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Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli (Part I)

Jun 10, 2023 | Road Trips, The Grand Adventure | 10 comments

If you’re a fan of ‘The Godfather’, you’ll recognise this quote: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli”. Peter Clemenza – a Corleone hitman – said the immortal words to his offsider after they’d stiffed a traitor. You see, Peter bought some cannoli for his wife on their way to the hit (as you do). They left the car with the dead body and the gun. But there’s no way he was going to leave the cannoli. Having just spent two weeks in Sicily, I completely get it.

Speaking of The Godfather, that’s why we found ourselves in Sicily in the first place. Russell had always wanted to visit the locations where they shot some of the famous Sicilian scenes. Places like Taormina, Forza d’Agro, and Savoca, where Michael Corleone’s wedding took place.

I just wanted to go to Italy and eat cannoli. Perfect holiday for both of us.

We started in Taormina, a small town perched on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. It’s picture-postcard perfect.

And I scored on the Airbnb front, again.

It was slap-bang in the middle of the main pedestrian thoroughfare, Corso Umberto. We’d walk out of the house straight into the action, but the apartment itself was located in the renovated attic of one of the oldest buildings in Taormina, so it was cool and peaceful, with tiled floors and antique furniture.

We had to climb several flights of stairs to reach the apartment but the views from the balcony were worth it. And, as we discovered in Taormina, stairs are an occupational hazard. At least they kept us fit and gave us a wonderful excuse to scoff a cone of Gelato every evening, or sometimes another cannolo.

Here’re a few other things worth mentioning about Taormina.

The drivers are insane! But their ability to park their car in the weirdest, tiniest and physically impossible spaces is beyond compare. How do they do that??

Actually, I lie. They are on par with the French in terms of their driving and parking abilities. It could possibly be the whole of Europe. I have yet to discover.

Shopping in Taormina is compulsory. At the very least, you have to go window shopping – the displays are some of the best I’ve seen. I happily wandered up and down Corso Umberto every day, discovering something different each time.

The food! Well, this is Italy, for goodness sake. And if you like your delicious Italian food served up with a side of opera, that can be found in the streets of Taormina too. By the way, in case you thought cannoli was some sort of pasta, there’s a picture of one, top right below. Well, it’s a picture of half a cannolo because it took too long for Russell to get his phone out to take the shot after it had been delivered to the table – at least 5 seconds.

But the most memorable thing about Taormina is the location. Everywhere you look, the view is breathtaking.

From the town looking down over the beach; from the ancient Greco-Roman theatre, looking back across the town; and from Castelmola, the tiny village above Taormina, where you get sweeping views down the coastline.

And speaking of the beach. . .we decided to visit it one day. That’s the view of the beach in the left-hand picture below. Most people get there via the cable car from the middle of town. But not us. No, we decided to walk.

In all fairness, the cable car was out of action, we couldn’t find the bus, it was a lovely day, it was all downhill, and we decided to get a cab back. So, why not walk?

Possibly because the walk involved over 700 steps (and I’m not talking paces). Over SEVEN HUNDRED knee-jarring, concrete steps downhill.

We were ready for a cold Peroni and a spot of lunch by the time we’d completed our 700 steps, and assumed we’d find a wonderful waterfront brasserie with our name on it.  Sadly not. The eatery offerings were hamburger joints with plastic chairs and grumpy waiters.

Undaunted, we retraced our steps to a pair of imposing gates on the main drag, which appeared to be the entrance to a rather grand hotel. Just as we were dithering about the potential damage this might do to our credit card, a GORGEOUS (and I don’t use those capital letters lightly) Italian man in a crisp white shirt pulled up in a golf cart.

“Ciao, signor, signora. A bite to eat, or a drink, perhaps?” He gestured us into the back seat of his golf cart for the ride down the long driveway to the hotel reception. He had me at ‘Ciao’. I didn’t need any further encouragement.

The reception was all marble and fawning staff who greeted us with huge smiles and whisked us down in the lift to the waterfront bar.

Now that’s what I’m talking ’bout! No hamburgers and plastic chairs here.

So, two beers, a very posh ham and cheese sandwich and a Caesar Salad later, we were presented with an eye-wateringly expensive bill. We pretended we paid this extortionate amount for lunch every day, waved our American Express at the waiter, and asked if they would call us a taxi back to Taormina.

The taxi turned out to be a rather smart limo, and the €5 fare turned into €20.

We had cheese and a bottle of Chianti for supper.

