Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cruising the Mediterranean and the port of Messina, Italy

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. When looking at a map of Italy, it is located off the toe of the Italian ""boot"". The Navigator docked at the port of Messina on the island of Sicily. There are many options as to what you can do in port, some at no additional cost.

Since the ship docks right in town you can walk off and explore Messina. The cathedral is probably the main attraction with it's astronomical clock in the bell tower. Get there at 11:55 to see it do it's thing. Figures and evangelical scenes start moving around and it's quite a spectacle! Nearby is an original Crusader's church, Annunziata dei Catalani Church built in the 12th century. Or you can just wander the neighborhoods and markets.

An excursion to Mt. Etna, Europe's largest volcano is an interesting tour. I chatted with folks that picked this excursion and they said it was quite chilly up there, so if you ever choose to go, dress appropriately. They make wines in that's said volcanic soil is good for the grapes and some tours include a stop at the winery.

We chose to visit the the town of Taormina. You can get there by cab, train, shore excursion or in our case, we pre arranged for a private driver that also booked us a boat ride around the lake for the afternoon. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and the boat was cancelled. In it's place we went to other hill towns.

Taormina is a quaint walled city that sits high on a cliff. The two gates still remain as does a Greco-Roman theater built in the 2nd century. It is still used today and I bet it would be really something to see a Greek tragedy production on the site. There is also a very old cathedral; I believe somebody said it was from the 13th century.

For most, myself included, the lure of Taormina is shopping on Corso Umberto. Clothing, leather bags, and ceramics are there, but not necessarily good buys. We had a light lunch at a little cafe that made delicious Italian sandwiches and cappuccino.

Ceramics are crafted throughout Sicily and it was one of the items on my shopping list. There was a great ceramic shop in the hilltop town of Castelmola that I loved. The owner explained about the different artists, the regions in which they were created, and the symbolism of the pieces. I could have spent hours there, and as I type this I am still wondering how to get all the large fragile pieces home.

Movie lovers would enjoy the the Godfather towns we visited. There was the church Michael Corleone got married in, a house used in some other scenes, and a place called Bar Vitelli that had a collection of photo from the filming in the area. I'm personally not a fan of the movies but I enjoyed walking through the towns.

Tomorrow: A Day at Sea

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