May 2017 Trip Report: Amalfi/Ravello/Positano (Day 9)

Thursday was an amazing day. It started off kind of bleak--it was drizzling in Positano so not a good time to relax on the beach. I knew Friday's weather was supposed to better for the beach so I decided to head over to Amalfi and Ravello instead. I'm so glad I did because even though Amalfi is so close by, it was sunny! 

I wish I started my day off earlier. In my opinion, taking the ferry boat over is way better than the public bus since you don't know when it might arrive. I wish I had gotten on the 10 am ferry from Positano to Amalfi but I took the 11:10 am instead after I had breakfast at my B&B (they have umbrellas!) and got ready, etc. The ferry fare one way was 8 euros and I bought a roundtrip ticket. You buy them right off the ferry deck to the right of Spagio Beach (I checked/took snapshots of the schedule the day before). I knew the last ferry back was at 6 pm but I didn't want to risk being caught in a huge crowd so I aimed for the one before that, at 4:20 pm.  

Anyway the ferry ride from Positano to Amalfi was fine, it was raining at the time so didn't really see much and was sitting below deck indoors. Within 25 minutes we reached Amalfi though and the sky was clear and the sun was shining! 

In order to get to Ravello, I knew the public bus was the only way to get up there since it sits on top of Amalfi. I found out from the information desk that you can't buy tickets on the bus, you must get them from the Tabacchi shop right across from the bus stop (there is a huge awning that indicates it's a bus stop for all the Amalfi Coast towns--it's about a 5 minute walk to the right as you leave the ferry dock near the parking lot). Tickets were really cheap (2.80 euros I think) compared to taking a taxi up to Ravello which can be 30 euros or so. The bus supposedly comes every 30 minutes so I waited for the 12:15 pm bus with throngs of other tourists.  

Riding up Amalfi town via bus! 

Riding up Amalfi town via bus! 

However as I waited for the bus I started to doubt I could even get on it!!! There were so many people waiting!!!!! Also 12:15 came and went and no sign of the public bus but lots of traffic going by. At the same bus stop, there is also the red tourist bus where you can jump on/off. Luckily there is a city sight seeing tour bus just going between Ravello and Amalfi and it doesn't make any other stops. I asked how much it was and it was 5 euros one way, 9.50 roundtrip. I decided to spend the extra money as I was limited on time, plus the bus was open air which makes it great for pictures and more comfortable to sit in anyway. I'm so glad I did this because I got to Ravello way earlier and more comfortable than if I took the public bus (and I saw so many other public buses that were crowded and packed w tourists standing). So totally skip the public bus and spend the little extra on the red tourist bus for comfort and convenience. Plus you get to hear interesting facts along the way on the tourist bus. The red bus also comes and goes every half hour (whenever it's :15 or 45). It's more reliable since it doesn't stop anywhere else.

By the time I got up to Ravello it was 12:45 pm and I knew if I wanted to see Amalfi town too and get on the 4:20 pm ferry back to Positano, I needed to leave Ravello either by 1:45 or 2:15. So as soon as I got up there I speedwalked everywhere! 

Ravello is breathtaking though. I really wish I spent at least a half day, not just a couple of hours. Or even a whole day! It's just so pretty and charming. It truly is a garden city. It is very small so you can see most it in a couple of hours but to really enjoy and take it in, I think half or full day is better. Especially compared to Amalfi which was soooo congested and not as pretty.  

The views to the coast are amazing! I thought Oia on Santorini was beautiful (and it is) but I love how Ravello was short and sweet. I didn't have time to eat lunch since I was trying to cram so much sight seeing in a short amount of time.  

View from Ravello! 

View from Ravello! 

The main square is lovely and wish I had time to sit and have a snack or coffee. Everything just looks like straight out of a magazine on the Italian countryside. Flowers and trees were nicely manicured and Richard Wagner (composer) is celebrated here. 

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Walking around town is just magical and serene. Much more calm and secluded than Positano or Amalfi. 

