Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Taormina ~ the Ruins

By the time we reached Taormina I think everyone in our party was groaning over the thought of more ruins since we'd already seen several sets. But I learned a very important lesson with this last tour in Taormina. Each site holds it's own unique story. It's own unique view. Yes, they all share a lot of the same aspects but there is always something unique in each ruin site you will visit. One of my fellow travelers pointed out that even if every house in an American housing tract looks the same on the outside, there is a totally different story in each homes inside. Good thing to remember.
 Our tour began in town with a very small amphitheater. Very steep stairs led down to the entrance tunnels and out to the seating and a very small stage. Probably the smallest of the performances spaces we had seen on our trip.
 What fascinated me was how exacting the brick work looked to be. I got a few stares as I inspected this wall but I'm always amazed how some of this work was done without the machinery we depend on today.
 Being mildly claustrophobic it never makes me happy to go into tunnels but this one seemed to glow. I had to take a moment to try to capture the golden light.
 Of course a lizard found me. We sat down to listen to the presentation from our guide and suddenly he popped up between the two seating stones. And he wasn't in a hurry to rush off either!
 The tunnel we took back creeped me out a bit. Dark and longer than I really wanted it to be I barely took the time to take a photo for comparison before dashing out.
 On the way up to the Ancient Amphitheater of Taormina we were delighted to find this 5 star hotel right near the entrance. The Grand Hotel Timeo.
 With gorgeous wrought iron details and the bougainvillea in bloom it was definitely one of the more romantic places we had seen. Of course you will pay about $500 a night to stay here but with the ruins so close and all of the town at your fingertips it might be worth every penny!
 We walked up a small hill from the entrance and right away started seeing a difference from the other ruins we had seen before. Along with the brick, which we saw at the smaller amphitheater in town, we now saw remnants of marble columns.
 Ornate design was poking out here or there as we made our way up to the top of the entrance of the actual amphitheater.

 At one point we were able to look back, from the small staircase at the entrance, and see inside the amphitheater. From there we could not only see the seating but also more columns.
 We walked down into a very large tunnel like entrance hallway which led out to the actual amphitheater floor. It was here that we listened to our guide tell us about how the brick denotes a Roman influence and the columns the Greek influence. So, unlike the other Greek ruins we had seen before, these were both Roman and Greek!
 We were allowed to wander the floor or hike to the top but since we were on limited time I wanted to explore the floor and it's sights rather than climb to the top for the over all view. I have heard that the view from the top is beautiful so if you have time for both then make the climb after exploring the floor.
 Some of the columns were still intact and held up with wire or iron supports. The wonderful thing is that they are still a backdrop for opera and theatrical performances to this day.
Others had fallen down so you could get a close up look at the designs and texture of the marble. Some were touching it to feel the smooth surface but I figured that the less touching that went on meant that it would be there for more generations to see. 
 When you leave take a few moments to enjoy that view. From the top of the staircase it feels like you can see for forever.
On the way back to the main street you will pass through a bunch of vendor stalls and shops. As with all tourist areas please keep in mind that what you buy there, unless marked otherwise, could well have been made in China or Taiwan. For me this isn't a big deal. I figure that, no matter where it was made, I bought it while on a trip to Italy, or Greece or England. That piece will represent that place for me. I do take time to see if I can find stuff from local artisans but I'm the Queen of Kitschy Souvenirs! I love the little magnets and tiny figures and miniature buildings and I carefully pick at least one small item that will come home with me and live on a shelf or stick to my fridge. If you are looking for more here then keep walking past these stalls and shops and back to the main street and side streets further up. But as you pass the stalls and shops look for the beautiful architecture that is Taormina. They really pay attention to the details here and a simple doorway becomes breathtaking when the home is painted sunny yellow, there are pots and plants all over the side of the home and the stairway and even the trees have been trimmed to hang over the steps. Lovely and charming. But then, that is Taormina in a nutshell.

