Thursday, 13 October 2011

When in Sicily.... cannoli! Oh well, if you insist.

As my regular reader will know, I made it to Sicily last night after a lengthy, not very luxurious but strangely deeply enjoyable train journey. With the whole boat on the train thing too. I'm here, the sun is shining, the sea is sparkling and life is good. Finally the neverending and overwhelming noise of Rome has been replaced by the much quieter and more sedate pace of life that is Taormina. Not that Taormina completely escapes the tourists since it's a popular stop for the cruise ships but there's nowhere near as many of them here and they seem somehow quieter, less in your face.

The other difference here is that, unlike Rome and other big cities, it doesn't take long to find areas with no or very few other people. In big cities, deserted streets and back lanes are not the friend of the solo traveller, but in small towns like this, they are a godsend. A place to escape the clamour, to drink in the atmosphere, to explore and savour, to discover and learn, to find the small, quiet details that really bring a place to life.

Taormina itself is a strange set of contradictions - a place of ostentatious wealth, with numerous designer shops filling the main drag down the Corso Umberto whilst in the back streets it's much more down at heel. Sicily, like much of the rest of southern Europe suffers from continuing poverty and deprivation. Unemployment is high and apparently there is still a significant brain drain of skilled young people from the island to mainland Italy in search of work that pays more than the local tourism and agricultural economies can do.

It's a mix of old and new too - with the Greek Amphitheatre and the many emerging modern apartment blocks in similar states of unfinished-ness, but for very different reasons. The otherwise idyllic view from my breakfast terrace here at my hotel is slightly spoilt by the building work that's going on and any view south from the town will include at least one crane with various lumps of concrete or bits of steel dangling from it.

Finally, Taormina is a mix of refined and wild, surf and turf, beach and mountain. The town is dominated by the smoking cone of Mount Etna, one of Italy's remaining active volcanoes - and my destination for tomorrow. Unfortunately I'd wanted to book the Saturday trip, leaving as it does at a slightly more respectable 8.30 am but the weather, I was advised, is due to be poor on Saturday - a quick check confirms that snow is forecast for the summit! - so instead I'm booked for tomorrow's 7.00am tour by way of some gorge or other, a train around the foot of Etna before heading on to the summit via cable car, bus, jeep and foot. Fingers crossed it lives up to my expectations!

I guess I'd better go and stock up on food now. It looks like being a long day as well as an early start, and I don't want to be hungry, do I?!

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