Just south of Messina, this gorgeous Sicilian town sits on the edge of a mountain, looking out over the Ionian Sea towards Calabria. It's population is just over 11,000, but it gets vastly more tourists every month. Indeed, Taormina has been a fashionable travel destination for a few hundred years now. Yes, you read that right—we're talking centuries of tourism here.
Just 2 hours south from Catania, down the eastern coast of Sicily, sits a the city of Siracusa (a.k.a. Syracuse). You may recognize this name from history books about the very distant past. Syracuse makes appearances in tales and legends that stemmed from a great many famous Empires over the course of Mediterranean history, most notably the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. Oh, and it makes a cameo appearance in the Bible. It was described by early Roman officials as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all."
Suffice to say, this place has some serious history behind it. Are you ready to see what’s going on in 2018?
If you want to come here, it's very important that you know that this happens exactly at sunrise. If you really want to catch this place in action, it's best to get there before 7:00am. The first time I attempted to come here, I slept in and showed up at 7:45-ish, and it was mostly over. I got some decent pictures, but it was clear that things were winding down. It was frustrating. The next day I set my alarm for the TRUE butt-crack of dawn, and got here before the sun rose.
Catania is the second largest city in Sicily. The population of Catania proper is about 320,000, but there are a combined 1.1 million people who live in the metro area. In Italy overall, Catania is the 10th biggest city, and the 7th largest metro area. This is a major population center for Sicily, second only to Palermo, which will be our last stop on this trip. Catania is not the most well-known place, but it's definitely not small either. It's actually really big, especially by Sicilian standards. But Catania's burgeoning population should be surprising. This isn't exactly prime real estate.
Why? Because of Mount Etna.
First of all, it's pronounced "mar-sa-chlok." There are about 3,500 people that live in Marsaxlokk and they are called the Xlukkajri (sorry, no idea how to pronounce that one). Though it might look like vacation paradise (and it totally is) Marsaxlokk is also a real town. The waterfront is the most iconic area of this town but turn off of Xatt is-Sajjieda down any side street and you will be quickly find yourself in everyday Malta. Similar to Valletta, the buildings are all a sandy color of beige, giving the impression that you are walking through an entire city of sandcastles. It's pretty picturesque.
Mdina (pronounced "um-dee-nuh") sits on a plateau, which has been inhabited since the Bronze age. Because the area was easily defensible, it has been occupied more or less continuously since Prehistory. However, the city as we know it today did not take shape until the 8th century B.C.E., when the island was colonized by the Phoenician Empire.
But before we get into any of that, let’s try some Maltese Pastizzi!
I think that most people who visit Malta arrive suffering from an information deficit, because one of the first tourist attractions any local will tell you to see is a 45 minute movie explaining things. Indeed, at first glance, the Maltese capital city, Valletta, will leave you incredulous. I think that everybody who lives there knows that it requires some explanation. All that I kept thinking when I first arrived was "How did this place come to be and how do I know so little about it?" Well the movie answers those questions, and more. But for now, you'll just have to hear it from me!
Tunisia was going to be my second country in Africa, so I was excited to at least get a taste for it. We didn't have much time here, but we would still be able to see a decent chunk of Tunis. The flight here from Algiers was short but green and scenic as we made our way horizontally across the top of Africa. And as our plane made its final decent over northern Tunisia, I was excited. Here are a few pictures I snapped out the window. Drink 'em in, because everything went to shit from here.
To finish this series on Algeria, we're going to dive headfirst into the legendary Casbah of Algiers. This is the oldest neighborhood in Algiers, and many locals would also say that it's the most dangerous. In fact, the vast majority of locals that we asked about it told us that they themselves would not walk through this neighborhood alone. Yikes!
Now, if you've been following this series on Algiers/Algeria, you know that I've been preaching about how unexpectedly safe Algiers turned out to be. So it might seem odd that I'm now telling you about a place that is supposedly so dangerous. Well let me kick this off with a spoiler for you: the Casbah isn't so bad.
Today we're going to be doing a double-header: Cherchell and Tipaza. These places are not quite on the level of Timgad, but they are still going to be interesting and gorgeous. So buckle in kids! It's time to drive out into rural Algeria for some adventuring!
So, if you've been following this series on Algeria, you know that I was traveling with my mother. One little-known fact about my mom is that she's secretly a bad-ass and had actually lived in Algeria briefly in 1980. So this was a long-awaited return trip for her. During that time, although she did spend some time in Oran and Algiers, the majority of her stay was spent in a tiny town called Cherchell (pronounced "share-shell")...