2012 April 20 – Day 40 – Taormina, Sicily, Italy

At last a day at sea; a day to rest after so many consecutive days in port with bus rides and walks every day.  The sky was overcast all day and there were strong winds so no nice relaxing walks on the deck.  The night of April 19 was a formal night and the Venetian Masquerade Ball later in the evening.We had to be up a 6 am the next day for our all day tour.  Taormina, on the island of Sicily off the toe of the Italian boot, sits 700 feet above the Bay of Naxos.  It has a long-established, thriving tourist-based economy that was a famed resort area even in Roman times.  The ship was at anchor and passengers were tendered ashore.  We were the first group into the tenders to get to shore by 8 am for the start of our walking tour in Taormina.            Snow-capped Mt. Etna in the background. It was a short bus ride up to the town.  Maria Rosa, our guide for the day, took us through the main street pointing out special buildings, churches and architectural styles (Sicily has been ruled by Greeks – 350 BC – Romans, Byzantines, Arabs – three times, Normans, French, Aragonia Spanish and Berbers until 1860.)  Many of the buildings contain elements of several civilizations or architectural styles.  Taormina was like Santorini; every time you turned your head, every corner you walked around, there were interesting things, or scenes, or designs.

We loved Sicily.  The sun was shining, the ocean was a beautiful blue and the view of Mt. Etna in the distance was absolutely gorgeous.

                      There was a lovely view from the town.

Taormina is one of Italy’s prettiest towns.  It is perched on a craggy mount and has long been a favourite of the elite.  The shop windows had really lovely, colourful displays.

. The tour of the town ended at the Greco-Roman Theater and afterward we had free time to roam.  At 11:45 we all met back in the village square and took the elevator 7 levels back down to the bus.  It was an unusual way to get up and down a steep hill to town. The bus ride took over an hour to climb to the 2,000 m (6,000′) level of Etna, which tops out at  3,300 m (11,000′).  Etna, by the way is the name of the volcano, not the mountain.  The mountain that the volcano is on is Stromboli.  Etna has erupted more than 130 times in recorded history and more than a dozen times in the past 40 years.  It has minor eruptions every 10 or so years.  Etna is considered a ‘friendly’ volcano because she erupts regularly which releases the pressure.  Vesuvius, alternatively, is considered to be the most dangerous volcano in the world because it lies totally dormant for many, many years and then erupts without warning.

By the time we arrived at the restaurant where we were to have lunch it was cloudy with snow-rain and strong winds.  We ate at the Crater Restaurant that had been rebuilt on the same site after the 1983 eruption buried the original building under 45′ of lava rock.  This fox was beside the road on our way up the mountain and was still there on our way back down.  I suspect he is fed.  The clouds formed an even, dark grey mass above the valley.

We were at Crateri Silvestri, which has a path around the rim and I would have loved to walk it.  A few people were doing so, but the wind is was really strong and bitterly cold.  We walked a short distance on the way to the path and John decided he did not wish to get any colder and went back.  I wanted to go further so I went halfway around the one side.  Our friend Andrea, from the video department and her friend Leigh, the dancer, were trying to walk the rim as well.  It was all we could do to keep our feet on the ground, the wind was that strong.  We took a few photos and headed back to shelter. This postcard shows you the restaurant and the crater we could have walked around if the wind had not been so strong or so cold.  The bus took us back down the mountain, past the waiting fox and to the port.

                                             Old lava flows.

                      And now we are back to spring.  We caught the second-to-last tender at 4:20 and the ship set sail at 5 PM.

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