Saturday, January 3, 2015

Taormina, and leaving Sicily

...Written between 9 and 10 AM Saturday, but posted much later from Malta. 

I'm writing this from the departure lounge of Catania airport at 8:30 AM where we're waiting to see when our Air Malta flight will leave...our 7:45 AM departure appears to have been delayed at least 3 hours due to volcanic ash! The same plume of ash that we noticed on the south face of Mt Etna yesterday is still billowing forth intermittently. Here are some photos of yesterday's events followed by a couple of pictures taken at 7 AM today from inside the terminal:

And of course there's no information...just a notice on the departures board saying that flights may be delayed due to ash. A plane has just landed so that's a good sign. ( 9 AM...a plane has taken off! Another good sign but our plane isn't even here yet...9:40 AM it just arrived...10:15 we're boarding!)

Yesterday we took the bus north to Taormina, another city founded by the Greeks and taken over by the Romans, then ruled by Byzantium before falling to the Saracens...all this taking place well over 1000 years ago. It's a hilltop town that was discovered by rich young men on their Grand Tours in the 18th and 19th centuries and then the artists and writers found it in the late 19th and early 20th C, Oscar Wilde among them. It is still taken over by Hollywood notables every year for a film festival and there are a few other music and opera festivals, all taking place in the ancient Teatro Greco, Taormina's main attraction. Here's the poster advertising the opera festival this summer. Wouldn't this be fun! (Lloyd says start buying lottery tickets so we can return and stay in style at one of the ritzy hotels dotting the hillsides...)

Most of what we see of the Teatro now is what the Romans added...the walls and arches.  They also used chunks of the Greek pillars and capitals within these walls.

The Teatro is actually most impressive viewed from a distance. We went for a short hike up a nearby peak (20 minutes of stairs) and could clearly see that the Teatro is nestled neatly in a bowl.

Houses, apartment blocks and luxury hotels appear to tumble down the hillside from this vantage point. 

And also from another nearby peak...

Picnic lunch at the top:

Inside the church at the top:

Back down In the town, we came across the partially excavated ruins of a Roman amphitheater:

Lloyd squeezed into the narrowest street in Taormina:

We have had an excellent experience in Sicily. There is much to be recommended...ancient history, fabulous Greek, Roman, Saracen and Norman ruins...spectacular mosaics at the Villa Romana...but above all the warmth, friendliness and curiosity of the Sicilianos. There are many encounters never to be forgotten...trying to communicate in broken French with our hosts, ordering food, buying bread, Lloyd getting his beard trimmed, wanting only one lettuce but being convinced by the vendor to take two for the price of one at the end of the day, and so on. Navigating in cities! Whew! Being faced with a fabulous selection of wine in even the smallest of shops: from really cheap (between 2 and 3 euros) plonk in 2 litre plastic bottles (just like soda pop) to 1 litre tetra paks of "vino locale" to much more expensive (7 euros and up) for the wine produced in designated areas such as we experienced at the Mt Etna winery. And last night we had our cheapest wine yet--Lloyd took an empty bottle to the wine shop around the corner and had it filled from the barrel (2 euros). It wasn't bad--just didn't have the body and full flavour of some others. What we won't miss is looking for fresh milk (rather than UHT) and strong tea! Italians just don't drink tea like we do. We found a box of Twinings super intense tea in a supermarket in Marsala, and then had to eke it out over the next 2 weeks because we never found it again. 

Lloyd would also like it to be known that he is now back to wearing shorts! The temperature has risen to about 12 degrees or so. Here he is at the lookout at the Villa Communale, a public park nicely maintained, on the edge of Taormina.

We're now settling into Asti Guest House in Valletta, Malta and have just had a fabulous cup of tea! Malta has definitely got an English flavour...the signposts are all in English, cars are on the other side (right hand drive), and billboards on the highway coming in from the airport were advertising British goods. We're off now to find lunch, and get oriented to this city, one of the first "planned" European cities to be built on a grid system.

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