Monday 7 July 2008. We have left the Island Star in Messina and travelled by coach for our morning excursion to Taormina.
We got off the tour coach and found ourselves in a car park under a cliff. A lift took us up several floors and we then had a few steep paths and steps to climb before we came to a wonderful and ancient town, full of character. Our first sight though was the splendid sight of Mount Etna bellowing smoke.
There is a great view over the coast and our elevated position makes it all the more spectacular.
Taormina itself is a medieval town and has plenty to offer the tourist. We are being led by the tour guide to the amphitheatre, so we clock all the things we want to look at in more detail on our way back.
We pass under an archway in what was obviously once the town wall and come immediately to a large piazza where our guide stops and becons us to gather around her.
Once at the amphitheatre she will buy our admission tickets and then we have some free time to explore the theatre and town before meeting here again for the trip back to the ship.
On our way to the amphitheatre a chance glance upwards rewards me with the sight of a mini-skirted girl leaning against her balcony doorway, cigarette in hand. Who was she and what was she thinking?
We reach the amphitheatre and the guide goes off to get our tickets. Behind us, if we look up we can see a fortress high up on the hilltop. Capturing it looks a daunting proposition from this viewpoint!
To one side is this balcony. Taormina is well endowed with balconies and we shall see more later.
Our guide returns, clutching a bunch of tickets which she hands out, reminding us of our meeting time and place. The amphitheatre is Greek in style but built with bricks, suggesting that the Romans built over or repaired an existing structure.
At the edge of the amphitheatre where we are about to climb up the terraces to the top, we have another excellent view of Mount Etna, spewing smoke out from the crater. Any fire or molten lava is hidden from us as the crater faces away. It started erupting on 13 May 2008 and was still going quite happily. Europe's largest volcano, it reaches almost 11,000 feet (although the eruptions tend to make the volcano higher or shorter depending on whether it adds lava to the top or blows it up!) It is the first time we have ever seen an erupting volcano that didn't have either Tommy Lee Jones or Pierce Brosnan trying to save the day and I have to say it's impressive when you see it, even though on this occasion all we saw was smoke! However the cruise has still to present us with more volcanic experiences as will become apparent later!
We climbed up a series of leg trembling steps until we reached the very top of the amphitheatre. The setting is breathtaking (heck - the steps are breathtaking!) and the theatre is still in use for concerts and theatrical productions to this day. Hence the modern seats that have been installed on the lower terraces.
From the very top of the amphitheatre there is a stunning view of the surrounding countryside and coastline.
We'll end for this time with a view of the amphitheatre and its wonderful backdrop from the very top of the terraces. Oh, my legs....