After Palermo I passed on to Catania (taking a bus diagonally south and east across the country to the middle of the eastern coast). I’ll post on that later. But my first day trip out from Catania was north to the small but prosperous cliff top town of Taormina. The drive alone was spectacular. From the bus I watched orchards of lemon trees alternating with embankments of scrub grass, aloe-like succulents and tiny lemon yellow flowers, interspersed with light industrial buildings and parking lots flick past. The sea lay on the right side of the bus and the lower slopes of Etna on the other. We passed the train station at sea level and then switch-backed our way up 669 feet to the main town, perched on a dramatic shelf of land. The day was clear and I could see the mainland of Italy out the window as we ascended.
The town of Taormina has been prosperous in itself and a tourist destination, pretty much forever, so it had all the charming hill town features – cobbled streets, winding medieval alleys, sculptured balconies and trailing flowers even in the winter. I was particularly taken by the little carved stone details scattered across the built landscape. Here’s a collection. At the end of the day, I hiked down the hill side along a series of descending stair cases (some in better repair than others) to the train station and zipped back to Catania along the coast line.
But the real draw to Taormina is the so-called Teatro Greco, or Greek Theater, which I persisted in thinking of as Roman (since its all brick). This was confirmed for me when I got back to a guide book – it was probably rebuilt heavily in the Roman period but was still based on Greek organizational principles. In the summer they still have performances here. I wish I could both experience THAT and have the uncrowded serenity of my winter trekking Given the choice though, I pick this manner of viewing the site. I settled down in a shady patch and sketched all afternoon, which explains my relative dearth of photos.