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Hello From Sicily – Goodbye Taormina – Hello Milazzo!

My last day in Taormina had started: I woke up at daybreak to pack my suitcase since later today I would be relocating from Taormina to the city of Milazzo. I enjoyed my final breakfast on the gorgeous terrace of Hotel Villa Nettuno, the place that had been my home for the last seven nights. Pictures of yesterday’s hike up Mount Etna flashed to my mind. The view over the Ionian Sea continued to fascinate me and I hope that one day I will make it back to beautiful Taormina.
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Sicily, cooking, train, travel, student, Taormina, Milazzo

My last day in Taormina had started: I woke up at daybreak to pack my suitcase since later today I would be relocating from Taormina to the city of Milazzo. I enjoyed my final breakfast on the gorgeous terrace of Hotel Villa Nettuno, the place that had been my home for the last seven nights. Pictures of yesterday’s hike up Mount Etna flashed to my mind. The view over the Ionian Sea continued to fascinate me and I hope that one day I will make it back to beautiful Taormina.

My last day of classes had started and our strict yet witty language teacher Carlo continued to teach us the intricacies of Italian pronouns and adverbial phrases of time and place. His colleague Simona took over at 11:40 for our communications exercise and we started to listen to a recording of a real-life Italian call-in show where a person called into a radio station to talk to two psychiatrists to discuss fears and phobias.

Each equipped with headsets, we listened to the recording twice and recounted what we had understood. Then we embarked on an unscripted discussion of our own fears and phobias. In addition, Simona had prepared cardboard cards with questions. Each one of us got to pick from the stack of cards and we got to choose who we were going to ask the question we had picked. This provided another great opportunity to talk and apply our Italian language skills. An animated philosophical discussion ensued and everyone had a chance to express their thoughts and feelings.

After taking pictures with my class mates and our teachers, I dropped by the office to say goodbye to Alessandro and his team. The entire crew at the Babilonia Language School had been extremely helpful over the past week of my stay, I had indeed picked up my Italian skills (and was officially at Intermediate level now), and I had thoroughly enjoyed all our various excursions: from our hike to Castelmola Friday a week ago, to our archeological and cultural excursion to Siracusa, to our walking tour of Taormina, my glimpses at Babilonia’s cooking and pottery decorating classes, our hiking excursion to Mount Etna and various dinners and social events, the last seven days had been packed full of exciting activities and opportunities for learning and forging new friendships.

I sincerely thanked Alessandro and his team and hoped to come back some time in the future. Together with two of my new-found friends, Jill from the UK, and Connie from Switzerland we went for a little walk and decided to have lunch at a local restaurant called Panoramic Bella Blu which is located on Via Pirandello right next to the cable car station that connects hill-top Taormina with beach-front Mazzaro. We enjoyed a nice late lunch with a stunning view over the Mediterranean, and about an hour later I had to say goodbye. I had double-checked at the bus station when my bus would come to take me to the railway station at Taormina – Giardini Naxos so I would be able to make the trek to my next destination: Milazzo.

Before departing I went back to Hotel Villa Nettuno to quickly download my photos and take a few more shots of the beautiful garden that is part of the Sciglio family’s estate. At the top of the garden is the so-called “Tempietto” (“little temple”), a temple-shaped lookout point with benches and a sweeping view over the Ionian Sea and part of Taormina. I took a few quick photos with Vincenzo Sciglio, the patriarch of the family, and two of my German Babilonia co-students and at 5:30 pm I sadly said goodbye. Vincenzo promised that when I come here next time he will take me to the family’s country retreat where they make home-made wine. He said he produces the grape juice for the wine by stomping on the grapes with his bare feet. Well, next time I come to Taormina I definitely want to see that.

Although my departure was a little sad, my next adventure was already waiting: tomorrow I would embark on a one-week sailing trip around the gorgeous Eolian Islands with a different language school called Laboratorio Linguistico, based in Milazzo.

