisia to Sicily, we had Tunisian pastries, bread, cheese, salami, and fresh fruit juice from a street stall.

Food of the Day: Minestrone soup

Minestrone soup is an Italian mixed vegetable soup containing pasta or rice (rice is usually used in minestrone in Milan). Italians often start a meal with either minestra (a vegetable soup), or minestrone, which — with the added pasta — virtually constitutes a meal all by itself. Minestrone is characterized by the variety of vegetables it contains, which vary from region to region.

It is generally thought that minestrone came from Genoa, where it is made with pumpkin, cabbage, broad (fava) beans, courgettes (zucchini), red (kidney) beans, celery, and tomatoes, all garnished with three sorts of pasta — cannolicchi, ditali, and penne. It is mainly also served with pesto, a thick oily sauce made of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, and grated Parmesan cheese.

Word of the Day: Salut — "cheers"

Salut is Italian for "cheers." Red wine is served almost automatically with every Italian meal and salut is the word that starts most table conversations.

People of the Day: Antonio and Franco Lanza

BikeAbout's active connection to Italy started when andrEa participated in the July 1997 AEDP Friendship Bike Tour from Italy to Albania. On her way back to her home in Austria, she stopped for a day in Trieste, in northeast Italy, hoping to meet with people at Spin, the Internet service provider in Italy that is hosting several BikeAbout pages.

Luck is indeed often on bikers' sides, for not everybody at Spin was on vacation. And so andrEa soon found herself involved in a long talk in a kitchen with Antonio Lanza click to view a photograph — one of the founders of Spin — about God and the world. Over Italian coffee-dreams click to view a photograph, she learned that Franco click to view a photograph, Antonio's brother, is the head of a secondary school with about 400 pupils in Bronte, Sicily. Though not yet on-line, Antonio thought that Franco's school would probably be very interested in being a part of the BikeAbout project.

That was five months ago — and tomorrow we really will be there, following up on what we started. Bikes link people. Mille mille grazie Antonio e Franco!

Place of the Day: Aeolian Islands

Off the northern coast of Sicily stretches a volcanic archipelago of seven islands known as the Lipari Islands. Inhabited since the Neolithic era, they are also known as Isole Eoli (Aeolian Islands), because the ancient Greeks believed they were the home of Aeolus, Greek god of wind.

Homer wrote of the islands in the Odyssey when Odysseus is carried there with his ships. To help Odysseus get home to Ithaca, Aeolus captures all of the unfavorable winds in a bag that he gives to Odysseus. Unfortunately, some of Odysseus' greedy men, thinking that the bag is full of gold, open the bag. Within sight of the shores of their home, the men watch in horror as all the released winds blow the ships all the way back to the Aeolian Islands. Aeolus, fearing that Odysseus and his men are cursed, refuses to repeat his earlier gesture, leaving the warriors to embark on the years of adventure recounted in the tale.

Elements of the Homeric epic still influence today's art and literature. andrEa recommends the following movies with regard to Ulysses and the Aeolians: "Ulysses' Gaze" with Harvey Keitel, directed by Eleni Karaindrou, with the absolutely gorgeous music of Kim Kashkashian; and the Italian "Caro Diario," by and with Nani Moretti, where the second part of the film is set in the Aeolians.

Tech Fact of the Day: Mount Etna

Mount Etna, at 3,350 m (10,991 ft), is the largest active volcano in Europe and the most active in the world. Eruptions both at the summit and on the slopes of Mount Etna occur frequently (and are now filmed by permanent video cameras on the mountain). click to view a photograph The most devastating recorded eruption happened in 1669 with 122 days of activity that destroyed part of Catania, the city on the southeatern foothill of the Etna and where we are spending the night. The most recent eruption prior to our trip [1997] was in 1992, when Zafarena on the northern slopes got damaged.

In 1987, a regional law created Mount Etna Park. click to view a photograph Despite the constant changes wrought by the periodic eruptions and tremors of the volcano, the park is thick with pines, holm oaks, beeches, birches, oaks, chestnuts, aspens, and is home to various kinds of wildlife.

Group Dispatch, November 10–11

picture of andrEa

The morning hours passed quickly with our various errands as we experienced the pleasure of bureaucracy in a Tunisian post office, hunted one last time in the Medina, ran for ferry tickets, made last-day phone calls, and worked on dispatches. A glorious lunch prepared by Myriam, the most amazing cook, did not make it any easier to leave our warm house and incredible hosts, Mongi and Myriam. See you sometime again!

