This morning we woke up to bright sunshine and blue skies as we eagerly went out onto our balcony to take in our surroundings. We found that the Azamara Pursuit was an anchor and we looked across the water at the shoreline of Sicily. It looked to be fairly mountainous and we could see a couple of interesting-looking viaducts connecting one mountain to another and disappearing into tunnels through the hills. There was also an intriguing-looking spire; we couldn’t decide whether it belonged to a church or cathedral or something else entirely. However, we looked forward to exploring all of this after breakfast.
We enjoyed breakfast, as usual, in the Windows Café buffet, before returning to 6062 and collecting our cruise cards, money, masks and vaccination certificates (in case we were asked for them) ready to go down to Deck 3 and join the queue for the liberty boat across to Giardini Naxos.
We hadn’t been to this particular place before. The only time we’d been to Sicily previously was in 1998, to Catania, and we remembered it as a rugged, colourful, utterly charming little island.
Once in the tender we enjoyed the short crossing over the calm Mediterranean, and we disembarked at the landing stage where there were lots of private yachts and boats for hire. Walking along, we spotted a sign for the “Hop On, Hop Off” bus and decided that this would be a cheap and convenient way to explore; at 15 Euros each for an all-day ticket it was far cheaper than booking one of the organised excursions from the cruise line.
We purchased our tickets and were advised by the vendor that the bus stop was “just along there by the beach”. We walked a few hundred yards but couldn’t see any obvious bus stop for the HOHO bus, so we walked back the other way in case we’d missed it. We soon saw a small gathering of other people standing waiting for the bus, so we waited along with them. Along came the open-sided bus (on the other side of the road!) so we ran across, showed our tickets and accepted the ear phones the driver gave us, so we could listen to the English commentary.
The vehicle was not the typical HOHO open-topped double decker. This is because many of the bridges were too low to allow a double decker to pass underneath. The buses were therefore open-sided, and we enjoyed a fantastic cool breeze as our driver took us along the coastline complete with its gorgeous little whitewashed dwellings, lots of colourful flowers and even orange trees – yes, actual orange trees, their branches heavy with fruit – growing in the verges in the streets! 😊
At each stop the driver called the name of the place out, so we could look at our maps and decide if this was where we wanted to get off. However, we were enjoying the ride and views so much we weren’t in any hurry.
Soon the bus started to climb steadily up the winding road to the top of the cliff, and the views of the sparkling blue Mediterranean opened up before us. We could see the Pursuit at anchor in the near distance, any many other little pleasure crafts coming and going. There didn’t appear to be any other cruise ships in today. We passed some more wonderfully-rugged coastline and even a tiny little island called Isabella, which had the most beautiful secluded little sandy beaches. People were walking across a narrow sandy isthmus to get to the island; others were sunbathing or swimming in the crystal water.
Once we reached the top of the hill, the driver called out “Taormina” and we decided we would alight here – it looked a lovely little compact town, with a street of shops, bars and restaurants and more orange and lemon trees just growing along the side of the road. The driver said he would return to this stop once every hour.
We strolled along slowly, enjoying the sunshine and the subtle hints of herbs and lemon and garlic that seemed to be ever-present in the warm air. We decided we would get some postcards and stamps, then find a bar to enjoy a couple of cold beers whilst writing them out. 😊
On the way, we spotted one of the ubiquitous gelateria and, as we were in Italy after all, we had to have a delicious ice cream each. I had a pistachio while Trevor went for the limoncello. We had to eat them quickly before they melted too much in the sunshine.
As we made our way through the cobbled streets, Trevor spotted a little restaurant tucked away at the top of some steps. It had some wrought-iron tables and chairs set outside and some colourful hanging baskets. As it wasn’t yet lunchtime, the restaurant was not busy, so we sat as a table and said “due birra per favore” and the waitress brought us two 400ml glasses of fresh, cold, foamy Italian beer. 😊
I sat and unhurriedly wrote out the postcards while enjoying the beer and taking in our lovely surroundings. People were starting to arrive now for lunch and we didn’t want to put the proprietor out by taking up a table when we weren’t eating, so we thought we’d order another beer each, whether we wanted it or now. 😉
To be honest, it was just so pleasant I could have sat there all day, but after our second beer we paid our bill and used the restrooms, then decided to walk back down to the bus stop. We’d been well over an hour (two, in fact) so we hoped we wouldn’t have too long to wait when we got there, as the sun was very hot now and there was nowhere to wait in the shade.
