with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel
24.06.2013 - 06.07.2013 30 °C
With school finished for the girls (Jun 21), and a decision made to return to Australia in late September, we now had just under three months to look forward to before confronting the world of job seeking, house sales, school decisions, and the many other responsibilities of ‘real life’.
Choosing our first travel destination was easy. Sicily has always been high on our wish list, and the chance to sneak down there before the July/Augusts hordes (and inflated prices) was too good to pass up. ItaloTreno whisked us from Bologna to Napoli in a tick over 3 hours – fantastic going compared to driving this route which would be around double that duration. We had built-in half a day in Napoli (before catching the overnight ferry to Palermo) with the thought of making a rushed trip to Pompeii, but in the end took the easier option of staying in the town centro.
The first hiccup of the trip was encountered at the ferry terminal – we could store our two smaller suitcases there, but the big black Tosca (at over 20 kgs) wouldn’t fit in the locker. Without any obvious alternatives, I then spent the next four hours lugging the stupid thing around the busy streets of Naples. Funny to look back on now, but at the time it caused a fair bit of ‘Italia bashing’! Our main trek was to the Castel Sant’Elmo via the Vomero funicolare – a medieval fortress which afforded lovely views of Italy’s third biggest city - but overall in our short stay we failed to warm to this bustling, grimy metropolis.
The ferry trip to Palermo (over 12 hours) was completed without incident, and the kids had a great time exploring the innards of the big Tirrenia ferry, then finally collapsing in their top bunks for a deep sleep as the ferry rolled across the Mediterranean swell. Upon arrival at Palermo, we caught a taxi to the main train station, and then a regional train to our first destination - Cefalu.
Cefalu, the name of Greek origin, has seen a number of invaders over the centuries (like most of Sicily), and nowadays is a popular and delightful seaside town on the north coast. The main natural feature is La Rocca, which looms over the populace like a foreboding ogre, whilst the cathedral is the most famous man-made attraction.
This first leg of our summer trip was enhanced by sharing it with our friends the Natale family. From Vermont, Lou, Katie, Tia, and Rowan had also elected to take a year off and live in Bologna, and we spent a lot of time together in language classes, at soccer games, and most importantly over restaurant tables. Our kids are similar ages, so it was great fun to spend time at the various Cefalu beaches, as well as ascend La Rocca one morning when it wasn’t too hot. They have now returned to the USA, and we hope to be able to visit them at some time in the future.
We stayed a total of five nights in Cefalu, and aside from some long days at the beach, enjoyed walking the narrow and atmospheric streets of the old town; tasting the local treats of granita (fruit flavoured crushed ice) and cannoli (delicious cream filled pastry); and of course sampling the delicious seafood, headlined by swordfish. It was therefore with some regret that we caught the train to Milazzo – a port town further along the coast that supplies the ferry services to the Aeolian Islands.
The most populace of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari is not glamorous, but certainly retains a rustic charm in the few villages that dot the coastline. Upon alighting the Ustica ferry, I walked straight into tourist error #2 for this trip – a 10 euro taxi ride to the hotel that took two minutes! A cursory glance at Google maps before the trip had suggested that it would be too far to walk … this was patently not true as we discovered to our detriment.
Four nights in Lipari was not enough as it turned out, but we enjoyed many highlights including: a day trip to the other side of Lipari & Salina by small boat; getting lucky with our hotel, which had a lovely pool, and was not busy (Hotel Aktea); walking around to spiaggia bianca (the white beach); eating a Top 10 meal – involtini di pesce spada (swordfish rolls) - at a terrific place in town called La Cambusa; and finally meeting a nice Aussie family who were currently living in Bucharest, Romania of all places – Damien the dad was in the mining trade.
As always with travelling the good goes with the bad however, and our return ferry trip to Sicily proper (this time to Messina) was in an airless, smelly ferry that had both girls feeling unwell, and made poor Nat sick. At Messina we had a short wait before jumping on the train to Giardini Naxos.
GIARDINI NAXOS / TAORMINA
After our underwhelming experience in Positano last year, we had vowed to avoid glitzy, heavily touristed destinations (read Taormina – Gai Waterhouse’s favourite holiday destination no less!). However we were eventually flying out of Catania on the east coast, and I had purchased two opera tickets for Lisa’s birthday to the famous Teatro Greco, so back to the American/Russian ‘tourist experience’ it was ...
Giardini Naxos is at the other end of the bay from Taormina – around 5 kms away – and retains a distinctly 1970’s scruffy feel. It does have better beaches however, and we managed to score a reasonable deal at the Hilton for three nights. We didn’t plan anything more ambitious than a few lazy days by the poolside/seaside, along with an afternoon trip into Taormina (day trips to Mount Etna were quite expensive, and Gabi’s ongoing travel sickness issues ruled it out unfortunately).
To be fair to the Taormina locals, it really is a stunning town sitting atop the rocky outcrop – not their fault if every second rich tourist wants to parade up and down the main promenade Corso Umberto I. Lisa and I arranged a babysitter at the hotel on our last evening, and caught the bus into the centro, from which the Teatro Greco is a short walk. Built in the 7th century BC , it is a lovely intimate amphitheatre, and we both enjoyed the performance of Rigoletto.
A nasty early start the next morning (4:30am) to ensure that we arrived at Catania airport on time, and then it was off to Slovenia, a country neither of us had visited before!