Well, it’s a female’s prerogative to change her mind, and I have done just that. I have really taken to Taormina. Initially I was put off by the hoards of tourists, but as the day-trippers left yesterday, the place took on a certain charm. I can see now why D.H. Lawrence made it his home for three years, and why it was popular with the likes of Winston Churchill, Salvador Dali, John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, as well as movie stars like Rita Heywood and Greta Garbo. Even Mark Knopffler has written a song about the place – ‘The Lights of Taormina’. Today, the town still attracts artists, and there are plenty of ceramic workshops around the town.
The place is at its best, to my mind, later in the evening and early morning, when the streets are quiet, and you can wander around and take in the atmosphere. Our hotel looks out over the Ionian Sea, and when I got up at six to go to the bathroom, the sky had taken on a pink glow, and for the first time, I spied Mount Etna. Yesterday, the mountain had been clouded in mist and low cloud, but this morning was a bright sunny start, and the volcano popped out over the horizon. It was quite spectacular, and it was hard to not keep looking at it.
After breakfast, we headed off early, before all the trippers arrived, to the star of Taormina, the 4th century BC Greek amphitheatre, the Teatro Greco. It is utterly stunning! It’s setting is spectacular, with a panorama looking out over the azure Ionian Sea, Mount Etna and back towards the Italian mainland. The audiences must have had the best view ever. Although originally built in Greek times, it has had alterations made to it by the Romans to accommodate gladiatorial games. We wandered around for over two and a half hours, just taking it all in, and sitting in the seats where the Greeks and Romans would have sat. These days it is used for the Taormina Arts Festival, and I overheard a guide explaining that they frequently put on plays, including Shakespeare, and that Elton John has performed here also. For me this was the highlight of the day, by far, and as we left, the first of coach loads of tourists started to stream in. We left them to it.
After coffee, we had a wander around the serene and verdant park that sits clinging to the cliffside, again with a stunning view of Etna.
We spent lunchtime in the main square, Piazza IX Avrile, sitting in a bar with a drink, just people watching. This, it transpires, is one of Howard’s favourite pastimes. It was hard to drag him away from his front row seat, with his beer in hand. A bride had come to the square to have photos taken, and she must have had the patience of Job – since I think the photographer had taken her picture at every conceivable angle and posture, and was still shooting when we left.
In the afternoon, the clouds came in, and it was cooler. Howard decided he was going to be ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, and decided to march me up to the top of the hill to Mont Tauro, the castle that sits overlooking the town. It was sold to me as a twenty minute walk. It took us over an hour! But I must admit, the views from the top were sublime. After such a steep trek, we treated ourselves to an gelato.
I tried the almond variety – most things in Taormina seem to involve almonds. We had a final promenade along the main street, before heading back to our hotel.
So initial impressions aren’t always correct, and in the end, I really did love Taormina. Tomorrow we move southwards on to Syracuse. I just hope Oscar hasn’t missed us too much, sitting in his car park.