Holiday stories, part 5: Some miscellaneous great things
You may be right to be growing bored of this. I'm dragging it out a bit, but what with one thing and another, it's just taking me a long time. Soz.
Ten random things that were great about Sicily:
1. I cannot say enough good things about the Hotel Villa Carlotta in Taormina. Look at this cool lizard, too, which I snapped at the side of their pool. He rocked. I called him Eddie Lizzard. I called all the lizards that. It never stopped being funny. For me.
2. The breakfasts at the aforementioned hotel, and the great treatment we received from the breakfast staff, including Maria and Loredana. This was the view.
3. The loveliness from everyone there, including also Riccardo and Alfio.
4. The great vibe, day or night, wherever you walked or sat. The people-watching was hugely enjoyable.
5. The statue of Emperor Sideshow Bob in Catania.
6. The water. The water. The water. My God, the water.
7. The views, almost everywhere you went, were simply breathtaking. And I don't mean in the Seinfeld way.
8. This pimped-up satellite dish, which is being used here to represent delicious food, even from cheap takeaway joints.
9. Going somewhere that Phil Keoghan has been for The Amazing Race, the Roman Amphitheatre in Catania.
10. The ceramics. We knew we couldn't come away without buying some ceramics as a reminder of our wonderful holiday. We ended up buying just over £200 worth, safe in the knowledge that we could get them shipped over very cheaply (they quoted us just £35 for shipping including insurance) so we wouldn't have to worry about carrying them ourselves or any damage incurred. Plus they threw in a 10 per cent discount on the ceramics, too. Here are the two pieces I chose outright: a trinacria, the symbol of Sicily; and a Sacred Heart acquasantiera, a holy-water dispenser, which we kind of collect as and when we find nice ones.
Holiday stories, part 4: "The Music and the Mountain"
Street musicians are always fun to watch. These guys caught me off guard, suddenly starting up in the outdoor area of the great La Botte restaurant, but I managed to shoot a bit of footage, albeit from a not-great vantage point. That said, it was nice to capture some of the local colour of people out dining on a lovely evening. I've thrown in some clips of Etna doing her thing, too.
Movie soundtrack fans should listen out for a tune from The Talented Mr Ripley, as well as a snippet or two of "Axel F" from the Beverly Hills Cop movies. Fans of the accordion might get lucky, too. Enjoy!
So, yeah, we were at Isola Bella, and it was wicked. Then this happened:
Can you imagine? Shoes. Washing away. Talk about drama!
Then we went for a boat ride around Isola Bella. I've got some cool footage of that too, and I'll upload it soon. I haven't even taken it off the tape and on to my hard drive yet, but maybe over the weekend I'll get around to it.
It was totally awesome. I wore my bandana and looked just like a pirate, specifically I looked just like Johnny Depp. Proper gorgeous I was. We got to this amazing patch of still, clear water (which all of it is) and the skipper turned off the engine and said, in Italian: "Have a swim if you like." There was an older English couple who didn't understand what he said and they were concerned about what was going on.
"I think he said we could have a swim," said the man to his wife. "Is he joking?" asked the wife of her man.
But I guess they found that he wasn't when people started jumping in. Several people had a go. The water, he told us, was about 30m (100ft) deep. But it was soooo clear that Red could see her feet as she trod water. Insania!
I'm not a great swimmer, and by the time I'd plucked up the balls to have a splash around -- after Red had told me how salty it was, and so how it would be impossible to drown! -- the skip turned the engine back on. Oh well.
After the trip was over we headed for a bite to eat at an unassuming little beachside restaurant. We both ordered seafood dishes, and while we were eating, the waiter came over to the table next to us with three or four fish in his hands. "Which one would you like?" he asked them. "They were caught ten minutes ago by that guy over there," he added, pointing to a fisherman fiddling around with his boat. The fish was that fucking fresh it was alive just minutes earlier! Man... Sicily is rockin' it old school, no doubt.
Intermission 2: Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
Ah, Johnny Rotten's famous words at the end of the last ever Sex Pistols concert in January 1978, if memory serves...
But they're coming back yet again, playing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the album Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols. A classic album if ever there was one.
Now I love the Pistols, but I'm not going to see them. I prefer to remember them as spotty, angry, arguably misguided teenagers, rather than the more-than-middle-aged comeback queens they've become.
Still, at least they're charging a reasonable amount for their tickets for the gig at Brixton Academy, which went on sale this morning at about £30 and have already sold out for all three nights. Not like those dinosaur cunts Led Zeppelin. What are they charging? £150 a ticket! To watch people even older than the Sex Pistols playing dodgy old prog rock. Wankers.
On one day we headed down to Isola Bella. It was a long walk down the hillside steps, but it was a great walk, too. Almost all the way down the views were stunning, and at every corner you would hear a little scurry or two as you approached. The scurrying was the sound of lizards, which would run away as you neared. Clearly they were loving just lounging in the sun, and we were busting their balls.
