The bus took me back to Catania where I was hoping to catch another one to Taormina or, preferably, Giardini Naxos. These two are twin cities joined by a common train station in the middle, and while Taormina is a beautiful old town located on top of the hill, Giardini Naxos laughs at all this having a very convenient access to the sea.
As you may have guessed by now, public transportation in Sicily is a bit of adventure on its own, so no — it didn’t go without problems. First of all, the bus station I arrived at was not the one I was supposed to take the other bus from. It took me 5 minutes to find it… 150m away… It seems that different lines have their own mini-stations. Clever, though it works only if you have a working information point and a map!
I was kindly informed that there’s a bus leaving in 5 minutes so I better hurried up. Unfortunately separate stations also mean separate ticket points, which is reasonable, but why would you have them separated by 2 streets?! Fortunately I was guided by a surprisingly helpful local kid with a look of future mafioso and so I arrived at the platform just in time to wave at a driver to stop and take me on board.
He waved back and drove away. What the $£@%?
Just then I noticed fairly large queue of people and realised that simply there were no seats left on the bus. Full of optimism I checked the time table (surprisingly it did exist) and learnt that the next and the last bus is in 2 hours! Considering the amount of people already waiting I wouldn’t be getting on it either. Since I didn’t want to spend another night in Catania, I moved my slowly melting self to the train station and was shocked to see a rather frequent connection list!
But it wasn’t the only surprise awaiting there. I don’t remember when was the last I was checked out by a woman so openly. And, man, she was hot. It must have been my hiking gear and a rucksack of the size of 2.5 Stellas (<3) making me look tough and shit, ‘cause there simply is no other explanation(;
Anyway, I helped her with her bag and… that’s where it ended. She was not capable of understanding or saying a word in English and although I tried my multilingual and sign skills on her it didn’t go anywhere. And I suppose a lot of smiling and the only Italian word in my vocabulary I found suitable for the situation — bella — was far from enough.
She got off after 20 minutes, which brought me back to the reality of being thirsty, hungry and tired after my earlier Etna climb and sprint. Half empty 0.3l bottle of water and a candy had to do.
I arrived at Taormina station just after dark. I went outside expecting some kind of road signs, but as usual there was nothing. When I asked a group of local girls about the best direction for places to sleep, they couldn’t answer. I briefly remembered from route planning that Taormina was on my right, while Giardini Naxos on my left, and, since I didn’t feel like climbing in complete darkness, hungry and thirsty, the choice was very simple – go left!
Shortly after I took off, I reached first buildings along the seafront occupied by small groups of German pensioners. Now the only thing to do was to find a place to sleep. Passing by a series of dodgy looking B&Bs I finally noticed a rather welcoming one called Hotel Palladio with a massive bookcase inside.
Imagine my surprise when I was greeted in Polish! From all the bloody places, I had to choose one run by my countrywoman. Still, it looked nice and they conveniently had one last room for 1 night. I didn’t think too long and after all formalities were dealt with, a young, pretty receptionist intern asked me to follow her into a super small elevator. Now the trick is, I had my massive rucksack on, which simply rendered her being uncomfortably plastered under me;P If only that was the end of that. Few minutes after I was left in my room I started to undress for the shower while I heard a knock at my door. Although I clearly said uno momento, the door opened and the poor girl was blinded by my half-exposed juicy bottom. Although it lasted 2 second tops, her face instantly went extreme beetroot! Poor thing will probably turn lesbian because of that.
I was too hungry to worry about that though, so I took that shower, quickly changed and left to find a well deserved dinner. I imagine if someone gave me British food at that point, I’d love it. Fortunately I didn’t have to test this theory and ended up having a very nice salmon carpaccio and even more fantastic local speciality Pasta con pesce spada. Seeing the bottom of the wine glass made me realise that staying close to my room was a very good idea.
I went into the snore mode 20 minutes later.
Next day welcomed me with the usual early morning street noise of people going to work and shop owners sorting out their deliveries. I felt surprisingly fresh, so without wasting too much time I rushed upstairs to get a breakfast. And what a breakfast it was! Super simple but tasty food, amazing juices and, most importantly, a great view of perfectly blue sea. Have I mentioned that, while Taormina goes deeper inland, Giardini Naxos literally consists of 2-3 streets parallel to the sea line? Definitely the best breakfast I had in Sicily.
While I was enjoying my first sun shine since I descended Etna, my landlady — Katarzyna, if I remember correctly — was trying to get some bus times from the information office, and although it wasn’t easy and took her many attempts, she finally told me that there was no way I was going to Alcantara today. I didn’t mind.
I packed my stuff and went to find a hotel for another night. I did find a nice looking one, though the room interiors were far from OK; it turned out to be the 2nd shittiest and dodgiest place I stayed in. And the 2nd most expensive… Hotel Tysandros — avoid at all cost! But, hey, at least I had those super-duper earplugs with me!
I didn’t want to waste any more time, so I moved all my things and headed towards Taormina. I was told about a nice scenic shortcut up the steep hill that was supposed to lead to some kind of terrace gardens. I almost missed the turn I was supposed to take but soon after I started climbing, I knew I was on the right track. Clearly inspired by those idiot tourists on Etna, I ignored series of signs prohibiting people from climbing due to avalanches and landslides and followed a narrow path to the top. Although it wasn’t high, it was my first climb in 30°C, so when my mom called me unexpectedly half way through, she was honestly scared hearing my I-know-what-you-did-last-summer horror-like breath(;
Taormina was almost uneventful for me. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a nice town, with nice views, old theatre, couple of castles, which I was too lazy to climb to, but while it’s perfect for romantic strolls with your girlfriend, it’s rather boring for a single guy(; This is also the reason why I said almost uneventful.
