Day 6: Taormina, a sparkling beauty.
By the morning, the rain had just about cleared and I felt excited at the prospect of exploring Taormina on foot – sans vehicle – with just my baby and my backpack.
We headed out early and caught the faint sunlight casting a hazy, glimmering light into the crevasses of the town, which cascaded messily down the mountain. This fresh, new day and sunshine made obsolete the daunting, rain-soaked version of this same town from yesterday’s trauma. We only had one firm plan for this day, and that was to meet my old friend Mel, originally from Melbourne and now living in London, who was holidaying in Taormina with her partner, Alex.
Baby G strapped to my chest, I took the main pedestrian thoroughfare that would eventually lead to the Teatro Antico di Taormina, the ancient Greco-Roman amphitheatre, and supposedly the best granita in town. I had a skip in my step, as much as was possible when laden down like a donkey shuffling along a mountainside. I felt like now, on Day 6 of my week alone with Baby G, I was starting to feel at ease with travelling alone with him; the panic has subsided somewhat as I began to trust myself.
Quaint little tourist boutiques selling colourful pottery, magnets and other homewares were scattered in amongst the cafes and restaurants. Red geraniums and pink bougainvillea poured out of hanging baskets, spilling over balconies and stone walls, painting the town in magnificent colour. Enormous terracotta pots were strategically placed along the many steps to mark out passageways for pedestrians.
We met Mel and Alex for lunch at Trattoria Don Camillo, one of those reliable and rustic dining places recommended by locals and away from the crowds. It has its own dreamy terrace, but we decide on a table inside for our reunion. Mel and Alex took turns holding Baby G, who was a little bigger since their first meeting with him in Melbourne a few months earlier. Baby G relished in the joy of this loved-up and gorgeous couple, and while they fussed over him I enjoyed my food (more grilled seafood) and wine (more Nero D’Avola) at a more reasonable pace. It was beautiful to see them so happy on their romantic weekend away and then bittersweet as always when it was time for the farewells.
After a rest for me and nap for Baby G back at the apartment, we set off again, this time to get to the Teatro. We walked the full length of Corso Umberto, stopping frequently to take in breathtaking views of the ocean and Mt Etna, still shrouded in cloud and steam and yet to appear to me. Each mini piazzas and church held such beauty, my breath would catch each time I happened upon one and the camera would come out.
Eventually we made it to the Teatro. Any tiredness I felt from the walk there and up steps with the weight I had carried was completely forgotten when I turned around to see the views of Taormina, the ocean and the base of Etna. It really was a sight to behold. It thrilled me to imagine that thousands of years earlier, the Greeks had taken in these same views. Baby G and I made it to the very top of the Teatro and it was here that I finally sat down to quite literally take the load off. A group of ladies from England struck up a conversation that ended just over an hour later, once we had all exchanged names and they had taken turns holding Giulio. Again, I was amazed by how kind people were when travelling and how it was possible to seldom feel lonely, even when alone with a toddler.
On the way back to the apartment I found the famous BamBar, where Baby G and I shared a raspberry granita and I felt restored. The weather had now turned moody, but not the mood of the hundreds roaming the cobblestones of Taormina. I imagined that it was a place of life and love and colour all the days of the year.
Day 7: Last dance around the volcano
I awoke on this last day with a heavy feeling, markedly different to that which I felt on Day 1. Although there were still some elements to conquer, I was amazed to find that amidst the joy I felt at having experienced a new and beautiful part of Italy with my baby boy, I felt sad. I was also nervous about returning to Milan, that sophisticated, glitzy city, and that this special time for Baby G and I, would soon be over.
These feelings spurred me to pack-up quickly so we could take one good, last walk around this town that seemed too spectacular to be real, before the drive to the airport. We left our luggage with our very kind hosts and headed out. As is the cruel fate of most holidays, it was a beautiful and bright day on the LAST day – the sun bursting out to show us what we were leaving behind.
Before heading down the main path to our ultimate destination, the Giardini della Villa Comunale, I decided to walk around some of the back passageways near the apartment, where we took in the terraces (most with clothes drying on exposed lines in that very romantic, Italian way), quaint food stops and the comings and goings of locals – kids heading off to school, the elderly running errands and the tradespeople mulling about and chatting before starting their work.