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I definitely rushed around to see what I could, grabbing some gelato for lunch in the main square. I wish I had more time to leisurely explore! 

Private garden on the other side

Private garden on the other side

The most popular attraction up in Ravello is Villa Rufolo. Admission is 7 euros but I think it's so worth it. The villa is spectacular and they hold classical concerts here as the setting is fantastic. Great views of the coast from the villa as well. You can see all this in about 30 minutes if you walk thru quick. 

View from the Villa

View from the Villa

After enjoying what I could of Ravello, I caught the 2:15 pm bus back down. While doing my research I read that staying in Amalfi was better as it's cheaper but I'm sooo glad I stayed in Positano instead. Amalfi was full of tourists!!!! Positano is touristy as well but it's better controlled since you can't really park there. In Amalfi there are huge parking lots which makes bringing in people easier. I did not like it that much. It seemed more 'cheesy' than Positano although souvenirs and shopping is cheaper here. 

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I kind of wish I spent another hour up in Ravello but I didn't know I would feel this way about Amalfi. I just walked through the main shopping area and then along the coast line while I waited for the 4:20 ferry. I did pick up a small bottle of limoncello for 4 euros (among the cheapest I saw and it had a label verifying that it's made with Amalfi lemons).  

Religious fountain in Amalfi town

Religious fountain in Amalfi town

The ferries run pretty on time so definitely show up 5-10 minutes before so you don't miss them. There's usually a sign on the boats that say what the next destination is so just look for that as there are many boats that come and go on the dock. There are organizers who will tell you as well. 

Panorama view

Panorama view

The ferry ride back was beautiful as the weather was better and I got to sit outside on top of the boat. 

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After I was back in Positano, I headed back to my room and took a shower. I was dying for a great meal and all the highly rated places near Venus B&B were booked up!! I was not deterred though. I headed over to Da Vincenzo, which I really wanted to try, and at 6:15 pm it was pretty empty since everyone eats later. I asked if I could eat right now and they said absolutely but I had to leave the table by 8. No problem for me! And so I happily sat outside, right by the road, with an amazing view. It's everything I thought dining in Positano would be! 

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I know some people think sitting outside right next to traffic is gross but it's not too bad...I could smell the diesel fumes 10% of the time and being from NYC, where I've sat outside before and would get soot or micro dust/dirt in my glass of water, that didn't happen at all here. So it may not be perfect but it's not as gross as it is in major cities. For an appetizer I had a fresh tomato stuffed with raw shrimp on fresh mozzarella cheese and it was amaaaaazing!!!! I hardly eat raw shrimp and was afraid to but wanted to try it and it was soooo delicious. And no I did not get sick. In fact I came back the next night (at the same time and got the same table!) and had it again! The waiter recognized me and was pleased. I also had the lobster linguine which was also good and very filling. The next night I didn't want any more pasta so I had the yellowtail dish which was ok. I do recommend this place for the quality and price and definitely get rsvps in advance! Otherwise come at 6 pm to be seated!

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After dinner I walked off the calories along the path which goes past the center of town. You can only really walk (with a proper sidewalk) to the last bus stop in town (you wil see people waiting) but it's great views of the town in the evening.   

Sunset time Positano

Sunset time Positano

May 2017 Trip Report: Catania to Positano (Day 8)

I've been wanting to visit the Amalfi Coast for years . I had been to Capri and Sorrento a year after college but didn't have enough to make it down the luxe area of Southern Italy. I am so thrilled to finally achieve my dream of coming here! It's everything I thought it would be! Beautiful views, laid back vibe, but also classy. I love it here in Positano. 

Planning on how to get here was a nightmare logistically. There is so much info and many options you can take. The most popular areas to stay in the Amalfi Coast are Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi. I chose Positano as it's in the middle and I just always loved seeing pictures of it. 

