While living abroad in the UK, we are currently choosing our travel locales based on some pretty basic criterion: cheap and direct flights from Bristol; southern and warmer during winter months; and northern and cooler in the summer months.
So, that’s how we came up with the idea of exploring the island of Sicily over the Christmas break. There are about 2 or 3 cheap flights a week from Bristol this time or year direct to Catania and once we’re on the island, because it’s the off-season, hotels/AirBnBs are pretty cheap (but it’s still warm to our thick Canadian hides).
We planned out an 11-day tour of the island. We got an inexpensive car rental and are able to get ourselves from town to town (going anticlockwise around the island).
After celebrating an early Christmas at home, we flew out on 24 December. We got in to Catania around 7pm. Sophie was under the weather (having woke up with a fever that morning, we even contemplated cancelling altogether!), so we just decided to get to the hotel, order dinner off the snack bar menu (which included sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas) and get to bed early.
After an early night to bed, we were able to get up, medicate, and go, and start to see Catania in the daylight. We viewed all the churches from the outside but there were so many masses going on we didn’t go in them. The Sicilians are very Catholic and mass was being held hourly all day. The churches were packed. The one time we did manage to peek in, we even saw a line-up for the confession booths!
It was a beautiful 19°C out so we were walking around in T-shirts. This immediately branded us as tourists because all the locals were in winter coats and/or huge, heavy sweaters. However, we were fine with this in order to enjoy the sunshine and weather. We also figured the sun and air couldn’t hurt Sophie’s cough.
We went to a Roman amphitheatre right in the middle of the city. It was originally built by the Greeks then when the Romans took over they continued to build it up. However, as the current, modern city was built up, they built houses right over it. It was only in 2006 that they started excavating the ruins.
You can see apartment buildings built right into the edge of the ruins.
This was how we spent our Christmas Day in Catania. We ate amazing food; we walked around the city seeing the piazzas, churches, and lights; and we toured ancient ruins.
On 26 December, we checked out of our hotel in Catania to make the drive to Taormina. The car we rented is a manual transmission and though Eric knows how to drive one, it’s been 10 years or so. He’d been doing okay on the relatively flat streets of Catania the couple times he drove. But now we had to go to a cliffside mountain town. This was what Eric was dreading more than any other driving on this trip.
However, the roads are in excellent condition, and we made it in one piece! He did great and never stalled out on a hill. We got to the parking lot in Taormina and happily left the car for 2 days. (You don’t drive your car into Taormina, you park and a free shuttle takes you into town).
We had originally booked an AirBnB for Taormina but it was cancelled by the owner a week ago due to ‘family emergency’. Luckily, it’s the off season and Taormina has hundreds of places to stay so we booked another hotel. While this new hotel meant we had to all share one room, we ended up quite thrilled with the location, right in the heart of Taormina’s main pedestrian street with a balcony view of the Mediterranean.
From our balcony patio
We dropped off our things, threw the insulin in the mini fridge, and immediately went back out on the street. We couldn’t wait to explore this beautiful town.
My sunglasses broke as soon as I got to Sicily, and Sophie didn’t bring any. So we found a street vendor to buy some from in Taormina.
In the narrowest street
We didn’t do anything specific except eat good food and walk around the town enjoying the sights and people-watching.
We had the whole day to explore Taormina the next day. We woke up early and headed to the ancient amphitheatre. It was originally built by the Greeks in the 3rd century but like the last one, taken over by the Romans when they took Sicily.
It was just huge, and we could walk around and in it. It also had great views of Mt. Etna.
We also did a lot more walking around and exploring this beautiful town.
Orange trees everywhere!
We took the gondola down the mountain to the water
Eric and I dipped our toes in. Sophie didn’t want to get her feet dirty… *Eyeroll*….
The waterside part of the town was completely dead and we were so glad our AirBnB cancelled on us and we ended up in a hotel on the main strip!
Taormina was just about the prettiest town I’ve ever seen. The restaurants were all wonderful, the people were friendly, and we couldn’t get enough of the views. The prices of things like food and souvenirs were more expensive than in Catania, but we could see why, in this tourist town.
That’s all for now. Next we are heading to Palermo and then an agriturismo (farm-stay B&B) near Modica in the countryside.