Day 5: Taormina, Sicily

We woke up this morning to the sound of the lifeboat that hangs outside our room being lowered into the water. There was no emergency; it’s just that Taormina is a tender port. Many of the ports around the world cannot handle large cruise ships for docking at their piers, so the ships drop anchor in the harbor and ferry passengers to shore using their lifeboats.

We had a light breakfast delivered to our room and then went to the lounge to await our boarding call for our trip to Sicily, which would include visiting Mt. Etna as well as San Michele vineyard. We ended up having to wait in the lounge a little longer than expected due to the tendering operations. But eventually our group was called, and we made our way down to board the boat that would take us to shore.

Upon arriving in the port of Naxos, we boarded a bus for our drive up to Mt. Etna. The views as we made our ascent to the top were stunning (pictures when I get home), and it looked like every romanticized scene of Italy you’ve ever seen in a movie, only it was real. We were excited to visit our fourth volcano, but we had no idea how different Mt. Etna would be compared to the others we have been to in Hawaii and Guatemala. The sharp, rocky soil was exactly as we expected, but what we were not expecting was the incessant, gale force wind that would occasionally gust to hurricane strength. There were times I was almost lifted off the ground, and I couldn’t bring myself to get any closer than twenty or thirty feet to the mountain’s edge. Hiking down into the crater itself provided a little reprieve from whe wind, but the fantastic views were up top, so we didn’t spend much time there. 

After snapping as many shots as I dared, Courtney and I sought refuge in the bar (because of course there is a bar at the top of Mt. Etna) with most of the other tourists. Courtney got her turtle souvenir for Italy, a small figurine carved from the volcanic rock of the mountain, and we shared a caffe di crema, which was an espresso flavored food that was a mix somewhere between whipped cream and pudding.

Once everyone had received their free exfoliation treatment by being sandblasted with volcanic dust, we reboarded our bus and made our way down the mountain to San Michele vineyard. If you were to conjure up in your mind what a vineyard on a mountainside in Sicily should look like, it would probably be pretty close to this place. The view was spectacular, and the food and wine was perfection. For lunch we enjoyed a nice selection of antipasti, two pastas (cream and tomato based), grilled meats, a small slice of cake and some fruit for dessert. All of the wines we tried were exceptionally light, from the brut to the white, the rose, and the red. Some of this has to do with the varietals they plant, but a lot of it is also due to the volcanic soil that the grapes grow in. After lunch, we were given a tour of the cellars, and then we got back on the bus for the last time as we made our way back to the pier.

Once back on board the Riviera, we went to a private wine and cheese party with our tour group, had a scotch at The Grand Bar (at least for me; an Amaretto for Courtney), and then made our way to Jacques, which is Jacques Pepin’s namesake restaurant on board. As you might think, the entire menu is French style cuisine, and it was amazing. We both decided to make it a full six course dinner, which we paired with the remainder of our bottle of pinot grigio that we had purchased our first night on board. The food and the service were both outstanding, and I’m a little worried that Oceania may be spoiling us for our eventual return to Royal Caribbean.

Tomorrow we are dropping anchor in Naples, a slight detour from our original destination, due to some rough seas in Sorrento. Our tour is inland, though, so none of our plans are being affected. We will be traveling to the excavated city of Pompeii and exploring all that it has to offer. We are looking forward to our next adventure!

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