Spagio Beach, the main beach in Positano

Spagio Beach, the main beach in Positano

On Wednesday morning I left for Catania airport at 7:30 am even though my flight wasn't until 11:40 am. I'm so glad I left that early!! While driving to the airport, the exit from the highway was closed so had to take an alternate route. It worked out fine but you never know with these things. Then when I tried to check in, it just took forever! People at the airport were just soooo slow especially at the computer desk check ins. I had a flight with Alitalia from Catania to Naples but apparently when I booked it, I didn't purchase it with the ability to check in luggage. Since I knew my luggage didn't meet carry on requirements I just paid to check it which was 48 euros! Oh well at least my one way ticket wasn't too bad ($92 USD but better to fly one hour than take the ferrry/train for half the day!).  Anyway by the time I checked luggage and cleared security, it was 10 am which left me an hour to eat before boarding the plane. Catania Airport is small and there weren't a lot of options to eat. 

The flight to Naples ended up being delayed due to congestion on the runway. I landed at 1:30 pm instead of 1 pm and I got an email from my B&B host that the car service he sent for me was about to leave. Luckily my luggage popped up quick and I was able to catch the driver (who was also shuttling 8 other people and I was the last to arrive, whoops). However had he left, the next shuttle was at 2:30 but I'm glad I made it in time. 

So if you've been reading this blog, you'll know I value time. Getting from Naples to Positano by public transportation seemed like a nightmare so I asked my B&B host to arrange a dependable private transfer service and he really came through (the original one he proposed had atrocious reviews and when I sent him the link, he found another company which had better reviews). I was picked up by Seahorse Car Service and it was 90 euros round trip which I thought was great since I was traveling this leg of my trip solo and I knew the ride was over an hour long. We made a couple of drop offs as we headed south and before I made it into Positano, the driver stopped somewhere along the way and said I would be changing cars. The next car was right there and instead of a big van it was a nice small luxury call all for me! I think it's because Positano is further away so they have someone else take you the rest of the way. Anyway, service and everything was great and I'm thankful that my B&B host took care of all the arrangements (he sent me the voucher and I will pay him the fee for the ride since I think he covered it already). 

if you ride down to the Amalfi Coast, be sure to sit on the right side for amazing views of the coastline!  

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As for where to stay in Positano, everywhere I looked seemed quite expensive for just one person. Somehow I stumbled upon Venus B&B Inn and I am super thankful I did. Not only is the owner, Gippy, very responsive, but he's so friendly and welcoming and his place is in a great location for the price. For three nights single, I'm paying 285 euros.  As for the location, it's on via Fornillo and it's right at the beginning of the long walk down to the main part of town/beach. If you're healthy, love to walk or exercise, this is a great location because although it's a 15-20 min walk to the center of town , it's a beautiful downhill walk and a slightly challenging walk uphill (but not really if you're active). I also liked staying here as it's easy access to the main road, rather than staying somewhere with a lot of stairs to climb. And let me tell you, there are TONS of stairs. I inadvertently climbed 50+ flights twice because I thought I was taking short cuts. And yes, taking the stairs is 'shorter' in distance than walking downhill/uphill but thigh killers are thigh killers. I prefer a mild slope any day!

However one positive thing about taking the stairs is you don't have to watch out for cars. If you walk on the main road back and forth you have to be vigilant with the traffic. It's not too terrible but it can be slightly annoying.  

Unfortunately for me it was cloudy when I arrived in Positano. The views were still great though and I spent the evening getting familiar with the town. For dinner I made the mistake of trying to walk to the restaurant from the beach. I ate at C'era Una Volta which was decent but wouldn't say I'd go again (paperdelle bolognese was nice but not omg I have to have it again nice). Anyway it's further uphill than my B&B and from walking up from Spagio Beach, it took me about 40 minutes and I arrived drenched in sweat with aching calves!

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Luckily the restaurant has a free shuttle service and when I asked, they kindly let me take it back down.  

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I spent the rest of my night admiring the view from my balcony. I was also woken up at midnight with loud firecrackers for a wedding celebration! C'est la vie. 

 

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May 2017 Trip Report: Ortigia (Day 7)

Last day in Sicily was spent eating as much as possible! The pros of staying at a hotel with breakfast is it's easy to access and included in the price. The cons are of course not being able to go out and try breakfast and you might fill up by loading up on hotel breakfast. 