After a 10 minute bus ride, I arrived at the Taormina - Giardini Naxos train station and had to wait for about 45 minutes before my train showed up. The commuter train that arrived was a beautiful sleek and modern train and I grabbed a seat in the corner. A few rambunctious teenagers were playing loud music, singing and ribbing each other. Obviously teenagers will be teenagers, no matter where you go…

A local gentleman sat down across from me and introduced himself: Giorgio works as a security guard at Taormina’s Greek Theatre and enjoys his job. He told me about his family: his wife stays at home with their three children while he is the sole income earner. His job gives him sufficient income to look after his family and he said he keeps his expenses low. The family only has one car and he still drives around all year on his 30 year old Vespa. Giorgio also commented that a few years ago Trenitalia, the Italian government-owned railway system, invested in new commuter trains. Giorgio smiled when he said that the remainder of the rolling stock is pretty much “museum quality”.

He also mentioned that the strange spring weather that we had been having (a fair amount of rain, fog, overcast skies), is rather unusual. Normally at this time of year the weather is clear and sunny. He summed up his feelings by saying that for the last three years or so the climate has been strange. A side effect of global warming maybe?

After Giorgio left about a half hour into the train ride I had a chance to reflect on the 8 days that I had already passed in Italy, and the new adventures that were still to come. I was starting to feel a bit apprehensive about the sailing trip that was supposed to start tomorrow. I was wondering about sea-sickness, the small confined space on a sailboat and I was praying to God that I was going to have good shipmates. On a small sailboat even one really strange character can make the trip unpleasant for the rest of the group.

Another part of me was really looking forward to the experience, and my anticipation was growing. After changing trains in Messina I arrived just shortly after 9 pm at my destination for today: Milazzo, headquarters of the Laboratorio Linguistico Language School, and the embarkation point for my sailing trip tomorrow.

Francesca, the wife of the school’s co-owner, graciously came by to pick me up from the train station and took me to my home for the night: a fully equipped 5-bedroom apartment right above the school’s offices. Francesca took me into my room which I was going to share for one night with my new travel partner: Claudia, a Lufthansa flight attendant from Germany, was also going to go on the sailing trip with me tomorrow.

While Claudia was sleeping I headed out for a very late dinner. It was already about 10:30 pm before I found a local restaurant two streets over. I had a delicious Insalata Cappriciosa and at a price of 3 Euros the salad was less than half the going rate of the restaurants in Taormina which had charged about 7 or 8 Euros for a salad. I realized very quickly that tourists in Taormina are paying a premium rate for everything and that Milazzo was definitely more affordable terrain. Back at the apartment I downloaded my photos and briefly met two of the other teachers at Laboratorio Linguistico: Jean-Claude from Ireland, who teaches English at the school, and Francesco (Franco) Pozza, an Italian teacher and co-owner of the school. I found out that we would be gathering outside the school tomorrow morning at 9:30 am to meet Francesco Di Santi, the other co-owner of Laboratorio Linguistico, and our skipper for the week.

I felt into bed exhausted, wondering what the next week was going to hold. I was excited – looking forward to my first sailing trip.

 

Hello From Sicily: A Day Of Discoveries In Milazzo

Well, my week on the Solitaire II, studying Italian and sailing through the Eolian Islands, had come to an end. Last night our sailing group officially said goodbye, and my departure date from Sicily was fast approaching. Only four more days of discovery were remaining.

A week on a sailboat does many things, but one thing is for sure – it creates a huge amount of laundry. The entire suitcase that I had taken onto the boat was in desperate need of a good cleansing, so it wa...

Sicily, Italian Lessons, adventure, travel, student, Eolian Islands, Milazzo

Well, my week on the Solitaire II, studying Italian and sailing through the Eolian Islands, had come to an end. Last night our sailing group officially said goodbye, and my departure date from Sicily was fast approaching. Only four more days of discovery were remaining.

A week on a sailboat does many things, but one thing is for sure – it creates a huge amount of laundry. The entire suitcase that I had taken onto the boat was in desperate need of a good cleansing, so it was time to use the washing machine in the spacious five-bedroom apartment above the Laboratorio Linguistico language school. Claudia, being from Germany, was in charge of selecting the laundry settings on this European machine, and shortly after my dirty clothes and those of two of my shipmates were turning happily in the frontloaded washer. Then we hung up the clothes on the balcony of our bedroom and Lorenzo, our favourite Catholic priest, joined us to sit for a bit outside. After a while he headed off to get his hair cut while Claudia and I met our other shipmates, Franco and Agnieszka, who were going to take us on a tour of Milazzo.

