April 7, 2022
As I wrote in my previous post, instead of Messina, Sicily, because of dangerous winds, we were rerouted to Syracuse which is located in the southeastern coast of Sicily. I am not sure if the local authorities were not accustomed to ships or it was just bureaucracy, but we were supposed to leave for our tour at 8 AM and the authorities did not clear the ship until almost 9:30. Our cruise director, Peter, said they just kept asking for more and more paperwork that no other ports had requested. We even had to show our ship card to authorities as we left the ship which hasn’t happened up until now.
Anyway, we got on our way by 9:40 for our trip to Taormina and Mt. Etna. Our guide was Nadia and the first thing she told us was that we needed N95 or KN95 masks and if we didn’t have them (we did), she provided them. We had to wear them in the bus too. But by now we are well used to that.
The port of Syracuse did not impress us on arrival, but apparently there is a very impressive old city. It was founded by the Greeks in 734 BC. As with many European cities, subsequent wars and takeovers by Romans, Byzantines, North Africans, Normans and others left their influence on art and even cooking styles. It is hard to imagine now, but in its heyday this was the largest city in the ancient world, bigger than even Athens and Corinth.
As we left Syracuse, Nadia gave us some other information about Sicily. (in Amalfi, Alessio told us that their biggest export was the Mafia, but Nadia didn’t mention that!!)
Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean and also borders the Ionian Sea. The population is 5 million. It is generally temperate all year but of course on Mt. Etna there is snow from about October to May and there is skiing during the winter months.
Because of the lava from Mt. Etna, the soil is very fertile and many crops are grown here. Lemon and orange (including blood orange) trees line the roads and wheat, almonds, olives, cherry tomatoes, peaches, prickly pear, fava beans and cherries are some of the many agricultural crops found in the area.
Nadia would have been a guide leaving from Messina if we had docked there, so she had to get up at 3 AM to get to Syracuse to meet the ship. She never complained, though, the guides are all happy to have tourists back.
Here are some views of the coastline as we approached the road leading up to Taormina.
We drove to Taormina which is located high on a cliff (200 meters above sea level) just below Castelmola. Here is a view of that town.
Taormina is a really charming town, 12,000 population, with many winding streets, several squares usually build around the churches, and one of the main attractions, the Greek and Roman Theater. Here are some of the sights we saw on our walk to the theater.
We are so lucky to have a clear day. Mt. Etna views were wonderful. And it is really the beginning of the season, so there were no crowds and the weather was about 65 and sunny. It can get over 100 degrees in the summer.
By the time we were ready to leave Taormina at 1:45, I just had to get a gelato because “lunch” wouldn’t be until about 3:15!
We headed to Mt. Etna where we would first have lunch at a restaurant near the Crater Silvestri (1300 feet from the top) and then visit one of the 200 craters on the 11,000 ft. high volcano. This is an active volcano with 4 active craters and it last erupted two months ago. Nadia said there were 50 eruptions last year. They have warnings and ways to divert the lava so it is very different from 1669 when the lava reached the sea and destroyed the city of Catania, which was rebuilt. It is the highest active volcano in Europe.
I had to really admire the bus driver as the roads up Mt. Etna are narrow and very winding. In fact, for this tour, there was a printed warning for anyone who gets motion sickness to avoid the tour.
We had lunch at the restaurant La Cantoniera. The hospitality was great and the mushroom risotto was perfect. The wine, not so much! Those who eat meat also had a lasagna and we all had a salad and dessert.
I bundled up because it was 40 degrees and very windy at the crater. Here are some photos which of course, cannot accurately show how deep it was. The wind could almost lift you off your feet and I was the only one of 20 on our tour who walked down AND around the rim of the crater. I guess I am a true badass!
We arrived back at the ship at 6:30 and were the last to return. We canceled our reservation at Jacques for tonight and after our showers to remove all of the lava dust, we had a casual dinner in the Terrace Café.
It was a tiring but really wonderful day. Our entertainer tonight was Mark Palmer, a comedian in the style of Jerry Seinfeld – using every day experiences to make us laugh.
Tomorrow we have our only sea day of this cruise and our clocks move another hour forward tonight.