On our last full day in Ortigia, I tried not to eat too much to save room the rest of the day. Although Ortigia is very lovely, I think we could've cut it short by a day. But I didn't want to feel rushed which is why I planned to stay in town for 3 full days. You really need just a day or so to stroll around the city. I doubt there is an alley or street we did not walk down on at some point! If you love history and want to see everything, three days is good. But for me, I'm not that interested so I just like sampling food and wandering scenic venues. As I've said in past posts, I have limit to seeing museums and fortresses and churches!

The thing to see in Ortigia, however, is the archaeological park. I read mixed reviews on it and since Greece is still fresh in my mind, I passed on looking at more rocks. We did walk to the park (to get exercise in and walk off breakfast), it's about 20-30 minutes from Ortigia. Tried to wait for the local bus #2 instead but it didn't seem like it was coming!

Brilliant sandwiches  

Brilliant sandwiches  

Highlights of Food in Ortigia

All this was luckily discovered on our last day:

  • Caseificio Borderi: cheese maker by trade who now makes amazing fresh sandwiches for just 5 euros each! One is enough to share for up to three people (ask him to cut In thirds). The line starts at 9 am and can get long. I was the fifth person in line at 10 am and waited almost 45 minutes! The guy who makes the sandwiches is chatty and he tends to make two at a time (so if you order one w specific toppings he will make an identical one to sell later). My sandwich was on fresh bread with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, ham, mushrooms, rocket salad, and lemon juice and some other cheese. Was delicious and the cheapest meal we had! There are a variety of different toppings you can request. Great to pick up early in the morning and have it for lunch later in the day. They also sell olive oil and other items. 

 

  • Everywhere in Sicily you'll find jars of cream of pistachio and pesto pistachio for sale. Pistachio apparently grows very well in Sicily due to the climate so they have tons of pistachio products. We ended up buying cream of pistachio jars as well as cream of almonds. They are delicious! It basically tastes like Nutella but instead of chocolate flavored it's pistachio or almond. We bought large jars for 7 euros and found the price to be about the same (or higher) everywhere. Great for souvenirs too. 

 

  • Arancini Gluten Free: I love arancini! These hand size rice balls can be found throughout Sicily. In Ortigia we came across a gluten free Arancini fast food place near the center of town. Very cheap, 3 euros each and can totally share one. They have a bunch of options, including vegetarian and seafood and meat. We tried the Italian state one, which is vegetarian and mostly potatoes with a spicy kick to it (it was pretty spicy but good) and the one with beef sausage. Both were delicious and had a nice crunch. 

 

  • Sicily Fish and Chips:  We actually did not eat here but wish we did based on reviews. The internet is not that reliable with hours of operation for restaurants in Sicily so if you want to eat somewhere you should try to find it during the day first and check out if hours are posted. In this case we thought we could come for dinner but when we arrived at 6 pm it was closed. Knowing that most locals eat later we returned after 8 pm and it was still closed on a Tuesday night! Then I saw in one of the reviews that they close after they sell out so maybe that's what happened since many people seem to come here for lunch. Supposed to be fresh fried seafood. 

 

  • La Tavernnetta de Pietro:  Turned out for the best that Sicily Fish and Chips was closed as we got to try this place instead and this was the best meal we had in Sicily!!! Not only was the food so fresh but also so cheap compared to the other two places we had dinner in Ortigia! A large plate of mussels for 7 euros and three perfect pastas that were all 10 euros or less!!! The house white wine was also delicious and half a liter was only 5 euros!!!! Definitely come here for great homemade pasta and fresh seafood. There are two locations (across from one another on the same street but diagonally within a block). On the weekends I think both locations are open but on the weekday only one is. You can sit inside or outside on the pedestrian street. We did not have rsvps though you can make them online. We got lucky as showed up around 8:30 and waited just five minutes for a table. Others after us got turned away, the place was packed. 
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Sicily was great and we only had time to see the eastern side. Of all the places, Ortigia was my favorite to stay in but I did enjoy visiting and walking around Taormina for the scenic views. Ortigia has more charm but not a ton to do whereas Taormina there seemed to be more to sightsee and explore. Just depends what you like to do and how fast you want to pace yourself. If you don't care for museums, history, etc. you can definitely just spend 5 days visiting both. But if you want to relax and not rush then a week is good.  

