The touch of an infinite mystery passes over the trivial and the familiar, making it break out into ineffable music...The trees, the stars, and the blue hills ache with a meaning which can never be uttered in words.
On the third day of our one-week-long summer holiday in Giardini Naxos, Sicily, Italy, me and my boyfriend decided to visit the nearby city Taormina that we had been seeing from Giardini Naxos since the city is mainly located up on a hill. Taormina, as Giardini Naxos, is located on the east coast of the island Sicily, about midway between Catania and Messina. Even before the Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast in 734 BC to found a town called Naxos, the area around Taormina was inhabited. Nowadays Taormina has about 11 000 inhabitants. Have a look what we found in this historical city!
Before I continue to tell about our visit to Taormina, I wanted to clear something up first. Some of you readers have been writing me saying that you wonder why so many Finns are fascinated with Italy, and that you'd prefer to read about a holiday in Helsinki or Finland in general instead of Italy.
Well, here's my answer to these points. First, I do not agree that Italy is a common travel destination for Finns. Most Finns travel to Rome at least once during their lifetime on a city break but besides that, there are not many Italian cities that are widely visited by Finns. Of course, some travel to Milan, Venice or Tuscany but it's not as common.
For summer beach holidays, Finns travel much more to Spain and Greece, nowadays even to Turkey, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Balearic Islands and Thailand. Among my friends, I do not have any that speak Italian (except some of my colleagues). When I used to live in Milan as an au pair, I found about five Finns there in total doing the same as I was doing, and I do not think that is much. When I went on study exchange to Italy, among 140 students, we were about six Finnish ones there. Again, not many in my opinion. That doesn't mean that I would have something against the fact if it was true that Finns in general love Italy, but I just don't agree that it is so common. Loving a place can mean so many things. I don't think having a positive attitude towards a country or just liking its food equals loving a country.
Furthermore, I wanted to add that I do love Helsinki and Finland, as I think my blog shows. I've dedicated my study and working life to my city, so I think that says enough about that point. I couldn't work as a destination marketer if I wouldn't be deeply in love with my home city. My relationship to Italy is very personal, I have worked a lot on it, and I do not like when people try to put me in a generalized locker.
I will obviously still this summer visit our summer cottage, as I've done for the larger part of my life in summertime, I actually used to spend months there as a child (you can read about my visit there last year e.g. here). However, I will never belong to those Finns who go to their summer cottage every weekend they can. That is not for me and that is my personal choice. I don't think I need to justify it. For me, going to our cottage is special if I go there with my family. To sum up, I don't think one should generalize people according to the countries they come from and believe in stereotypes. Everyone is an individual and she/he knows best what makes her/him happy.
To return to our visit to Taormina, we wanted to try something we'd never tried before - driving with a scooter in Italy! Everyone knows that vespas are a common association to Italy, and we thought it would be fun to try living like a local, even for just one day, and jump on a scooter to go to Taormina! I must say, I give credit to my boyfriend who dared to drive in Italy, where the traffic differs quite a lot from the one in Finland. But it went very well, and I must add that it's a unique feeling being on a scooter with the wind blowing through your hair. That's la dolce vita (=the sweet life) for you! The best views driving up a hill is definitely on the back of a scooter!
Once we got to Taormina, we instantly noticed that it was very different from Giardini Naxos. Entering the gate called Porta Messina, one immediately noticed the feel of a city: Small and cute boutiques, bars, restaurants, grocery shops, ceramics shops, barber shops and ice cream shops. The fact that it was located up on a hill made it into one of those places that you stop to think: how can a place like this exist? I've seen these kind of places only in Italy. I can only try to imagine how life would be in a place like this. Suddenly it felt like we were in a completely different world, time kind of stood still in Taormina.
I fell straightaway in love with the pottery shops that Taormina has. I also found the icons that were visible in town, and that were for sale, to be truly striking. I loved the fact that they had used the sun as a general symbol of Sicily. The sun is such a happy symbol, don't you think? Seeing as I wear one everyday (as a tattoo), of course, the suns were of my liking.
The true symbol of Sicily is the Triskelion though, another fascinating symbol consisting of three bent human legs. Familiar as an ancient symbol of Sicily, the symbol dates back to when Sicily was part of the colonial extension of Greece. The origin of the triskelion of Sicily also has do to do with the triangular form of the island and the three large capes equidistant from each other, pointing in their respective directions. I really liked the fact that this symbol was actually visible everywhere in Sicily. It was one of the first things we saw when we arrived to Sicily, as a flag that the bus driver kept on his bus. When one encounters that kind of pride of origin, one can only be amazed, at least if you ask me.
I have once been told by an Italian professor that Italy is a never-ending theater play. I love that saying, and evidently I loved the different characters I saw in Taormina on pillars, water taps and balconies! So cool!
The small alleys and narrow streets were so charming! It was nice that even in an urban scenery like this, flowers were always present. There were a lot of impressing art galleries on the streets as well.
This idyllic fruit stand stood out for me since it illustrated all the local treats from fruit, spices, pistachio nuts, tomatoes, chocolate, almond milk, almond wine, tuna fish, anchovy to Limoncello!
I also found a little bit of Audrey Hepburn in Taormina. Turns out, she's been to the place, how small it might be. I usually don't care about where celebrities travel, but Audrey is an exception. After all, it was one of her movies that inspired me to go to Italy for the first time. Do you like to know the celebrities that have been to the travel destinations you go to?
Once we'd arrived to the middle gate, Porta di Mezzo, and the beautiful square Piazza IX Aprile, it was time to take some photos and enjoy a drink at the famous Mocambo Café, dating back to 1952. As the founder of the place wished, Mocambo Café is an ideal gathering place to pause, watch and reflect. So that's exactly what we did. The view was breathtaking, don't you agree? This was also the first place we heard genuine Sicilian music. I hope this video clip can give you an idea of the atmosphere at the square.
My look in Taormina included Vero Moda's Kit neon yellow skirt that I found on my trip to Pärnu, Estonia (you can read about it here and here) and a striped top from H&M.
The most remarkable monument remaining at Taormina is the Greek Theater, built early in the seventh century BC, which is one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily, on account both of its remarkable preservation and its beautiful location. So that is where we headed next! I found a cool photo of it in the 50's, and I actually preferred that version, without any seats. Talk about walking in historical footsteps!
What views! After having spent the day in Taormina, we ended up spending the afternoon beside it at Isola Bella, also known as "The Pearl of the Ionian Sea". That is what my next blog post will be about!