A City Built On A Mountain.....

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
Trip End Oct 02, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

12 September 12 - Wednesday

When I arrived at the Trattoria for breakfast, I found that most of the group was already there. Breakfast was the same as the previous day, which was a bit sparse compared to my usual repast in the morning.

After breakfast I went back to the Hotel and got my packs loaded quickly and started the walk to the bus.  It took a good 10-15 minutes in the warm morning sun but I made it before 09:00.  The Bus left on time and we started the journey to our first stop of the day.

After a couple of hours, the Bus stopped at an Auto Grill for a washroom and coffee break.  While walking around the parking lot, I noticed several of the seemingly ubiquitous Fichi di India bushes.  Although that's a type of Cactus, the fruit is edible.  I ordered a Panino as well as a coffee, as I needed to supplement the meager breakfast provided at the Trattoria.  We then carried on to our next stop, which was a visit to Mt. Etna.

On the way up the mountain, the Bus stopped for a few minutes to allow the group to take photos of a smoke or cloud-shrouded Mt. Etna.  There were some roadside stands selling fresh Honey at that location, and several members of the group bought some to take home.

Given the logistics of the situation, we wouldn't have time to go to the top of the mountain via Cable Car and tour the main crater, so we stopped at a lower crater for a brief walkabout.  The Bus eventually stopped in a large parking lot, which is also the location where the Cable Cars depart from.  There was a small Bar and several other businesses next to the crater and after looking at the crater, several of us bought a slice of Pizza to hold us until lunch, which was still  over an hour away.  At the small Crater, the black volcanic soil was clearly evident and the surrounding landscape looked like something that might be seen on the moon.  A few derelict and abandoned farmhouses could be seen.

We finally reached our next stop a few hours late, the beautiful Barone di Villagrande winery, which is located on the slopes of Mt. Etna at 700 metres above sea level.  The winery has been owned by the same family and has been active since 1727.  The view from the estate was incredible, with vineyards arranged in neat lines on terraces surrounding the winery.   We were treated to an elaborate two part lunch and wine tasting, with the first part being held out in the garden overlooking the vineyards, and the second part inside the elegant mansion.  It was a very complete meal, accompanied by several types of wine.  Just prior to leaving, several members of the group (including me) stopped by the wine store and bought a few bottles of wine.

Following the winery tour, we continued to Taormina which wasn’t far from the winery.  The Bus is too large to negotiate the narrow and twisting streets of the town, so stopped at a parking lot at the bottom, where our group and luggage had to transfer to Mini-Vans for the trip to the Hotel.  We were dropped at the front door of Hotel Continental, which looked like very nice although the decor reminded me of the '60s.

Taormina is built on the slopes of Mt. Tauro, and is Sicily's most famous resort town.  Although the town is built on the side of a mountain, the beaches are easily accessible via an aerial Tramway.  It's been a very popular tourist destination since the 19th century, and has been visited by such notables as Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe and the composer Nietzche, who wrote the famous Also sprach Zarathustra here.  The most significant historical site is undoubtedly the Teatro Greco ("Greek Theatre|), which is one of the most important sites in Sicily.

I was assigned a room on the bottom level of the Hotel, which was actually a convenient location as it was on the same level of the breakfast room and had easy access to the streets of the main shopping area.  The room had a double bed and a typical bathroom, but unfortunately the air conditioner was a piece of junk!  At full speed, the sound resembled the African Queen or a Huey Helicopter, and didn’t seem to cool the room much at all.  I complained to the Desk Clerk and he tried to adjust it, but it didn’t make much difference.

After allowing some time for everyone to get settled in our rooms, we had our usual familiarization walk through the town, which by this time was bustling with people and activity.  There appears to be quite a few "posh" stores, and no shortage of places to spend money.   I noticed at least three weddings during the time were walking about the town.  After our walk, I stopped briefly at an Irish Pub on the main street to have a look and then went back to the Hotel, as the group was supposed to be having another "happy hour" starting at 20:00.

Everyone seemed a bit tired tonight, but the party did take place.  It was held on the outdoor patio of the Hotel, which had a fantastic view of the town and ocean below.  The Guide and several members of the group had once again bought various food items, which were served along with wine from two enormous jugs that someone brought from the winery, one white and one red.  Unfortunately, the wine in the large bottles was definitely not the same quality as that which we had enjoyed at the winery, as both the white and red gave me heartburn.  My thoughts at the time were that both wines may have been more suitable as drain cleaner!

I left the party early and headed back to my room, which still hadn’t cooled off despite the air conditioner being set on “high”.  I complained to the new Desk Clerk and asked if he had a fan, but he said “No”.  He checked with his Director and suggested moving me to the only available room left.  However, the air conditioner there appeared to be even older and less functional than the one in my present room and it only had one small single bed, so I decided to stay where I was (although I eventually moved to another room the next day).

I had thought about updating my Blog tonight, but unfortunately the Wi-Fi only operates in the Lounge area so I’ll have to do that tomorrow.  The Guide has arranged an optional boat tour on the following day for those that want to go, but the cost will be €25 per person.  At 15:30 we'll be having a tour of the large Greek theatre and the Botanical Gardens with a local Guide and then a cooking demonstration at 18:30.

