It is 7am and we have to catch a train from Naples to Taormina. While I look forward to seeing Sicily it is somewhat unfortunate because we miss the 8am breakfast at Marina Piccola 73 and the breakfast is very good. Every morning they feature a different delicious tart in addition to meats, cheese, breads, cereal, cake, and cappucinos. I’m on holiday so i eat lots of dessert.
If you’ve read previous posts you know the Circumvesuviana train connects Sorrento to Naples (also Pompeii and Herculaneum) so once again we are on the local train to the city.
Once at Naples’ Garibaldi station we find all the trains from Rome are late so our 9:50 becomes a 10:50. Breakfast is at a stand-up cafe at the station.
The Trenitalia train is clean and comfortable which is not what i’d expected from online comments. No food is available though so we bring snacks for the ride. As we wait for the train to pull out of the station a woman stands in the aisle talking very loudly to anyone who will listen. Passengers hand her food which buys her silence and then she exits, all of which brings to mind a similar experience on the Buenos Aires metro.
The train heads inland, east from Naples, then south along the rocky coast. For the rest of the trip the scenery alternates between tunnels, beautiful coastline, and towns of nondescript apartment blocks.
The train is full. Passengers are quiet: they read, sleep, and listen to their phones.
In between looking out the window and following the train’s progress on the map app on my iphone (citymaps2go which i highly recommend) I start Camus’ The Plague. The story is set in a nondescript French town populated by nondescript business people. As the story begins the town’s rats all die, then people start to succumb to what appears to be the plague. For some reason Camus’ story fits my mood.
That’s as far as i got in The Plague. I stopped reading because i was curious about the ferry crossing to Messina. You see, you don’t have to get off the train to cross the strait, yet there is no bridge.
At the port in Villa San Giovanni, a town at the tip of the toe, the train, minus the engine, rolls onto the ferry which then takes it on the twenty minute ride to Messina. Train passengers are free to disembark the train to wander the ferry.
We walked out on the ferry deck during the short ride. We could walk wherever we wanted to on the ferry - the captain’s door was even open though we figured we’d not bother him.
In this the Italians are less nanny-state than north americans. For example, BC Ferries loads passengers, bikes, and cars separately whereas with the ferry to Capri everyone poured on simultaneously, cars and foot traffic intermixed , the vehicles weaving around the people. And there are no railings along the dock, either. One of the benefits of travel is seeing how others do things.
Once the ferry arrives in Messina the train cars are pulled off and half head west to Palermo, the other half head south to Siracusa. Our car goes south.
After another hour or so we get off at Taormina-Giardini and grab a taxi to our hotel. Tomorrow we’ll explore Taormina.
The picture is of the train in the hold of the ferry.
We're in Taormina, our first stop in Sicily. The skies promise off-and-on rain so we'll explore the town today and hike tomorrow.
We are staying at Isoco Guest House, a b&b with 5 rooms, each with it's own theme (Keith Haring, Herb Ritts, Botticelli, ...). Paul and I are the last guests of the season. After we check out they will close for the season. Winter in Sicily is balmy compared to Canada, of course, but most tourists would rather be on the island in the sweltering summer. I've read that in summer the streets are packed with tourists but this time of year Taormina is wonderfully free of crowds.
Taormina is a small (11k population), well-preserved medieval town perched on the side of Monte Tauro. It has long been a popular tourist destination, attracting a similar clientèle, and acquiring a similar reputation, to Capri.
Taormina's setting is spectacular. At about 300m elevation it offers expansive views of the east coast of Sicily, the Ionian sea, and Europe's largest volcano, Mount Etna.
On top of the beautiful setting Taormina itself is a feast for the eyes. Taormina features remnants of an old town wall, charming streets, intimate piazze, warm pastel-colored buildings, and balconies overflowing with flowers. Like most old Italian cities, street widths vary from barely two cars wide to maybe a meter wide. This is Italian eye candy.
Taormino is famous for its huge amphitheater, the Teatro Greco, which was built in the 3rd century BC and is still in use today.
After breakfast we walk a short distance down via Cappuccini, pass under one of the old city wall's arches, then down the main street, Corso Umberto.
Corso Umberto is chock-a-block shopping and most is very high end. I find myself admiring an olive trench coat in one window but the 900€ tag gives me pause so I pass it by.
We walk Corso Umberto from one end of the town to the other, stopping in old churches and artsy stores and a pastry shop for cannoli and gelati. Delicious. We return to our b&b to rest up from our strenuous day then head out for dinner. All is good in Taormina.
The photo was taken from our room's balcony.
After breakfast on this beautiful warm November day we hike up to the picturesque hilltop town of Castelmola (530m). The hike involves many, many stairs. (We are starting to notice a pattern: almost everywhere we want to go in southern Italy involves stairs.)
In the center of this very small town is a castle or rather the remnants of a castle. Not much left of the structure but the views of the sea, the snow-covered mount Etna, and the terraced hillsides make the hike worthwhile. And everywhere bougainvillea and lantana are in bloom. Lots of cactus, too.
