When we arrive in Messina, Sicily, around ten o’clock, it’s clear that we’re trading in Italians this morning. A lot of Sicilians are disembarking, many others are boarding here. Sicily seems a world a part from the Italy we’ve left behind, although it is only a couple miles distant at this corner, the mainland clearly visible.

Today we have arranged transport to the medieval city of Taormina, founded in 358 B.C. My sister and her son accompany us to the bus. Unfortunately, she is focused on replacing clothing lost in transit but there is no way around it. All of her luggage is still missing! Meanwhile, we will wander, shop, eat, drink, photograph, and enjoy this old city. The bus ride is lovely; a forty-five minute journey through Messina and up the steep hills of Sicily. Mount Etna and her smokey crown appear quite close as we arrive.

Our tour guide is lovely, too. I could listen to her charming accent all day. She speaks English well but sometimes as if she learned it from a book (foun-TANE, moun-TANE) or quaintly (too sweet, too good) but her earnest desire to share her country is delightful. She points out Messina city architecture, lemon and orange groves on steeply terraced hillsides, bone dry riverbeds, and many geographical, political, or economic points of interest as we roll along.

On the return trip we barely avoid a rear end collision with a fully loaded propane truck. Only those sitting in the first few rows realize that certain death is near. The tour guide never breaks stride in her friendly, one-sided dialogue. Fortunately, the driver was on his A game!

Taormina has Spanish / Arabian, Roman, Greek, and French / Norman heritage, much evident in food, language, and architecture. The old city immediately reminds me of Monaco; I love it on sight and miss the Hubs yet again. But it’s pure pleasure to wander along the old winding streets, most sans vehicular traffic, save the ubiquitous Vespa. The Mediterranean sunlight bathes walls and window boxes with rainbow sherbet hues. Graceful archways, stately churches, pretty piazzas, plentiful eateries, and charming shops adorn the L-shaped route to the Greek theatre. Views extend to the brilliant sea on one side and on the other, a steep range, one peak towering over the next.

Taormina’s quaint points of interest sound delightful in my mind: Porta Catania. Corso Umberto. Santa Nicola Cathedral. Piazzale Santo Domenico. Porta Messina. Corjova Palace. Piazza Vittoria Emanuele. Via Teatro Greco. We walk clear to the end in the blazing sun, choosing shade wherever possible. The line for entrance to the Greek theater is just long enough, the sun strong enough, and the theatre fully exposed, that we are deterred, opting to meander and shop. I buy beautiful baby gifts made of lanos merinas for grandbabes, yet unborn; admire pottery and pastries, equally artful; consider local paintings priced well above my budget, and pass on a hundred other things I would love to own before calling it quits.

We find a quiet corner cafe selling Sicilian fare, selecting the traditional arancini — a cone-shaped concoction, deep-fried, filled with rice, meat, sauce, cheese, and peas. The proprietress speaks little English and misunderstands our order, but no matter. It is a cheap and good 10€ lunch for two. Perched on two high stools just outside the door, we enjoy people watching and an ice cold Messina brew. Soon enough, but not too soon as I’ve had enough sun, it’s time to depart. We enjoy a long gaze of smoldering Mount Etna as we descend toward Messina. Siesta time, sweet dreams of Taormina.

~René Morley

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