Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Italy: Mountains and Sea at Taormina

The gondola (Funivia per Taormina Mare) from Taormina's central district to
the beaches below passes over an athletic field on its way down the mountain.

We arrived in Sicily a little after 10 on a Friday morning on the ferry from Villa San Giovanni to Messina.  Since we were in Messina and the timing was right, we wanted to see one of Messina's most popular sights, the Duomo's bell tower clock striking noon. It took a while to find a parking spot and then to figure out how to buy the parking slip to put on the dashboard, but we made it to the Duomo piazza in plenty of time.

The clock tower isn't some artifact from medieval times. It was built in 1933, but its technology seems much earlier. At noon, counterweights, gears and levers move and animate gilded bronze statues in the facade that have religious significance (a lion standing and roaring seems a symbol of a strong Christian faith, for example, or maybe of the resilience of the city) or relate to traditions specific to Messina. It lasts about 15 minutes and drew a couple hundred spectators on the day we were there. (For more on the tower, click HERE.)

As soon as the clock show was over, we left Messina on the coastal road south to Taormina, a medieval mountainside town on the Ionian Sea northeast of Mount Etna.  It's almost totally a tourist town, and for good reason. It has excellent restaurants, a gondola to take people down the mountain to beautiful beaches, rugged buses to take people up the mountain to even more scenic Castelmola, and a raft of hotels with sea and mountain views. It reminded me of Capri.

We stayed at a tiny inn, the Maison d'Art Casa Arico. We were using GPS on our smartphone to reach the inn when it told us to turn into a covered alley that was about a meter wide. We couldn't park nearby, so we kept driving thinking we could find a way to reach the other end of that alley, but we ended up parking on the other side of town and calling the hotel. One of the innkeepers came to us on a motorcycle and had us follow him through a maze of narrow streets and turns so tight that I had to reverse our small car to navigate them. When we got to the inn, on a tiny residential street, there was no place to park, but that wasn't a problem. The inn had someone come and take our car away as soon as we got the luggage out. The car reappeared three days later when it was time to leave.

Messina's Duomo is a typical southern Italian
cathedral, which is to say that it is magnificent,
but it's the campanile or bell tower
that steals the show with its
intriguing clock.

The lion is just a few minutes away from
moving up and down and roaring.

Biblical scenes are depicted in this revolving element.

This is the view from our hotel balcony
in Taormina. Though most hotels are either
near the beaches or in the commercial district,
ours was tucked away on a quiet residential street.

Jane adds the tonic to our afternoon G&Ts
on our hotel's roof terrace. That's the
Ionian Sea in the distance.

The little almost-island at left is Isola Bella, a destination
for sunbathers who want to get away from the crowded

A lido at Mazzaro, Taormina's most popular beach.
Our hotel provided us with towels and a beach bag, we
rented shaded lounges here, ate lunch at the
snack bar, and had a very nice day. It was one
of the best swimming spots we visited in Italy.

The central piazza in Castelmolo, a small town high above
Taormina, which is visible in the distance. The main
attraction is the remains of a mountain fortress.

Tourists stroll the narrow
streets of Castelmola

"Cucina Tipica Siciliana" appears on many restaurant signs. It advertises typical
Sicilian cooking. Here it's rather badly translated. I wonder how many visitors
to my city of San Diego would want to eat at "Typical California Restaurant." 

This bronze in Taormina's beautiful Villa Comunale
park, is by Piero Guidi and is called "Angeli del
Nostro Tempo" or "Angels in Our Time."

Century-old follies, structures with no function other than to delight the eye,
at Villa Comunale park.

Corso Umberto I is the main shopping street in Taormina.
Most of the good restaurants are on smaller streets. The weekend
we were there coincided with a book fair sponsored by Jaguar.
Jaguar E-Pace SUVs, some of them plug-in electrics,
drove fair VIPs very slowly through these crowded streets.
Only one English-language work was sold at the fair,
a child's folding book about ancient Greek gods. We
bought it for our granddaughter.

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