Friday, November 18, 2016

Enchanted by Taormina--A Sicilian Gem

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Enchanted by Taormina--A Sicilian Gem
    I left for Taormina this morning from my Hotel Gorizia in Catania with a less anxious heart. Having seen the bus station yesterday and knowing where to get my ticket, I felt more confident. Taormina is further north of Mount Etna but the bus journey was no more than two hours. Accordingly, I picked up my breakfast (croissant and coffee) from the 'bar' around the corner and walked along Via Vittorio Emanuelle to reach the main square from where buses were headed in the direction of the main bus stop. From there, I found out where I needed to wait for the bus to Taormina--it was in a large bus-station that had destinations clearly marked at each bay--and from where I could get my return ticket. It was very reasonably priced. The bus-station also has a very nice waiting room and I stayed there for about half an hour before getting to the bus station to pick up my bus. I was amazed to discover that buses ply from here to every city in Europe.

Arrival in Taormina:
     I arrived at Taormina at about 10.30 am. The drive for the last half hour was truly spectacular as the bus climbed the mountain on which the city of Taormina is situated. As it took the hairpin bends in its stride, it left us with stunning views of the East Coast of Sicily--I could not get enough of them and my camera worked overtime.
     At the top, once we got off the bus-stop, almost every passenger walked a little backwards to the lookout point where the views are at their best. Once we had posed against the backdrop of the sparking ocean, we proceeded along a sloping road to the top of the hill where a large 'doorway' heralded entry into the city.
     From the minute we got off the bus, we were inundated with souvenir shops and eateries for the venue is a very popular tourist destination. At the main square, you make a left and walk for another five minutes to arrive at the central junction. From this point, most visitors make a bee-line for Taormina's most spectacular monument, the Greek Theater (or the Teatro Greco).

The Greek Theater (Teatre Greco):
     Because it is so popular a site, entry fees to this monument are a steep 20 euros. In a way, this forces you to spend time at this sensational place--because you do feel as if you ought to get your money's worth. I was certainly going to get the fullest benefit of being in this location.
     Taormina's Greek Theater is so miraculously well-preserved that you have to wonder whether or not parts of it are refurbished (they are). It is a perfect horseshoe shape with a good part of the building comprising the stage still intact. As you climb the tiers that formed the stands in which the audience sat, you will find that it offers really stunning views of the snow-covered peak of Mount Etna which seems to perform a sort of blessing over this town with its benign presence. You can spend as much time as you like in this space in which the Greek dramatist Aristophanes (Clouds, the Frogs) is said to have debuted some of his major works and indeed been present at their performance.
     I spent a really leisurely hour in the precincts of the theater where the views of sapphire-blue sea is matched only by the emerald-green of the mountain vegetation and the sparkling diamond-like ice-cap on the mountain.  The ingenuity of  classical Greek architectural design is much in evidence at the best location of a Greek Theater in the whole world.  

Discovering Corso Umberto:
    After leaving the Greek Theater behind, I bought a magnet and postcard from one of the little souvenir shops and had a pistachio gelato in a small bar which allowed me to rest my feet for a long while.
    I then began my discovery of the main artery of the town called Corso Umberto which is an ultra-chic street lined on both sides with upscale jewelry shops, art galleries and trendy designer boutiques--all of which cater to the crowds of cruise-ship traffic that can't get enough of this adorable town. My shopping was confined to the window variety! When the narrowness of the street ends, you find yourself in a large square called Piazza IX Aprile where a large clock tower set in an arched door gateway is a lovely landmark.
    This Piazza is also the site of the Church of St. Guiseppe which is supposed to be an absolute jewel. However, it was closed and I later discovered that part of the roof caved in and has led to its long-term closure. This is a popular stop for the clicking of pictures against the gorgeous coastline which shimmered in the bright sunshine on a perfect day and was very reminiscent to me of France's Cote d'Azure (as I remembered it from a trip taken almost 30 years ago).
     You continue your walk along Corso Umberto until you come to the very end when you will be surrounded again by restaurants and small shops. There are many side streets you can take on the right side that will get you into the quainter, less touristic, parts of the city--but I did not have the energy to explore those.

Lunch in the Villa Communale:
     Instead, I took the side streets on the ocean-side of the town that were quiet and deserted. Most times I was the only human being walking down the streets with a lone car occasionally breaking the silence. Using my map, I tried to make my way to the next spot of interest, the Villa Communale or the Public Gardens. I found them after a 12 minute saunter and it was under the shade of one of the trees, facing the ocean and its stirring sea breeze that I ate my pizza lunch.
     The Villa Communale, a series of tiered gardens, were laid out by the Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan in the late 19th century. Her vision has provided the city with these glorious gardens that are filled with tropical plantings and trees whose spreading branches made the ideal locale for a series of old and contemporary sculptures. Furthermore, there is a very interesting stone 'folly' tucked into the folds of the garden that provide neat picture ops. I lingered in the gardens for a long while as they do provide a wonderful retreat and an opportunity to rest.

More Walking, More Exploring:
     I left the Gardens behind me and made my way slowly back to the main parts of Corso Umberto. I passed by lots of palazzos that have been converted into upscale hotels and private palazzos for the rich and famous. D.H. Lawrence, the English novelist, made his home here for three years and the place is popular with modern-day artists as well. I could see why. There really is not one ugly bit in this town. Everywhere you turn, you are enchanted by its beauty. While Nature has imbued the town with a spectacular location, man has carefully preserved its integrity and all construction has been pleasingly done. It is delightful to the eye and soothing to the soul. Of all the places I visited in Sicily, I adored Taormina.

Back on the Bus to Catania:
     There was a bus back to Catania at 4. 15 pm which I intended to catch. And so, I made my way down the hill very slowly, pausing often at shops to take in the souvenirs--lots of ceramics and small paintings depicting views of the town--and eventually found my way to the terminus. There, I waited for about 15 minutes, when along came the bus that took me back to Catania where I reached at about 6. 30 pm.
     I picked up a salad from McDs on my way back to my hotel and ate it in my room. I then showered and prepared for bed and for an early start as I would be leaving for Syracuse tomorrow. I went to the sweet Receptionist who carried out my check out procedure. I told him that I would be back for the final night of my stay in Sicily and he wished me well.
    Until tomorrow, cheerio...   

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