The Eurostar train from Naples to Sicily was pretty fast and comfortable. It took about 5 hours to get us down to the Ferry terminal on the mainland for a 40 minute ferry ride to Sicily. The Eurostar as more expensive and no faster than the IC train, but the timing was more convenient. I think on the IC train, the train itself goes onto the ferry and you just stay in the train. That would have been interesting, but the Eurostar worked fine. The ferry took us to the a ferry terminal in Messina that adjoined the main station where it was easy to catch our train to Taormina. We passed the train station for Ali Terme' where my friends' pre-wedding dinner would be the next day and where his wedding would be the final day.
Our hotel, Hotel Villa Caterina, was a short cab ride from the train station. The Hotel says 2 Kilometers but the cab ride seemed a little longer. In any case, it is too far to walk comfortably and about a 10 Euro cab ride from the train station. The room was roomy enough and comfortable. We never got the air conditioning working, but since we were mostly there in the evenings we were able to keep the room cool enough by opening the windows. We didn't have any mosquito problems there.
On the one hand, the hotel is on the Bay of Mazzaro, so it is convenient to the beach. On the other hand, it is less convenient to the rest of the town. The rest of the town is up on the cliffside overlooking the bay. The day is reached most conveniently by an arial tramway about 100 meters from the hotel. We used that tram a lot and found it convenient for reaching the main part of the town. Taormina is a wonderful town with beautiful views overlooking the bay. The main town area is extremely picturesque with churches and squares crowded with people shopping and strolling. We strolled around the town that night and had our dinner in the main part of town.
Our main task was to figure out how to get to the pre-wedding lunch and the church in Ali Terme. The desk clerk spoke excellent english and wanted to be helpful but she didn't have a lot resources like train schedules, maps, etc. It was a real contrast to the Hotel Desiree where they made the effort to have everything at their fingertips. There was no direct dial out of the hotel and the evening operator didn't speak English, so it was very hard to make a call out of the hotel. My English speaking friend also had trouble calling into our room from outside. On the plus side, the Hotel promptly delivered an e-mail to our room that was sent to the hotel's e-mail address. During daytime hours, I went to the front desk to get help with outgoing calls and the desk clerk was helpful in getting us connected. I used my cell phone in the evening. Fortunately, my friend was able to get through to us on our cell phone and he was good enough to set us up with rides to the lunch and the wedding with people staying in Taormina, so the problem of getting there by train was obviated. Since we were following someone who knew the way to lunch, the direction were taken care of as well.
We met the dinner party in the main part of Ali Terme'. Ali Terme' is a near suburb of Messina. It struck me has having a "Beach Town" kind of ambiance. I was surprised how large and spread out urban Messinal was. Suburbs stretch out unbroken along the coast quite a ways toward Taormina. Lunch was at Chiara al Luna, a Restaurant above Ali Terme'. The seafood was a highlight in a wonderful multicourse feast. The view out the picture windows of Chiara al Luna was also a highlight! We only needed to have a little Gelati later in the evening to cover our "dinner" we were so full from lunch.
We didn't plan to follow anyone to the church, so we tried for directions at the hotel desk again. Again, the clerk wanted to be helpful but she couldn't locate the specific address and suggested a way that turned out to be the slower way (though perhaps a bit easier than the toll rode for unfamiliar drivers). Our ride accused me of trying to save on tolls when we followed her directions and it turned out much slower than the way we had taken the day before.
The wedding was in a beautiful little chapel in a school that is a bit hard to find. We had to ask a couple of people on the street to finally zoom into it. The ceremony and mass was lovely. The choir had beautiful voices. Truly a joyful event for everyone present.
The wedding dinner was back in Taormina at the Hotel Diodoro. This is an old hotel with a spectactular view from the terrace where we gathered between the wedding and the dinner. We were amazed to see red lines of lava on Mount Etna. I found this view of red glowing lava to be spectacular. Dinner was another amazing meal. Apparently in Italy they dispense with all the set pieces we insist on at American weddings (dancing in various pairings, bouquet tossing, etc.) and focus on the important activity eating! This was another spectacular meal. We were eating and drinking late into the night. We actually had to leave before the eating was over in order to leave before Michele fell asleep in her plate and before the tram we rely on closed at 1 AM. It was a wonderful wedding and celebration and truly a joy for us to be there to celebrate the day.
With all the wedding activities we only had time to vaguely plan our way to Palermo. We had spent enough time to figure out that flying out of Palermo was a big mistake. Sicily has two airports. Palermo and Catania. Catania is less than an hour away from Taormina, Palermo is about 5 hours! If your going to Taormina or Messina, use Catania. But we had to get to Palermo. Without a train schedule in site, we left for the train station at a time we thought was plenty early. Wrong. We missed the train we would have needed to catch our flight by about 10 minutes!!!! This is when we really appreciated the way that Hotel Desiree in Sorrento had all the train schedules on hand. We had to take a cab to Messina (an expensive proposition). We made the Messina to Palermo leg of our train trip.
This trip just made us want to spend more time in Sicily and actually see Palermo and environs. From the train, Cefalu with its Duomo perched between a cliff and the sea looked particularly inviting. Our task was to get to the airport in time to make our plane. We had to change trains in Palermo but we managed to figure out which train headed to the airport. We made our plane for Rome. Once back in Rome we were just staying overnight near the airport and then heading for home.
When we arrived home, we found things much better than we left them. The house was squeaky clean, flowers were planted along the walkway, the children were happy. We were amazed. Things at home went downhill to their normal equilibrium once my Mom left.