Taormina – Sicily’s Gem

Whilst I was in Italy, Reggio Calabria, I took a ferry over to Sicily, of course. You can see Sicily from the shores of Reggio Calabria, it beckons you and you have little or no choice but to ferry yourself over.

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Outside Taormina Giardini Station

Sicily is a large island and I only got to truly visit Taormina. I asked my friends back in mainland Italy – “Where would you suggest someone who is short on time go in Sicily?” – and every single person said Taormina.

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The journey from Reggio Calabria to Taormina is fairly straightforward and very scenic. I took the train from Messina to Taormina Giardini Train station. The train journey was mostly by  the beautiful Mediterranean, which had islands, great and small, jutting from its depths. It was breathtaking. The train ride in and of itself was a great experience. I hear the bus from Messina to Taormina offers even more of a scenic route!

Once at Taormina Giardini Train station, which is the most majestic train station I have ever alighted at as its background is the sea, the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab or a bus.

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Taormina Giardini Station

When I say the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab, I do mean it when I say “up”. You are literally spiraling up to the hill top town, farther and farther above the sea. There are unconvincing safety nets separating the cars climbing up to the little town from the seas below. This is both frightening and beautiful, beautiful because this results in clear, unobstructed panoramic views of the sea and even the famous ice-capped Mount Etna.

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Up and up into Taormina

Taormina may be small but its packed full of treasures. It felt like nothing I have experienced, it was so perfect that it felt I was in some fantasy film or book. It really is the stuff of dreams and hopes. You do feel that you are hundreds of feet high up as you can see the world far down below. Up in Taormina, you get a clear view of the intimidatingly massive active volcano, Mount Etna.

I found Taormina to be quite contradictory in the sense that it is a very stylish obviously tourist town full of all kinds of luxury and independent chic shops but also built atop centuries of architectural masterpieces and intimidating natural wonders. It’s alot of everything in high concentration.It didn’t take me long to see why it was so vehemently suggested as a must-see by my Italian friends. It is small enough to do in a day but full of excitement that you will leave feeling both fulfilled and curious as to what details you might have skimmed over or what beauty you might have overlooked. That is how packed full it is. And I definitely have to return as there where key things I didn’t experience such as the ancient Greek theater, called the “most dramatically situated Greek theater in the world” and the beach by the aptly named Isola Bella (beautiful Island).

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Piazza IX Aprile and the singing men

My two definite favorite experiences were the Piazza IX Aprile on Corso Umberto and the Garden of Villa Communale. Both have absolutely stunning views (no surprise). The Piazza is at the end of Corso Umberto and is a pleasant surprise as you come from the narrow street full of shops and restaurants unto this wide square with its checkered shiny floor, an old small chapel on your right and the sea to your left, hundreds of feet below. You can contentedly sit in the Piazza for hours, armed with gelato, without a care! When I went, there were a couple of men singing in the Piazza and these two adorable little girls where dancing round the square happily, the breeze from the sea in their hair. Perfection.

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Walking into Piazza IX Aprile

Taormina is quite expensive, so do be prepared to splash out a bit on restaurants and hotels. However, there are a few hostels which are really cheap accommodation if you are on a budget. Though you can do much in a day, I would suggest around 3 days for a thorough in-depth but relaxed experience.

Taormina for me was the most surreal place I have ever tread my feet. The combination of the town’s altitude; the consequent views, the people and  the food makes it a gem.

Italy – Calabria

There have been two places on the top of my must-visit list for some years now and Italy was one of them. I think Italy is a must-see for many people. It’s a well publicized destination and has the element of romance and pizzas working for it. I saw no Gondolas or Colosseum but what I did see was equally beautiful!

I was in Italy for three months in a small seas-side town called Locri in the region of Calabria. Italy did not disappoint, if anything it further captured me and drew me in deeper, I want to see more of Italy than I have.

 The people here, in the south of Italy,  have a strong sense of identity and often see themselves as very different from their northern counterparts. Most people did not speak any English as expected,so I had to pick up Italian pretty quickly and was able to have light conversations in Italian by the time I left.

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Promenade, Locri

Now Locri is surrounded with lush rolling hills (perfect for hiking) with the sparkling Mediterranean at its doorstep (perfect for swimming). Surrounding villages are houses built on and into rocks across the hills and getting through involves rides through winding, tiny streets leading higher and higher above the Med. I lived about 5 minutes from the beach, which was mostly deserted as it was a bit chilly when I went. The chill didn’t stop me from throwing myself into the sea several times though. This part of Italy truly takes your breath away, exquisite raw beauty is the norm here. To top it off, there is gorgeous food everywhere, from mouth-watering pastries and pretty little treats to legendary pizzas and delicious appetizers. I believe the single thing I ate the most during my three months in the South of Italy were these mind-blowingly delicious ice-cream sandwiches –  gelato spooned into brioche rolls. I couldn’t stop devouring them in large quantities.

I really liked the feel and “vibe” in Locri, the people were very friendly despite my horrible Italian and the fact I was probably the only non-white person for miles and miles. Surprisingly, in Reggio Calabria or simply Reggio, the major city in Calabria, the people though friendly on communicating with them, stared A LOT. When walking down the busy high street during passegiatta (Italian informal custom of strolling up and down main streets and socializing, usually Sunday evenings), I literally stopped traffic. It was a strange experience for me as this was the first time I was in a place where people weren’t used to seeing Black tourists. Sadly, a lot of the Black people in Reggio where refugees or people seeking asylum;  they were poor and did menial odd jobs, I was obviously a tourist and as such a rarity.

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Locri – my morning jog route

There are quite a few ruins and archaeological sites to visit in the area, many dating years before Christ. My favorite little town in the area was Gerace, which is absolutely stunning, and is, unsurprisingly, perched on a hill. The windy streets, the little cafes, the old castles and the panoramic views of the sea made it feel heavenly.

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Castle ruins, Gerace
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View from the top, Gerace

Calabria was good to me. There were moments when I felt it was all too good to be true. But it was true, I had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of this place for three months and it was a lot of beauty to behold.