I stopped to buy some last souvenirs, then found a relatively quiet piazza for Baby G and I to have one last coffee (for me) and biscuit treat (for him). I looked at him strapped into the chair beside me, propped up and secured by the baby harness I carried around with me, and felt a lump in my throat. What a wonder it was, to be here in Taormina, drinking a coffee in a piazza with my baby boy. I felt eyes on us as I had the whole trip, knowing people were curious about this baby contraption, or perhaps why I was sitting there solo with a baby.
But now I felt less self-conscious, and instead of looking away or suddenly adopting the pose of the doting mother as soon as I felt eyes on us, I met each pair of curious eyes and smiled. I felt so proud. And a smile was always returned. On that day I was told what a beautiful baby I had, and how lucky he was to have a mamma who was taking him on such a grand adventure. I stood for some time at the balcony of the piazza and marvelled at the shimmering Mediterranean Sea way down below. I still couldn’t see Etna, but I knew she was there, all high and mighty and ready to surprise me when I least expected.
We eventually reached the Giardini and a worthwhile jaunt it was. We entered a Sicilian ‘secret’ garden of perfectly-trimmed hedges, intricate topiary and splashes of vivid flowers potted in old ceramics and set against overgrown greenery. The smells of cypress trees, citrus fruits and the sea made me want to don a Grecian gown, adorn myself with flowers and read my favourite books on a pillow of leaves. But alas, a herd of German tourists broke my spell and suddenly they were descending on us, determined to coo over Baby G. He took it all in his stride, and once they had left and it was time for us to go, I said my silent farewell to this heaven-on-earth place to make our return to the luggage.
Back at the accommodation we said goodbye to Vanessa’s mother, who came to the door to bid us adieu, and up I marched with the luggage, the pram, my bag and of course, the baby. At the top of the hill I found the trusty car, awkwardly parked after that terror drive only two days’ earlier. I felt relieved to see it still there. I did also feel some anxiety at the thought of all the steps to go through before reaching Milan, but it didn’t grip me in the same way it had on that first terrifying day.
Out onto the tollway we went, the correct way, and cruised out of Taormina and back to Catania airport, where it all began. When I exited the tollway and turned down the road that led to the rental car lot at the airport, the tears came. I was so freakin proud, and so relieved to have made it through the entire week with both of us in one piece, fed, rested and happy. I was elated.
We dropped the car off, where it was declared ‘tutto bene‘, and after giving it a gratitude pat, we made our way into the chaos that is Catania airport. Here the ‘family line’ at security is simply a gesture. It seemed any man in a suit who gave a knowing nod to the security officers could overtake the bambini and fast track his exit. My mafia speculations briefly resurfaced, but then simmered down when I braved the queue at the only cafe and was given priority service.
Boarding had commenced, and so I gave Baby G a squeeze and down the ramp we went. Out on the tarmac the air was warm and the sunlight made more brilliant the gold flecks in G’s baby hair. At the top of the aircraft stairs I turned around to quickly survey this place of our adventure one, last time. As though by some trick of nature, there was Mt Etna in all her dramatic glory. Etna, a 3350 km pyramid of volcanic rock reaching right into the sky, now unburdened by clouds. She had appeared for us as I knew she would, an absolute force looming over the city, ever-active and tempestuous. Her reveal was such a gift, as this whole trip had been.
Thankfully, the stench of Teddy stopped me in my gushy tracks. He was not in good condition. Once sitting on the plane with Baby G in my arms and the chemically-hazardous Teddy squashed against his face, I pressed my head against the window to watch the plane soar over the fire-breathing mountain and the peach earth. My heart was full. Where would I take this little boy next?
Taormina is located on the north-east coast of Sicily, Italy. It is accessible by car (if you dare) or by bus from Catania airport. Taormina is also accessible by train from Catania airport, which is probably best.
Taormina: Vanessa’s apartment listing can be found on Airbnb at the following link: https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/3006997?adults=1&source_impression_id=p3_1562215865_zKs40XdSGP1ljJuZ&s=Rsi80sEH