Mafia connections, the Emerald Isle and a Highland Fling travel blog

We think they were coming down the hill

Wedded bliss in front of 7th century Syracusa Cathedral

Ortygia's elegant main square

One of the many stunning fountains in Ortigia Island, Syracuse

typical street in historic centre of Taormina

Piazza 9th April Taormina

Mt Etna from Taormina

Greek Theatre at Taormina being set up for a concert

Spoilt for choice with gelato flavours

The 2,700-year-old city of Syracuse played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world. Described by Cicero as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all", it equaled Athens in size during the fifth century BC. It later became part of the Roman Republic and the Byzantine Empire.

It is also mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles book at 28:12 as St Paul stayed there. The city was also the birthplace of the mathematician and engineer Archimedes.

We crossed the bridge to the island of Ortygia and here we visited the mythical Fountain of Arethusa which still bubbles up as it did in ancient times. According to Greek mythology, the fresh water fountain is the place where the nymph Arethusa, the patron figure of ancient Syracuse, returned to earth's surface after escaping from her undersea home in Arcadia.

In the afternoon sun the Piazza Duomo's vast marble pavements gave off a lovely warm glow, sadly I'm learning that my Sketchers sandles and smooth marble are not a good mix.

The stunning Catherdral dominates the piazza and was repurposed as it was originally a great Greek Temple of Athena built in the 5th century BC. You can still see the Doric columns on both the outside and inside.

For dinner we chose one of the many bars on the main piazza and they brought us out all these amazing complimentary nibbles with our round of drinks that we couldn't eat anything else. Our BnB was great too, we had it all to ourselves and the next morning had a great breakfast at the local bar - huge pastries and strong coffee, yum yum!

Our next stop is Taormina for three nights, it is 120 kms from Syracuse.

When we arrived at our pensione the owners asked if we were sure we wanted to spend three nights as we seemed "too refined", I kid you not. Moi refined!

For dinner we drove up to Castelmola which is a tiny hilltop village above Taormina, crowned by a ruined castle. Lots of hairpin bends and impatient drivers who overtook us by crossing over to the other side of the narrow road. We've also seen lots of reckless motorcyclists on mobile phones and no helmets!

The next morning we took the local bus up to Taormina. The town is perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea and commands an impressive view of the coast and Mount Etna. It has been a tourist destination since the 19th century and became a colony of expatriate artists, writers and intellectuals so it was no surprise that it was going to be crowded up there. Besides the gorgeous ancient Greek theatre which was being set up for a concert we explored some old churches and window shopped some very expensive shops. There was also a lovely public garden which was shady and peaceful and cool.

On the food front we have tried almond flavoured white wine which was very nice and I've tried lots of difference cheeses including a yummy cacciocavallo. We also tried Modica chocolate which is processed in the same way the Aztecs did at the time of the Spanish conquistadors. As the cocao beans are crushed cold it has a grainy texture. The jury's still out on whether we liked it.

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