Not a good day…
Day 120/121/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. A sea day and Messina, Sicily, Italy
Day 120 A sea day.
I spent a good amount of time in the gym this morning as well as going to the spa after an hour workout in the gym. There is something about going in the sauna after a work out and then into the cold plunge pool up to my neck, to invigorate the muscles after a work out. I’m considering an individual cold plunge pool at home after working out and golfing. It has been so helpful to go in the cold plunge pool to get rid of lactic acid in my muscles, which is causing the pain after long days of walking on tours. Anyway, I do not like the cold plunge pool, but I know its good for me, so I’ve been doing it and really liking the results.
We had art class of course because it is a sea day and I’m not sure I really loved the finished product, so I’m not putting it in the blog. Some days the project we are given is not really my thing, but it is still good to go and try to learn something in class!
Dinner was at The Restaurant this evening with Gene and Margaret and Laurie and Bill (from Dallas). The food was horrible. Margaret and me ordered the Rock Cornish game hen and we got pieces of game hen which were dry, over cooked and not edible. So we sent them back and the beef consume appetizer ended up being my dinner. That is twice lately the food has been inedible at The Restaurant. I’m not sure what is going on with the food on Viking but it really has been hit or miss. Yesterday we were having dinner in the World Cafe and we met a couple who are on their 6th Viking World Cruise. We asked them what they noticed was different vs other World Cruises and they said the food is definitely not as good. The cuts of meat are not as good or the presentation of the food. They also mentioned they had more special events in previous years where foods would be featured. It is interesting that others who have sailed with Viking before are now also commenting on the food, because the quality is definitely not as good as what I can cook at home. I was expecting fine dining at The Restaurant and the last two times have been horrible. Even Gene’s steak was well done when he asked for medium. Cooking a steak in a restaurant to a certain temperature is a very basic thing, so I do not know what is going on with the chef and his crew on this ship. There have been many crew leave us since Mumbai but I would have thought the new crew were coming from other Viking Ships, so they should know how to cook.
We played Cruise Director ‘Bruce’s Brain Busters’ trivia after dinner with the gang who were at dinner and I think we placed third. Sometimes his questions are very difficult and we have no clue how to even hazard a guess on some of the answers!
Day 121 Taormina and Mount Aetna, Sicily, Italy.
We had chosen an optional tour through Viking today which was taking us from the port of Messina, Sicily to the town of Taormina for the first part of our tour. Today was a bank holiday in Sicily and in the town of Messina, all of the shops were closed, but Taormina did not seem to recognize the holiday, and all of the shops were open in the old town.
We were meeting our guide and bus on the pier today and when we came off the ship, this is what we saw in front of us!
The MSC World Europa which holds 6,792 passengers, with 22 decks and is now the 6th largest cruise ship in the world had just docked right in front of us! Great, you know what that means right? They are all trying to go to the same places as we are with our 900 Viking Neptune guests! Luckily, we did leave early at 8:30am for our tour, so we were on our way with out 45 minute drive to Taormina, Sicily, before the MSC ship unloaded!
The scenery on the way to Taormina was pretty nice through the bus window.
Taormina, Sicily, Italy.
Taormina is on the east coast of the island of Sicily and has been a tourist destination since the 19th century. The beaches of Taormina are on the Ionian Sea.
The ride up the mountain to the old city of Taormina which is perched on a cliff overlooking the sea was very interesting in our large tour bus. The buses parked near a parking garage structure just outside the gates to the old town. Our guide instructed us to take the elevator up to the 7th floor, rooftop and then turn to the right to take a photo.
Mount Etna, located about 45 minutes away from Taormina, Sicily, Italy. We would be visiting Mount Etna later in the day, so more on this volcano later in the blog.
We entered Taormina through the Catania Gate which was built in 1440 and is one of the original gates to the hilltop town. The architecture is a mix of Arab, Norman, Gothic and Spanish elements.
Fountain Piazza Duomo which was built in 1635 in the baroque style, is also called 4 fountains because the 4 small columns supporting basins which are located at the corners of the central base. Mythological ponies overlook the basins and fountain water flows out of their mouths. Above the central basins is the Minotaur half human and half horse which is the emblem of the city of Taormina. This little boy just wanted to ride the horse with his dad holding onto him. Our guide gave the little boy her Viking sign and next thing you know:
That sign was in the water! You can see our guide’s face on the left. I don’t think she thought he would put the sign in the water. It was very funny to watch how this all panned out in front of us.