When we arrived at the bus stop, we recognised some other people from the ship, so we waited with them; I sat on a convenient step. It only took about 10 minutes before the HOHO bus appeared, so we boarded once again and the vehicle made its way back down the hill, going over one of the viaducts we’d seen and through the tunnel. On our way back to Giardini Naxos, we passed the building with the distinctive spire, which did indeed turn out to be a church.
Once back at the pier, we waited in the shade for the liberty boat to return, enjoyed a cold fruit punch thoughtfully provided by the waiting Azamara crew members. Then once again it was the short ride across to the Pursuit, where we were back on board by 2.15pm – too late for lunch, but we’d had a good breakfast and also the massive ice cream cones, so we weren’t too hungry. I mean, we were hardly likely to starve on a cruise ship, were we?! 😊
Returning to cabin 6062, we enjoyed a half-hour power nap before getting showered and changed and just pottering around the ship; Trevor went up on deck just before 5.00pm to watch the sailaway.
For dinner this evening, we decided to go up to the Windows Café, where they were holding a Mediterranean à la carte menu. I love Mediterranean food and is so much healthier than ours; think of all that fish, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and herbs… all so tasty and fresh.
I started off with a selection of antipasti which contained Parma ham (which I love) as well as olives, peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. It was then followed with spaghetti and meatballs, and finished with a selection of cheeses, including mozzarella. It was all washed down with chilled rosé wine and finished with good strong coffee.
Afterwards, we returned to 6062 for a short while to get freshened up and look at tomorrow’s events programme (if it had arrived yet). While we were there, Trevor remarked that we had a fantastic opportunity to photograph the sunset as we had an excellent view from our balcony. I had to hurry up because the sub was very low in the sky and sunset was only minutes away. As the great glowing orb disappeared below the horizon, the sky became a blaze of orange, and we spotted the silhouette of another cruise ship near the horizon; a quick look at MarineTraffic told us it was the Viking Mars.
We then went down to The Den, where we enjoyed a drink while waiting for the doors to the Cabaret Lounge to open. Tonight’s show featured a British comedian called Chas Burnette, and I looked forward to seeing how our friends from across “the Pond” would take to him, as the British and American senses of humour are so different.
As someone had already taken our ‘usual’ seats (how very dare they?!) we took a stool each at a high table; we still had a good view. Chas Burnette was absolutely hilarious – side-splittingly funny, with a sense of humour that crossed all the borders and an engaging, self-deprecating manner. He was also a talented musician and played the guitar while singing funny songs. Some of his jokes were very subtle which meant that there was a delay of a few seconds where people didn’t laugh, as they took a while to ‘get’ the joke. We really enjoyed his show a lot.
As we walked through the shopping mall we noticed all the duty-free boutiques were open, and I immediately spotted a display of Mary Frances handbags. Now I love these limited-edition beaded handbags that are so unique and so immediately recognisable, but they do tend to be expensive, so I haven’t actually treated myself yet. But the time to do so was right now, because a beautiful beaded tiger bad caught my eye and, as the tiger is my favourite animal, I simply could not resist. The bag cost £190.00 but hey, you only live once and it was absolutely gorgeous.
Then it was up to the Living Room once again, where we enjoyed the music of Lucky Charm and perched on stools at the bar, people-watching as the place slowly filled up. Soon we were joined again by Mark and Alfredo, along with some of the other passengers we had now started to get to know. Everyone was very friendly and it was a really nice atmosphere; we much prefer these smaller, more intimate ships where everyone gets to know everyone else, and the staff quickly learn your name and your favourite drinks. Much better than a ship carrying 5000+ passengers where you’d probably never see the same person twice.
We stayed until about midnight, then to ordered one final drink to take back to the cabin as a nightcap, and hopefully drink on our balcony. However, as the ship was going along, the breeze was just that bit too intrusive, so we didn’t sit outside, although we did leave the door open a couple of inches as usual. Tomorrow morning we were due to drop anchor at Sorrento, and we drifted off to sleep in pleasant anticipation of what new adventures awaited us. 😊