Sicily is an absolutely beautiful island off the coast of Italy, and Messina, our first port of call, on the Navigator of the Seas, is only 2.5 miles from the mainland. It originally broke off from the coast of Africa, not the coast of Italy, and the influence of certain aspects of Arab culture and architecture are still apparent. Rising above the island is Mt. Etna, an active volcano that erupted as recently as 2003. Workers have developed techniques over the years to divert the flow of lava away from populated areas, but you can see the toll that Mt. Etna has taken on the landscape. There are sensational cliffs and rugged mountains. The climate is extremely dry, but many fruit trees and beautiful flowers grow on the mountainsides.
Messina itself is not overly impressive, so we took an excursion to Taormina 35 miles away. Greeks originally founded Taormina in 358 B.C., although the layout of the town gives it a distinctly medieval feel. Our guide mentioned that Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, French and Spanish have occupied Taormina at one time or another before uniting with Italy. Additionally, it has withstood earthquakes, fire, volcanic eruptions, and World War II. So, in other words, the whole place is volatile.
Cars are not allowed in Taormina, so the streets are narrow and cobbled. This time of year the area is packed with European
tourists on holiday, and it is scattered with knick-knack shops with unfortunate t-shirts and mugs featuring the Godfather. In spite of this we managed to find a couple of spots that were less crowded and more pleasant. We ate lunch at Ristorante Gambero Rosso. If you walk by this restaurant, they don’t give you any choice but to come in. You pass by and they say “hello! How are you! How many? Two? Great! This way!” before you can get a word in edgewise. Although we were lured in, it ended up being a great choice. Later on we found Arte Mediterranean Café for the most phenomenal cannoli and gelato on earth.