Look at me! No hands! He was very cute and obviously having a good time, so it was nice to take some candid shots of this little boy!
The steps and alley ways off the Main Street of Taormina were really beautiful. People who live here genuinely care about the beauty of their homes and how they look to passers by.
A cactus growing in a traditional pot in Taormina.
In the 18th Century many British people started coming to Taormina from poets, writers, movie stars and pop idols. Many people chose the town for its peaceful location and beautiful landscapes with many drawing inspiration from paintings poems and novels. They all enjoyed Taormina’s glamorous way of life, with afternoon teas and soirées in beautiful villas in lush gardens. Author D.H. Lawrence and his wife lived for two years in Taormina and it is said he wrote ”Lady Chatterley’s Lover” here
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love while filming Cleopatra the movie. When they snuck away while filming the movie they were in fact sipping cocktails in the restaurant on the left of this photo. It is said that on one visit to Taormina Elizabeth Taylor in a fit of rage, broke a guitar by smashing it on Richard Burton’s head. Richard Burton kept a diary and on July 30th, 1967 he wrote “A slow day, marking time, with a walk in which we bought sunglasses at a little shop. As we left the crowd which had gathered applauded us. Elizabeth thought it was sweet, which indeed it was. We dined in somnolence and some self-satisfaction as we compared our ancestors and former wives and husbands. Elizabeth has become very slim and I can barely keep my hands off her. She is at the moment among the most dishiest girls I’ve ever seen. The most, I mean the dishiest!” Well they did marry each other twice, so there must have been some sparks there!
The narrow main street of Taormina. We were told by our guide that it would be a pedestrian street, but we often had to move over for either a motorcycle or a car.
Heading towards the Greek theatre of Taormina.
Mount Etna looming in the distance. I’m wondering at this point why I chose this excursion to do both Taormina and Mount Etna, when I was enjoying the town of Taormina so much today. Did I really want to go 45 minutes farther away from the ship and go up Mount Etna?
The construction of this amphitheatre was started by the Greeks around the 3rd century B.C. To start the construction, the labourers had to remove over 100,000 cubic meters of rock from the mountain manually.
The theatre was expanded by the Romans who inserted these columns, statues and ingenious covers.
Mount Etna in the distance as seen through the Ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina.
Messina Gate at the end of the ancient city walls which were built by the Arabs. The city is starting to get busy with many locals out enjoying a bank holiday in Sicily and that MSC cruise ship starting to bring their group tours to Taormina.
I like to take photos of people without them posing for the photo. This photo with the man and his dog in a cafe is a perfect representation of what life would look like in Taormina. Having an espresso or cappuccino mid morning, looking at the news on the phone. So Taormina. So Sicily. I love the shot.
The Odeon in Taormina. Built by the Romans in 21 B.C. under Caesar Augustus Octavian, the 1st Roman Emperor. Much smaller than the other theatre in Taormina, it was thought to have been used for musical recitals and auditions.
What a lot of history Taormina has! I had no idea the ancient city was so rich in history and had experienced so many changes in government over the years. The history of Taormina dates back to 392BC, before Ancient Greece established its first colony on Sicily. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Taormina continued to be inhabited first by the Byzantines and then the Arabs in 962AD. The Arabs brought with them new agricultural practises of irrigation and citrus fruit farming. The Normans arrived in 1079, followed by Swabians (Germans). Sicilians revolted against French rule in 1282 and after fighting the French, Spain ruled Sicily for awhile and then Sicily was finally merged with Italy in 1861. As our guide liked to say though, despite being only 2 miles on the Island of Sicily from Italy, most Sicilians never go to the mainland of Italy because they have everything they need on the Island and prefer to stay in Sicily.
Whoever this woman was chatting with online, she pulled down her top to show off her bra! I did not catch that shot though on my camera. She is obviously enjoying herself outside because she looks a bit sun burned. I’m sure the nice Italian white wine she is drinking will fix all of her woes.
