It takes more than one attempt to get up at 7.30. The Startour guides are in the lobby, and we buy tickets for a tour Sunday. The weather is brilliant, and I suggest a trip to nearby Taormina.
At the tourist office we get a bus timetable and catch a bus at the seafront 10 minutes later. Up it goes through hairpin bends towards the mundane tourist trap. A one-way ticket costs 1.1 €.
Taormina is a city of views, which Goethe noticed on his visit in 1787:
"Nun sieht man an dem ganzen langen Gebirgsrücken des ätna hin, links das Meerufer bis nach Catania, ja Syrakus; dann schließt der ungeheure, dampfende Feuerberg das weite, breite Bild, aber nicht schrecklich, denn die mildernde Atmosphäre zeigt ihn entfernter und sanfter, als er ist."
Read more from Goethe's "Italienische Reise", where he writes about Taormina.
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The town climbs the steep mountainside and there are many hotels, pensions and luxurious villas. Taormina was the holiday resort of the jet set back in Roman times. Then it was forgotten, or the jet set found other places to go; but after Goethe's and other trendsetters' visits it became fashionable again.
We walk from the bus terminal to the antique Greek theatre. If you are between 25 and 65 years old, you get in for 6 €. The ancient Greeks liked views, and from this theatre it is absolutely magnificent and dramatic. Below us is the sea and the bay with Giardini Naxos, and to the south Etna looms in all her might.
The pedestrian street, Corso Umberto, has many shops trying to tempt the tourist. Here you find everything from tasteless souvenirs to designer clothes and expensive jewellery.
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From Piazza 9. Aprile the view is magnificent too. We get a table outside Wunderbar, and a waiter in a purple jacket serves espresso and water. The bill is 11.8 €, but then the water is poured and we get ice and lemon. It is nice and warm in the sun. The blue ocean glitters below and the waiter is on vigilant standby. Can you ask for more?
At the Catania Gate we turn back. We head down at random through winding streets where laundry and cats rest in the shade. An English lady who lived in Taormina in the 1890's made the park, which is now called Giardino Pubblico. She also had some bizarre houses built.
She claimed it was an Assyrian-Babylonian temple style. The houses were used as tea pavilions back then. At the bus terminal the espresso is excellent, but we have no time for an ice cream because the bus leaves for Catania at 12:45.
Back in Giardini Naxos
We get off the bus in Giardini just past the church with the pen-like top. Giardini is the town's northern part and Naxos the southern. South of Naxos - past the peninsula with the archaeological site - is the neighbourhood Recanati with hotels and a beach for the tourists. Most of the locals live in Giardini, and here you find the small useful shops. We must explore this part of town later.
After lunch and a siesta we go to the local supermarket, Sigma, which is not on the beach front. We passed yesterday and noticed that it opens at 16:30. However it is closed Wednesdays. We did not notice that.
So instead of shopping we walk to the archaeological site and the museum. On the way we study Restaurant Cambusa's menu, and it looks good. The restaurant is at the waterfront with a view of Giardini in the bay and Taormina in the hills.
The antique Naxos
The archaeological site is on the peninsula where the first Greeks settled in Sicily in 735 BC. Here they built the city of Naxos and here they stayed for 300 years until they got licked by Greeks from Syracuse. It is said that refugees from Naxos founded Taormina.
The old city area is quite large, and over the years archaeologists have been busy with their teaspoons. There are signs pointing towards "Scavi", the excavations, but there is not much to see.
The whole area is lush and pretty wild with many orange and lemon trees. I pick an orange. It is juicy and easy to peel, but sour like a grape fruit and full of seeds. Archaeologically there is not much to see except the low remains of walls here and there. However the area is pretty and it is a pleasant walk.
In the small museum you can see some of the stuff that was unearthed here - mostly pottery. It closes at 18:30 and a ticket to the museum + excavations costs 2 € for an adult.
We walk home with a stop for refreshments at Lido di Naxos, a bar with a large terrace by the beach. One of the two cruise ships in the bay leaves. They arrived during the night. The bar's loudspeakers bombard us with commercials from an Italian radio station. The commercials are rarely interrupted by pop music.
The old lady
When we exit the lift on the 4th floor an old lady descends from the roof terrace. She complains about the wind and says that she cannot unlock her door. She could not unlock it yesterday either and stayed with her Swedish neighbours until the hotel staff solved the problem.
I turn her key and the door opens easily. We feel sorry for her. It is not easy to travel on your own being that old, and I suspect that her short-term memory has been better.
Supper at La Conchiglia
Tonight we dine at restaurant La Conchiglia, where Startour arranged the info-meeting. The place is recommended in Startour's brochure, and with hindsight I think that is because it advertises in the brochure. We do not recommend the place.
The bruschetta we did not order is delicious. The waiter does not write anything down. He just nods and says "Si" as we order, and he must have a good memory because nothing is forgotten. Helle gets an appetizer with mixed stuff from Sicily: sausage, ham, olives and assorted cheeses of which one is Parmesan and definitely not Sicilian.
I get baked mussels. The mussels are big and look good, but they are not tasty and do not make me think of the sea and saltwater. They are served in the shells covered with a sticky crust with herbs. I suspect the dish has been taken directly from the freezer to the grill. A lemon would have been nice.
Our main course is grilled rolls of swordfish (involtini di spada), a Sicilian speciality, accompanied by spinach with butter and a delicious salad with super-fresh ingredients.
We share a carafe of local white wine and some water. It is OK, but again I suspect that the fish is frozen. It lacks structure and the aroma of freshness, and the grill has been too violent. We finish off with espresso, a Vecchia Romagna for Helle and a mild and nice grappa for me.
It is not late, but the bill lands on the table uncalled for. The staff obviously wants us to leave even though there are hours to official closing time. With the 10 % discount advertised in Startour's brochure 52.9 € are reduced to 50, and then we get a glass of almond wine on the house.
The meal was not exactly bad, but most of it it tasted as if the cook did not expect us to return anyway.
Groups of teenagers talk and flirt on the beach promenade. They are not waiting for the school bus.