Milazzo is a town with a population of about 30,000 people on the northeastern coast of Sicily, located about 50 km from Messina. It has a long history, dating back to Greek colonization as the city of Mylai in 716 BC. Milazzo is located on a narrow peninsula on the Tyrrhenian coastline that protrudes about six or seven kilometers into the sea. The tip of the peninsula is called Capo Milazzo which features a variety of restaurants perched on a cliff above the sea as well as nature areas and an 18th century lighthouse.

The downtown of Milazzo is located on the eastern side of the peninsula around a bay and the south side of the bay is characterized by a variety of industrial and refinery buildings. Our local expert Franco explained that Milazzo is quite a popular tourist destination for Italian travelers in the summer, but is not particularly well known internationally. It is a reasonably priced destination, much more affordable than some other extremely popular destinations in Italy.

Our apartment at Laboratorio Linguistico is very centrally located at Via Nino Riolo, just steps away from the Chiesa di San Giacomo, dating back to the 15h century, and the Lungomare Garibaldi, the beautiful palm-lined waterfront promenade of Milazzo. Franco took us along the Via Medici towards the fish market which features two rows of fish and seafood vendors, selling a large variety of marine delicacies caught locally. One local fisherman in particular seemed to enjoy the camera and held up several different fish with a big smile while his coworker was watching him with an expression of suspicion. We also saw a huge swordfish, it must have been about two meters long and was staring at us with its silver-coloured empty eyes. Another fishmonger had just a head of a swordfish on display, the body had already been cut up and filleted. Fish markets are always an assault to the senses, fascinating visually, but the smell is a different story.

We briefly stopped at the municipal tourist office in the Municipio building to get some information on the bus schedules that would take us from Milazzo to Catania for our return flights and were rather impressed by the friendly service that the gentleman behind the counter was providing to us. Now equipped with the knowledge of how we would get to the Catania airport we continued our walk along the Lungomare.

The Lungomare is a waterfront promenade, fronted on the eastern side by a long row of attached houses that are several hundred years old, with a paved walkway that is separated from a busy street by a narrow lawn and a fringe of palm trees. On the eastern side is a sandy beach that serves as the starting point for the dozens of fishermen that have their boats permanently parked along the waterfront. The Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore forms the northern end of the of the main section of the waterfront promenade, from where things get a little quieter.

Franco pointed out a fascinating classical building that used to be an orphanage, but today lies in ruins. We turned left on Erta San Domenico, a stone-paved road with an interesting pattern that would take us up past a series of steps towards the castle, the “Castello di Milazzo”.

Like all of Sicily, Milazzo has thousands of years of history. Settled since the Neolithic Age, Milazzo has always had a strategic location along the Tyrrhenian Sea, used by the Romans and then the Arabs. The current castle was originally constructed under Norman rule around 1000 AD and later reinforced in the 15th century by Alphonso of Aragon. During the 18th Century and the subsequent Bourbon period it suffered great damage and later became a prison, which it remained until 1960.

The structure was extensively renovated in the 1980s and 1990s. The castle sits on a rocky promontory with a view towards all directions and features imposing stone walls aimed at deterring any possible invaders. The main area of the castle was closed to the public at this time of day (siesta time) and would not reopen until 3 pm, but we walked through some of the impressive stone gates and covered walkways that take you to the inner courtyards of the castle. The view from the castle’s south side towards the Nebrodi Mountains and Mount Etna was stunning. The snowy fields at the top of Mount Etna were clearly visible and not a single cloud was concealing Europe’s largest volcano.

Close to the castle is an entertainment area that features many different bars and restaurants. Although quiet now, this area becomes vibrant and alive at night time. We continued our walk further north along the peninsula and Franco took us to a private residential complex where Laboratorio Linguistico rents some villas for some of its language students. Hidden behind a big steal gate is a beautiful estate with gorgeous gardens and subtropical flowers that features several houses that can be rented by foreign travelers. Franco introduced us to an older couple who was also here to study Italian, and their abode on the edge of the cliff with a perfect westward view of the Sicilian coastline, featuring Milazzo Castle towards the south, was breathtaking.