Once we did tear ourselves away, for the fourth time since our arrival in Tunisia, we biked the 10 km (6 mi) along what andrEa calls the "headwind dam" (a raised road in the middle of Lake Tunis) click to view a photograph from the center of Tunis click to view a photograph to the port outside of Tunis called La Goulette.

Upon our arrival at 5:30 p.m., we couldn't have guessed that the coming night would be as long as it was, staring at a Tunisian embarkation gate, waiting to be let through the customs and on to the boat for Sicily and Europe again. In the end, the ship left at 1 a.m. (!) instead of 8 p.m. Well, African clocks do work differently . . .

Another soft swaying night passed in a ferry sleeping cabin as we changed continents.

The first morning glimpse out of the bulls-eye ship window revealed that we were already at the pier in Trapani, the port on the northwest coast of Sicily. Of course, it took another long customs procedure before we were allowed to set our bike wheels down on European ground.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and its strategic position has made it prey to successive waves of invaders. This can be seen in the many Greek temples, Roman ruins, Norman churches and castles, Arab and Byzantine domes, and Baroque churches and palaces that are scattered throughout its countryside and cities. After having been occupied by the Arabs since the ninth century, over the last 700 hundred years, Sicily was first ruled by the Spanish House of Aragon, then the French of Savoy, and finally the Austrians in the 18th century. In the 19th century, Sicily was unified with South Italy to form the kingdom of the "Two Sicilies" until Giuseppe Garibaldi conquered the latter and helped create a unified Italy.

Back in the present day, the BikeAbouters used their map and Lonely Planet guidebook to go through the good old BikeAbout travel ritual in the following order: find the train station, check the train times, change money, eat. The fastest train route possible across the island was via the capital of Sicily, Palermo, where we would have to change trains before arriving on the other side of the island in Catania at 5:30 p.m.

Professionals at convincing train staff to let us on trains WITH all our gear (see our crowning pre-trip experience), the weight of which has not decreased during our weeks on the road (though we are still waiting for a miracle), we succeeded once again where everyone had told us we would not. Our "eat" ritual was celebrated in the train click to view a photograph with take-out station food purchased as we were leaving Trapani. click to view a photograph

Passing Palermo and urbanism, the train turned inland. A slight rain had just stopped, letting sunbeams touch a soft landscape — and unknown Sicily of empty hills, dark green, brown ochre. It felt oddly Irish click to view a photograph and peaceful. Tractors going slowly over acres. Olive trees, of course. Big beehives along the rails. A fruitful place. click to view a photograph And a sudden realization of the distance we'd covered in one single day: We had slid into European autumn. click to view a photograph

Late in the afternoon (and on time), we reached Catania. Catania, Sicily's second largest city, stands on a mass of lava that extends from the sea to the low foothills of Mount Etna (see the Tech Fact of the Day). It's Greek name was Katane and it's Latin name was Catina, but according to Thucydides, one of the great historians of the Greek era, the city was founded in 729 BC by Greek colonists from Chalcis. Over the centuries it has been struck by war and reached by Etna's lava several times. For example, the grand eruption of 1669 destroyed almost all of Catania, and as reconstruction efforts proceeded the city was destroyed again in 1693 by a major earthquake which devastated much of southeastern Sicily.

Still, this lava that has wrought so much disaster, has also been used as building material, with two principle colors: gray (ground from deeper lava) and pink (ground from surface lava). It was used as blocks for walls and in plasterwork renderings on facades. Catania's streets today are made of lava-squares and, like many Italian cities, offer the foreign cyclist a maze of senso unico or one-way streets.

According to our guidebook, the Locanda Trieste Hotel should have been easy to find and a good place to stay, but andrEa and Corinne returned from their scouting activities with visual proof that the hotel of our desire had turned into a "Horror Bar." click to view a photograph

So, half pushing and half riding on the sidewalks, we finally found another spot to bed our heads and bikes: the Hotel Centrale Europa, right next to Catania's most important landmark, an elephant carved from gray lava stone. Dominating the main square — the Piazza Duomo — it has given the city one more name: "Balad-al-fil," or the City of the Elephant.

Our long day finally ended with a dinner of minestrone soup (see the Food of the Day), pasta, and some delicious gelati (gelato is the word for one flavor of ice cream, whereas gelati is the plural, used for many flavors), topped by a deep sleep.

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