We are headed to Taormina today, a resort city on Sicily's east coast, at the eastern foot of Mount Etna. But first...
Breakfast at the Hotel Colaverde is very nice:
Then we're loaded up on the bus, and on our way to Villa Romana del Casale. This is a Roman villa, built as a hunting resort by the ruler of the western Roman empire, Maximilian, in the 4th century AD.
There's a little urgency, toward the end of our trip, as several tour members reach their bladder limitations. Enzo, our bus driver, tries to find us a toilet stop, but without any luck (the gas station was closed). So he races for the Villa Romana, and almost before the bus stops in the lot, the most anxious tour members race ahead, instantly converting the bathrooms to unisex...
Anyway, the most significant remaining aspect of the Villa Romana is the huge collection of original, intact, colorful and intricate mosaics. These have been covered with glass structures to protect them from the sun and weather, and walkways have been provided for visitors. Some of these mosaics are really stunning. Others are subtle and elegant. These mosaics are intact and colorful only because of a mudslide that covered them up from around 7th century AD until, essentially, the early 20th century.
It turns out that Enzo, our bus driver in Sicily, is from the town in which the Villa Romana resides, Piazza Armerina. We get a bit of a surprise as we head to lunch -- Enzo has convinced our guides to try a different place for lunch -- Azienda Torre del Renda, a 17th century home and farm that was used by the bishop. It turns out that the roads to the Azienda are too narrow for the bus, so Enzo has called ahead for assistance. The bus stops at a convenient place, and four cars pull up, to ferry us to lunch. When we arrive, we find a beautiful facility in top shape and with a wonderful view of the town and surroundings.
Lunch. That is NOT an appropriate description of this meal. Imagine that you have an Italian grandma who is a gourmet cook, and she wants to stuff you with amazing quantities of deliciousness.
We knew something was up when we saw the place settings: THREE forks to the left of the plates, TWO knives to the right, and a dessert fork above. Okay, here's what we were served (and I'm embarrassed to say that I ate a good sized portion of all of them):
...and that was just the antipasto course! We resumed...
And finally, it turns out that Enzo has provided our dessert:
Enzo's wife, Maria, baked a cake that is light as a feather -- absolutely perfect for such a meal. And he provides Lambrusco wine to accompany the cake. Absolutely perfect.
We celebrate Enzo and the Azienda's chef with cheers, bravos, and many photos.
The ferry crew shows up to bring us back to the bus (I don't know why -- they could have just rolled us all down the hill!). While waiting for our turn, some of us play with the Azienda's owner's dog, Chicho (well, that's how it's pronounced, the spelling could well be Cicco) -- he's widely adored by many of the ladies.
By the way, you could do worse than to stay at the Azienda Torre di Renda. Several tour members checked out the rooms, and found them to be as well-appointed as the restaurant. And there's a pool. And all sorts of activities are available. And (while the place is still relatively unknown) the prices are extremely attractive! And if you visit, be sure to tell them that Enzo sent you!
Now, we're on the road to Taormina.
We make a brief stop at a ceramics factory in Caltagirone, where the process is demonstrated, from clay to glazing to painting to firing. Nothing tempts me, but a few things catch Brigid's eye, and a couple of tour members make significant purchases, to be shipped home. (I learned one thing, at least: terracotta starts out as gray clay. It doesn't turn orange until it has been fired.)
Pretty soon, Mount Etna comes into view, capped with clouds. It just keeps growing and growing, and the cloud details change minute by minute. I didn't manage to capture it, but at one point, there was a perfect example of "mountain wave" cloud formations above Etna, and downwind of it (at least 3 bounces).
Our hotel in Taormina is down by the beach, just a brief cable car ("funivia") ride away from the main street. It's still twilight as I take a panoramic shot of the ocean view from our balcony. The air temperature is perfect.
Robin leads us up the funivia into town, for an orientation. This is most definitely a resort town. Gelaterias, pasticcerias, ceramics shops, jewelry shops, and ATMs.
From a cliffside viewpoint (did I mention that Taormina is cut into the seaside cliffs?), we look out on the seaside vista, consisting mostly of a plethora of street and building lights. And there's something else: A mottled red diagonal line in the distance. Yes, that's lava, flowing down the side of Mount Etna! Cool! Well, not exactly cool, I guess.
We decide to eat light, after that gargantuan lunch. But we can't resist having our first Sicilian cannoli (€1.70). And it's every bit as good as I was hoping for. The ricotta is sweet and creamy, and has been augmented with bits of candied fruit and chocolate chips, and it's been freshly piped into a cannoli shell of just the right balance of strength and crunch. Mmmmmmmm. I'm going to have another one tomorrow. Okay, I'll share it with Brigid.
We also split a bar of pistachio nougat (torrone?). Very sweet, but packed with pistachios, and really good. (€3.00!!)
A little more window shopping and we take the cable car back down to the hotel. We share an apple and a pear, as our dinner.
Enough. We're meeting Robin at 8:40 AM tomorrow. Time to sleep!