We decided to explore the western side of the Milazzo peninsula and took a steep path down towards the beach, with Milazzo Castle looming overhead on our left hand side. The flat pebbly beach is several kilometers long and on this Saturday afternoon was quite deserted. Only a few sun worshipers were out and enjoying their time on the waterfront. The water had a light blue turquoise colour to it, but when we looked closer we saw huge swarms of jellyfish washing ashore all along the coastline. That may have explained the reason for the absence of bathers.

After this extensive walk in the warm sun it was time for another granita, a typical Sicilian treat featuring crushed ice in a variety of flavours. So Claudia and I walked towards downtown again and found a little local bar where we sat down for a solid hour or so to relax and enjoy a cool drink Franco and Agnieszka had already proceeded back towards the apartment, while the two of us, real sailing buddies, were enjoying our last afternoon together since Claudia was going to fly back to Germany early tomorrow morning. We both realized how much we had enjoyed this sailing trip and what an intense experience this kind of trip can be.

On our way back we passed by the Piazza Roma and the Monumento ai caduti (Monument to the Fallen Soldiers), constructed in 1924 during Italy’s fascist era. Back at the apartment we cooked up some pasta with fresh tomatoes and enjoyed our home-cooked meal.

Our late afternoon lunch eliminated the need for a dinner, but we still planned to take one final walk through Milazzo before Claudia’s departure. Around 8 pm we admired the daily ritual of the “passegiata”, the daily stroll where men, women, children, families and seniors come out, many of them dressed to the nines, to stroll along the Lungomare. This time-honoured ritual exists in most Italian communities and is a perfect opportunity to see and be seen. Many older men sit together on benches, discussing the latest in news and sports, while women walk together, probably debating issues of church and family.

A large crowd was gathered at the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore since the Madonna of Fatima was on display in the church. The church was lit up beautifully and many pious locals were streaming into the church to pay their respect. We strolled around in the area close to Milazzo Castle, and many of the restaurant’s patios and terraces were full of people socializing, talking, and having fun.

The pleasant evening turned into a beautiful starry night and we stood on top of the castle hill and looked out over the surrounding panorama, captivated by the twinkling lights of the city and the lights farther way in the surrounding mountains. Our bonding session, which had begun on the sailing trip, continued, and we decided that if I am ever in the Frankfurt / Mannheim area I would definitely visit Claudia, while she would always be welcome here in Toronto.

Around midnight we finally plopped into bed, rather exhausted. Claudia was going to leave early tomorrow morning while I was planning to take the train to the medieval town of Cefalu. After our intense experiences we definitely needed the rest…

 

Hello From Sicily – Goodbye Vulcano, Dolphins, Tunas, And Hello Milazzo

The days on this sailing trip are so compressed and amazingly full of diverse experiences: waking yesterday in beautiful Lipari, followed by a driving tour of this, the largest Eolian island. Then our journey continued to Vulcano, where we had an intense Italian lesson, followed by a nourishing on-board dinner and candlelit evening of soulful music, provided by two of our shipmates. There are hardly words to describe the intense sensations that one experiences on a trip so ou...

Sicily, Italian Lessons, boat, travel, student, Dolphins, Messina, Eolian Islands, Milazzo

The days on this sailing trip are so compressed and amazingly full of diverse experiences: waking yesterday in beautiful Lipari, followed by a driving tour of this, the largest Eolian island. Then our journey continued to Vulcano, where we had an intense Italian lesson, followed by a nourishing on-board dinner and candlelit evening of soulful music, provided by two of our shipmates. There are hardly words to describe the intense sensations that one experiences on a trip so outside of the norm.

Today was going to be our last day at sea, time was passing just so quickly. We got an early start this morning at about 8:30 am, and using the dingy, our trusted skipper Francesco ferried us on land from our location in the bay in front of Porto di Levante. The plan was to hike up the mountain of Vulcano to the “Gran Cratere” (the Great Crater) to see an active volcanco up close.

After a brief morning granita, the crushed ice drink that I had gotten so fond of, we all gathered and started our ascent to Vulcano. We started to climb along a pathway covered by black volcanic sand that turned into a hard brown rock closer to the top. The total ascent took only about an hour and was not extremely strenuous. The view got progressively better the higher we climbed, and from the top of Vulcano, all of the seven Eolian Islands can be seen.

