Sicily: an offer we couldn't refuse!!

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October 12th 2013
Published: June 26th 2017
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Venice to Messina (Sicily)

Friday 11th October 2013

So we finally got to leave Venice. I thought I was doomed to write about Venice until eternity which is for a very long time!! Much as I like the place and every trip we discover so many new things to explore time waits for no man and neither do Princess cruises, it was time to move on.

It was our first full day at sea. We found a nice quiet spot on the aft deck to enjoy our breakfast when, blow me down, as if by magic our friendly neighbourhood head waiter popped up to have a chat. He was starting to remind me of the shop assistant from the children's cartoon 'Mr Benn'!! Always appearing and no one knows from whence he came.

Davide explained to us that in Barcelona, 5 days from now, a British film crew will be boarding to prepare for shooting a documentary on the Royal Princess. They are going to be on board until we reach Ft. Lauderdale the probably one Caribbean cruise after that until early November. All the crew had to sign a waiver if they wanted to ‘star' in the show. It was not compulsory as nobody was receiving payment so the film crew have to respect the wishes of the individual. The show is due to be shown on UK TV over an 8 week period although Davide did not know from when.

My mind is already working overtime. Do you know that annoying little shit who always creeps in to shot when a TV announcer is trying to present a piece to camera? I will say no more! Lets leave it there! I have already said too much!!

One big minus point of the short time we've been on the ship is the wi-fi and internet connection. It is the poorest we have ever encountered. I have tried to upload photos and save my latest blog but it just takes so long. I will try this evening at 9pm when everyone has gone to bed!!!!

Walking back through midships deck 7 after yet another frustrating attempt at posting the blog, we heard a commotion coming from 2 decks below. We looked over the balcony to see 2 strange creatures walking their way across the Plaza space and starting to attract a lot of attention from the bemused passengers.

These were what can only be described as 2 humanoid monkeys with massive backpacks. They were talking in a northern accent as they stopped to talk to passers-by. We quickly joined the fun of who I now know to be called Hodman and Sally. We overheard a conversation that went like this:

‘Ee, we've ad such a torrid time tryin' to find our cabin. When we found it there were so many buttons we didn't know which ones to press. So many people kept walking in and out as well and we kept going up and down. Up and down.

At this point one of the passengers who had been busy taking photos knelt down so he was level with the ‘creature's head and said quite seriously: ‘That was an elevator!' to which the other creatures was quick to retort: ‘ Well dear, that would explain the lack of toilet facilities then!!' This brought a huge roar of laughter from the ever-increasing crowd who now realised this was an act. At what point did people realise this?? That's what I'd like to know! We're talking two 3 foot tall chimps with backpack twice their size, both talking in a Yorkshire accent. How long did it take someone to think: ‘Hang on a minute. I never saw those people get their welcome photo taken and they certainly wouldn't have let them carry that much hand luggage on with them!!!

Tonight was the first formal night. When everyone is encouraged to get dressed up. It is not obligatory but if you don't have on at the very least a jacket and tie, you are not allowed in to the restaurant and have to be content with the buffet upstairs and out the way. As this is normal practice on every ship, I won't bore you with the details suffice to say the captain, Tony Draper from Cornwall made his welcome speech and introduced his Senior Officers. He followed this by starting the champagne waterfall.

Davide delivered on the reservation front as we headed to the front of the queue and shown straight to the table we had requested the night before.

We decided to take in the show at 10:30. Billed as ‘Colours of the World' I was impressed by the hi-tech production of this extravaganza. As the title suggests each song depicted a different country from Zorba's dance to New York through to Japanese geishas. The scenery was very cleverly computer graphic images projected on to the background and stage and a number of trap doors carried props and artistes to and from the stage. This is one of the most professional productions I have witnessed for both colourful costumes and powerful singing. On top of this, the cruise director made an announcement at the top of the act to say that one of the main singers had been taken ill and way currently in the sick bay so they had to juggle a few things around. The production was seamless. Well-done Princess! Pity you can't do anything about the shitty Internet connection!!

As soon as the introduction of the first number blasted out the mystery of the ‘thump, thump' music was solved. It was obvious. I don't know why we hadn't thought of this before. Perhaps we were too eager to put the blame elsewhere. Our cabin is on deck 8 forward. The Princess Theatre is on deck 7…forward.

Saturday 12th October
We arrived in Sicily at 2am but as the Captain was eager to point out, we would not receive clearance from Sicilian immigration before 6am so would not be able to leave the ship before then!! I would love to know who this was directed at as normally such things are said due to previous events happening.

