Trip to Alcantara and Randazzo
Up at 6:30 - we are going on a tour today and the bus picks us up at 8. There are still youngsters around from last night, and they seem reluctant to stop the feast.
Besides the Norwegian guide, who is on duty, there are four other Startour girls who are not wearing uniform. They are probably learning the tour, because they write notes as we go along.
We drive through the beautiful Alcantara valley and stop by the gorge, Gole dell'Alcantara. For 3 € we get a ticket with permission to climb down the gorge, down to the icy water flushing from the mountains.
Wearing a wet suit and a helmet you can follow the water upstream if you are so inclined, and if you have an interest in botany there are many signs that explain and describe the local flora. Luckily one can take a lift up again.
After refreshments in the cafeteria the trip continues towards Randazzo. Randazzo is close to Etna and there is a big market every Sunday. The weather is unusually clear today, and we make a photo stop on the way, where there is a spectacular view of Etna.
Market in Randazzo
Randazzo is an old town, but has never been hit by Etna's lava flows. When you see the many 'frozen' rivers of lava outside the city, you start to believe in miracles.
The Sunday market is big - very big. There are vegetables, fruit, cheeses, meat, delicacies, clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery, kitchen utensils and probably a lot more that we never see. It is crowded and you can hardly move. I cannot stand being in a crowd like this and feel claustrophobic. Except the food most of the merchandise is probably junk, but maybe I am influenced by my claustrophobia.
Helle would love to turn every stall inside out, but she senses my rising despair and joins me on a walk through the city's historical centre. Old people going to or from mass are dressed in their finest clothes. A brass band in red uniforms marches through the streets, and the redheaded 'village idiot' marches proudly in front.
On the square in front of the church tiny karate fighters with yellow belts show their skills in hand-to-hand combat, and the audience (probably family) applaud with enthusiasm while the show is being recorded for local TV.
Back at the market we buy two bananas and a piece of pancetta, the good Italian bacon. The woman cannot understand why we want only two bananas - buying 10 is a bargain.
We return to the bus and so do the other passengers. People talk eagerly about good deals and what they have bought. They do not need it, but it was so cheap!
Wine tasting at Torrepalino's
Not far from Randazzo we visit the co-operative Torrepalino, where they make Etna-wine: white, red, rosé and spumante.
When the grapes are harvested the farmers take them to the co-operative. The grapes are weighed and the sugar content is measured. The grapes are stripped with modern machines and fermented in stainless steel tanks in the cellars, which have been dug out of old lava. We should have put on our jackets, because it is quite cold in the cellars.
The tasting is impressive with a delicious selection of bread, cheeses, sausages, olives, sun dried tomatoes and more. I like their white wines. They are fresh with a nice acidity, but I think the red wines lack body to balance the acidity. Their best red wines cost 10-15 €, and for that kind of money I could get much better wines back in Denmark. However to show our good will we buy a white wine for 5 €; I am sure the balcony back in Naxos can handle it.
Almond cakes in Linguaglossa
The last stop is in Linguaglossa where we taste some sweet almond cakes at a local bakery.
As we left the bus and crossed the street a car stopped and was hit from behind by another car, whose driver did not break in time. Now the two drivers are discussing the incident. The man who was hit tries to blame some old damages on the other guy, but he is nobody's fool. He jumps into the car and advances carefully, until the bumpers kiss again, to prove that the old damages and his bumper do not match. Then he grabs a camera and takes some pictures. Always keep a camera in your car!
As we reach Taormina the four extra guides who are not on duty have fallen asleep, and so have many of the other passengers.
Afternoon and evening in Giardini Naxos
Back in Giardini Naxos the beach promenade is full of locals who eat ice cream, walk and talk with neighbours and friends. I visit the Internet café while Helle enjoys a siesta. At a quarter past five I am back on the balcony. The whole town seems to be on the promenade; those who are not walking are in their cars or on their motorbikes cruising bumper to bumper. It is a very beautiful day, and the sea is quite calm. None the less it is a bit cold on the balcony in the shade.
We relax in the apartment and I leaf through Startour's info brochure. There is an add for a local restaurant, which says:
"Typical fish restaurant. We serve fresh sea food every day, different fish and shellfish and even live lobsters."
Live lobster certainly beats sushi.
The old lady again
We leave the apartment at eight for Taverna Naxos. On the street I suddenly cannot remember if I locked the door and return to check (not a word about short-term memory, if you please!).
Of course I had locked the door, but now the old lady appears and asks me to lock her door - it is a bit dark and she has trouble finding the keyhole. Of course I can lock her door! In fact I am a master door-locker - but none the less I ask her if she is convinced that she wants the door locked? At least twice she could not open it and needed help. For the same reason the door has been unlocked for days. She has obviously forgotten all about that.
She asks coquettishly if I know how old she is? Of course I don't and in no mood for flirting I say: "83". Not pleased she says pointedly: "84". Well, well - I could have made a more polite guess. Despite the offence she does not prevent the brute from holding doors and escorting her down to the street.
Evening at Taverna Naxos
We are among the fist guests at Taverna Naxos and like yesterday that is a good strategy, because within half an hour the restaurant is full and most of the guests are locals. Helle is not that hungry and orders noodle soup and grilled tuna. I order minestrone and veal rolls - another Sicilian speciality. With this salad, water and a carafe of white wine.
The noodle soup is served with grated Parmesan. Helle says it is a bit tame, but OK. My minestrone is heavenly.
Helle gets two pieces of swordfish, and when the waiter returns a moment later we say that we had ordered tuna. He just says: "È tonno" and hurries on. It is not tuna. It is most definitely swordfish, but we have not brought equipment to perform a DNA analysis and resign before the food gets cold. After all swordfish is OK. My veal rolls are thin slices of veal with a delicately spiced filling. They are good, but do not get five stars like the minestrone.
The white wine is an outstanding experience: it is not quite as sour as hydrochloric acid and not quite as unclear as lemon juice. So if you visit the nice Taverna Naxos, I would strongly recommend bottled wine, unless you bring a portable filter and an antidote. [Note: Later we have tasted the house white again, and it was okay. So I guess we were just unlucky back in 2006.]
We need neither coffee nor dessert and are billed 32,7 € only. Our timing is perfect, because we escape just when the street musicians with the out of tune guitar threaten to begin. Back home we open the Torrepalinos Etna-wine, and compared to Angelo's ulcer-promoter it is pure nectar.