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Published: August 27th 2017
We wake up to find that we have an email from Ryan Air telling us that we need to check in on-line for our flight to Malta on Monday. At the end of the check-in process it reminds us that we need to print out our boarding passes, and that if we don't do this we will need to pay a 50 Euro fee each at the airport to have them printed. This seems like a lot of money to print out a piece of paper; the fare was only 65 Euro each. We think that maybe this is how Ryan Air makes its money. We don't usually carry a printer with us in one of our suitcases, so we're not sure what to do. We look through the Ryan Air website and it says that they also accept electronic copies of the boarding passes. We breathe a sign of relief. This is shortlived, as we then see in the fine print that you can only use an electronic boarding pass if you are a citizen of the European Union. We ring Stefano, the owner of the apartment, who is the only person we know in Sicily. He says that he
will be happy to print the boarding passes out for us if we email them to him. Problem solved, although I'm still shaking my head at the notion that Ryan Air can charge you the equivalent of 150 Australian dollars to print out two small pieces of paper. I'm fairly sure that we could have bought a printer for less than that.
We set off for today's destination, which is the seaside town of Taormina about an hour and a half's drive north of Siracusa. It seems that half of Sicily has decided to come to Taormina today. We drive around for a long time looking for a parking spot. There are lots of parking restriction signs, and they are all only in Italian, so we can't understand any of them. We spy an empty spot. As usual we can't read the parking restriction sign, but then we recognise a picture of a tow truck towing a car away, and decide that perhaps we should keep looking. We eventually find a spot at the top of a cliff a long way from Taormina, and start to walk back towards the town. We pass a lot of very fancy looking
hotels that look like they're dripping with money and wouldn't look out of place on the French Riviera. We wonder where the money comes from. We then see a sign advertising "The Godfather Show". We think that this probably answers the question about where the money comes from. The advertisement has a caption at the bottom that says that this is "the show you can't refuse!". Hopefully we'll be safely in Malta by the time anyone realises that we didn't go to the show.
First stop is Giardini della Villa Communale, which is a spectacular garden high on the clifftop overlooking the sea. Its features include a number of very unusual tower like structures, and a war memorial. It is very green, shady and peaceful, and the views from the promenade along the top of the cliff are stunning.
We walk on into the main part of Taormina to our next stop which is the ancient Greek theatre. We read that this was built in the third century BC, and was then later enhanced by the Romans. It has been further restored and added to in modern times, and concerts and other ceremonies are regularly held here. Mount
Etna is directly behind the stage and can be clearly seen smoking away in the distance. We assume that this was deliberate, and that the Greeks figured that if some of their shows got a bit boring the audience could at least amuse themselves by watching the smoke coming out of the mountain. The theatre is high on the hill, and the views along the coast in both directions are again stunning.
Taormina is very pretty. We have lunch in the main square, and decide that we will spend the afternoon down on the Isola Bella beach. Isola Bella is a small island offshore that you can wade to from the beach, and looks beautiful from the clifftop. Taormina is several hundred metres above the beach, so we are pleased to see that there is a cable car to take us down to Isola Bella. As we approach the ticket counter the man inside puts up a sign saying that the cable car has just stopped running due to a "helicopter emergency". We're not at all sure what this means, but we decide that if it involves the rotors of a helicopter getting anywhere near the cable that holds
up the cable car, we're happy to accept the man's advice that the cable car is not running.
We walk down a long series of steep steps and laneways and eventually emerge onto the beach. It is very crowded. We rent a pair of sun lounges and an umbrella, and settle in for an afternoon of relaxing.
We have noticed that the vast majority of people here in Sicily are Italian, and that there seem to be relatively few tourists or other people here from other countries. There seem to be two notable exceptions to this. Just about everyone here who looks like they are African or Indian is a street vendor, and just about everyone who is Asian and female is a masseur. As we lie on our sun lounges we are approached by a succession of middle aged Asian ladies offering us massages. They all carry the same pamphlets in Italian and English explaining how the massage will tap into all of our body's pressure points. This seems to be a very organised operation, as does the street vendor operation offering an endless supply of either sunglasses and hats, or umbrellas, depending on the weather. We
View from Giardini della Villa Communale
Mount Etna is smoking away in the background
sense a challenge to the traditional Don Corleone way of doing things here. We wonder what the "families" might do if the street vendors and masseurs start to tread on their territory. This would probably be a good subject for the next Godfather movie.
Issy signs up for a massage with a friendly Asian lady whose name is Lisa. She says that it was good but not long enough.
The sun starts to disappear behind the cliff, so we trudge back up the hill to our car. It is now nearly dark. Driving on the motorway was challenging in daylight; doing it in the dark brings new challenges. People seem to drive on the motorway at a very wide range of speeds. We pass cars dawdling along in the right lane at about 50 kilometres per hour, but we are then passed by a motorbike that must be doing close to 250 kilometres per hour. The left hand lane is strictly for overtaking, and most cars that overtake us seem to be doing about 150 to 180 kilometres per hour. It is harder to tell how quickly they are coming at you in the dark. If you get
in the left lane to overtake, and don't get back in the right lane quickly enough, you are in a lot of trouble. The person charging up behind you at rocket speed then generally gets within about a car length of you and flashes their headlights at you so that you are temporarily blinded. As they do this they have their left hand indicator on. This is one of the rare times that indicators are used. Using your indicator in this way means "get out of my way very quickly or I will do harm to you and your family".
We get back to Ortigia and wander down to the waterfront in search of dinner. We pass spruikers standing outside restaurants trying to coax us in. They always speak to us in English. We wonder how they can possibly know just by looking at us that we only speak English. We don't have Union Jacks or Kangaroos tattooed our foreheads. We can't tell just by looking at people whether they are Italian, or German, or Russian, or French, so how can spruikers possibly know that we only speak English. We think that this must be a special secret skill
that is only taught at spruiker school.
Issy is engrossed in the menu. She senses a person standing in front of the table next to us, and assumes that it must be the waiter, so she tells him that she will have a whiskey with ice and Coke Zero. She then looks up to see that he is actually a street vendor trying to sell her a bunch of roses. The street vendor looks very confused.
I go to pay the bill. The man who takes the money sounds exactly like Marlon Brando did in The Godfather, and we fear that horse's heads and concrete shoes are still alive and well here in Sicily. We hope that no one from any of the families reads this before we are safely in Malta. I begin to wonder whether we will be safe in Malta. I can feel another restless night coming on.
We decide that today has been a very good day, and that Taormina has been a real highlight.
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