Roisin and I did quite a bit of home work before we left and have things planned at each port. However, one of the must sees when arriving in to Sicily through the Port of Messina iis either Mt Etna or the small coastal enclave of Taormina. We looked at public transport but Taormina involved a 1hr train journey followed by a bus or taxi up the hillside to this small town. As the ship is only in port until 3pm, the timings of the trains did not fit so this is the only Port where we had booked an official excursion…to Taormina.

This island of Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is located near its centre. Messina is a port on the eastern tip of the island separated from the Italian mainland (the toe of Italy) by the Messina straight. It seems that down the years, everyone has had a go at invading Sicily from the Romans and the Greeks to the Normans to name but a few. The only people yet to have invaded Sicily are probably the Martians!!

Our coach to Taormina took just under 1 hour. The town is perched half way up a mountain and the coach driver did extremely well handling the winding roads That took us to the start of the walking tour. WALKING Tour. No body told me about walking!! That will teach me to take more notice of the small print!!

Our guide was very knowledgeable and from the moment the coach doors closed on the quayside she never took a breath!! One can have too much information. In the coach park that resembled a multi story car park, one took the elevator to the terrace and the ancient gate to this once prosperous trading outpost. Alternatively, the more energetic could climb the 7 stories, 146 steps to the top. Roisin and I were not feeling very ‘alternative' today but to be fair, we decided to go with the consensus. As the majority of the coach party were at least septuagenarians, the elevator it was then!!!

Before we left the coach, we were all provided with what the guide referred to as a whisper. This was similar to an audio aid. However, it was not a recording. The guide had control of the mic that, through the magic of radio waves, was synced to everyone's ‘whisper.'

As short walk down the main thoroughfare and this opened out in to the main square where we found the cathedral with its gothic façade presenting a pleasant contrast to the baroque fountain in front. ·This fountain was to become the meeting point once the walking tour finished at the Roman amphitheatre a few hundred yards further on.

Of all the trips organised by every cruise line in the world involves at trip to Mt Etna, Taormina or both. Either way, this small backwater was awash with tourists. It was difficult to keep an eye on the tour guide. As long as we heard her voice in our earpiece we knew we were still in range!!

One souvenir I noticed was a 3-legged symbol. They seem to have nicked this from the Isle of Man. The only difference being the slogan in the IOM is: ‘Which ever way I fall, I stand' Where as being in Sicily, their slogan is: ‘Which ever way I fall, I've probably been whacked!!

Another 100 yards or so and the street opened out in to a roomy terrace from where a clear view of Mt Etna could be seen. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe, at 3,329 m (10,922 ft) high. This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, being about two and a half times the height of the next largest, Mount Vesuvius. Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity although with the cloud cover today it was difficult to see what it was up to!

We headed to the amphitheatre as mentioned earlier. This is where the walking tour ended and we had an hour or so free time to head back at our leisure.

Feeling guilty at taking the coward's way we decided to walk down the stairs to the ground level when all the coaches were waiting. Having walked around checking out each coach, we finally found ours. Why is it always the last one you check!!

As we all piled on and found our seat, the guide came around with a head account. One rude passenger shouted: ‘Put the air conditioning on!' The guide just turned around and, without malice said ‘Please!' Good on her!

With the aircon now switched on, the engine fired up and now for an hour's peace while we travel the hour or so back to Messina. If only so!! I thought the guide would have run out of things to say. Not so. After half an hour, I took my trusty earplugs out and looked around the coach. Most of the passengers were ‘resting their eyes'. I know our guide had a job to do, and a very good job she was doing but the words: ‘What's the point?' must have crossed her mind at some stage!!!

3 hours after leaving the port en route to Napoli we passed the volcano of Stromboli. This is Italy's 3rd largest volcano after Etna and Vesuvius. Stromboli, I understand is currently still full of life. We saw no such activity emanating from its mouth as we crept by like passing ships in the night. In fact we were a passing ship in the night!! We managed not to waken the beast.

Still no luck in trying to find a charger or USB cable for my camera. I have pestered enough passengers and spoke to the video and photo department at length. They only stock Nikkon. Tomorrow we arrive in Naples. I may have better luck there. If not I may have to make a ship wide appeal through the Princess Live TV morning programme called ‘The Wake Show. I hope it doesn't come to that.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


13th October 2013

Nice shot.
13th October 2013

You know, somewhere in that lot is a Sony camera battery charging kit. I dare you, Chris!
13th October 2013

wow! Sicily looks like such an astonishingly dramatic place... Inspector Montalbano wouldn't look out of place in a precipitous town like that. Wish I was there, not in rainy London...

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