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Cruise Diary: Sicily, Italy

Five-Star Mariners Jan and Dick Yetke set sail on Prinsendam’s 64-day Grand Mediterranean Voyage in March, and we’re catching up as quickly as possible. Enjoy the journey with Jan and Dick!

We had a beautiful day here! The ship was anchored in a bay (Naxos) at the base of the Sicilian city of Taormina (high up on the hillside). We took a HAL shore excursion called: Taormina & Mount Etna. Wow, what a great all-day tour that was!

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IMG_5627_resize Taormina

We tendered ashore, got on a motor coach and had a beautiful drive up the hill on windy, switchback-type roads to the city of Taormina, perched 700 feet above the Bay of Naxos. This city was a famed resort even in Roman times. We parked and took an elevator up to the city gates where our walking tour of the walled city of Taormina began.

IMG_5411_resize road and countryside up to Taormina

IMG_5415_resize road and countryside up to Taormina

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We walked all through town on the main street with our guide stopping along the way to tell us about Taormina’s delights, including the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and the bustling main street.

IMG_5428_resize main gate entrance to Taormina

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IMG_5497_resize Naxos

At the end of the main street, after a couple turns, was the highlight, the Greek-Roman theater, built in the third century B.C. and still used for open-air concerts today. The views from up there were magnificent, including beautiful views of the smoking Mount Etna volcano!

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This beautiful ancient theater features superb acoustics. We walked all the way to the top and around the top and back down. Really a beautiful place. We then were given a couple hours free time to wander around. We walked back down the main street to stop at the Pasticceria (pastry shop) we had seen on the way up. They had beautiful looking sweets in the window that Dick wanted to try. It was pretty much all things made with marzipan. Across the walk they had tables and chairs to sit in. So we each ordered a cappuccino and picked out some pastries to have a mid-morning snack. It was so beautiful to just sit there relaxing watching people stroll by.

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IMG_5556_resize fresh fruit stand in small street

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Earlier in the morning the place was quiet, but by now flocks of people strolled in every direction. We walked back down the main street to meet our group at noon by the main gate. Then we were off on the motor coach for about an hour-and-a-half drive up to Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest and most active volcano that has erupted more than 130 times in recorded history. In the past we had only seen it from the distance so we were looking forward to going up there. We wound our way up the road and eventually got high up to the lava fields (above the tree line).

IMG_5586_resize gondola up Mt. Etna

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IMG_5604_resize Dick climbing up to top of crater

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The most spectacular eruptions came in 1971 and 1983 when rivers of molten rock destroyed the two highest tourist stations of the funicular. Our restaurant up there was at about 6,000 feet. We also were at the base of the gondola that went up to about 12,000 feet. We did not have time to take it unfortunately. In the winter people ski on Etna’s slopes we were told. As our guide said, it is pretty neat in the winter to be skiing down the snow and looking down to the open sea below. Temperatures were quite cool up there.

IMG_5617_resize restaurant where we ate lunch

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IMG_5632_resize Mt. Etna

We had a delicious Italian lunch (4 courses) at the restaurant. Then we drove down a little bit to where there is a large crater you can walk up and around the top perimeter. We went up a little and then I stopped since it was starting to “spit” rain. Dick went the whole way up and around. We then drove the hour and a half back down the mountain to the tenders and back to the ship. What a glorious day we had!

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And we had another treat that evening – cruising past Stromboli, the active volcano island. Our friend, Dee Wescott, got some great photos so I credit her for the ones you are seeing.

Photo courtesy of Dee Wescott. Photo courtesy of Dee Wescott. Photo courtesy of Dee Wescott.

Some history: The Naxos Gardens were the first of the several important Greek settlements in Sicily. It is recorded that a community had already been established in the sheltered cove by the mid-eighth century B.C. The residents were known as “Naxans.” Though it was never a major port, ships have anchored offshore for centuries, and the bay still offers a convenient natural harbor for regional merchant and passenger ships. The main crop in this region is oranges, and then all citrus fruits. Naxos is a beach resort these days with a wide, sweeping beach along the bay.

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IMG_5538_resize from Taormina looking to Mt. Etna

At the foot of Mount Tauro and elevated above the sea, sits the town of Taormina. Described as a hill village, this Sicilian town boasts a rich past and a thriving, tourist-based economy. Taormina, originally occupied by an ancient Sicilian tribe, has been ruled by numerous other cultures. Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Normans have all played a part in the past of Taormina. Left behind from Taormina’s rule by the Romans, is the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater). From the Teatro Greco, you can see Mount Etna to the southwest and the Calabria region mountains to the north.

IMG_5632_resize Mt. Etna

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1 Comment
  • Joanne Gardner

    Nice post, thanks for all the information. Have not been to Taormina and will try to fit it in this summer from the Noordam. Hope you are well.

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