Next week I'll cover "Hidden Sicily" and all the hidden treasures we discovered on our final roam of this part of Sicily!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Taormina, Sicily ~ Tour of the Town

For three euros or so you can take a tram up to the town of Taormina from Mazzaro. We took a tour bus which dropped us off near the entrance of the town and walked into it from there the first time we visited and the tram the second time. However you get up there it is totally worth the trip! (Remember to click on the photos to see the larger version!)
 We walked up into the first square and found that we actually had three choices on where to roam. To keep going the way we were, which would mean turn right and keep walking, or to go down the street on the right or up the street on the left. We found out that we were going to go to the ruins (that's next week's blog) so we only walked up the street a bit to shop.
 We were all amused by the obvious add-ons of the columns on one of the buildings but I simply loved the decorative touch of the flowers everywhere!
 Just shopping, whether it is for food or souvenirs, you will see lots of really beautiful building details. There is just something about all the color that totally romances me!
 We were a bit hungry so a fresh fruit vendor was almost too tempting to pass up!
 Instead we turned around and headed back to the main square. As we started back I just fell in love with the arched windows and decorative lamp post.
 The food was so beautiful. We decided to come back here to this pastry shop for dessert! Yes, that is ALL sugar!
 For those who wanted more nutritious fare there were several fruit stands on the side alley ways.
 This antique store was SO packed with stuff I couldn't make my mildly claustrophobic self even walk inside...but the outside was fabulous!
 Finally we made it up to the square. There were so many people! Along with some shops there were also street vendors selling cheap souvenirs. We were not tempted. But the two churches were beautiful! As you can see, behind the church is a lovely hotel that you can stay at and really enjoy being at the top of Taormina!
 One thing that some might think odd or even depressing is the use of skulls and crossbones in the churches. To Americans it may seem too morbid but I saw them in almost every town we visited. I, personally, think it is a very cool thing.
The coolest light/lamp I saw was inside that church. The dragon motif was just so medieval! If I could have brought one thing home with me it would have been these!
 The church across the way didn't have a skull that I could find but plenty of "fat babies", as we call cherubs, hanging around!
But the lamp posts here are fun! Don't forget to check out each one you come across for some rather unusual decor. Like the lion...not sure what that is supposed to be coming out of his mouth...a toga maybe?
 This lamp post was a two piece affair. The winged dragon part going to the actual light...
 But the bottom had birds holding the top up with their poor bent necks. I wasn't the only person staring at this with a puzzled look on their face! 

The real reason to trek to the top of Taormina is the view. And what an amazing view it is. Not only do you get to see more of the city but you get the ocean and a beautiful look at Mt. Etna. It was active when we were there so the "clouds" you see are actually steam clouds from the volcano!
 We decided to dine where the likes of Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Taylor dined when they were in town...Wunderbar! 
 We quickly began to see why. Not only do you get that grand view but you also have a view of the square and a grand perch for people watching. Add to that the food...oh the food. We started out being spoiled with crackers and olives and fresh bread.
 Moving onto the main dish, I ordered pizza. I can't stress enough the difference between what we Americans call pizza and what is really pizza. I've had a few different types of pies here in the US...several major cities, including Chicago and New York, and several different types of cooking styles and NONE of them measure up to any of the pizzas I've enjoyed in Italy or Sicily. So it may feel silly to order pizza when it Italy but do it...even if it's just once, do it!
 And speaking of an Italian dish to order. The Veal Marsala was tender and rich and flavorful and wonderful! Yes, we all shared a bite of our meals! LOL! Our friend had a rich and cheesy lasagna that was simply wonderful too. Now we understand why Liz Taylor and Richard Burton hung out here!
 Just past the Wunderbar is a short tunnel with a hidden golden surprise. This exquisite work of art seems so out of place and yet right at home at the same time. Be patient and take the time to really see it. 
 My fondness for outdoor cafes extends to outdoor markets and art galleries too! The wonderful thing is that they all ship for you!
 I love doors and windows and door pulls are a favorite to discover in my travels. I was totally stuck by this one! Definitely one of the more unusual ones I have found.
 Hollywood has totally made it's mark here. This part of Sicily was used in filming the Godfather movies so you will find mention of it as you tour this area.
 Lest you think that you can only buy cheap souvenirs, food or antiques in the shops you will be pleased to find that, as with any town, there are regular stores as well. It was fun to discover this nail shop and be able to bring home a few colors from Sicily for my grown girls.
 This one corner just got me. The old plaster design, the brand new lamp along with this totally wonderful medieval lamp just got me. The constant reminder that the old and the new live in harmony.
 One of the places you will find this is in the nightclubs in Italian towns. The outside of the buildings could be very old and ornate but behind the doors is a very modern night life spot! This particular place mixes the two inside as well. Frescos on the ceiling but more modern furniture to go with them.
On the way back I finally found my stone lion. Carefully tucked into one of the romantic courtyards on a side street along the way back to the first square. Still one of my favorite images.

