Taormina, Sicily

Lipari & Stromboli

(06/28/05) This morning, following a 127 nautical mile trip from Malta, we anchored north of the dock in Giardini Naxos Bay due to strong winds and choppy waters.  We took tenders to the shuttle buses and enjoyed a beautiful drive to the hillside town of Taormina, on the eastern side of the island of Sicily – the views were spectacular!  We met our guide – Maria Rosa – at the town square closest to the “Medina Gate”, then walked to the ancient theater (Il Teatro) with Greek – then Roman – history and architecture dating to the 2nd century AD.  It continues to be used for concerts today.  The steep climb in the heat was worth it for the fabulous views of the water below and steaming Mt. Etna in the distance.  Sicily, like Malta, has a long history of occupation by countless groups dating back many centuries because of its strategic location.  The town of Medina (on one tip of the “triangle”) is only two miles from Italy’s mainland.  Sicily has a 25% unemployment rate and a large percentage of Sicilians now live in other countries.

            Taormina relies heavily on tourism, and, like many other charming walled towns, its streets are filled with shops and restaurants.  Popular souvenirs include the blue and yellow pottery with the triangular Medusa symbol, and small marionettes that are replicas of the huge historical ones on display in the former parliament house – an ancient villa that is now a small museum, art gallery, and tourist bureau.  We walked through part of the town with “Tommie” – one of the Tauck guides – enjoying charming, narrow, hilly streets with colorful bouganvilla and oleander everywhere.  Lemons are prolific here – and as large as oranges!

            For lunch we chose a restaurant that we were told was one of the few with outdoor seating and a view of the water.  Ristorante Granduca (on Corsa Umberto) was a lovely spot, but they seemed a bit “chilly” about serving Americans, and 2 of the 4 meals ordered by our foursome never were delivered!  (Luckily, we were no longer very hungry after sharing the appetizers – unusual, but tasty stuffed fried sardines and melon with prosciutto) – so we left and felt less guilty about enjoying some yummy gelato while “people-watching’!

            We returned to Le Ponant hot and tired – but were revived by the wild tender ride and the offer of a swim and snorkel outing.  Few fish were seen, but the cool water felt fabulous – until the jellyfish began stinging!   Yours truly got heavily zapped on one leg – and seven others were stung on various body parts.   We returned to the ship after an interesting tender ride around part of the coast (including two grottos – one filled with bats!) – then treated our “wounds” and got ready for cocktails and the Captain’s Dinner – a 4-course meal with scallops in puff pastry, Dover sole wrapped around braised leeks, lamb chops and a decadent chocolate dessert.  We were entertained by a lively roving Italian quintet – then the party moved to the Marina Deck for drinks and dancing.  At 10:00 the guest musicians returned to shore and our pianist-singer Michel entertained. 

            About a dozen of us decided to wait up for the crossing through the Medina Strait  (the closest point to the mainland coast) – but by the time we finally got there at 2:00 AM  there were only four of us left at the topside bridge plus the captain!   Interesting?.... Yes.  Would we do it again?.... NO.   It was a much shorter than normal night’s sleep during the 74 mile sail to Lipari.

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