You see, while I was having a break with a book at one of the main Piazzas, I unintentionally (really) overheard a conversation between an owner of a very attractive err… backbone (and rather intriguing Eastern European accent) and some old Sicilian guy. While he was very eager to share the information about local habits and history, I could sense in her voice that she was trying to get rid of him. Eventually she managed to do so and yet the old prick managed to invite her for a dinner! Damn Sicilian playboys(;
Although I bent my neck as much as I could, I didn’t see her face, but since I didn’t have much to do anyway, I decided to give a bit of a chase after her. My luck must have enjoyed the sun laziness too much at that point, and I lost her in the crowd and alleys of small shops almost instantly. It didn’t really bother me for longer than few minutes and I continued wandering around the labyrinth of narrow streets.
In the late afternoon I came back to that terrace gardens — Parco Duchi di Cesarò — to enjoy a pile of fresh fruit collected throughout the day and a fantastic lecture of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
Imagine my surprise when, just before the sunset, I spotted the owner of the same dress, I chased earlier, passing by in front of me! And yes she was pretty, indeed. Your traditional what-a-coincidence pick-up line worked like a charm, and so I offered her a “luxurious” bench seat with a stunning view on the sunset and the sea.
She was from Ukraine and apparently illegally travelling around Sicily. Nothing like a dangerous women make a man happy, aye?! (; Suddenly Taormina became a perfect place to be, with all those dim streets and small romantic restaurants;P Much, much later in the night we exchanged emails, yet it was the last time I heard from her. I wonder if she even gave me a valid one. I guess time will tell(:
After adventures of the previous night, it was rather difficult to get up early in the morning to catch the bus, but the spirit of curiosity won. Shockingly the breakfast was crap, with no fruit, watery juice, 2 slices of ham to claim and no knives whatsoever… Anyway, I managed to reach the bus stop on time and after an hour I arrived at Francavilla di Sicilia — fairly uninteresting town with long forgotten ruins on top of the hill and few old streets leading to it. At least that’s what I thought, but once there, the ruins suddenly become very appealing and all those empty streets painted with buildings falling apart had something intriguing in them.
I quickly decided to climb to top of the hill.
In the process of getting there I managed to trespassed into someone’s roosts, fall into a conversation with an elderly Sicilian, who wasn’t bothered by our language incompatibility and went on for ages, and finally get checked out by two 80yrs old mommas relaxing in the morning shadow in front of their houses. Sweet!
The climb was rather short but quite exciting, leading up a rather steep slope, following a narrow, barely used path. The view was definitely worth it — nearby town of Castiglione Di Sicilia with a £$%^& cloudless, happily smoking Etna; grey, dried out Valle dello Zavianni and sparkly patches of the Alcantara river peeking from behind the thick wall of trees.
Since I was very tight on time due to the rather early last return bus, I had to leave the view and continue through the town towards the river. I reached it soon after, surprised by few small groups of adventure seekers following the same trail. The difference between me and them was where they decided to follow it, I left it and went down to spend some quiet time on the river rocks. It paid off with a fantastic reading spot, just next to a small waterfall. I did manage to slip couple of times trying to get there, nearly crashing my skull on perfectly white rocks and dipped my shoes 15cm deep in the grass covered water (good I waxed my shoes before leaving;) but it was worth it allright.
Two chapters later I was back on the track, colourful from cactus fruit being squashed by people. The landscape changed quite quickly, becoming rather dried out planes guarded by small plantations of citrus trees with unusual streams of irrigation systems, apparently dating back to the Arabic times.
At some point I reached a perfect left-or-right crossroads, and while I the plan was to follow the river, the other direction views were so much more interesting, that I decided to follow my guts and go the other way. The choice proved correct and I quickly started climbing the other side of the castle hill. The path led through a viewpoint terrace, where I met a small gang of German bikers! Quite a funky bunch, I must say; we exchanged few words and I suddenly realised that it’s getting late and I should be going if I want to catch the bus to Alcantara River Park.
I wasn’t sure the exact times apart from the rough departures, so I soon found myself trotting through narrow streets of Francavilla. I arrived at the bus stop just in time. 15 minutes later I was heading towards the Park’s gate.
In case you haven’t heard of this place, it’s one of the most famous spots in Sicily. Ages ago a minor volcano erupted nearby and filled the riverbed and since then water was reclaiming it own way, patiently eroding and shaping the walls of the valley. This resulted in quite amazing shapes and forms that thousands of visitors rush to see every year.
One thing that is fairly obvious is that, since it’s a river mountain, it’s bloody cold freezing, but I was told one could rend a waterproof gear and follow the upstream. Upon arrival, I found out that it is very true, but only with a group and a guide. Which I didn’t have. Lucky me.
I really tried to go bare foot. Reaaaaly did. In fact it took me about 30 minutes to get used to the insanely paralysing temperature. Finally when I found strength and courage to go deeper into gorge, I had to get back after 15m, when the water reached my, let’s say, thighs and a rather visible chain with ‘no-entry’ sign blocked my passage… Shame. I like to think that I would be able to survive these condition for much longer, but the truth is, after I went out from water, I needed another 30 minutes, this time for defrosting my balls legs. Unpleasant.
Anyway, whether I liked it or not, it was time to go back to Giardini Naxos, grab my rucksack and catch a train to Messina and change there for Cefalù — a place I hoped to be my base for hiking Madonie mountains. And well deserved beach day. And loundry…
As usual you can find all the photos from this part of my trip on Flickr, or just browse the gallery below. I hope you enjoy them!