May 2017 Trip Report: Ragusa (Day 6)

On Monday we left Ortigia and headed for the nearby Baroque town of Ragusa. It was about an hour and a half away and I'm glad I did some research on where to park because the streets are super narrow and windy!

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The best place to park if you're just gonna walk around for a couple of hours is probably near Piazza della Repubblica, at the bottom of Ragusa Ibla. Ragusa is a city divided into two parts. Ragusa Ibla is to the west and Ragusa Superior is to the east. If you put in "parking lot near Piazza de Repubblica in Ragusa" in Google Maps it will take you there. In general I had no issues at all using Google Maps but I stuck to the cities and not off the beaten road. Parking is public and for free. There was plenty of parking by the time we arrived around noon. At 3 pm it was a lot fuller but still spots left. Another parking area closer to Ragusa Superior is by the garden (Giardini). There is a ton of uphill/downhill/stairway walking in Ragusa but if you love to walk/hike/be physical you'll be fine. Public toilets cost 50 cent euros but were clean. 

You can spend about 2-3 hours in Ragusa depending on what you wanna see and how much you want to walk. We were here from noon to 3 pm and that was more than enough for us. The main highlights are the big churches, one in Ibla and the other in Superior, and the garden was very nice too. It's about a 30 minute walk in between the two areas depending which route you take.  I'm not big on souvenir shopping (unless it's for food items!) but there were some cute stores around.  

View of the countryside from the public gardens of Ragusa

View of the countryside from the public gardens of Ragusa

Ragusa is one of the oldest cities in the world and a UNESCO heritage site. Very quaint and a different feel from Taormina and Ortigia. 

Under the Sicilian sun

Under the Sicilian sun

Afterwards we headed back to Ortigia to walk around and have dinner. The prettiest part of Ortigia is the western side where you can catch the sunset and wander around the scenic paths along the water and restaurants. I especially love the very long promenade underneath the city walls. As you stroll along you can listen to music from the bars/restaurants and people watch.

Walk along the city walls

Walk along the city walls

I also like how the locals just find a spot they see fit and sunbathe where they please.  

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Dinner was at Schiticchio Pizzeria, which we liked (but not love). Very casual place to eat and many things to choose from. I thought the toppings for the pizza were fresh (tomatoes, cheese, rocket salad)and we tried one of the calzones with ham and cheese. I love ham and cheese so Italy is a great place to sample my fave combo!

 

Calzone

Calzone

May 2017 Trip Report: Ortigia/San Lorenzo Beach (Day 5)

Sunday! Usually in Italy things are shut down on Sunday so we planned to go to the beach today. I had done research a while ago and saw that you can rsvp for beach chairs at the private beach of Agua Resort. This resort is right near San Lorenzo beach and is supposed to be one of the best beaches in the area. So after breakfast off we went. It took us about two hours to drive there but it should've taken an hour. There was some traffic on the way to Noto but once we passed the congestion traffic was free.  

Agua Resort is kind of misleading. I thought it would be this nice resort with nice facilities but it was more of a collection of beach homes for rent and public facilities. The facilities were nice, clean and casual but I expected something a bit more upscale. Oh well.  It was also hard to figure out where to 'check in.'  Eventually somehow directed us to a group of Italians just standing around so I went over and showed them my rsvp which they did not have on their beach map. It was fine though, they had plenty of chairs and we rented three beach hairs under a palm tree for 20 euros. I was also told we could rent towels from them (our Ortigia hotel didn't have beach towels) but there were none to rent. Lastly I didn't see any food or drink services!!! Maybe we just too early in the season. It was kind of windy today and too cold to go in the water. Anyway we sat around for a few hours just relaxing. The chairs were nice and clean, not grimy so it worked out not to have towels over them at least. 

