TAORMINO

On the way to Taormina, we stopped at the Villa Romana del Casale, which contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We toured all the open areas although some of the most famous floors, including the one of the bikini-clad female athletes were closed for restoration.

 
     
 
     
 

After the Villa, we drove to Caltanissetta and had lunch at an agriturismo where we had home-made red wine, sensational antipasto, pasta e fagioli, and the most delicious home-made lemon curd tarts.  The view from their terrace is beautiful.

     
 

In Taormina, the Hotel Ariston was high over the sea near the town.  Our room had a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and we enjoyed sitting there during wine hour and sunset.  There is a beautiful swimming pool and  a nice dining room.

 
     
 
     
 
     
The next morning we took a walking tour of Taormina.  We started at the Trevelyan Gardens, now a public park, established by an Englishwoman who lived in Taormina.
     
 
     

The gardens are full of Victorian follies and statues.  We passed Giardino which became our favorite restaurant and a cleverly disguised TV satellite dish.

 
     
 
     

Taormina streets are mostly vertical as the town clings to a hillside.  The Piazza del Duomo is part of the main street overlooking the sea.

 
     
 
     
 
     
 
     
Part of the tour was a visit to the Greco-Roman theater originally built in the third century BCE with great views of Mt. Etna from the upper tiers.
     
 
     

That night we had our first festive dinner at Giardinos.

 
     
 
     
The following morning we drove to Siracusa where we started at an ancient quarry which was turned into a garden paradise.  Thousands of slaves once worked underground here to extract the limestone.  In the same area is a Roman amphitheater.
     
 
     
 
     
Then we visited the Greek theater which is still used today.  It was being prepared for the summer production of Agamennone.
     
 
     
Next we went to the heart of the town and saw the Temple of Apollo, the medieval streets and other old sites.
     
 
     
 
     

The Duomo was rebuilt in Baroque style after the devastating 1693 earthquake.  The building actually dates back to pre-Christian times and was a Doric temple originally.

 
     

Some original Doric columns still support the roof while the ornate Baroque style dominates the rest of the interior.

 
     
After lunch in a waterfront restaurant, we stopped at a papyrus making shop on the way back to our bus.  We passed a military cemetery with graves from World War II and an Italian Coast Guard memorial.
     
 
     
 
     
The next day was Sunday and totally free to spend as we pleased.  So we arranged for boats to take us on a cruise around Taormina's waterfront in the morning and in the afternoon we took the local bus to the top of the mountain to visit the town of Castel Mola.
     
 
     
 
     

Castel Mola literally perches on the mountain overlooking Taormina.  The road to it bends and curves up the incline.

 
     
 

We had lunch at Cafe Turrisi which is decorated with penises, all in good taste, of course.  The town is charming and relatively unspoiled.

     
 
     
 
     
 
     
The next day we spent in Catania, south of Taormina along the Cyclops Coast. 
     
 

Piazza  Duomo features St. Agatha's Cathedral on a large square.  In the church is the tomb of Vincenzo Bellini, the opera composer.

     
 
     
 

In Duomo Square is the symbol of the city, The Fountain of the Elephant from 1736.  Near the square is a huge outdoor market offering everything from fresh fish and meat to exotic fruits and vegetables.

     
 
     
 
     
We toured City Hall and saw an antique donkey cart on the ground floor.  Later we bought a panel from a cart illustrated with the symbol of Sicily.  We also toured a building from the University and had cippolina (delicate pastry shells filled with fresh tomatoes, fried onions, ham and cheese) for lunch at an outdoor cafe..
     
 
     
 
     
 
     
After strolling the streets of Catania, we headed back to the bus through a park.  There were tables of men playing Scopa, the national card game of Sicily which Mario taught us to play.  We drove back to Taormina via the Cyclops Coast. It is here, as told in Homerís Odyssey, that Cyclops threw these rocks at the fleeing Ulysses, who had blinded him.  We stopped in the town of Acitrezza for a delicious granita, the Sicilian semi-frozen treat of sugar, water and lemon juice.
     
 
     
That evening was our farewell dinner (with entertainment).  We weren't leaving until the day after tomorrow but some of us had to be at Catania airport at 6:00 a.m.
     
 
     
On our last full day in Sicily we travelled to Mt. Etna which was always visible during our stay in Taormina.  On the way we stopped in the town of Pertini to visit Gival Jewelers who offered us a lavish second breakfast and custom-made jewelry.
     

The breakfast offerings included home-made pastries and cakes and delicious sweet wines.  The store is located in a lovely restored luxury villa.

 
     
 
     
From the villa we drove up the slope of Mt. Etna, the lava flow damage from the 2002 eruption increasing the higher we went.  We stopped at the jumping-off point for four-wheel vehicles and trekkers who ascend further toward the crater.  That was not on our agenda.
     
 
     
 
     
After strolling the area and sipping a sample of Lava Fire, a potent local liquor, we drove back down the volcano to the town of Randazza where the local elementary school had prepared a show for us.  The Grand Circle Foundation, an offshoot of our travel company, contributes funds to local groups like this.
     
 
     
After the school we drove to a local village where a family had prepared lunch for us.  The mother makes her own pasta and showed us a tray of freshly prepared fettuccini made that morning.  The lunch, which included amazing fried bread, was huge and delicious.  After eating, we posed with the mother and daughter who fed us.
     
 
     
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Giardini Naxos, the town at the base of Taormina.  We strolled the waterfront and posed for some final Sicily pictures.
     
 

After arriving back at the hotel, we had a farewell meeting and drink and had dinner in the hotel buffet.  We got up the next morning at 3:00 a.m. to drive to Catania to catch a plane to Rome and connect to JFK before heading home to Sarasota.

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