Silent splendour and road-sign targets.

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I had very few preconceptions about Sardinia, but if somebody had told me it would take my breath away for grandeur and scale, I would have doubted them. Passing through one of the national parks as I did the other day, has you reaching for words to describe what you see. Huge peaks recede into the blue distance, the highest covered in snow, while closer to hand massive rock faces tower above the twisting road, and precipitous slopes covered in scrub tumble away beneath you. Vertigo inducing. Even the mighty Golden Eagle roams here. Every time I stopped, which was often, you could hear a pin drop: absolute quiet, broken eventually by my first cuckoo way off across a valley. This is a remarkable island.
Sardinia Stone has excavated the largest holes in the ground I have ever seen and the aftermath looks like some modern city in the negative. I think it will be a while before they run out of stone.

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I met a Swiss couple on a cycling holiday. Marco and Madleina had passed me earlier on the hill, and at the next refreshment opportunity, I had the chance for a chat. Madleina agreed that cycling was one of the best passtimes for mental positivity, and it seems to bring out the best in people.

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Daily life goes on even in a beautiful area, and this local shepherd was taking his well behaved charges down the road, whilst bringing up the rear his faithful hound was in charge of the stragglers.

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One roadside feature that had me amused was the preference of road signs for target practice. The first had been attacked by some high calibre weaponry, but the second second seems to have suffered anti-tank munitions!

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20150410-082429-30269898.jpgPerhaps the damage was done by this character and his grizzly familiar,a couple you really would not want to meet on a dark night.

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Hills and things

The initial impression of Sardinia from seaward was correct, it is extremely mountainous. Even the east coast which I chose to ride up has many headlands where the road winds in and out, up and down. It’s difficult to achieve any regular tempo on the bike. The low gears have been most useful. Even so, the legs are hurting. Malta exacts it’s toll!

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However, as with any great effort, there are many rewards.Views to the sea are unsurpassed, and as I round Capo Carbonara, a lone yacht appears in front of me, sailing beautifully in a light breeze. This is a marine conservation area.

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My first night in the tent was surprisingly chilly, and it rained heavily in the early hours.The day dawned clear and bright though, and there is no finer thing than lying in your sleeping bag and watching the sun’s glow creeping up the fabric to dry off the moisture and encourage you to crawl out and start the day. I’m riding the east coast for this very reason, to greet the sun as early as possible. There’s no point in getting older unless you get wiser. I’m definitely getting older, though I can’t vouch for the wisdom.

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Turning inland for a while and riding a river valley, I am surprised at the clarity of the water. It must come straight from the surrounding mountains brooding in the background. Small flocks of sheep are everywhere, and the sound of their bells serenade you on your way. Their minders(usually young lads) often acknowledge your passing.

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Even the road-side features have taken up the theme. I quite like this one.

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A large black cloud and surprisingly cold rain swept in by a strong northerly,finds me scuttling down a rapid descent to the coast, where the sky clears again. I am in Tortoli tonight, and with the body battered and bruised from the unaccustomed riding, I’ve treated myself to a night at La Corte Albergo-quite plush for not much money. I even have my own balcony and complimentary fruit bowl. Lazy music drifts up from the sun-drenched courtyard below, and the aches and pains disappear.

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Back to the day job tomorrow, and a small patch of earth for the tent. I think big climbs await me.

A flamingo greeting

We pull into Cagliari at dawn, with a full moon overhead, and a rising sun to the east. The first sensation is the size of the mountains in the distance. I plan to ride the coast, but I’m sure there will be plenty of climbing even so. Overhead, four flamingos fly in tight formation; sometimes ungainly looking on the ground, in the air they appear as nimble as fighter jets.

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A huge saline lagoon just outside of the capital is a feeding ground to the flamingoes, and it’s fascinating to watch them as they constantly walk forward, dipping their heads into the water and backwards, filtering the food. Quite therapeutic.

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Continuing with the theme of roadside art, I have noticed many good pieces-drawings, graffiti, sculpture. This one brought the bike to a halt today, painted on a concrete wall. Somebody had a skill, and it made me think just how many people are hiding their light under a bushel.

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I’m finally back in the tent for the first time in 2015, and it feels good ( and cheap- 7 euros for the night ) It may not be much but it’s home! Across the road from the campsite is this beach, where I had lunch and dozed off in the sun. Lazy day. Tomorrow I start heading up the east coast, and see what this island has to offer.

