I'm awakened by a distant rumbling. No, it's not Brigid's or my stomach -- looking out the window, I notice some rather dark skies to the east -- dark with rain. Hmmm. I'm packing my umbrella today.
Breakfast at 8 AM today, at the Villa Bianca:
I spend the ride up the Funivia by teasing Brenda slightly (she's far more acrophobic than I!). We meet our local guide, Franco, at the Messina (north) gate of Taormina. He indicates that Taormina is one of the earliest Greek settlements on Sicily, dating from 400 BC. The agora (marketplace) has since been through Roman and modern (gothic) phases, with a church and the Sicilian Parliament building (now a Tourist Information office) being built on the property. There is extensive Spanish influence in this region (as with most of Sicily), particularly from the Aragorns. Franco shows us a small Greek theater, which seated a couple hundred people for official meetings or small concerts. You can see some of the original Greek construction, in local granite, built upon by the Romans, in clay brick. At the "Greek Theater", we can again see the obvious Roman construction in the entrance area. As we arrive in the entrance arcade, the threatening skies open up in a full-boogie thunderstorm. Several tour groups are stuck with us, in the arcades on either side of the theater. Franco leads us across the "orchestra" section of the theater to another arcade, from which he resumes his description, for awhile. The rain gets thicker, lightning and thunder become more violent, and Franco runs out of things to describe from this location.
Eventually, we return to the original arcade (getting soaked in the process), and Franco's time is expended. He apologizes for the weather, and suggests that we come back for the views from the top of the theater whenever the skies clear.
When the rain lightens somewhat, we walk back to the main road, stopping in the occasional pasticceria to browse. One of the shops on the route from the theater has a beautiful display of Sicilian products, including liqueurs and canned preserves, pickles, fish, and other gourmet edibles. The attendents are attentive and helpful, but we avoid sampling, as we want no more glass to bring home!
On the main drag, we stop at Snack Shop Capriccio (#85) at Brigid's whim. They have fresh cannoli shells, waiting to go. I suggest that we sit down and have our cannoli here. Brig agrees, so we order a cannoli, a briosch, a cappucino for her, and a double espresso for me. This cannoli was better than last night's. The filling was much less sweet, and much lighter (meaning more ricotta and less sugar and cream), but with a hint of orange, and generously dipped in crushed pistachios. (Pistachios are another common Sicilian crop -- but there's generally not enough to export.) The shell is crispy-crunchy, and not even faintly soggy. The briosch is light and faintly sweet. The coffees are very good. €8.00 for the lot. (The cannoli cost €2.00.)
At a produce market, we pick up some fruit -- several ripe figs, a peach, an apple, and a couple of pompelmo (grapefruit). €3.23. We also spy some long, narrow cassava melons, and a purple-tinged cauliflower.
We find a supermarket (west of the Cattania gate), at which we pick up some soda, a good whole wheat bread, and a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese. apx €6.00.
And, finally, Brigid finds the store at which I wanted to purchase some chocolate I've been hoping to try. Ever since arriving in Sicily, I've been seeing chocolate bars with "peperoncino". Yes, with pepper. I pick up a couple of bars of Cioccolata Moicana with Peperoncino (from Donna Elvira dolceria, http://www.donnaelvira.it/). €3.00 for each 100g bar -- around 4 oz.
Down the funivia to the hotel, up the stairs to our room (we're told that there are 71 of them, not including the stairs within the building itself -- our room, 611, is at the top of the building), where we relax and have lunch.
The figs (those that haven't been turned to jam!) are deeeeeelicious. The bread and mozzarella cheese go together very well. Some oregano might have gone well with the cheese, as would a tomato. Nevertheless, the cheese was delicious. We need to find a source of flavorful fresh mozzarella cheese at home.
The peperoncino chocolate is interesting. It's very reminiscent of Mexican chocolate -- kind of crumbly and grainy. It's a little sweeter than I'd like. There's a faint bite from the peppers, but no detectible pepper fruit flavor. There's some potential there, but it's not going to hook me.
Time for a siesta before the 7:20 PM meeting for (included) dinner...
We have to rush to catch the 6:45 funivia. I ask the ticket booth for 2 retorno tickets, and pay €6.00. He tears off tickets from his pad with his index finger -- twice. As I'm rushing up to the ticket taker, I realize that he has given me four retorno tickets. There's no time to take them back, and he did give me the proper change for my €20 note. We get in a funivia car, and will sort it out later.
Dinner is at Tira Misu restaurant. Once again, water and wine are included. There are a couple of kinds of bread, and some sesame breadsticks, about the thickness of a pencil. They're light and good. We avoid the bread, to leave room for goodies to come.
We were unwilling to finish all the bruschetta they brought us. And they offered us more risotto, which we waved off, to preserve stomach space. Brigid later lamented that decision -- she says she could have happily eaten a lot more.
We left, feeling tempted to seek out another cannoli from Capriccio. As we got there, we started feeling our increasing girth, and decided that 1 cannoli a day (even if shared) is probably enough.
On the way past a gelato shop, we found most of our Best of Europe friends savoring their desserts, and I insisted that I wanted to try a caffe granite. Brigid insisted that I didn't, and started dragging me away. She was wrong. I wanted it. But even though it doesn't have much/any fat, it does have calories -- and more importantly, it has plenty of caffeine, and I need to get to sleep tonight. Sigh.
At the bottom of the funivia, we return the extra tickets to the vendor. Different guy, and there's some difficulty getting him to understand why we're giving him back a couple of perfectly good tickets. We figured it's probably important to someone, since the tickets are numbered. He still looks at us strangely, but I think he understands. Do we get karma points for this? Or are we just silly Americans? Or both?!
I take a shower when we get back to our room. Hey, this place has a really good shower! They use a single-lever-type temperature/pressure control and a wand that you can remove from the holder. The enclosure is a corner-style booth, with a 90 degree cylindrical corner that you open in two 45 degree segments, like a clamshell. Very efficient. It must be because this place is relatively new -- perhaps brand new. In fact, looking around, I realize that this place is in nearly perfect shape, all the fixtures and window hardware works and makes sense; the floor coverings are beautiful tile. And you've seen the view from our balcony.
The only problem I can ding them on is the runner on the stairway. It's a beautiful marble stairway with a red carpet runner, held down with brass fixtures. Toward the top landing, though, there's a missing splice on the runner, so it's floating -- a hazard just waiting for a disaster. And on one landing, the runner turnaround is missing hardware to hold it to the floor. (Why am I noticing this stuff? In 2003, we refloored our home with bamboo, including our stairway. I wanted a runner, as I was concerned about traction on the stairs. I figured that people have been doing runners for centuries, so it must be a pretty cut-and-dried process. Apparently not. Nobody we talked to -- even a supposed expert on runners -- knew how to do the job properly. We ended up paying for the runner carpet materials, and tossed it into the garage in case we ever need some welcome mats or carpet for a cat claw-toy. We're just careful on the stairs, and we advise our visitors likewise.)
Before bed, I try my pompelmo. It is, indeed, a small red grapefruit. Not as large and sweet as those from California or Texas, but not as bitter as the ones I tasted in Spain or France (from South Africa -- they were vile!). These are apparently from Sicily. Not too bad at all!
We leave for the bus at 8:45 tomorrow, for Mt. Etna. Time for bed...