I do recommend this place for later in the summer but probably too cold for May. It wasn't cold but not really too warm either. The beach was pretty well kept and the colors of the water were clear blue.  

 

San Lorenzo beach

San Lorenzo beach

Afterwards we came back to Ortigia and explored parts of the city we had seen before. The main attractions seem to be on the northern and western end of the island and it was very lovely to walk around and take in the culture.  

Our best meal of the trip in Sicily so far was at Divino Mare. Everything was well cooked and fresh. The mussels were delicious and meaty and the salmon was sooo good. I had the truffle pasta with small shrimp and that was strong flavored and perfectly al dente as well. We also tried the codfish which was good but a tad saltier. All for 68 euros with wine! Cheaper and better quality than yesterday's meal.  

 

Divino Mare

Divino Mare

Then we walked by the Duomo at night which was beautiful and capped off the night with gelato nearby. Pistachio anything in Sicily is so good! 

Duomo   

Duomo

 

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Pistachio gelato is the best! 

May 2017 Trip Report: Mt. Etna (Day 3)

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Friday was spent all day on Mt. Etna, an active volcano that blew up as recently as a month ago! We did the tour with Etna People, who I thought did a fantastic job.  I think you can book up to a month in advance as the tours may be altered based on weather and what's happening on the mountain. 

We did the Etna Easy tour, which was 149 euros per adult and includes 4 stops--a cable car ride to 2700 meters up, then lunch, then walking around some old craters, then going into a lava cave, then visiting a gorge carved by lava.  

We had two tour guides, one who gave the tour in Italian and the other in English so the groups were split whenever necessary. One of the guides who spoke English well was a geologist so they give tons of facts.  

The Etna Hard tour goes to the summit but I don't think it was available due to the recent lava eruption last month. It is a bit chillier up the mountain and the tour gives you good jackets and hiking boots to borrow for free if needed.  

 

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We were supposed to see the valley at the top but it was too cloudy. Was still cool though, the terrain was all black rocks and sand and felt like we were on the moon instead. You do need to have good balance to walk around since it's so rocky but really if you're remotely fit you can walk around. It was also cool to feel the heat from the surface below. Just pockets of hot air when walking around. 

Where the eruption from April 2017 occurred.  

Where the eruption from April 2017 occurred.  

Lunch was a typical Sicilian lunch of some veggies with vinegar and two types of pasta. One was ravioli with pistachio cream and beef and the other was a macaroni pasta with mushroom and tomato sauce. Pretty decent, it's lunch at one of those restaurants that caters to tour groups.  

Crater face

Crater face

After lunch we walked around some craters. We walked around the entirety of the one above which was cool and great views of the area.  

 

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Afterwards we headed down to explore a lava cave. They give you helmets to wear and flashlights as it's total darkness and you must watch where you step. We only walked about 0.15 miles in but it felt longer due to the rocky jagged surface! 

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Lastly we went to see this gorge which was carved by lava flows hundreds of years ago. The water that flows through here is said to be therapeutic for your body and they unite you to soak your feet in the water so bring a towel/flip flops if you're interested in that.  

Overall a good tour to do if you're interested in volcanos/nature. A lot of walking is involved so it's quite active. We were picked up at our hotel at 8:45 and our day ended by 6:30 pm.  

 

May 2017 Trip Report: Taormina (Day 2)

Taormina is a beautiful little city. Perched above the sea with a grandiose view of Giardini di Naxos below, it reminds me of the charming Greek towns of Oia and Crete. Due to the impending G7 summit next week, there was a ton of military and polic presence all around. I didn't mind though, I'm used to that being from NYC and it made me feel safer walking around. I think many tourists canceled or moved their plans as I didn't find visiting crowded at all at this time of year in mid-May. 

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I'm glad we stayed a bit further away in Giardini di Naxos as it's cheaper and more low key. In my opinion you can see the highlights of Taormina in two days.  