Castelmola is a more substantial town than expected. The town's sights include a church that is part cave and a bar with a phallic theme. In a small shop we buy a couple of colorful ceramics to hang on our walls. The ceramics are non-phallic I might add.
Next we hike back down to Taormina to check out Teatro Greco, Taorimina's famous Greek/Roman amphitheater. It is carved into a hillside and features great views. Of course most places in Taormina have great views.
From the Teatro Greco we hike down to the beach at Mazzaro and then walk the rocky beach to Isola Bella, a small island just offshore. The Mediterranean water is crystal clear and a number of people are swimming. We didn't expect such nice conditions in November so did not pack swim suits.
Our hike is still not over. We climb the stairs back up to Taormina, walk through a beautiful public garden brimming with flowers, then snack on pizza and arancini at Da Cristina, a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop that usually features a line of customers. We ate there yesterday and found it good and cheap. Today i noticed, posted on their wall, a page from the NY Times of 4/28/2013 recommending Da Cristina.
Finally, we stop in a small store to purchase a couple of pieces of art that we'd admired the day before. Now we just have to figure how to fit our purchases into our bags.
Taormina has been a pleasure. Lots to see in such a small place, great views from almost every corner, pretty architecture, and plenty of restaurants and hotels .
One pattern we are picking up on in this trip is a lack of cuisine diversity. Not that we don't love Italian food but if you want something else the pickings are slim.
Tomorrow we head south to Siracusa.
The first picture is of Teatro Greco, the second is of Mount Etna as seen from Castelmola.
Just listened to serial episode 10.
Prospective jurors who've had brush with the legal system are pulled and questioned. And by brush I mean everything from convict to victim to relative of convict or victim. One of the things they are looking for, says the voice over, is bias against cops, but there is no mention of bias in favor of cops.
Is Adnan guilty? If Sarah Koenig can't tell I certainly won't venture a guess. But the story provides a look inside the US legal system that reinforces the view that justice isn't truth, it's a roll of the dice.
Pictures are from the beautiful town of Taormina. #2 is a double rainbow from our room, #3 is on the way to Castelmola, and #4 is of Etna and, on the hilltop in the upper right corner, the town of Castelmola.
One of my post-travel tasks is to write reviews, usually to Trip Advisor. Then I put it off by telling myself the world's store of information doesn't need the additional bits it would take to store my reviews. Today I wrote two. Both are establishments in Palermo, Il Culinario with its imposing proprietor who appears twice in my blog, and Casa Galati, a near-perfect economy b&b.
And speaking of Italy (you are probably sick of it by now), in yesterday's nyt Taiye Selasi caught my eye by writing about Italy. She says the northern mountains in Italy are more like Germany, and the far south is, well, not like Germany. Since northern and southern Italians have little in common they might be better going it alone. I just wonder if this is true? I appreciate the desire to cement prejudice into law, I just don't want to live in a place where that becomes a reality.
I'm slowly processing photos which means i convert them to jpgs then make a small version for the web. I post all that i process. Today's photos are of Taormina, Mt Etna as seen from Castelmola, and Castelmola itself. Taormina and Castelmola are ridiculously charming.
Its one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what Im talking about. Elizabeth Kolbert, Why facts don't change our minds
It seems a rule among camera manufacturers, at least all but Olympus and Panasonic, to use a proprietary lens mount. But there can be an escape from this lock in since some lens mounts can be adapted to work with a body expecting a different mount. Whether this will work depends on where the lens places its focus point.
My goal was to see if I could use a Nikon fish eye on a Fuji. The Nikon is designed for the same sensor size so I thought perhaps an adapter could save me the cost of a new lens.
Here is why some lenses can be adapted. Every lens focuses to a plane that is outside of the lens itself, it is where the sensor is positioned. If a foreign lens focuses too far into the camera body, behind the sensor, a spacer can be added to hold the lens away from the body, just enough to absorb this extra distance. But if the lens doesnt focus far enough into the body youre screwed, the lens won't work.
This distance, from the sensor to the body's lens mount, is the flange focal distance. Fuji's flange focal distance is 17.7mm whereas Nikon's is 46.5mm so a Nikon lens should work on a Fuji body (though not vice versa).
Since the base of a Nikon lens needs to be 46.5mm away from the camera sensor and the Fuji body provides only 17.7mm, it takes a 28.8mm spacer to position the Nikon at the correct distance from the sensor. Sure enough, there are several available adapters, ranging in price from about $50 (the K&F Concept shown in the pictures below) to almost $500.
I'm showing this 2014 photo as an example of why I like a fisheye. I bumped into it while looking for a photo of Mt Etna, it's erupting right now and it's quite view able from Castelmola.
The picture was taken from a patio near Castelmola, Italy, using the 10.5 lens on a full frame Nikon. The photo shows the path we'd just walked up, starting from Taormina which is the town just visible in the upper right. Taormina is located about half-way up the side of this mountain. It's an eye-candy town, every where you look it's pretty.
An alternative is to make a panorama but each has its pluses and minuses. The fisheye doesn't need stitching and it captures one moment in time but it's distorted. A panorama has less distortion but takes time to process and the components of the shot are captured at different points in time.
Coming up: testing the lens.