This was my first exposure to a volcanic crater. Although over the last 6 months I had visited two other volcanoes: Mount Teide on the Spanish island of Tenerife, and Mount Etna, during my current trip to Sicily, I had not seen the crater of either one of these volcanic mountains. Vulcano’s Gran Cratere is indeed an interesting sight: a perfectly round indentation with a higher wall on the south side, surrounding the crater like a natural amphitheatre. Sulphur fumes emanate from fissures in the yellow-orange rock. Warnings advise you to stay away from the noxious fumes. I just caught a whiff of a sulphur cloud and it was so strong it almost took my breath away.

One of our travel mates, our shirtless Catholic priest Lorenzo, trekked up all the way to the back wall of the crater and waved to us from a couple of hundred meters away. Tourists of all shapes and sizes were starting to congregate at the top of Vulcano and we enjoyed the view from the top for about 20 minutes. Of course the descent was much faster than the ascent, it only took us about 20 minutes to get back down into the village of Porto di Levante.

We arranged to meet for an Italian lesson just shortly after noon and had about half an hour to explore the waterfront around Porto di Levante. The main feature in the area is a big volcanic rock right next to some sulphurous mud baths that are supposed to have healing properties, particularly for ailments such as rheumatism and arthritis. For about 2.50 Euro you can get access to the mud baths, and for about 1 Euro more you’ll even get a chance to use the shower in this fenced off area. We saw various tourists frolicking in the rather foul-smelling mud while for me personally the smell was a bit too much.

While our colleagues Lorenzo and Herbert were going to have their lesson on the sailboat in another location, us three ladies were going to study Italian with our teacher Franco on the outdoor terrace of a bar overlooking another bay on the island of Vulcano. I have really started to get into this outdoor language learning experience provided by Laboratorio Linguistico. It’s relaxed, yet intense and effective. We spent a couple of hours forming conditional sentences and abstract nouns from common verbs and adjectives. Overall I mused that two weeks ago I spoke no Italian, I had only been reading an Italian grammar book for the two months prior to coming to Sicily. Now I was speaking Italian semi-competently at intermediate level. I have become a huge fan of language study travel and of immersing myself in a foreign culture and language. And learning Italian on a sailboat so far ranks at the very top of my language learning adventures.

During our studies Claudia and I grabbed some fast food from the bar, some type of calzone and other quick Sicilian snacks and I could not resist the temptation of buying a cone of delicious ice cream. Along the way I admired the colourful works of art made of marzipan that were appetizingly displayed in their glass cases. Now there’s a another great concept: studying Italian with a delicious cone of nocciola e limone (hazelnut and lemon) gelato in your hand. Just make sure you don’t splatter the gelato all over the dictionary…

Well, all good things must come to an end, and by about 3:30 pm we met at the beach to get whisked back on the boat by our trusted skipper Francesco. Before we hopped into the dingy, our entire group performed a final rendition of “umm dari dari”, a song that music student Agnieszka had taught us a few days earlier. The men of our group provided the percussive background, producing sounds such as “ummm pffff psshh, ummm pfffff pssshh”, while Claudia and I provided a chorus of “umm dari dari dari, umm dari dari” that sounded like it would be appropriate somewhere in Saudi Arabia, in the company of a herd of camels. Agnieszka provided the leading melody with her brilliant soprano voice. What a fun and humorous ending to seven days at sea in the Eolian Islands. Our travel group certainly had come together very nicely…

Our last few hours on the boat had begun, we embarked on our voyage from Vulcano to the town of Milazzo located at the northeastern tip of Sicily, about 30 kilometers from the Straight of Messina. I thought our week long adventure would just peter out and come to an anti-climactic ending, but no, the goddess of travel had more adventures in store for us.

We were all in the back of the boat when Herbert, our experienced TV travel journalist, called us excitedly and said “Dolphins! Come on, see the dolphins”. Sure enough, we all scrambled to the front of the boat and there were four dolphins, swimming beside our boat, swimming ahead of us left and right, jumping out of the water, and generally playing with us. Herbert explained that they hear our voices, and being the curious, playful creatures that they are, they come say hello to accompany us for a while.

