The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Fabulous Fridays: Trendy Taormina

This is my last post about Sicily – for a while. So here’s one more look at Taromina. Because Taormina is not just about the history,
the tourists
and the scenery.
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It’s also about the shops and boutiques selling the type of stuff that many girls’ dreams are made of.
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Photographed in Taormina
May 2012
I will be relaxing in cooler climes for a while. Hope you are all enjoying your summer.

Monday, 25 June 2012

It Feels Like It’s Going To Be A Long, Hot Summer

I am starting to get listless and can hardly concentrate on anything for longer than ten minutes at a time. This year the heat has started early. I dread to think what it will be like by the time August rolls around. But best to face each day as it comes.
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Summers can be cruel here – on some days the heat is as tangible as a living thing. On some nights, cool breezes blow in from the sea and provide some relief. But more often than not, the air feels as thick and as hot as melted chocolate.
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But, dread it as I may, summer is also the time for making memories, for coming across the unexpected. For dreaming strange dreams and daring to be a little bit different, a little bit crazy.  Because as each day ends in a spectacular, fiery sunset and the shrill song of the cicadas gives way to the soothing chirps of the crickets, a lull seems to fall on the land which caresses the soul. In that short lapse of time when the last embers of the dying day are spent and the velvety darkness embraces the land, my own journey of self-discovery begins.
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Photographed at The Valletta Waterfront
June 2011

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Taormina’s Greek Theatre

I was prepared to write a long, rambling post about this theatre that was built by the Greeks and subsequently re-designed by the Romans. But sometimes, less is more.
Sometimes, pictures speak louder than a thousand words. How I felt as I sat in the tribunes of this ancient building is hard to describe. Feelings of awe, of reverence almost … but at best, my words would be  mediocre; at worst, superfluous.
Yes, in places like this, less is definitely more. Because here, the stones themselves would have tales to tell and I am positive that their stories would be so much more interesting than mine; their memories spanning thousands of years.
So I will take a back seat and hope that, like me, you will lose yourselves in the magnificence of the architecture, the precise lines of the tribunes, the simplicity of the design …
But all of these, majestic and magnificent in their own right, cannot compare to the backdrop that was not created by mere mortal hands. In the hazy sunshine of a late spring afternoon, Etna placidly surveyed the surrounding island, haloed by a plume of smoke, as it has done for thousands of years, albeit not always as serenely.
The mountain’s beauty is strangely mesmerizing, it’s power savage. I could have sat there and stared at it till the sun went down and rose again in the glory of a new dawn.
Less is more … the pulse of life is definitely strong in this land; older than time itself – it is the primeval pulse of creation.
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Photographed May 2012

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Nine Years

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Many moons have come and gone since we said “I Do” nine years ago, on a hot June day. It was the start of an interesting journey, a daily adventure with its fair share of misunderstandings, laughter and tears. We have come a long way but the most important thing is that we have been there for each other through thick and thin.
So here’s to many more little steps that will make up the whole of this journey we are on together …

