An Unexpected Visit to Messina (Summer Sailing 2018)

So this post is starting off with a twist, as promised.

While we were still docked at Souda, the captain came on the loudspeaker and announced that because of high winds and strong waves, the Oosterdam was not going to be arriving in Mykonos. Safety is always the priority, and he did not want to play games with Mother Nature. So instead, he managed to secure us a berth at Messina in Sicily. In the original itinerary, we were scheduled to visit Palermo, so this would mean we’d be exploring Sicily twice.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed when I first heard the news. Even though we’d already been to Mykonos before, I was excited to go again and explore the fun aspects of Greece, instead of sightseeing. We had purchased a transfer to go to Elia Beach, which was one of Mykonos’s nicest beaches. I was already mentally ready for a day in the sun by the sea, especially after all the tiring days we’ve had so far.

But Messina was a new city and that promised a new adventure (and a new pin on my travel map). So, we quickly looked at the shore excursions the ship was offering, and picked the one that appealed to us the most.

The ship arrived in Sicily bright and early in the morning, and we headed off and boarded the bus right away, wasting absolutely no time. It’s easy to visit and tour Messina on your own because the ship is practically docked beside the city center. So, our tour was going to take us to Taormina, a municipality on the east coast of Sicily. The town became a temporary home for many famous writers for a short period of time, including Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, D.H Lawrence. It was described to be a picturesque hilltop town, and sits close to Mount Etna, a currently active volcano.

The bus driver took us to Taormina and once we were there, our tour guide first took us to the Greco-Roman Theatre, which is perhaps Taormina’s most renowned attraction. It was built in the 3rd century BC and what’s even more shocking is that it is still in use today. It is the second largest of its kind in Sicily. The greater part of the original seats has disappeared, but the wall which surrounds it is preserved. Standing at the top of the stands, it was amazing to see the theatre in its glory. It still blows my mind how we are seeing the remains of what was new thousands of years ago. We are always walking in the midst of history.

Our tour guide split with us at the theatre and we were given about 2 hours of free time in Taormina, which was plenty of time to just walk around. We had travelled down one main street from the bus to the theatre, and there were dozens and dozens of souvenir shops, gelato shops, restaurants, and boutiques dotting the street. I loved poking my head into each store.

On the way back, we had to stop and pick up some cannoli, Sicily’s most famous dessert. Cannolis are tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling. We chose to get pistachio on ours. If you ever stop in Sicily, you have to pick up one of these sweet treats to commemorate your visit. As they said in the Godfather, “Leave the gun – take the cannoli.”

Seeing the pictures of the cannoli again just leaves my mouth watering.

We left Taormina and headed back to the port. Instead of heading straight back to the ship, we decided to wander around the old town of Messina first. There weren’t too many tourist attractions we wanted to see so we figured we’d knock those out of the way and have the rest of the day to ourselves on the ship.

We walked to the main square to see the renowned Duomo Di Messina, which was the Messina Cathedral. We didn’t go inside but it houses the largest pipe organ in all of Italy. Right beside it is a bell tower, which features an astronomical clock on its exterior. It is the biggest astronomical clock in the world and at 12 noon, the golden figures part of the clock put on a 15-minute performance. I had wanted to see this, but it clashed with our tour time. From what I heard after from other passengers, it was entreating to see, but not as grand as they had thought it would be.

There were a few other domed buildings further up on the hill that seemed to be close to the main square, so without a map in hand, we tried walking closer to it. With every turn, we seemed to be getting closer but then with the next turn, we would be farther away. We’d climb up slopes, thinking we were almost there, only to look up and see that the building seemed to have moved further up the hill.

We got lost in the neighbourhoods, which was another experience. And I’ve learned to never complain on vacation. Because something as insignificant as getting lost in a neighbourhood in Messina was still an experience. It gave us the chance to again, see the way the locals lived their lives, and as we climbed more, we got a few glimpses of the town below. For once, it was fun to not follow strict directions. We just walked and walked and then, when we got tired, we turned back around and started to make our way back to the ship.

There are hidden gems in life a lot of the time. Messina, being an unexpected port, was one of them. While Mykonos would have been great as well, our stop at Messina allowed us to visit Taormina and to see something new. We missed out on the beach, but saw so many other things. It was beautiful, and I would truly consider it to be one of the most beautiful places I have seen in all of Italy. And with travel, I’ve learned you always have to keep an open mind. Because sometimes the best experiences are hidden in opportunities thrown your way. And you need to be willing to catch them.

Next up is Valletta in Malta, which was chosen to be Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2018. So don’t miss out!

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