These four graceful grey creatures were beautiful, and all of us were in awe at this unexpected display. The dolphins swam and jumped alongside our boat for about 5, 7 minutes until they had enough and swam off in a westerly direction. I had caught everything on my camera and made several video clips and was still tickled pink about this experience. For some reason, dolphins always seem like they are smiling to me, and these four sleek water animals certainly appeared to be in a great mood.

I already thought the excitement was over, but no, the Mediterranean had even more surprises in store for us. We had been trailing fishing lines behind our boat and with all the excitement surrounding the dolphins we had basically forgotten about the fishing lines until our skipper shouted that we had made a catch. Sure enough, we saw him reeling in the line and a beautiful silver fish about 15 inches long was pulled on board. Francesco explained it was a tuna, cut the line and placed it on the floor at the rear of our boat.

I was fascinated by this, until the fish started flopping around in a panic and blood started spraying from its gills. That’s when my tender vegetarian soul said it had enough and I retreated to the front of the boat. I just couldn’t watch this fish flop around, spraying the whole back of the boat with its blood, trying to fight for its life. Our captain put it out of its misery, cut off its head and gutted it right there. I just caught a quick glimpse, but the dripping red innards of this poor tuna had me completely grossed out.

You might think that the excitement might be over now, what with the dolphins and the tuna capture, but no – the ritual repeated itself two more times: we caught two more tunas and I wisely stayed away from the decapitation and evisceration scene. At any rate, Francesco had caught three nice-size fish and said that he was going to bring them home as a special treat for his two year old son Davide.

A short while later at about 7:30 pm we arrived at the harbour of Portorosa, and Francesca and Davide, our skipper’s wife and son, were already waiting to welcome us. Davide’s excited two-year old calls “papa – papa” indicated that he had definitely missed his daddy. Francesca herself said that “papa” was indeed the first word that her son ever spoke. Our usually quiet captain himself was visibly elated to see his family almost after a week at sea.

Now it was time to get organized and unload. Francesco gave us a choice: we could either spend one more night on the boat, or we could unload the boat, drive back to the apartment which is located conveniently right above the Laboratorio Linguistico School, and go for dinner in Milazzo.

Well, this was a no-brainer. After almost a week on a nice, but rather crammed sailboat with a tiny cabinet that served as a toilet / shower facility, there was no question that all of us preferred going on land. Our first priority as a matter of fact, was to take a land-based shower, and Claudia, Herbert and I headed to the comfort station at the Portorosa Harbour to take a well-deserved, long awaited shower on terra firma. Strange, but after a week on a sailboat you start appreciating the little things in life, and a real shower and a toilet separate from the shower rank pretty high on the list …

Francesco and the rest of the gang had already started to unload the boat, and we quickly packed our stuff and help load all our luggage and the remaining food into Francesco’s car. By the time we had everything organized back at the apartment it was already about 10:30 pm, but that did not deter us from having one last joint dinner together.

Francesco and Franco packed us into their respective vehicles and drove us out to a restaurant at the tip of Capo Milazzo, the peninsula that protrudes about 6 km into the Tyrrhenian Sea from Milazzo. We had this entire establishment to ourselves, and another Sicilian feast was unfolding. Fish, wine and pasta arrived in large quantities while I enjoyed a vegetarian Sicilian pasta with pistachios. In addition, it was Agnieszka’s 23rd birthday today, so all of us got to celebrate, and a big hazelnut ice cream cake capped off the feast.

We all said goodbye at the end of the evening. Since Herbert was going to fly out tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning we would not have a chance to say our goodbyes in the morning any more. Seven days of adventures in the Eolian Islands had come to an end, and I think all of us experienced just a tinge of melancholy. The seven of us had made a great team on board: Claudia, the Lufthansa flight attendant from Germany & my wonderful cabin mate; Herbert, the knowledgeable TV travel journalist, also from Germany; Lorenzo from the US of Italian background and the coolest Catholic priest that I have ever met; our talented singer Agnieszka; and our two experts and teachers from Laboratorio Linguistico: Franco and Francesco, our skipper.

My first sailing trip had come to an end, but I still four days of discoveries left in Sicily. Tomorrow’s agenda will include Milazzo.




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