One of the real selling points for choosing our cruise with Thomson was that the ‘Taste of the Adriatic’ trip stopped off at two ports in Italy. I had been wanting to take a trip to Italy for the last couple of years so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a taste of what Italy has to offer! The first stop was the harbour city of Messina, in northeast Sicily.
We arrived in Messina on a Sunday which meant that it was a quiet day with not a lot going on. All of the shops were closed and only a handful of bars and cafes were open. Our first brief stop was at the Cathedral. On exiting the cathedral we stepped into the city square which we had been informed was the highlight of this port. The Piazza del Duomo houses the world’s largest mechanical clock and the best time to visit is at noon. The city’s history is re-enacted everyday when the clock strikes twelve and the various gilt figures emerge. It was extremely hot as we waited for the spectacle to take place but we managed to find a shady spot in the square. The clock’s performance seemed to last for quite some time but in fact was only twelve minutes. The heat made it seem longer!
Being a Sunday with a cruise ship in the port the square was crowded especially with a local cycling event using the space as part of their route. Once the music from the clock had finished and the figures returned the crowds disappeared almost instantly. I particularly liked the detail on the Fountain of Orion and the Astronomical Clock on the side of the tower. After exploring the city square we went for a much needed drink in a local cafe which unfortunately was cut short by a huge flying beetle pestering us!
I love wandering around new cities and exploring their architectural style. It is also always a good opportunity to browse in the local shops and see what you can find, however there were no opportunities for browsing in Messina as everything was closed and window shopping was definitely lacking! In comparison to our previous stops on the cruise there was not as much to see and do so we decided to head back to the ship for a quiet afternoon by the pool.
For most the highlight of Sicily is seeing Mount Etna either up close or from afar. Some of the passengers on our cruise decided to go on a Thomson tour to the volcano but they were limited in the time they had there as the journey is one hour thirty minutes each way. We were lucky enough to see the volcano in the distance as we left the port. It really was a beautiful sight!
The second of the Italian ports we visited was the city of Taranto. Imagine our surprise when we heard music playing and so looked ashore to see where it was coming from. At the bottom of the gang plank was a red carpet, a group of dignitaries and a welcome party. It turned out that our cruise ship was the first to visit Taranto in their newly built port. We received a warm welcome and we were provided with a free shuttle bus service exclusively for the use of cruise ship passengers. The shuttle bus dropped us off at the Aragonese Castle which is situated next to the Swing Bridge (Ponte Girevole) which divides the old city from the new. The historical old town spreads over an island and the new town is part of the main land comprising designer boutiques and sleek palm-lined avenues. We attempted to go and have a wander around the castle but unfortunately they were only doing guided tours. We started the tour but left early as we couldn’t understand the tour guide due to his strong accent and fast talking speed! Also the detail which he was going into was a bit of an information overload and we wouldn’t remember it all anyway! What we did learn is that the castle is currently being used as an Italian army base which would explain why we couldn’t walk around alone.
We spent most of our time in the old town as there were several places of interest and lots of narrow back streets to explore. Most tourists probably wouldn’t explore the more residential areas of Taranto however we stumbled across some street art which had caught our eye. This led us to explore further as we found more evidence of street art around several corners. Clearly the dog on the balcony outside was not used to seeing tourists with cameras passing by as when I approached him to see if he was friendly he jumped up and tried to bite me through the balcony railings! I retreated at great speed and have decided not to approach dogs in foreign countries!
As Taranto is surrounded by a natural harbour the city is well-known for oysters and mussels. When exploring the back streets we saw lots of mussel nets hung from windows and balconies. Some people were obviously enjoying their dishes full of mussels in the local restaurants but this is not something that appealed to us.
There were some lovely churches and a large cathedral nestled in the old town. The one above in particular was very pretty and had ornate embellishments inside. We also found some underground archaeological sites which appeared to only have recently been opened to the public.
It was evident that Taranto is undergoing a major regeneration and in places there was a stark contrast between the old decaying buildings and the modern buildings which sometimes stood side by side.
I am sure now the cruise ships are arriving at least once in Taranto that the locals will benefit from the increased tourism and this help the regeneration of the city. It would be interesting to visit again in about five years and see what progress has been made.
Have you been to Sicily or Taranto before?
Thanks for reading,
Don’t forget about my other cruise posts- they are linked below: