Well friends, if you have been following along you are now joining us in the Italian leg of our whirlwind European honeymoon. After an afternoon on the beach in Malta, we rested up for a full day of exploring Messina, Sicily. Once again, we had no formal plans for touring the city but the port of Messina is practically in the middle of town and we were able to walk off the boat and into Sicily with no trouble at all, that is until we were accosted by countless “official taxi drivers” who wanted our Euro in exchange for a drive around the city, which may or may not have ended with a scene from The Godfather. I put on my best “resting b!%$# face” so that no one would confront us, but that didn’t work with aggressive Sicilians. Because remember kids, if The Princess Bride taught us anything it was to never cross a Sicilian when death is on the line.
As we wandered from port into the Duomo Piazza, we decided to fork over 10 euro a piece to ride on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city, and I am glad we did. We saw many things and covered a lot of ground, which gave us a reference point for the places where we wanted to return later in the day. Before our little bus ride we explored the Duomo di Messina, which was originally consecrated in 1197 then reconstructed after an earthquake destroyed it in 1908. It is a very large, very beautiful Roman Catholic Church in the heart of Messina. We spent quite some time wandering it in silence, admiring the architectural detail and reverent atmosphere.
As Tim so rightly observed, the aggressive Italian vendors in the Duomo Piazza reminded us of the “vipers” Jesus goes medieval on during his visit to the temple. It was disturbing to see so much beauty mixed with so much commercialism. We returned to the Piazza for lunch later, and I am so glad we did that as well. More on that later.
Our quirky bus driver sped through the sharp Italian turns and narrow streets to show us the highlights of Messina – Fontana di Oriane, Fontana Nettuno, Santuario della Madonna di Montalto, Teatro di Messina, Quatro Fontane, Sacrario di Cristo Re, Statua di Don Giovani, and so many more.
After our bus tour, we decided we needed some cannoli and I needed a cappuccino (“need” being used liberally here) at Le Quattro Fontane restaurant which is in between the two remaining famous fountains. Here is a photo of il mio caffe. The cannoli didn’t live long enough to get a photo, but tasted delizioso.
We wandered for a while after our morning treats. I wanted to see some sights up close which we had only seen in passing on our cheesy tour bus, so I forced Tim to walk a few miles before realizing that he wanted to know The Plan. I didn’t have a plan, I just wanted to wander and explore. So, standing in the shadow of the beautiful Teatro di Messina (where I had snuck into the performance space and witnessed a rehearsal), we had one of those marriage “teaching moments” where we learned to compromise so neither of us would be stranded in Sicily with only a few Euro and an empty water bottle.
The Plan culminated with a delicious and restful lunch back in the Piazza Duomo at an outdoor restaurant which was either called Ristorante Fellini or La Vita Bella. We ordered wine and insalata caprese and split a calzone while listening to an older Italian couple sing and play everything from Italian classics to Sweet Home Alabama. They should stick to Italian classics.
We dined and talked and even closed our eyes for nearly two hours before our server treated us to some almond granita and we sauntered back to the boat. It was a good day and a full day, and we needed our rest for what the next day would bring: Pompeii.
Now for those of you who didn’t take five years of Latin, Pompeii was a Roman city located at the foot of Mount Vesuvius (an active volcano) in Naples, Italy. In 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupted, and Pompeii was buried under 25 feet of volcanic ash. This horrific natural disaster preserved the ancient city in its original state until the mid-1700s when archeologists started excavating the site. After 300 years of efforts to uncover Pompeii, about 60% of it is now accessible to the public. 100 Plaster casts were formed from actual bodies preserved under the ash so we have a glimpse into men, women, children, and even pets’ final moments on this earth. Visiting Pompeii is both horrifying and fascinating at the same time.
Tim and I share a love for ancient history, and we could not wait to walk through the city gates of Pompeii and experience the nearly 3,000 year old remains for ourselves. Our only regret is that we didn’t have several more days to explore the city and see all that has been uncovered and preserved over the years. We walked the cobblestone streets, ran our hands over the walls of the Forum Romani, the Pompeii public bath, the jail, the judicial center, bakeries, wine shops, family homes, a brothel, and so much more. We tried to imagine what life would have been like before the fatal eruption, and then during all of the chaos. We finally quit snapping photos and just listened to the stories of the ancient walls and streets. It was truly an experience neither of us will forget, and one which we both hope to repeat in the future.
After such a physically and emotionally exhausting day, we decided to eat a slow, late lunch in Naples before heading back to the cruise ship. After getting slightly lost in a really shady Neopolitan alley, we found ‘A Taverna Do’ Re, a small, family owned Pizzeria in the birthplace of Pizza itself. We had been waiting for this all week! We ordered Italian beer (super classy in a wine glass) and I wandered inside to see the family kitchen and everything being made from scratch. We slowly devoured buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto and an Il Duca pizza (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and ham) and watched the owners pull up in their tiny Italian car and unload the week’s groceries from what appeared to be the Italian version of Costco and the Farmer’s Market. I drooled over the bags of squash blossoms and eggplant that the sons carried in, and somehow found myself in the middle of a heated mother-son-argument when I went to pay the bill. I had remembered enough Italian from college to ask about the restaurant and family, and offer my gratitude for the delicious food.
As we wrapped up our time in Naples and realized that our next stop would be the Rome Airport to return home, I became overwhelmed with joy and sadness all at the same time. I had not only just married my best friend, but I also received the gift of traveling a unique part of the world with an incredible man who shares my enthusiasm for other cultures and adventure.
Even though we had to tolerate AirCanada one more time (and boy, did they live down to the expectations), and a guy having a bad day in customs confiscated our Italian pasta sauces, the trip was an immense success and one I will never forget.
There are thousands (like actually thousands) of pictures I have not yet shared, but am happy to do so if anyone wants to see them. I will also follow this post with a very practical “What I learned while honeymooning in Europe” post.
I will close with this: go see the world, even if it takes a little while to save up. It is beyond worth every penny and more to meet people, taste food, experience culture, and get lost in places that are not like your own backyard.