A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Tuesday – May 2 

Before we closed our eyes last night, we checked the weather for today. The forecast was not pretty! The grey skies and drizzle we encountered on Mount Etna would become serious rain today. There was no bright spot in the forecast for our day’s adventure. Oh well, one must remain optimistic. Walking out of the hotel, we saw this woman expressing her optimism as she went about her morning chores.

Salvo was back in the driver’s seat as we headed out of Catania in the morning rush hour.

The plan of the day was to visit Taormina, a hilltop town often compared to the Cinque Terre. There we would visit the Teatro Antico di Taormina ruins and then have some time to explore the town. From Taormina, we would head down the hill to the village of Naxos, which is the oldest settlement by the Greeks in Sicily. It would be in Naxos where the plan included a boat ride and a wonderful lunch by the sea. Staring out the bus window, much of the plan seemed in doubt as Salvo broke out of the city traffic along the coast road.

The swells were building in the sea and the sky seemed to be getting darker by the minute. As we approached the city of Taormina, we got to go through one of the tunnels made famous in movies filmed in Italy. The opening scene of Quantum Solace, a James Bond thriller, kept flashing in Tom’s head. Albeit, Tom was happy that Salvo was driving a whole lot slower.

After arriving in Taormina, we had to change to a small commuter bus to finish the climb to the town. It was a well-oiled operation from the bus lot to the town with little commuter buses leaving on a regular schedule. The commuter driver told us exactly what time to be back at the stop, that he cannot wait, so everyone should be there on time.

So far so good, the weather was cooperating and there was no rain falling. The streets of Taormina were packed with people. I guess they wanted to get ahead of the predicted inclement weather.

Our guide, Rita, met up with us on a side street and after short introductions we headed towards the Teatro Antico.

Although the line was very long to purchase tickets, we were able to breeze right through. Once again, avoiding the lines is one of the major benefits of group travel, along with having a guide. So far during this trip, avoiding the lines has made a huge difference in what we have been able to see and do. Sometimes we would have probably stayed longer than the guide allows, but all in all, group travel always has its tradeoffs.

A historical recurring theme was becoming evident with every visit to an ancient site in Sicily. Teatro Antico was no different. Built by the Greeks in 3rd century BC to host dramatic or musical performances, the Romans transformed the theater into a stadium in the 3rd century AD to accommodate games and gladiatorial battles. The Roman renovation removed the orchestra area and stage to make room for the battlefield.

Rita explained that the Teatro is used once again for the original purpose the Greeks intended. It was designed over 2,500 years ago to seat 5,400 people and was the second largest theater in Sicily. It is mind blowing that it is still being used and hosts large crowds all summer.

Exiting the inside of the amphitheater offered us an incredible view of the sea and Naxos below. However, the view was the harbinger of bad news. The weather was building with rain clouds and the sea swells were not hospitable for a boat ride. Scratch one item on the plan of the day.

We said thank you and goodbye to Rita and exited the ruins. We found ourselves standing in front of a famous luxury five-star hotel, the Grand Hotel Timeo. Danilo recommended to all that if we return to Sicily that we stay a few nights here. Later when Tom google’d the hotel, they in fact did have openings for that night. Booking directly through the hotel site, the rooms were a mere $1,178 a night for a standard room. If that was not eye opening enough, hotel.com, booking.com, etc were all running $200 more than the hotel rate. We may have to pass on this hotel on our return.

Danilo gave us sixty minutes to go off and explore and shop Taormina. The group scattered in different directions. We decided to head to the main street and walk directly to where it terminated in the town square. It did not take long before we had a necessary stop. When in Sicily, or Italy, or for that matter anywhere Europe, it is very hard to not pass window fronts like this one.

With the inner strength of Hercules, we pressed on down the main street skipping the temptation to just pull up and have an ice cream and wait for the rain. The colors and sights along the street were bright and cheerful as the sky grew darker.

Reaching the town square, the first drops began to fall. Popping sounds of umbrellas could be heard all around us, but all we could do was pull up our jacket hoods. Clouds floated by us, and the rain got harder.

Pulling up our hoods, we peaked over the edge of the cliff, and it was like day was becoming night in front of us. The view on a clear day must be stunning. Not today!

It was time to make our way back to the bus, and luckily for us the rain had slowed down. Walking slowly, we just took in all colors, store fronts, and crazy art along the way. Even with all tourists this town is a must see when one comes to Sicily.

We were almost back when the heavens opened once again, and we quickly took shelter in a park. The trees were so thick that they provided protection from the deluge. We were not the only ones to seek shelter here.

