Close Encounter in Taormina

We leave Villa Gussio in the rain and drive through the rolling countryside of central Sicily.

Ongoing restoration at Villa Romana del Casale

Again I lean on the bus window and nap. Every time I open my eyes I see lush green hills everywhere. And more sheep. Lots of sheep. Later, orange trees and olive groves cover the hills. The rain graciously stops when we arrive at Piazza Armerina to view the exquisite Roman mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale. Although the villa had been part of a 4th century estate, we learn that the mosaics were preserved after a flood buried it under mud in the 12thcentury. The enormous estate was only excavated in the 1950s, so

Mosaic, female athletes, Villa del Casale

the mosaics are vivid and well-preserved. As we walk through the open rooms of the villa, we see some of the expert restorers sitting on the floors, concentrating on their delicate work. Larry is fascinated and photographs every single mosaic.

Annually, Sicily has about 2500 hours of sunshine, but today our travel is accompanied by intermittent rain. We stop for lunch and again the food is fresh and very good.

Villa Casale exterior

As veteran travelers, we have learned to be flexible, to adapt. By now we should be able to view Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe, but we can see nothing from our fog-shrouded bus. This is one wonder that will have to wait. As we get close to our hotel in Taormina, the bus makes a steep, winding climb, then stops on a plateau and we transfer to smaller vehicles to finish the narrow ascent.

Villa Angela, entrance to terrace

Our hotel, the Villa Angela, is built high into the mountainside and it is new and wonderful. I am delighted with the furnishings in our room. My favorite feature is the large terracotta-tiled terrace, literally the size of another room. I walk outside and greet a solid wall of fog. But by the next morning, the fog has abated and I am rewarded with a grand view.

View from terrace, Villa Angela

Taormina is a town that is at once ancient and modern. We walk an ancient stone street to the Greek amphitheater that is still in use. Larry takes photographs and I return to the street in search of souvenirs. Then I see her. She is the epitome of the Italian grandmother and she must be at least 80 years old. Only about five feet tall and dressed in black, of course, she stands in front of her little shop, inviting passersby to come in. I cannot resist. She looks nothing like my nana, but everything about her–the music of her voice, her gestures, her concern that my water bottle is falling out of my bag–all remind me of my nana as nothing else on this island has. The Capo market in Palermo, the smell of the food–those things carried me back to Nana’s home and her cooking–but this woman returns me to her spirit. I buy fleece jackets, and little pieces of jewelry supposedly made of lava rock.

Amphitheater, Taormina

She carefully wraps my purchases and just before I leave, she blesses me. I am overwhelmed as I walk out onto the street. Larry walks up to me and I cannot speak. I just look at him, point to the shop, and sob on his shoulder.

Later at dinner I confide in one of our traveling companions. She is also from a Sicilian family and I think she will understand. “I encountered the spirit of my grandmother today,” I tell her, almost in a whisper. She looks at me, smiles, and says, “And did she bless you?” Startled, my words stumble out. “Well, yes. Yes she did.”

About Custom Italy Tours

We Love Italy! My husband Larry and I, assisted by our family, operate Travel All Over, a full-service travel agency, as well as Custom Italy Tours which is focused on providing fully customized tours of Italy for individuals, families, and groups. I'm the Italian (born Geromina Ferrara), and Larry is the Italian wanna-be. We are both Italy Specialists and Larry is a CTC (Certified Travel Counselor).
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