Well, my week on the Solitaire II, studying Italian and sailing through the Eolian Islands, had come to an end. Last night our sailing group officially said goodbye, and my departure date from Sicily was fast approaching. Only four more days of discovery were remaining.
A week on a sailboat does many things, but one thing is for sure – it creates a huge amount of laundry. The entire suitcase that I had taken onto the boat was in desperate need of a good cleansing, so it was time to use the washing machine in the spacious five-bedroom apartment above the Laboratorio Linguistico language school. Claudia, being from Germany, was in charge of selecting the laundry settings on this European machine, and shortly after my dirty clothes and those of two of my shipmates were turning happily in the frontloaded washer. Then we hung up the clothes on the balcony of our bedroom and Lorenzo, our favourite Catholic priest, joined us to sit for a bit outside. After a while he headed off to get his hair cut while Claudia and I met our other shipmates, Franco and Agnieszka, who were going to take us on a tour of Milazzo.
Milazzo is a town with a population of about 30,000 people on the northeastern coast of Sicily, located about 50 km from Messina. It has a long history, dating back to Greek colonization as the city of Mylai in 716 BC. Milazzo is located on a narrow peninsula on the Tyrrhenian coastline that protrudes about six or seven kilometers into the sea. The tip of the peninsula is called Capo Milazzo which features a variety of restaurants perched on a cliff above the sea as well as nature areas and an 18th century lighthouse.
The downtown of Milazzo is located on the eastern side of the peninsula around a bay and the south side of the bay is characterized by a variety of industrial and refinery buildings. Our local expert Franco explained that Milazzo is quite a popular tourist destination for Italian travelers in the summer, but is not particularly well known internationally. It is a reasonably priced destination, much more affordable than some other extremely popular destinations in Italy.
Our apartment at Laboratorio Linguistico is very centrally located at Via Nino Riolo, just steps away from the Chiesa di San Giacomo, dating back to the 15h century, and the Lungomare Garibaldi, the beautiful palm-lined waterfront promenade of Milazzo. Franco took us along the Via Medici towards the fish market which features two rows of fish and seafood vendors, selling a large variety of marine delicacies caught locally. One local fisherman in particular seemed to enjoy the camera and held up several different fish with a big smile while his coworker was watching him with an expression of suspicion. We also saw a huge swordfish, it must have been about two meters long and was staring at us with its silver-coloured empty eyes. Another fishmonger had just a head of a swordfish on display, the body had already been cut up and filleted. Fish markets are always an assault to the senses, fascinating visually, but the smell is a different story.
We briefly stopped at the municipal tourist office in the Municipio building to get some information on the bus schedules that would take us from Milazzo to Catania for our return flights and were rather impressed by the friendly service that the gentleman behind the counter was providing to us. Now equipped with the knowledge of how we would get to the Catania airport we continued our walk along the Lungomare.
The Lungomare is a waterfront promenade, fronted on the eastern side by a long row of attached houses that are several hundred years old, with a paved walkway that is separated from a busy street by a narrow lawn and a fringe of palm trees. On the eastern side is a sandy beach that serves as the starting point for the dozens of fishermen that have their boats permanently parked along the waterfront. The Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore forms the northern end of the of the main section of the waterfront promenade, from where things get a little quieter.
Franco pointed out a fascinating classical building that used to be an orphanage, but today lies in ruins. We turned left on Erta San Domenico, a stone-paved road with an interesting pattern that would take us up past a series of steps towards the castle, the “Castello di Milazzo”.
Like all of Sicily, Milazzo has thousands of years of history. Settled since the Neolithic Age, Milazzo has always had a strategic location along the Tyrrhenian Sea, used by the Romans and then the Arabs. The current castle was originally constructed under Norman rule around 1000 AD and later reinforced in the 15th century by Alphonso of Aragon. During the 18th Century and the subsequent Bourbon period it suffered great damage and later became a prison, which it remained until 1960.
The structure was extensively renovated in the 1980s and 1990s. The castle sits on a rocky promontory with a view towards all directions and features imposing stone walls aimed at deterring any possible invaders. The main area of the castle was closed to the public at this time of day (siesta time) and would not reopen until 3 pm, but we walked through some of the impressive stone gates and covered walkways that take you to the inner courtyards of the castle. The view from the castle’s south side towards the Nebrodi Mountains and Mount Etna was stunning. The snowy fields at the top of Mount Etna were clearly visible and not a single cloud was concealing Europe’s largest volcano.
Close to the castle is an entertainment area that features many different bars and restaurants. Although quiet now, this area becomes vibrant and alive at night time. We continued our walk further north along the peninsula and Franco took us to a private residential complex where Laboratorio Linguistico rents some villas for some of its language students. Hidden behind a big steal gate is a beautiful estate with gorgeous gardens and subtropical flowers that features several houses that can be rented by foreign travelers. Franco introduced us to an older couple who was also here to study Italian, and their abode on the edge of the cliff with a perfect westward view of the Sicilian coastline, featuring Milazzo Castle towards the south, was breathtaking.
We decided to explore the western side of the Milazzo peninsula and took a steep path down towards the beach, with Milazzo Castle looming overhead on our left hand side. The flat pebbly beach is several kilometers long and on this Saturday afternoon was quite deserted. Only a few sun worshipers were out and enjoying their time on the waterfront. The water had a light blue turquoise colour to it, but when we looked closer we saw huge swarms of jellyfish washing ashore all along the coastline. That may have explained the reason for the absence of bathers.
After this extensive walk in the warm sun it was time for another granita, a typical Sicilian treat featuring crushed ice in a variety of flavours. So Claudia and I walked towards downtown again and found a little local bar where we sat down for a solid hour or so to relax and enjoy a cool drink Franco and Agnieszka had already proceeded back towards the apartment, while the two of us, real sailing buddies, were enjoying our last afternoon together since Claudia was going to fly back to Germany early tomorrow morning. We both realized how much we had enjoyed this sailing trip and what an intense experience this kind of trip can be.
On our way back we passed by the Piazza Roma and the Monumento ai caduti (Monument to the Fallen Soldiers), constructed in 1924 during Italy’s fascist era. Back at the apartment we cooked up some pasta with fresh tomatoes and enjoyed our home-cooked meal.
Our late afternoon lunch eliminated the need for a dinner, but we still planned to take one final walk through Milazzo before Claudia’s departure. Around 8 pm we admired the daily ritual of the “passegiata”, the daily stroll where men, women, children, families and seniors come out, many of them dressed to the nines, to stroll along the Lungomare. This time-honoured ritual exists in most Italian communities and is a perfect opportunity to see and be seen. Many older men sit together on benches, discussing the latest in news and sports, while women walk together, probably debating issues of church and family.
A large crowd was gathered at the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore since the Madonna of Fatima was on display in the church. The church was lit up beautifully and many pious locals were streaming into the church to pay their respect. We strolled around in the area close to Milazzo Castle, and many of the restaurant’s patios and terraces were full of people socializing, talking, and having fun.
The pleasant evening turned into a beautiful starry night and we stood on top of the castle hill and looked out over the surrounding panorama, captivated by the twinkling lights of the city and the lights farther way in the surrounding mountains. Our bonding session, which had begun on the sailing trip, continued, and we decided that if I am ever in the Frankfurt / Mannheim area I would definitely visit Claudia, while she would always be welcome here in Toronto.
Around midnight we finally plopped into bed, rather exhausted. Claudia was going to leave early tomorrow morning while I was planning to take the train to the medieval town of Cefalu. After our intense experiences we definitely needed the rest…