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Hello From Sicily: Arrival In Taormina And First Impressions  

by Susanne Pacher

So my latest travel adventure has just begun: three weeks in Sicily to get to know this beautiful historic island and to learn Italian in another cultural immersion experiment. My regular readers will know that I love to learn languages and in the last couple of years I have a chance to study Spanish in and in two different language schools in colonial Cuernavaca, Mexico, all wonderful experiences. In the meantime my Spanish has become pretty presentable and I thought I would expand my linguistic and travel horizon a little bit and add Italian to the menu.

My brother and sister-in-law, both of whom live in Austria, regularly travel to Italy and just simply rave about this country, and I thought that it's been a long time since I traveled to "Il Belpaese", so it was time to venture forth and explore this beautiful country. I had seen a bit of northern Italy, but what I really wanted to explore was Southern Italy, and over the last couple of months I had been reading travel books for a variety of travel regions south of Naples.

What I settled on was Sicily - I love islands, and for millennia Sicily has been at the confluence of many cultures. This was sure going to be an interesting place. So yesterday, after an extremely hectic day at work my husband finally took me to the airport in the early afternoon and I got off without a hitch on my flight with Alitalia to Milan. Ever the astute traveler, I had cashed in some Airmiles to get a free return flight to Sicily, an excellent way to keep travel costs down.

At the airport I had a nice chat with a young Italian engineer who regularly travels to Toronto to look after client projects. He was telling me about the long working hours at his company in Milan, and I realized that not everywhere in Italy does "dolce far niente" (the "sweet doing nothing") reign supreme. Despite the laid back atmosphere that the tourists are seeking, Italy of course is a modern industrialized nation, with the same economic pressures every other Western nation faces.

After a brief touchdown in Milan and another landing in Rome I was finally on the third and last leg of my trip to Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, after the capital, Palermo. All the formalities were quick and my suitcase arrived in no time, and just outside the airport I hopped into a bus that would bring me directly to Taormina, the destination for the first eight days of my 21 day trip.

Taormina is one of Sicily's most popular and beautiful travel destinations. Perched on a mountain called Monte Tauro high above the Mediterranean, Taormina has been a popular vacation spot for over 100 years now. Its recorded history dates back to the fourth century before Christ. Naxos, a town close to Taormina on the seafront, was founded even earlier in 735 B.C. and is the oldest Greek settlement in Sicily.

I had read so much about Taormina, and several of my friends had already been there and all agreed it was a beautiful place - a definite must-see during a visit of Sicily. Well, when I got there the weather was starting to cloud over, and I checked in at my abode for the next eight days. Hotel Villa Nettuno is a two-star hotel located on the north side of Taormina with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. I dropped off my luggage and started to stroll into town to look for the Italian language school where I would be studying Italian next week.

After a relaxing walk up Via Pirandello, past a variety one street vendors and several restaurants, I walked through the Gate of Messina past the large open space in front of historic Palazzo Corvaja, through a number of narrow winding side streets, and dodged a variety of Vespa riders who navigated the narrow passageways between the homes. Just seven or eight minutes after I left I had reached my destination, the Babilonia Language School, and met Angela, the school's accommodation coordinator. She showed me around and gave me a variety of useful local tips. I was also able to use the schools computers free of charge to access the Internet and found out about the excursions that the school was offering in the next few days.

The school's location is great, on the southern edge of town, overlooking some clay tennis court with, what I was told, a beautiful view of Mount Aetna and the Mediterranean coastline. At the moment the famous volcano was completely shrouded in an increasingly dark set of clouds. The schools rooftop computer room and terrace provide a beautiful place for the students to gather. After Angela gave me a tour throughout the entire facility it was time to head out and satiate my growling stomach. I found a little corner café called "Mambar" where I had a seat and enjoyed a foccaccia sandwich with cheese. From my comfortable spot on the outdoor terrace I was watching a variety of miniature delivery vans backing in an out of the narrow alleyway, all the while admiring their driving skills.

But now the nice weather had ended and the sluices of heaven opened up. I kept sitting on the terrace because fortunately a large awning was keeping the patrons dry, but huge drops of water kept pelting the pavement. I started a conversation with a retired German lady from Hamburg who has traveled to this area numerous times. She and her husband used to go to Tuscany many times until they decided to explore Sicily. So they loaded their car onto the train and traveled this way to Northern Italy from there they embarked on a driving vacation to Sicily. Unfortunately her husband had passed away recently and due to her poor eyesight she is unable to drive any longer, so this year she flew to Sicily. This conversation illustrated to me that even advanced age and failing eyesight can't keep a real travel enthusiast at home, and this woman in her late seventies was still nurturing her quest for adventure.

Jetlag was catching up with me, and I started my stroll back to the hotel. On the way I stopped at an ice cream stand and chatted a bit with Claude, the owner. At 1.25 Euros, his ice cream was not just delicious, but also very affordable, and Sicilian ice cream is a real treat. Claude added that he would feel guilty if he charged more than his usual price. He said he's never going to get rich as an ice cream vendor, but he definitely loves his job and enjoys interacting with the locals and the tourists.

Well, my first day in Italy was a success, I had arrived safe and sound with all my luggage intact, found my way to Taormina, liked me hotel and hooked up with the school the will be my second home all through next week. I can't wait to start my discoveries...

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About the Author

Susanne Pacher is the publisher of, a web portal for unconventional travel & cross-cultural connections. Check out our brand new FREE ebooks about travel.

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