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A run for the ship

At the beginning of southtothesun I said that there would be no time constraints on this trip, but today may have been the only exception.
I had originally intended riding west to Trapani and catching the ferry from there to Sardinia. Unfortunately that service has been suspended, so it had to be the capital Palermo with one weekly sailing. If I missed Saturdays, it would be a week of kicking my heels, so this left me with a 113km ride from Argento. It turned out to be quite a run.
Argento is an interesting place, with some impressive green-grocers. Artichokes as usual seemed to constitute the favourite vegetable, and everything looked incredibly fresh. I wandered into a basic looking takeaway pizza place (with one plastic table)and had the most delicious Frutta de Mare. The young lad who made it for me seemed most concerned that I was completely happy with his creation.He needn’t have worried, the Sicilians are second to none when it comes to food preparation.

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As I withdrew some cash in the town square I was watched by a line of worthies seated nearby.This was a familiar scenario repeated many times on my journey south. Until I acknowledge them they are always silent, but just a wave in their direction and they’re all smiles and best wishes. It doesn’t take much.
So, I leave Argento with some trepidation, aching all over from the previous days ride, and for just this once having a target to meet. The weather is overcast and cold, probably just as well. Even so I am soon working up a sweat. This part of Central Sicily is a mixture of green rounded hills and stark rocky outcrops. With little traffic, the only sound apart from my bicycle tyres,is the barking of dogs drifting down from hill farms and the raucous call of Cettis Warblers from verge-side reedbeds.

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I probably had one of the best descents ever on this ride. A very fast sweeping road which took the bike to maximum speed. Your neck aches, your shoulders ache, your arms ache, your hands ache from breaking into the bends, and even your teeth ache from the maniacal grin. Well worth it though: kilometers for free.
Palermo arrived sooner than expected. A mad sort of a place. Car horns blasting constantly, especially at the idiot cyclist who couldn’t find his way. On the back route in, piles of rubbish took the shine off, but I did find this sofa. Very nice I thought, just my style. Add a few scatter cushions and it’s all ready for Christmas.

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I toasted my arrival with a Peroni beer and a rather tasty aubergine pasta dish, which the body was craving. Food of the Gods.

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I make my way towards the port and join the good ship Dimonios, bound overnight for Cagliari in Sardinia. My third island in less than a week.

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Beginning at the end

After one cancellation owing to strong winds, the huge catermaran carries me back across the sea to Sicily at an eye-watering 35 knots. I muse on my Maltese winter. Judging by the number of goodbyes I said as I walked down the road, the roots had really started to take grip. I had become a feature of the place! All things change though, and I start to feel excitement about the impending ride. Excess weight and a drop in cycling fitness will mean a slow start, but hopefully that will soon be remedied.

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Sicily welcomes me back with benign weather. Warm sunshine and a gentle breeze to nudge me along the coast. The verges are a riot of colour from Spring flowers, and the palm trees are full of chattering birds. Acres of greenhouses are full of plump ripe aubergines and tomatoes, and the fields seem to be given over entirely to artichokes.

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For the sake of sentimentality I have lunch in Punta Secca, next to the small harbour where my southerly ride ended in October. As the mother and child stare expectantly out to sea, I quickly despatch two arancini, which is the favoured eating of Inspector Montalbano, and realise that food is once again reduced to fuel, to fire the engine that turns the cranks to move the loaded bike. Whatever it takes to get you up the road.

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I was in a garage this afternoon and unsure of the correct route, I asked a young lad who was stood near by. He was on a moped, and said “follow me”
First he had to light his cigarette, then put his helmet on, or half on, so it was hanging off the back of his head. Off we go, and he was surprised at the speed of a loaded touring bike on an incline, so he accelerated to catch up. The cigarette goes out, so the first stop occurs and he waves me on. Catching me up, he is smoking with one hand and gesticulating with the other. I can’t for the life of me work out how he’s controlling the bike. Second stop to relight the cigarette, and then a right turn into a one way street the wrong way. If it’s alright for him… Some friends pass in a car, also going the wrong way, so he stops for an animated conversation, and finally we part company. ” Gela is 30 kilometers that way” he says vaguely pointing. I thank him profusely. It was actually 35, but who’s counting? Welcome back to Italy.

Tonight I am staying in a place called Manfria, next to the beach and the breaking surf. It’s an odd building called The Boomerang, slightly down-at-heel. I probably won’t come back.

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The Road again

“There is no solace for us,
For such as we,
Who search for some hidden city
We shall never see……..
Instead there is only the road.
The Dawn and the Wind and the
Rain
And the Watchfire under the stars,
Then sleep….
And the road again.”

John Masefield.

Let’s go. It has been far too long.

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