Getting Around Giardini di Naxos and Taormina 

The Interbus is the local city bus (blue bus). Fares are cheap, about 1.50 euro one way in between both towns. You can buy a one day pass for ten euros, but it's only worth it if you ride more than 6 times which you probably won't do in a day. You can buy tickets at the Recanati terminal if you're staying near Giardini di Naxos or at the Taormina bus terminal. You can also buy from the bus driver directly.

The timeliness with the bus is a hit or miss. Between the two towns there seems to be a bus (not the same bus but different buses going different routes but at least between these two destinations) every 15 minutes or so. We got lucky and was able to catch a bus from Recanati to Taormina and connect to a bus going to Castel Mola 5 min. after arriving in Taormina bus terminal.  On the way back was a different story. The return bus from Castel Mola to Taormina took forever!! We waited over an hour and half to come back down. Even though there was a bus scheduled to depart it never came. It's a long walk down, good for a hike, but we didn't want to walk. A taxi between Taormina and Castel Mola starts at fifteen euros but since we had bought the one day pass we refused to take it. A taxi from Castel Mola to Giardini di Naxos was quoted to us at 35 euros. 

Later in the day we walked down from Taormina to Mazzaro and then we took a bus from Mazzaro (where the beach is) back to Taormina. The bus was scheduled to leave at 17:20 but it arrived and left at 17:14 (we were there at 17:10 just in case). So plan accordingly! The next bus after 17:20 wasn't until 18:50. 

Highlights of Taormina

I skipped the Greco Theatre since I saw a lot of that in Greece a few months ago. I'm sure it's nice but thought admission was steep at ten euros. What I did like visiting was:

  • the Public Gardens
  • walking around Corso Umberto
  • going up to Castel Moral
  • walking down to Mazzaro/Isola Bella

The Public Gardens

A nice walk with beautiful views south of city center. Can prob spend just 20 minutes around here walking around, smelling the roses and enjoying the overlook.  

Walking Around Corso Umberto

Basically the city's Main Street and full of designer and local shops geared towards tourists. I like just people watching and going from one end of the town to the other (less than a mile walk). Definitely stop for gelato at Gelatomania (near the Port Messina side). Also if you walk to the other end where Excelsior Palace Hotel is, definitely walk towards the hotel and go down to the pool area (piscina) to find awesome views as well.  

 Castel Mola

Castel Mola is a tiny town perched father up from Taormina. You can walk here but it's a quite a hike. One hour is good enough to see the town and the remains of the castle at the top. Breathtaking views of the sea below and of Mt. Etna. There's shops and cafes in the town and the bus stop is also a wonderful overlook. 

What you see from Castel Mola

What you see from Castel Mola

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Mazzaro/Isola Bella

The walk from Taormina city center down to the beach is about half an hour. It's a nice walk and not too challenging if you like to walk in general! You also see more of town life and pretty views of the water. Walking back up is more challenging though as you will have to go up a ton of steps but going down is totally relaxing and fine. 

Once you reach the bottom of the walk, you have to cross the street and go down more steps to actually get to the beach. About 5 minutes. The beach is pretty and not too big. Water is crystal clear and you can rent chairs from the restaurants there. 

Isola Bella is an island that you can across a narrow sand path to and you have to pay admission to go on the island. I just went to see it but didn't bother to try to access it. It's pretty but that's all I can say! I didn't spend more than an hour here because of the delay we had with the bus at Castel Mola. By the time we got here it was 4:30 and didn't want to stick around til 6:50 pm for the next bus up so we took the 5:20. 

The bus stop to go back to Taormina is right in front of Cafe Isola Bella (which is to the right once you come down from the stairs to Taormina). You can buy bus tickets at the cafe.  

 

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All in all, Taormina was nice to visit and glad to have seen it before the G7 summit rolls into town! The city shuts down to all visitors this upcoming Sunday the 21st.  