Next week we'll tour the two archaeological sites in Taormina. Both, like most of the Greek and Roman ruins, have many things in common but there are also stark differences. See you back here then!


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Taormina, Sicily Part One

Well, we made the move to Monterey and we LOVE it here! I can't wait to share all of the views that I find on my Facebook and Instagram pages with you all. It's really a gorgeous place to live and explore.

And speaking of gorgeous places to explore...Taormina, Sicily was one of my favorite places on our tour. Our hotel was actually located down the hill and along the sea while the town of Taormina is located on the top of the hill. There is SO much to see there including a set of impressive ruins. As lovely as our hotel was I just can't cover this area without introducing you to the seaside of this part of Sicily.

The area below Taormina is called Mazzaro but is considered part of Taormina. There is a tram that you can catch for a few euro that takes you back up to the old town so many choose to stay here. With views like this it's a wonderful idea!

We stayed at the Hotel Villa Esperia which is a mid rate hotel with a million dollar view! The location was wonderful too. Located right on the edge of downtown we were able to have these amazing views but the convenience of the shops and restaurants and the tram up to Taormina easily available.

 There are many wonderful, exclusive hotels in the area and the clientele can be found as town, at the hotels and on their yachts. While I don't live in that world, it was nice to enjoy the view and daydream about it!
 Talking to the locals while shopping in this area I was assured that one of the most wonderful places to stay is the Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay. If you have a few minutes go explore that link. It's gorgeous!
 Artwork can be found everywhere you look. I adored this beautiful rooftop at the Grand Hotel.
 It was easy to imagine staying at this hotel and enjoying this luxury of relaxing on the sea side. The "regular" folk can still enjoy the sea too...there was a staircase down to the ocean just a couple of blocks from our hotel. Early May is a bit too cold for a dip in the ocean so we passed on it but if you went later in the summer it would be wonderful!
In fact, from the bottom of that staircase you could see, and reach, Isloa Bella. This was obviously a very popular place to enjoy the rocky shoreline since everyone we met told us how to get there!
 I wouldn't call our hotel "Posh" but it was very pretty and very comfortable. At this point in the lobby you could walk forward and into the restaurant or make a left and head out to the sunroom and the pool. I hung out in here for a few hours of wifi time enjoying coffee from the cafe and visiting with some of our fellow was a wonderful break!
 We headed to the sunroom to have an afternoon snack and enjoy the view. Mealtimes are very different in Italy. Breakfast may be early but it's hearty and then, about 2 pm, there will be lunch and a rest period where shops will close. Dinner begins after 7 pm and goes on till after 10. So an afternoon snack is usually in order for those of us who are use to dinner around 5 pm. This was a lovely view to enjoy while we snacked and whiled away some time.
 As the day got closer to sunset I was thrilled to catch this view of the rolling clouds reflected in the pool. You can see what a lovely view of the sea we had from here.
 When we got back to our room to change for dinner I found this adorable guest on our patio. I don't know why cats and lizards find me when I travel but I love that they do!
 Over our day out we inquired with different people about the local restaurants and several told us to go to Ristorante Castelluccio for authentic Sicilian food. Since it wasn't even a half block from our hotel we decided to give it a try.
 The beautiful details of the exterior were just beautiful. 
 Inside was warm and homey and colorful. We were immediately seated by one of the four family members who own and run the restaurant. She assured us her mom would be thrilled to have Americans in their place and she was true to her word. Both her mom and her brother dropped by our table to practice their English and make us feel more like family than customers.
 Elegant place settings that were also beautiful and filled with color just added to the wonderful ambiance of the dining area.
 But you go to a restaurant to eat, right? Well, you won't be disappointed here! The caprese Salad and caponata were wonderful! We tried both a red and a white wine and both were amazing. As we ate the sun set and it got very dim inside so I really couldn't get good photos of the entrees but none of us were disappointed in our meals. It was simply amazing food!
 These little mandarin orange trees grow outside the front doors and the mom treated us to some Mandarin Liquor as our digestive, or after dinner drink. This is meant to help you digest your meal after hours of eating. It was wonderful and a bottle was purchased from a shop the next day to come home with us too! We spent 3 hours enjoying our meal and every minute was spent laughing, eating great food and spending time feeling like a member of the family over for a family dinner. I really couldn't recommend it enough.
We were there for 2 days and our second day I caught the sunset from the pool balcony. The view of Castlemola from here is stunning! 

Next week we'll head into the old town of Taormina so you can see part of this wonderful town.