Watching the time, there was no other choice but to leave the refuge and head to the commuter bus stop. Danilo had positioned himself in a strategic café on the corner so he could count his lambs as they returned. We quickly loaded up the commuter bus to head down the hill to rendezvous with Salvo when we realized that we were two people short. The driver rounded back and picked up the lost lambs. We were glad to get back on our own bus because it meant lunch would be soon!

Everyone was wet, but all were in good spirits as we headed to Naxos. This historic fishing village is right on the sea. Entering Naxos, the view from the bus windows made it appear to us that we were entering a flood zone. Apparently, it had rained much harder and longer in Naxos than it had in Taormina. Water was everywhere and the waves were crashing on the shore. Salvo pulled the bus as close to the restaurant as possible. We were going to have to make a run for it. Each of us crossed the flooded street and piled into the restaurant.

We do not have a picture, but the look on the restaurant owner’s face was one of pure shock. Eighteen sopping dripping wet people piled into his small beachside restaurant. The staff was in shock as they scrambled to get tables and chairs for drenched invaders. Danilo, like the captain of a sinking ship, was last to enter. He looked around and knew immediately something was awry.

With the help of google maps and calling the correct restaurant, Danilo discovered we were two blocks away from where we were supposed to be. The police had yelled at Salvo for blocking the road, so he had to move the bus. Danilo was in a panic about how he was going to get everyone to the correct restaurant without drowning. While he weighed all the options, everyone just started walking. We were already drenched, what was a few more gallons of water going to do? The restaurant owner, I think, gave a sigh of relief as we departed. Not sure he had enough food to feed us. We arrived at the correct restaurant, AHOY, and settled in quickly.

Danilo, by far, was the wettest since he had tried to hold umbrellas for the ladies, but the rain was coming sideways so his efforts were in vain. If one looked closely, they may have seen some steam coming off Danilo. He was not very happy with Salvo, but oh well, we were all laughing. The chef at Ahoy was nice enough to give Danilo a chef’s jacket.

Andy knew we were in for a good lunch when a dark (ok Red) beer was available. The food that followed was out of this world. The chef had a popular upscale restaurant up on the hill in Taormina, but he had moved to the sea front for a simpler less pressure environment. Everything was so good and it ended with a bang! The chef served a deconstructed Tiramisu for dessert.

Not sure what the Italian word for oh là là is but everything was off the charts - even when we were sopping wet.

With Danilo’s shirt now almost dry, we headed out to the bus. The weather had cleared some, but the sea was still pretty angry. With our bellies full, we headed back to Catania and enjoyed a few hours of down time.

During our break it was a good time to get our suitcases in order for the trip home. We only had one day left and there were clothes and shoes to dry out, as well as figuring out where to pack the souvenirs. Time flew by before it was time to… yep that is right to eat again! If you have followed us on this trip and plan to make your own adventure with Orofino Travel, make sure you pack an extra-large appetite in your suitcase! The restaurant was a short walk from the hotel and thankfully the rain had finally stopped.

If you are a fan of Stanley Tucci’s series “In Search of Italy” you may recognize the owner, Roberta Capizzi. She and her childhood friend, who is the chef, were featured on Season 1 Episode 6 of Tucci’s documentary series on discovering Italian culture through food. She left her law practice in Milan to return home and follow her passion for food. The restaurant, Mè Cumpari Turiddu, prepares classic Sicilian dishes which feature seafood and local fresh ingredients.

As you enter the restaurant, an antique register sits on the counter. Suspended from the ceiling are an array of classic chandeliers in every direction. There are also a collection of table clothes hanging from the ceiling that belonged to Roberta’s grandmother, giving one the feeling they are sitting under a canopy.

From the moment we walked in Mè Cumpari Turiddu, there was amazing food being placed in front of us. The eclectic atmosphere only enhanced the fresh flavors of every dish that was served. Danilo gave us a quick overview of tomorrow’s agenda while we enjoyed the antipasto. With every word he spoke, the realization that our time together was coming to an end. The melancholy subsided quickly when the primi was served.

There was lots of chatter between our group throughout the meal. It seemed that we truly have become a close group of new friends. Some of us had traveled with friends we knew, while others traveled solo and knew no one. However, at this meal, there was no doubt that we were just a single set of friends.

The streets of Catania were damp when we left the restaurant, but it was no longer raining. We all enjoyed a slow walk back to the hotel thinking that it would delay the inevitable… the last day of our adventure. Arriving at the hotel, Danilo told us all to wait in the lobby and he disappeared. Everyone got comfortable and continued to chat.

A few minutes later he returned with a stack of a cookbook from Sicily for each couple. This nice jester by our host now has empowered each of us with the secrets of classic Sicilian cooking… with a whole lot of practice. We headed upstairs for the night thinking of all we did today while singing a Bob Dylan song – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.

Good Night - Ciao

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