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Chaotic Catania

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The Lava Elephant (U Liotru) – Catania’s symbol
I’ve been pondering and mulling over how best to describe this city for the past couple of days. The truth is that all places have their good and bad points. In a lot of places, the good points far outweigh the bad ones. In other places the negative vibes leave a rather sour reminder of an otherwise interesting city. But in the interest of anybody reading this post, I need to be truthful.
First of all the place is chaotic and I blame this on careless motorists who will run a red light and will not stop at a pedestrian crossing unless you throw yourself into the middle of the road. Then they may decide to stop or swerve around madly so as not to hit you.
Secondly the city is quite dirty – and I am not talking about the natural grimy look that comes from being so close to Europe’s most active volcano and the fact that many buildings are built out of black lava bricks. What annoyed me was the graffiti everywhere and anywhere, without any respect as to a building’s historical or architectural significance. That spoilt things a lot for me.
And finally, the people running the major transport companies were very unhelpful and many times gave us conflicting information. Now I speak Italian so I wonder what it was like for other visitors who were trying to cope in English. Gripe over. Now for the more interesting stuff …
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Catania was founded in the 8th Century B.C. by the Greeks and was later populated by the Romans. This is evidenced by the remains of an amphitheatre (built of blocks of black lava), part of which is still visible in the city today.
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Side by side – Roman and Baroque architecture
Catania’s closeness to Mount Etna has been both a blessing and a curse. The ash spewed by the volcano is very fertile and farmers in the area surrounding Catania makes use of the fertile soil to grow vines. On the other hand, frequent volcanic eruptions have damaged the city a number of times. In 1693 the city was decimated by an earthquake (that was also felt in Malta and which destroyed a number of buildings in Mdina) and was rebuilt in the Baroque style.
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Catania’s main street,  Via Etnea, is a mecca for shoppers, as is its lively open-air market. The street is lined with shops, hotels, palaces and churches and is a wonderful place to take a leisurely stroll and do some people-watching.
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In Piazza del Duomo, sightseeing trains are available to take visitors around the city’s main attractions but most of them can be reached on foot.
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Piazza del Duomo is dominated by an imposing Norman cathedral that was given a new façade by Vaccarini in 1736. The duomo is dedicated to St Agatha, the patron saint of Catania.
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In this same square is a lava elephant (known as U Liotru) carrying an Egyptian obelisk – the symbol of  Catania.
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To the south of Piazza del Duomo is the only point where the underground river Amenano is visible in the city.
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At around the mid-point of Via Etnea, Giardino Bellini (Bellini Garden) provides an oasis of peace and greenery in an otherwise chaotic and rather drab city.
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Other buildings of note include the unfinished church of San Niccolo’ (reputed to be the largest in Italy), Teatro Massimo (a 19th century opera house) and the Odeon.
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Church of San Niccolo’
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Teatro Massimo
The Odeon
And with that I will end this rather long and rambling post. Hopefully none of you have fallen asleep by now …

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Taormina, Ti Amo

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It is an uphill walk from the bus station to Taormina’s main thoroughfare, Corso Umberto 1. I was a bit apprehensive at first. The place was thronged with tourists and it seemed as if each nation was vying to be the loudest, with shrill voices in all languages ringing in my ears. But  I vowed I would not let the din spoil my day. There was so much more to enjoy.
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So I shut my ears and opened my eyes as I set out to discover this town’s charms. If, at first glance, the surroundings seemed to be too perfect and, perhaps, a tad contrived the natural beauty of the place won me over by the time I drank  my first, bitter espresso.
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The main traffic-less street meanders through the heart of Taormina while some of the narrowest streets that I have ever seen in my life (and I come from an island where narrow streets are the norm) rise perpendicularly on one side and fall steeply on the other.
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Gorgeous shops and boutiques line the streets (more on that some other time), balconies are bright with flowers tumbling out of terracotta pots and the surrounding hills are green with a profusion of vegetation that reminds me of the tropics rather than the Mediterranean.
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I think I was a bit bewildered by all the beauty but I was not quite prepared for what came next. The winding road suddenly opened into a square, Piazza IX Aprile, with the white-washed church of San Giuseppe to the right, on the left,the sheer drop to the beaches below and, straight ahead, the smoking plume of Mt Etna. It is an unforgettable sight.
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We stopped for lunch at La Cisterna del Moro (the Well of the Moor).
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The menu was simple but the view was stunning. With sated appetites we emerged once more into the sunlight. The streets had quieted down – people were either eating or taking a siesta. It was a perfect time to explore.
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There is so much to write about: the small and simple 13th century duomo of San Nicola,
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the Baroque fountain,
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the charming hotel in what  used to be the monastery of San Domenico,
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the beautiful houses with picture-perfect gardens …
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But, you see, it would take too long. So we’ll return here some other time. I promise …
For those that were wondering, ti amo is Italian for I love you.
Recommended reading:
A House In Sicily


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