The first stop for the cruise was Messina on the island of Sicily. This is where the Italian Mafia mobsters we all know so well originated from. Several scenes from “The Godfather” were filmed around this area. Messina is a nice city, but has a shady side to it for sure. It is both beautiful with several monuments and neat looking buildings, and kind of trashy with garbage all over and graffiti covering several buildings. From the port of Messina you can see the mainland of Italy fairly close by, and ferry boats run between Sicily and the mainland from there.
As we were docking we were all staring out at the city taking pictures, while the people on the shore were staring at our massive ship approaching taking pictures of us. One thing that some of us wanted to do was visit the cliff top city of Taormina, and there was a train station close to the dock where we could hop on and get down there for about 4 Euros. However, we were late setting off and missed the train, and the next one was an hour and a half later and would not leave much time for exploring.
We then decided to take a cab (which was much more expensive!), and found a driver that spoke English fairly well to take us up there. The drive was about 40 minutes and was absolutely gorgeous. This was the Italy I was looking forward to seeing, rather than what I saw just outside of Rome the previous day. This area was covered with steep green hills overlooking the deep blue of the Mediterranean.
The approach to the medieval city of Taormina was a steep climb winding up through the cliffs until we reached the city high in the sky. The view from Taormina was spectacular looking down onto the sea and the little villages on the coastline, as well as looking up at the massive volcano Mt. Etna looming in the background.
Mt. Etna is still a highly active volcano, and is among the world’s best known and most researched. It is a grand site to see from Taormina, though much of it was covered in clouds, so the peak wasn’t visible. The highest peak atop the city of Taormina on Mt. Tauro is an ancient Greek theatre, which is still in use today.
Taormina today is a highly touristy town with several specialty shops, boutiques, and structures from ancient and medieval times. One of the things Taormina is most famous for is the invention of the cannoli, the famous Italian cream filled tube pastry. I had a very good one at one of the pastry shops run by a jolly Italian lady who spoke fluent English.
Upon arriving back in Messina there was still some time left before the ship departed to explore the city. I visited a huge basilica on top of a large hill looking over the city, which provided a very panoramic view of Messina. Down a little ways from there were several huge fountains and an astronomical clock tower, which had rotating evangelical scenes at midday. I wasn’t there at midday so I didn’t see this, but was able to see the highly detailed statues of angels adorning the massive tower.
That night on the ship they had a comedy show where they randomly picked people out of the crowd and got them up on stage to embarrass them. One of the older guys had one of the funniest names I have ever heard, Willie Banger. The cruise director could not stop laughing when he found out his name and even carded him to prove it, then what made it ever more funny was his wife was named Anita Banger.
Willie Banger was a good sport about it, and was actually the life of the show. I’m sure going through life with a name like that surely draws attention to yourself, so I’m sure he is used to it. Later on they were doing a race with a string and a spoon running through people’s clothing and he dropped his pants, which revealed his bright yellow boxer shorts. The crowd was in tears from laughter, and Willie Banger became the most famous person on the cruise from that day forward, as even those who weren’t at the show were able to see reruns on their TVs in their rooms.