Italy 2014 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Taormina - Click here for the slideshow (91 pictures)

Finished - September 24, 2014

Introduction
Rome
Venice
Florence
Ostuni
Taormina
Syracuse
Palermo
Travel day. Lesson number one: Google maps has no clue as to the actual drive time to anywhere in Italy. The directions I printed out months ago said it was going to be a drive of four hours and forty minutes. We left the hotel in Ostuni at 8 o'clock in the morning and arrived at the ferry in Reggio Calabria at 4 o'clock in the afternoon with only two very short stops. We drove through 397 tunnels, went up into the mountains and came down on roads that dropped off hundreds of feet with nothing more than a metal guardrail between us and certain death. The ferry was a half hour respite before another 200 tunnels and a short one hour drive to Taormina. Exhausted? Yes, but not so much that we couldn't have pizza for dinner.
Sirius Hotel

The hotel is magnificent although it's upside down. The entrance and front desk are on the 6th floor. We take the elevator down to the 1st floor where we find our room. And the view - breathtaking! The hotel is built into the side of the mountain and we can see for miles in every direction, as soon as the haze from the Sirocco clears. Nighttime and the city below us glitters. The room has two twin beds, but it's one of the largest rooms so far, and it has a wrap-around balcony that affords us a view unsurpassed by any we've seen.

Taormina is for shopping. Period. Yes, there's the Greek Theatre, a nice set of ruins, and a lovely municipal garden, although everywhere you look there are gardens on balconies. But the street is lined with stores, restaurants, and art galleries, so bring a large, empty bag and your credit card.

We also learned how to find and order Sicilian pizza in Sicily - they call it Focaccia. We finally located the "good stuff" and managed to inhale four pieces before we ran out of Fanta and Coke. When I told the guy in the little pizzeria that we called it "Sicilian" pizza back home, he cracked up laughing.

What a day for food! Full size cannoli for breakfast, Sicilian pizza for lunch, and an amazing dinner at a restaurant that was literally across the street from our hotel - Trattoria da Nino. Stracciatella is the name of an Italian egg drop soup that you just can't find in the US. In fact, you'll have a hard time finding it in Italy. It caught our attention earlier today when we stopped to read their menu. Of course, we had to go back for dinner and try it. Another great meal indeed and surprising in a town where tourists outnumber locals by the thousands. If you go to Taormina, look for restaurants that are as far from the center of town as possible. All the ones off Corso Umberto and the connecting streets are the same fare and geared to foreign taste buds.

Trattoria da Nino

Stracciatella

Tagliatelle Bolognese

Chicken Cacciatore

Veal Marsala

Cassata Sicilian

You must see Castelmola while you are in Taormina. You must NOT drive up in your car. The bus ride, while exciting to the point of pure unadulterated fear, is the only safe way to make it from downtown to uptown. The views, both on the way up and once you get there, are spectacular, as long as it's a clear day.

The most famous place to visit, once your heart has a resumed a normal rhythm, is the Turrisi Bar. Famous for it's plethora of penises. From the door handles to the menus, everything and anything is shaped like a penis. In fact, most of the souvenir shops sell penises made from wood, ceramic, and even linen. (None, however,

that are designed to be used as toys.) The original owner of the bar wanted to celebrate his happy and prolific life, so he chose the penis as his symbol. What a guy! This is the best place to buy Vino alla Mandorla, a white wine infused with almond flavor that's more of an aperitif or digestif than a wine that you'd pour a large glass of and drink with a meal. They started a website in 2010 that has their history and an online store. Click here for their website.

We finished our Taormina experience with a ride in the cable car from uptown to downtown and back. 3 Euros per person each way and they like coins! There was a meal at the bottom, seafood and chicken, not picture worthy but as long as we'd made the trek, we ate. We read several menus and none of them were interesting. The restaurants at the top of the hill are MUCH better, but the cable car ride is obligatory, so don't miss it. It's also the way to the beach. We never made it to the beach and didn't even go in the pool at the hotel as the water was freezing cold.

If you stay in a hotel along the beach road, you'll be using the cable car all day to travel from your hotel to the main part of town. It only takes a few minutes and it sure beats walking.

Overall Impressions
  • Hotel Sirius - book this for the view, the large room, and the location. It's expensive, but worth the extra money to have an amazing vista to look out onto from your balcony. The pool is a plus, but only in the summer when the water is warm enough for swimming. (Okay, if you're not from Florida, you can probably stand much colder water.) The front desk staff are helpful, but not all of them are friendly. I don't know if they actually have a room with a king size bed; we had no real problem with a pair of twins parked side by side. The shower is only 2 foot by 2 foot and the elevator a bit of a fright if you're at all claustrophobic. There's a long set winding stairs from the reception to the parking lot and a very long, steep, curved driveway that you have to negotiate to get to the street. Fortunately, it's all downhill on the way back. The hotel is just down the block from the Messina gate so shopping begins the moment you hit the street.
  • People - due to the massive tourist invasion, you'll find it easy to communicate. Lots of locals speak some English. The whole town is a couple of streets, so directions are unnecessary.
  • Driving - Getting from the Autostrada to the hotel involves some hairpin turns, steep inclines, and crazy drivers. Once you get to the hotel, park the car and don't even think about it until you are ready to leave. We were going to drive up to Castelmola, but the desk clerk wisely talked us out of it.
  • Getting Around - walking is all there is for the main shopping area. Buses are cheap, fast, and plentiful for the local excursions.