On Thursday, Suzy and I caught a 6.30 flight from Bergamo to Catania, Sicily. When we arrived at the airport, we made our way to the taxi/bus area and caught a bus to Taormina! During the ride, we checked out the countryside, which was sooooo pretty. The island is composed of rolling green hills, almost Hawaiian ‘rippled’, which are covered by olive trees and desert shrubs. From the road we could see the beautiful coastline to our right and Mt. Etna, Sicily’s volcano, to our left. When we reached Taormina, we checked into our hostel, and then headed to the beach.
Taormina is situated on a cliff overlooking a small island…. Isola Bella, so getting down to the beach is a bit of a hassle…that is if you re cheap like us and don’t feel like paying 3 euros to get the cable car down. So about 400 stairs later, we arrived at the rocky beach near Isola Bella. We were able to walk over to the island because there’s a thin sand bar linking Bella to the beach. However, waves from both sides come crashing between, so it’s almost impossible not to get wet when it’s high tide. We explored the little island and then went back into town where we then made our way up to the castle….400 stairs later…lol we made it to the top! The views from the castle were sooooo spectacular! You easily see Etna and Catania from here. After hiking down from the castle, we checked out the old town! The town is very small, but it’s sooooo ‘Italian” and beautiful. The streets are narrow with little terraces overlooking the alley ways. We bought some groceries and headed back to the hostel.
The next day, we went up with a small group to Etna! We all piled into the jeep and drove for about 1 and a half on winding roads with beautiful scenery and the occasional man on horseback. When we got to the base of the craters, we got out of the car and hiked around several of them. Our tour guide was very informative about the geographical and geological nature of the volcano, and also the island itself. He told us that the Sicilian flag, which is Medusa with three legs coming out from her head, was actually associated with Mt.Etna. Medusa represented the volcano because it turned everything into stone…and the legs represented the three corners of the island. He also talked about the rich soil around the volcano, which allowed for excellent farming of all different kinds of plants, including apple trees, vineyards, olive trees, hazelnut trees, almond trees, etc. The closer you are to the volcano, the better the soil, but higher the risk of natural destruction.
After hiking around the craters for awhile, we went to Gambino Vineyard. (Not associated with Maffia family in States…i asked lol)Here they fed us and also let us all try several different Sicilian wines. My favorite was this red wine they they grew at their vineyard, which tasted nothing like red wines I’ve had before. It had a nice, light flavor. Once we finished eating and drinking, we took a ride to the latest lava field. You could literally see the end point of the lava flow. The tour guide told us that people would come up the mountain to the slow moving lava and cook food on sticks over the hot molten rock. People would have a small festival around the lava flow, bringing there coolers and picnic lunches and watch the lava move down hill. Lastly, we went to a lava cave and explored inside for a while. The cave was produced from when the lava melted the earth beneath it, causing a hole in the ground…then the earth from either side of the hole eventually came together to form an underground cave. The cave ground was the hardened lava river that had cooled after it ceased moving. Many years ago, the cave was actually used by the villagers to store ice. They would bring snow into the cave during the winter, and by summer, the snow would have condensed into ice. The villagers would then bring the ice from the cave down the mountain to put their fish in.
The next morning we went to the Greek amphitheater, which was originally constructed in 200 BC. It is situated on the tallest hill in Taormina, which allowed for amazing views of the island. Also, several of the pillars have been knocked down over the years, so you can easily see the volcano and the surrounding hills between the remaining ones. After, we went down to the beach and swam in the cold water around Isola Bella. It was about 60 degrees, but it was well worth it! The water was soooo clear, you could see all these sea urchins, fish, and beautiful rocks. I noticed though that the water was especially salty. I guess that’s how the Mederterranian Sea is? After swimming, we warmed up in the sun for awhile before heading into town and listening to some music in the piazza. The performers sang ‘Amore’, which is probably the most stereotypical Italian song I can think of haha. We shopped around for a little until it got dark outside. We headed over the piazza again and saw the red glowing lava from Etna…. that was beyond cool! The next morning we caught a flight back to Mi-lame-o. Lol haha ;P