For the next week in Taormina, we walked (up and down flights of stairs and hills), exploring every inch of the town including every shop, restaurant, cafe and Gelato bar. We visited the Greco-Roman theatre, the Villa Comunale (the public gardens), and took a hair-raising bus ride up to Castelmola, above Taormina. Check out the long and winding mountainside road in the photo below.

Russell wanted to visit Savoca, a tiny medieval village where the wedding of Michael Corleone and Apollonia was filmed. There were a few ‘The Godfather Tours’ on offer, but we’re not really organised-tours sort of people, so we did the next best thing and bought a ticket for the Taormina Hop-On-Hop-Off-Bus, which also took in Savoca and Forza d’Agro.

Well, we thought it was the next best thing, but here’s the most useful bit of advice I can give you if you ever find yourself in Taormina: Don’t hop on the Hop-On-Hop-Off-Bus.

In case you’ve never experienced one, the hop-on-hop-off concept is that several buses continually drive around a fixed circuit, stopping at designated points of interest. You buy a ticket for a day and hop on and off the buses depending on where you want to visit.

The first leg of the journey was fine. We sat back and enjoyed the views of the Med before arriving in Letojanni, a rather dull coastal town. The driver announced he was taking a short break and the bus would leave again in five to ten minutes before wandering across the road to a small cafe.

What he really meant was “I’m off to have my morning espresso. Depending on who’s in the cafe for a chat, it might take me five minutes, or 20.”

It took him 20.

In the meantime, a rather distressed American woman asked him when the next bus would be coming through in the other direction as she was trying to get back to Taormina.

We didn’t catch the entire conversation or learn much from his Italian shrug of the shoulders, but we gathered there wouldn’t be another bus coming through for at least 90 minutes, despite the timetable promising a slightly more frequent service. It appears she missed the last bus because it left Letojanni earlier than scheduled.

Obviously, The bus timetable is entirely dependent on how much time the drivers choose to spend on their espressos. If there’s no one in the cafe to chat with, the bus will leave earlier than scheduled, as our new American friend found out. But our bus driver was happily ensconced in a loud debate with a couple of other, gesticulating Italians. After 20 minutes, he gave a final hand gesture, slugged back his espresso in one gulp and wandered back to the bus.

Off we set, with the distressed American lady in tow. She figured she would get back to Taormina faster if she did the entire circuit again rather than wait 90 minutes in the sun for the next bus going in the opposite direction.

I refrained from pointing out she may have overlooked the contingency of our bus driver deciding to have a second espresso in Savoca. She was distressed enough.

We arrived in Savoca sometime after the schedule said we would, but it was worth it. It’s like a film set, with the Church of San Nicolò (the scene of the Corleone wedding) perched on the side of the hill, looking like a castle.

The diver did have a second espresso in Savoca, which gave us a chance for a quick look round before catching the last bus of the day back to Taormina. The passengers all decided the service should be renamed the Hop-On-But-For-Gawd’s-Sake-DON’T-Hop-Off-Bus.

We left Taormina a couple of days later.

Our next destination, for four nights, was a sleepy fishing village 30 minutes down the coast – Aci Castello. From there, we went on to Catania, Syracuse and the Island of Ortigia. You can read all about it, along with our Mt Etna adventure, in Part II.

Our Sicilian caper was far from over, but for now, it was arrivederci Taormina. Abbiamo adorato te e i tuoi cannoli!

10 Comments

  1. Thanks, Graham. I used a failsafe system of guesswork and Googling to count the steps!

  2. Always enjoy reading your entertaining stories and looking at the fabulous photos.
    These adventures keep you fit.
    Who counted the steps?

  3. Lucky you, Sue. I haven’t had a decent cannolo since we left Sicily

  4. Awesome – your descriptions and photos. Thank goodness we have The Cannoli King bakery around the corner so we don’t have so far to go!

  5. Thanks, Wayne

  6. Love it. Every episode another exciting adventure. Keep it up.

  7. Hi Jill, yes those cannoli were addictive!

  8. Wonderful read Mel, my knees are aching just reading about all the steps! Who needs a gym. The pictures and views tell a thousand stories.
    Bring on the Canoli. Love them!

  9. Thanks, Sue. I wonder how I get his job? Yes, travel is an expensive pastime, but you are so right, time certainly heals the memory of the cost, and we can’t take our money with us when we go. So, we’re determined to spend it!

  10. Another wonderful account of your adventures- enough to rival Michael Portillo 😊.
    travel is always a challenge to the budget but as I always say you remember the experience and time heals the memory of the cost.

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