Some would return if you stood still long enough, and they'd just stand there, keeping their distance, and stare at you. This one was great, for example: he even allowed me to get this short clip of him, from a long way off, hence the shaky footage!
Once we got down to Isola Bella, wow, what a place. The name means "beautiful island" in Italian, and it is a small island joined to Sicily by a sandbar through shallow, crystal-clear seawater. Sometimes the sandbar is walkable without getting wet. We got there when the tide was a touch higher, so we waded through in our sandals. It was still just ankle-deep.
Once we got to the other side, we waded some more, counting the fish, and swam some, and just sat around dangling our feet in the glorious water:
Lots of people were just hanging around or sunbathing or canoodling or taking pictures of their loved ones.
One little Italian girl was getting her mum or auntie to apply some temporary tattoos. They were stood just across from us. "Look," I heard the woman say to the girl, "at that man's tattoos!" Who, me?
More stories and video clips from this day will follow in the next post...
I can't seem to formulate my thoughts on my Sicilian holiday very clearly, and I still haven't finished going through all the photos properly, nor hardly any of the video footage. So I'm just going to write a bunch of stuff as it comes to me, in no particular order, really. It's all such a beautiful whole in my brain that I feel unable to sort through it and dissect it.
That said, I will start with the initial bus ride from Catania airport to our hotel in Taormina. We really didn't have a clue where to find the buses, and I was all for just getting a taxi. When I'm in holiday mode, I'm like: "Fuck the expense, let's enjoy!" But Red said, "Let's see if we can find a bus first. They're €10 per person, while a cab will be about €80." I tease her that she's tight at times, but she is right: it's a big difference, and she's great at doing all that pre-holiday research that I suck so badly at.
We find the bus terminal, and we arrive about 7 or 8 minutes before the next bus is due. Tickets turn out to be only €5 each, so Red's decision is even more sensible than first thought. Can you believe that? €5 for a bus ride of more than an hour? So, so cheap!
We each have two suitcases, and we put the largest two in the hold and take our smaller bags with us on board the bus. The ride is great, though we don't have any pics or video because all that stuff was still packed and not easy to access. I love travelling to new places by bus or train because it gives you a chance to see the real landscape of a country -- the bits you don't see in the towns and seasides.
At one point, as we were going up what seemed like a steep hill, a couple of fast, zoomy, noisy motorbikes tore past us. "Sono pazzi, 'sti siciliani," Red said. I said, "You might want to try saying that a bit louder..." Aaaagghhh, you can't call Sicilians crazy when you're on a bus in Sicily! And if you do, it's probably best to do it in English! We're so used to bitching in Italian when we're here in England, that she completely forgot herself. Luckily, the bus was almost empty at this point!
As we got nearer to our destination, though, it filled up to standing room only. And among the passengers was a madman. There's always one, isn't there. Once he had found his spot he began to sing. And sing. And sing. And as more and more people begain to snigger and outright laugh, he just kept on going even louder! Lunatics. I hate 'em.
We arrive at a stop that we think might be ours, called Taormina-Giardini. We ask a fellow passenger. He says, no, that we should stay on board. We do, and he's right. But what a mental ride. Taormina sits halfway up the most circuitous, craziest, highest mountain road I think I've ever been on. Buses have to honk at many of the corners because they are too big to manoeuvre around them without crossing the central white line. I am not good with heights, and my hands are getting ever clammier. Thankfully, Red had taken the window seat...
As we go up and up and up and up (probably for about 8 or 9 minutes) we finally see our hotel (above; our room, it turns out, is the one just above the entrance door). It looks very nice from the outside. We get off at the next stop, which is the main Taormina terminal and walk back 5 minutes. At our hotel, the Hotel Villa Carlotta, we are greeted and given a tour of the grounds, during which time our bags are taken to our room. We are then given a tour of our room...
... which was set over two floors! I have only once before stayed in a hotel room of comparable size (the exquisite Visconti Suite at the Grand Hotel Et De Milan -- a work-related freebie for the missus!). Here, though, there were some amazing views out over the sea. And a widescreen LCD TV on each level. And a massive bed and a massive bathroom and a massive sitting room. And a wrought-iron spiral staircase between the floors. Breathtaking. It wasn't what we had in mind, but the guy giving us the tour tells us that they always upgrade all guests to "the best room available". And how! You, too, can tour the room by watching the video clip below!
I'm not sure what time it is, but it's late enough to have a quick sort out of our clothes etc and then head up into the town for a walk and a bite to eat, after sourcing recommended eateries at reception.
Among other things, Etna erupting! How cool is that? I took this picture from our hotel balcony. Look at the height achieved by that molten lava, then compare it to the size of the lights of the town below. They said on the local news that the lava was spewed as much as 700m (2,300ft) into the air. Wow! The airport in Catania was closed during part of the night and the next morning due to too much ash in the atmosphere.