On our arrival day, we walked through the promenade surrounded by sleek, posh, and chic modern shops with immoderately overpriced crafts, designer clothing, and tourist crap. Every third shop was either a cafe, restaurant, or pizzeria. Taormina has long been an exclusive holiday town for jet setters and hippies. I was surprised at how many different varieties of foreigners and tourists there were, particularly Americans. As there’s a Naval air base just forty minutes south, I guess this is a favorite weekend hangout.
The weather turned to shit with cold winds, rain, and a distinct chill in the air. It’s been chasing us for a while, and I guess it finally caught up. I’m now thinking that lugging all the winter, cold-weather clothing in our ‘body bags’ was a good idea. The following morning, our ‘sightseeing’ day, was another lousy weather day. As the winds kicked fiercely the previous night, the roads were soaked, and the potholes were deep puddles. As we bravely ventured out in the drizzle for coffee, we were some of the very few people on the streets. The prices here are noticeably higher than other places we’ve visited in Italy, even for the coffee. In someplace, it was shockingly high, almost double. We found this to be an insult. In a country that runs on coffee, charging extortionist prices to tourists for such a mainstay item is just wrong. But, damned, it is good coffee! I guess that’s the cost of staying in a very old famous tourist town.
As the weather cleared up a slight bit, we walked further and further and eventually found ourselves on top of the mountain cliff in which the town is embedded. We made our way to the gates of the obligatory castle on top, only to be reminded that it was Sunday and that the only day that the castle was closed was Sunday. Marvelous. Either way, it was a good workout and an incredibly beautiful walk, in spite of the rain and clouds.
Taormina is famous because it deserves to be. It must be one of the more refined, exquisitely beautiful places that we’ve visited. The streets are lined with old buildings constructed of dark, rough hewn rocks, bricks, and cement blocks. It’s a mixture of whatever could be found. It’s an appealing, attractive look, particularly when covered with purple and red bougainvillea flowers and adorned by filigree ironworks and aged timbers features. There is a strong Moorish influence with exotic designs, shapes, and colors. The overall sight and feel is a splendorous, restful beauty.
Pottery and clay plates and stuff are a local specialty, or it appears to be based on the number of shops. Much of the art is a bit different from what we’ve seen elsewhere regarding the colors and designs of the pottery, vases, masks, bowls, wall hanging, etc. Some of it would be an excellent complement to the eclectic Zimmer Mish-mash adorning our walls and shelves at the Cottage, but I am afraid it would never survive the shipment.
After climbing down from the mountain and into the town, we continued, and eventually descended the rest of the hill (the town is located about 500-700 feet or so on above the coastline) through winding switch-back paths to a preserved beach at the bottom. Jutting out from the rocky and sandy beach is the Bella Isla or Beautiful Island. It’s quite a picturesque island accessible through a very narrow stretch of sand that was underwater when we arrived at high tide. There are a few ancient partial structures and a single old fashioned home on top. Quite beautiful. As the weather threatened to pour on us again with it’s dark, ominously shifting clouds, we opted to ride the funicular back up the mountain to the village. My hip was grateful. Although the lower back wasn’t acting up, the vigorous climbing and descending inflamed my hip tendinitis. This aging gracefully plan isn’t working out too well, particularly when on travel.
The following day we ‘Soloed’ it, and I headed back up the mountain to photograph the ‘spectacular’ views from on top of the castle. After forty minutes of a ‘leg day’ stair workout, I discovered that Sunday is not the only day the castle was closed. No signs, no notes, no attendants, no nothing. The castle gate was still closed when on-line resources purported it to be open. I was feeling a bit foolish thinking that everybody knew that it was out of season, except me. But, then, a young couple walked up with the same sense of bemusement over our morning’s dilemma. We all surmised that this was Southern Italy, what is one to do. We also looked off to Mount Etna, or at least where it’s summit should have been. It was obscured in clouds….some of the only clouds around this morning. They were non-plussed by their loss as they said they planned to hike the mountain the next day anyways. Neither my hip nor back was inflamed (yet), but I thought how exceptionally reassuring it is to be so youthfully unconscious of your good health and good fortune to hike cliffs and volcanoes without a second thought. Good for them, and may they have many, many more carefree, healthy years ahead of them. So, this morning was not a propitious sightseeing adventure by missing both the views from the castle and Etna’s summit and volcanic ring.
As this day drew out and our visit to the graceful and venerable village of Taormina came to an end, we readied ourselves for the next cross-country endurance drive. This one was to bisect the island of Sicily as we journeyed our way to the northern coast to Palermo and the Villa overlooking the sea.