22.11.2016 - 24.11.2016 20 °C
We were at the airport with plenty of time to spare - plenty of time for people watching, and more than ample time to eat our ftira with salami and cheese. I’m not sure than Hungarian salami and double gloucester cheese was necessarily a traditional Maltese filling, but let’s just go with it. Once our gate was announced, we queued for what seemed an excessively long time. I spotted an exceptionally brazen queue-jumping maneouvre (definitely not British), but karma got them in the end, when they were forced to check in their carry on suitcases, meaning they would have to wait to collect their luggage at the other end of the journey. Justice was served.
We waited, and still we waited some more. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 13.25, but that turned out to be the boarding time instead (thanks to an ‘operational issue’ on a flight from Venice). Once onboard, I was reminded that we were most definitely not in Britain anymore, as I was forcibly pushed aside in an act of unneccessary assholery by someone who obviously felt that it was more important that they be seated ASAP than to allow me to remain standing upright. Jerk. Oh and you know you’re flying to Italy when both of the emergency rows are completely empty - nobody was willing to pay the extra euros for leg room on a thirty minute flight, and the flight attendant had to beg nearby passengers to sit there.
We arrived at Catania airport, and Tanino and Beatrice were waiting there to meet us, looking much the same as they had 8 years ago (except that Bea had grown considerably taller). First stop - gelati and coffee. Because Sicily. I claimed an early victory by ordering my gelato in Italian - and even better, the waitress understood me. Poor Simon made a poor flavour choice by asking for ‘Bounty’ and then being told to say it in Italian - come si dice Bounty in Italiano?? From there we headed to Taormina, where Simon and I checked into our Airbnb and Tonino and Bea returned to their home.
We found some wood-fired pizza for dinner, and of course managed to seat ourselves next to an Australian couple in the restaurant. For once, Simon opted not to make friends with them as it appeared that Cheryl and her husband were not having the friendliest of conversations. It transpired that Cheryl was not a satisfactory seafood cook (I was just lucky that Simon didn’t feel the need to berate me about this too) and her mother was also entirely unsatisfactory. Poor Cheryl - she wasn’t having a good time. But we were! And did I mention that I won 500 again? Open misere again. Sorry Simon.
We awoke to the sounds of scooters and people exchanging their morning greetings. When I heard someone utter the phrase ‘ho fame’, I felt more at home than ever before. Buongiorno, Sicilia! There was a cafe across the road from our apartment, but they weren't selling granita because it wasn't summer... So we had to settle for fresh croissants in the sunshine. Tough gig. We strolled the streets of Taormina with no particular quest, except to appreciate Beauty and Excellence, which was easily done. We found it more difficult to stroll to a supermarket, but with a little assistance from some free wifi we managed that as well. I think you should always visit a supermarket at least once when you visit a new place - it really gives you a sense of the priorities of the local people. There was a massive stand of panettone, a wall of plastic cups and plates, and fairly unsurprisingly an entire aisle of pasta. Pasta, pasta, pasta - as far as the eye could see. Carb loading, anyone?
We were enticed by a sign advertising granita, and were rewarded for our curiosity. Granita - even in winter! We ordered in Italian, and the waiter responded in English, but hey, at least we tried. And so we sat with our granita and our brioche and lapped up the sunshine. La dolce vita, indeed. We roamed the ‘villa communale’, a garden with a higher plant:concrete ratio than you would expect in Italy, maybe because it was established by a Scottish woman who had moved to Taormina and decided to stay thereforever. She had given herself excellent views over the bay, and also had built several constructions that looked like cubby houses for adults (her ‘beehives’). The buildings were in various states of disrepair, which actually added to their charm, and it seemed rather arbitrary which parts had ‘vietato entrare’ on them and which bits you could walk through.
We went back further in time after that, to the Odeon theatre, dating from about the 3rd century BC. It was just casually tucked away in a corner off the main street, behind a church, beside some houses. As you do. We had arancini for afternoon tea (but not very good ones, I’m afraid) and spent the rest of the daylight hours available just wandering the beautiful streets and alleyways of Taormina. In the interest of balance, I should report that we won one game of 500 each once the sun went down.
There was plenty of rain the nextmorning, and it seemed as if it was going to set in for the day, but thankfully it cleared by mid-morning and just stayed overcast, giving the day a strange and hazy feel. We set off down the hill to Isola Bella, where I thought that the views had actually caused the camera to give up on any attempt to capture the beauty and instead decide to render everything it saw as a blurry replica. Eventually I discovered that a setting had been changed unintentionally (easily done when you can't actually see the screen) and the problem was fixed. We didn't walk across right to the island as we didn't like our chances of beating the waves, but it was lovely enough to appreciate it from the pebbly beach.
The walk back to town was all uphill and therefore rather less enjoyable, especially since it had become quite humid. But it was actually exciting to feel hot - because it may be a long time before experience that sensation again!
In the afternoon we met up with Veronica and clarified that our backpacks contained two weeks’ worth of travel supplies, and were not all we had for the whole year. We savoured some granita while practising our Italian skills (nothing helps you speak a language better than eating the food) and caught up on all the happenings of the past eight years.
Simon talked me out of having granita again for dinner, but I was allowed to have almond semifreddo for dessert because I was a good girl and ate all my verdura. Nom nom nom. Mi piace Taormina.