‘Show and tell’ with Julie from Australia who was on our tour today. She bought her lovely necklace and I bought the lilac linen dress.
The guide had asked us to meet back on the roof of the parking garage at 11:50am and it was time to head down to the bus. We took the stairs down and then headed to our waiting bus.
The bus ride to the top of Mount Etna was to take 45 minutes from Taormina and when we got to the top of Mount Etna, our guide informed us we would be having lunch. That’s not what we had heard in our port talk. We had been informed that our excursion did not include lunch, so we had Viking prepare us a couple of sandwiches, and some fruits to take with us on the bus. I think there was some confusion about what was supposed to happen on our tour. I think we were supposed to have our own lunch in Taormina and then head to the bus for the tour of Mount Etna, but that is not how things worked out.
As we started our ascent up Mount Etna, I started feeling like I was getting a headache. I started drinking more water, but the headache kept getting worse. I quickly realized I was probably having elevation sickness, as I had experienced a similar situation once on a business trip when I had flown from Buffalo, to Salt Lake City, and then immediately took a private transfer up to Deer Valley resort. I was told I was experiencing elevation sickness because of the quick change in altitude; was told to drink Gatorade and go to bed. I did not have that luxury today as we were on this tour and we were still ascending up Mount Etna.
At the top of Mount Etna. Etna is an active stratovolcano which is characterized by a steep profile, with a summit crater and periodic intervals of explosive eruptions. Lava flowing from stratovolcanoes typically cools and hardens before spreading too far. Some people call stratovolcanoes composite volcanoes because their composite stratified structure is built up from many outpourings of erupted materials.
Volcanic rock on the side of Mount Etna.
Slippery volcanic rock on Mount Etna.
We had a lunch at a restaurant part way up Mount Etna.
Our lunch spot on Mount Etna today. We entered and went up to the second level where the entire restaurant was being served the same group lunch menu. The menu consisted of bread, wine, fizzy water, appetizers of grilled veggies, a small quiche, slices of cheese and some olives.
The main course consisted of a tomato pasta and a pistachio cream gnocchi. We each were given a cannoli for dessert.
From the warm temperatures in Taormina we were now sub 10C with horrific winds up on Mount Etna. The key to staying warm was layers!
After lunch we had a few minutes to visit the gift shop on the main floor which was giving out samples of chocolate and limoncello. I tried to take some photos but frankly I wasn’t feeling well and I went and sat on the bus with Richard.
Our guide came back to the bus and we drove down a little way and the guide stopped the bus to show us a volcanic crater on Mount Etna. Richard did not want to get off the bus so I started up the hill to try and see the crater. The volcanic rock on the hill was extremely slippery and as I started climbing up the hill I realized it would be more slippery on the way back down, so I cautiously turned around and walked back to the bus. That was enough for me. I was not going to slip and slide my way down volcanic stones!
Our bus eventually left Mount Etna and I was in a bad way. I could not get my ears to clear as we got closer to the main road. I was really suffering with ears that would not clear. I laid down (as me and Richard were in the back row of the bus) so I could get some leg room. I kept trying and trying to clear my ears and they would not clear. I was really uncomfortable with really blocked ears and we had about 1 hour still to go before we reached the ship.
The bus started to slow down and I didn’t know why so I looked out the window only to see that there had been a motorcycle accident which had just happened around 4pm and the victims had been thrown from the motorcycle. Richard grabbed my head and said “Don’t look! Don’t look!” I wasn’t trying to look, but I had seen enough to realize the female was dead. What a horrific scene we passed by as cars were pulled over to the side of the road and people were out trying to help the other victim. I read in today’s news the male driver was taken to hospital with his injuries, but the 27 year old woman did not make it. How very sad and tragic.
We got back to the Neptune and after showing our passport and key card we walked back through the cruise terminal, and then along the pier to the ship. I was feeling very poorly and it took half way through the evening before my ears finally cleared. I have been told taking calcium before quick elevations helps, so if I ever decide to go up to a higher elevation quickly without being in a pressured cabin, like an airplane, I will take some calcium to see if it could prevent the nasty headaches and elevation sickness. Now that I’ve seen Mount Etna, I do not need to go up another volcano.
Our next port is Naples, Italy. I am really looking forward to our adventures on the mainland of Italy. A first for me!