May 2017 Trip Report: Taormina/Giardini de Naxos (Day 1)

15 years! That's how long it's been since my very first visit to Italy. I can't believe so much time has passed since then. Traveling in your 20s vs. 30s is a huge difference. I definitely know more about myself, what I like/dislike, how to manage my time and resources, how to approach people, and not gonna lie, having more spending power is great!! Gone are the days when I was frugal to every cent. I mean, I still appreciate the value of a dollar but I also appreciate time management and comfort as well!

This Trip is all about Southern Italy. Well, parts of Southern Italy. At the moment I am on the isle of Sicily. I was a bit hesitant to come but due to work, this is the only time of the year I can come here. But it coincides with the G7 Summit being hosted in Sicily as well so I rearranged my plans to avoid it.  

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Getting to Sicily

I did a lot of research on visiting Western Sicily vs. Eastern Sicily. Given that I was just in Greece a few months ago and Sicily has a lot of Greek influence/artifcacts, I decided to focus on Eastern Sicily which seemed to have more of its own character and I liked the proximity to Mt. Etna.  

If visiting Palermo, you fly into Palermo airport. If visiting Taormina, Catania, Syracuse, or Ragusa, the Catania airport is the best.  

I flew via Alitalia and had a connecting flight via Rome to Sicily. The connection was easy to make within an hour. I would say 30-45 minutes is cutting it close. Once you arrive in FCO (Rome's international airport) at Terminal 3,  it's about a 10-15 min walk to the domestic terminal, terminal 1. You do have to go thru customs here at FCO (and not again in Catania) and it might be a good idea to grab euros at an ATM as you see one! I didn't see any in Catania airport but possible I missed thm. 

The flight between Rome and Catania is short and smooth--only one hour! After we arrived in Catania, we tried to find Avis for our car rental but apparently, unlike other rentals, the Avis station is not in the airport! It's outside to the right of the terminal (just look for all the car rental signs), about a 3-5 min. walk. 

I was a bit nervous about our car rental because I booked it through Autoeurope UK and not Autoeurope US. For some reason U.K. has better deals and prices than the US (by a significant amount of at least $100 USD) which is why I used it. I thought Avis would say something but they didn't say anything so it doesn't matter what resident you are. I think Autoeurope U.K. can negotiate better deals and rates with car suppliers than the US. We did get the excess insurance with Autoeurope but since we wanted to be really cautious and have roadside assistance we got the total coverage insurance. This was about 24 euros a day in addition to our already paid AutoEurope voucher ($259 USD, it was $360 when I booked months ago but a few weeks earlier I checked and the rate dropped and was able to get it at a cheaper rate!). 

After we got our car we headed to Giardini de Naxos, about 45 min. away. There is a toll. booth along the way so just grab a ticket and proceed. When you exit the autostrada is when you pay. Our ticket was 1.50 euro and the booth is manned so you will get change. 

Where to Stay in Giardini de Naxos

We are staying at Hotel Villa Daphne and though it's only been a few hours, I'm glad we came across it. The staff is super friendly and they have a small parking lot beneath the hotel for 10 euros a day. There is free parking a few minutes walk away though on one of the side streets. But it's also great for its proximity to the Recantini Bus Terminal Station. It's literally two minutes away by walking and here you can grab a ride to Taormina. 

 

Accss to Taormina

Maybe we got lucky but despite the preparations for the G7 summit, we had no problem getting into Taormina today. The bus ride to and fro was no more than 30 minutes. Sure there's a lot of military and police presence but it makes me feel safer. Plus I guess I'm used to that from NYC. Will see how tomorrow goes with access! I expected security checkpoints or closed off roads but we didn't encounter any...yet!

Food Adventures

  • Granita is the bomb!!!! I read about it online and didn't know what to expect but it is sugar and fresh fruit goodness rolled into one. BamBar in Taormina is famous for it and did not disappoint. Fave flavors were hazelnut and melon.  

 

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  • Had dinner in Giardini de Naxos at a pizza place called Valentino and tried the vegetarian pizza and pizza with pistachio sauce and prosciutto. So good! And affordable prices as well. I wouldn't say it's the best pizza I had in my life but was freshly made and good quality.  
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