12 September 13 - Thursday

I was pleased to find that a fairly elaborate breakfast was provided here, with a good variety of items arranged on three tables.  It wasn’t hard to fill up, and I was able to luxuriate over several cups of fresh coffee.I mentioned to the Guide at breakfast that I wouldn’t be going on the boat cruise.  I wanted to do some computer work and laundry this morning, prior to the tour of the Greek Theatre.  As I was leaving the breakfast room, I spoke with a young couple from Macedonia, who were on a 15-day driving holiday of Italy (I can't recall every speaking with anyone from Macedonia, so found that quite interesting).  On the way back to the room, I spoke with another couple I had seen in the breakfast room.  The guy had an Elvis-style haircut and looked like he’d just stepped out of the 60’s.  It turned out they were from the U.K. and had a home in Calabria.

For the first part of the day, I spent some time in the Lounge checking E-mail and making another Blog entry.  The Desk Clerk informed me that they had another room ready, so I moved my gear to the new room.  The air conditioner seemed to work much better, as did the plumbing.  The shower was very small, but that was a minor compromise.

After doing some internet work, I headed down to the Public Gardens as I was anxious to see what type of “Submarine” was featured there.  After walking downhill for about 10-minutes through a maze of narrow streets, I finally came to the gardens which were quite ornate and beautiful, and had a fantastic view out over the town and water below.The “Submarine” turned out to be a piloted underwater vehicle resembling a Torpedo.  These were basically a slow speed vehicle guided to their target by a two Divers.  These were officially termed a Siluro a Lenta Corsa, but were more frequently referred to as a maiale (Italian for "pig") as they were difficult to steer.  The Italian Navy used them during WW-II with some success for sabotage.  The pilot would guide the craft underneath a warship, start the timer, drop the warhead and then escape which was a similar tactic to using a Limpet Mine.  The explosion under the ship would usually break the keel, causing the ship to sink fairly quickly.  There was also an Italian artillery piece (105 mm?) and a memorial to fallen soldiers from Taormina.

After my brief look in the gardens, I walked back towards the Hotel and stopped at the Irish Pub and ordered a Burger and a pint of Guinness.  I was positioned right under the air conditioner, so it was a wonderfully comfortable lunch.  I then headed back to the Hotel to get organized for our walking tour.  I left the Hotel in lots of time for the tour, but couldn’t find Piazza Corvaja, so just carried on to the entrance of the Greek Theatre, as I figured the group would have to pass me at some point.  The group arrived about 15 or 20 minutes later, led by Tommaso who I’ve talked to on many occasions at events in Edmonds.  He recognized me right away and it was great to see him again.

After our look at the Greek Theatre, the next part was a tour of the Public Gardens that I had visited earlier.  When we arrived there, we had a brief explanation of the history of the gardens and the military memorials.  Unfortunately, within a very short time the weather took a significant turn for the worse.  It had been somewhat hazy and “muggy” all afternoon, but at about that time the rain started to fall lightly, accompanied by thunder and lightning.  Within a few minutes the rain became an incredible torrential downpour, similar to what I had experienced in Lucca last year.  To describe it as “heavy” would be an understatement!  Unfortunately, none of us saw that coming and the weather forecast hadn't indicated any severe storms.

The tour concluded quickly at that point, with everyone trying as expeditiously as possible to reach the shelter of the Hotel, which was some distance away.  I tried to shield my dSLR Camera with my Vest as much as possible, a tactic which seemed to work fairly well.  My small Camera in the front pocket of my Vest was soaked and had water under the screen.  The iPhone seemed to be fine, probably because it was shielded by the Vest to a certain extent, but also because it was in a fairly “tight" OtterBox rubber case.  Unfortunately, I forgot that I had my Tilley Hat in a side pocket of my Vest, so that would have done a great job of shielding some of the electronic items.  My shoes were soaked too, as I had to walk through some fairly deep puddles.

It took me about 15-20 minutes to make it back to the Hotel, and I took refuge under shop awnings or other shelters where possible.  I got slightly lost at one point as my glasses were covered in water and I couldn’t see through them clearly, but a helpful Carabinieri officer pointed me in the right direction.  I was VERY glad to finally see the entrance door of the Hotel.

My wet clothes went straight into in the sink, which I filled with soapy water (may as well do a wash since they’re wet anyway).  I had to break out my travel clothesline and string it across the bathroom and was glad that I had packed it.  I took the inserts out of my shoes and gave them a short treatment with the hair dryer, and then started going through the electronic items.  The dSLR was a bit wet but seemed fine (it’s supposedly weather sealed to some extent).  The P&S Camera had water under the screen, and the hair dryer didn’t seem to make any difference on that, so I took the battery and memory card out and left it to dry.

Given the circumstances, the Guide had rolled back the starting time of the Pizza & Cooking session, so I was able to get there reasonably close to "on time".  Fortunately the restaurant was just below the Hotel, as I was wearing my flip-flops which are not the most comfortable (those were the only dry shoes I had at that point).

The group was seated in a back corner of the restaurant, and when I arrived a couple of them were assisting the Chef in making Pizza.  After that was finished, we had a demonstration from one of the female Chefs that showed how Tiramisu is made.  To read the recipe, it doesn't sound difficult, but there's a definite procedure in making it properly.

Water and Wine was delivered to each table (and replenished regularly) and then the seemingly never ending servings of food started.  The feast tonight included Bruschetta, Salad, at least four different types of Pizza and then finally the Tiramisu.  I was so full that I simply couldn’t eat anymore!

After dinner it was back to the Hotel, where I checked the status of my clothes and other gear and loosely organized my Packs for the trip tomorrow.

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