The second part of our Sicily trip was a little more relaxed–at least until the volcano exploded.The previous post shows it on video. From Syracusa to Taormina, the train ride was brief. When we arrived at our hotel, high above the beaches we were surprised that our room didn’t have a sea view, since nearly everything faces the sea. Then we realized that instead, we had a view of Mt. Etna. Even better! http://www.continentaltaormina.com/uk/
There was an exquisite terrace and rear garden, with a gate leading to stairs that took us right to the Via Umberto, the main drag of Taormina. It is an impossibly romantic city, something out of a fantasy. We enjoyed a very fine dinner and as we were walking back, heard some great music drifting down from one of the steep side streets, then followed it. A couple of cocktails and a beautiful setting, some nice people to chat with, good music, what more could we want? How about an exploding volcano?
We had already booked our bus trip to Mt. Etna the next day. What we didn’t know yet, of course, was that it would erupt that very morning. We could see the explosions all along the ride up, and when we stopped for a photo op, we were surprised that we could also HEAR them! It sounded like an artillery range, and it was all very thrilling. When we arrived at the 1900 meter station, we were told that the cable car to the crater could not run that day, of course, because of the explosions taking place. But there was no problem hiking up the mountain. So that’s what we did.
The hike was kind of steep and the terrain a little rough because it was so loose and slippery. Ray described it as climbing a pile of cinders. But we made it as high as 2400 meters, and were quite pleased with ourselves for our endurance and bravery! Besides, we had to keep up the tradition of climbing something–a tower, an arena, a mountain—at least once each week. It really wasn’t scary at all, and the locals are pretty blasé about the eruptions—it’s not all that uncommon. Still, we felt so lucky to be able to see it happening. Our dumb luck seems to be holding out.
Last stop in Sicily was Palermo. We just had a day there before flying out to Barcelona. The city itself was a bit of a shock to the system, noisy and crowded, even on a Sunday. We knew that with limited time we should visit the Palazzo Dei Normanni and Cappella Palatina. It was worth the long walk through noisy streets, because the Chapel has some of the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics I have ever seen. A really inspiring sight.
Now let’s talk about senior discounts. In most of Europe, they offer discounts for “pensioners” –sometimes 60 and over, sometimes 65 and over. But, many places say that the discount is only for E.U. citizens. In Sicily, we were incensed to read that the senior discount was for “EU citizens, Canadians, and Australians.” It usually means a saving of 5 to 15 Euros per admission. Why not US citizens, because they think we have too much money? Haven’t they been reading the papers—don’t they know the US is broke and deeply in debt???
So, occasionally Ray asks for the senior discount, and they refuse without proof of E.U. citizenship. I told him to try saying he was Canadian or English. (His Spanish and French would give him away.) In Palermo, he tried this and received the 75 percent discount on his ticket. We were satisfied, until we heard an American accent, standing just behind us on line, saying “I’m going to try saying that.”
Of course, Ray started up a conversation with him immediately, and asked, “Where are you from?” Guess what the answer was? “Great Barrington, Massachusetts.” Two couples who lived about 5 minutes away from us, with some mutual friends. We’ve even been to at least one party at the same time. Why wouldn’t we go thousands of miles to meet new friends from the neighborhood?
Check out the pics—especially the ones of the volcano, which I think are just beautiful. Click on a thumbnail and then use the arrows to scroll through.