Carnival Vista stopped in Messina, Italy on a Sunday. From the ship Messina looks like a pretty big city with lots of interesting old architecture within walking distance. Being Sunday though they made announcements that not much of anything in Messina would be open, but in a neighboring city called Taormina most everything opens on Sundays.
We had no plans other than to get off the ship and walk around, but decided with some friends to take the train to Taormina. Messina Centrale train station is a relatively short walk from the cruise ship port. Take a left and follow either the coastline or the tracks from the tramline to get to the train station. The cashier said there was just one train out shortly after 9am, but that several came back between 2pm and 3:30 so we went ahead and bought the tickets.
The train ride to Taormina went smoothly enough until we got off at the station by the sea. Taormina sits high on a nearby hill. There was an abandoned building across the street and a few other buildings within sight, but not much else there. Being Sunday the visitor’s information booth at the station was closed. Several taxis sat outside the train station and would bring people to town for 15 euros. Meanwhile a long line of people waited to board a bus parked next to the station for a round trip cost to town of 3 euros each. That bus filled, but said another would be along in 10 minutes. The 10 minutes came and went and no bus came by for another 15, but we did get on that one and make it up to town.
The bus stopped in some sort of bus yard where we got off and asked about times for the return bus. They handed us a schedule, but not knowing the area or language it really wasn’t clear if we could get a bus straight back to the train station or if it would loop around other places first. All the busses that came by while we waited near the train station were heading in the direction of town regardless of where they were going and whether they stopped, which made it appear they were all on some sort of loop where none ever went the other way.We had several hours so we went off to explore the town. On the way up we walked past a skyride tram down to the beach and took a ride just because it was there.
The skyride passed over a soccer field and went down to the bottom of the hill to a nice beach. Signs advertised diving and snorkeling. Little shops and restaurants lined the shoreline just above the white sand and blue water making up the beautiful beach. Waves crashed over rocks dotting the small cove and people swam in the water and played in the sand. After taking a look around we took the tram back up. Too bad we didn’t have more time, swimwear, and snorkel gear.
A crowd in front of an arch watched some sort of commotion possibly caused by people fighting after a bit of a fender bender car accident or something. On the narrow winding roads it’s more of a surprise that any two cars can pass by each other without having an accident than it is that any would collide. The crowd broke up and we headed off down a stairway and found a place to stop for some genuine Italian pizza. It’s pretty easy to find a gelato shop in Italy so we stopped in one for dessert. The gelato met our friend Tracy’s genuine Italian gelato test by checking the color of the pistachio (not the bright green of artificial dye) and the texture test (not machine smooth.)
On the way back up we went through the arch and found the main part of the town. The arch opened into some sort of small square. People came in and out of an old church taking photos. Narrow roads felt almost like the bottom of canyons between the tall buildings lining each street full of shops. Unfortunately shops aren’t all these streets were full of. Europe is behind the times on anti-public smoking laws as they don’t seem to have any. People smoke everywhere and it hung heavily between those buildings so I was glad nobody wanted to stay there very long.
We worked our way back to where we got off the bus and they said there wouldn’t be one for the next half hour. We still weren’t sure how long the bus would take to get back to the train station so we took a taxi in hopes of catching the first train back that was to come shortly after 2. Once we got to the train station there were no trains listed before 3:20 either on the readerboard by the track or in the ticket machine. Other people that came looking for the same train said the train website had listed a 2:20 train as well as the 3:20 on a Sunday schedule when they looked it up, but not all the other trains the cashier said would come when we bought the tickets.
The bus schedule outside the station listed a bus to Messina as coming Mon-Sat, but a passing bus driver said it was coming that day as well. Of course it didn’t. We began to wonder if they make a game of misinforming tourists. Some people panicked and took the expensive taxi back to Messina instead of waiting for the train when the bus didn’t come.
The 3:20 train did come. It was the last of the trains we thought would be available that would get us back before the ship left, and closer than we normally cut the time. There’s a bit of a walk back to the ship. This was the closest we’ve come to becoming pier runners – people who run down the dock trying make it to the ship before they pull in the gangway and it leaves. We managed to make it back without having to run. Everyone from the train got back to the ship in time, but without much if any to spare. It just goes to show our friend who had traveled around Europe for a couple months before boarding the ship wasn’t kidding when she said Italian trains and busses are subject to last minute cancellations, strikes, or other problems meaning you can never count on them.
Mount Etna is another popular destination from Messina, but not a good one for do-it-yourself excursions for cruise ship passengers. The time involved in getting there by train and bus and reliance on their unreliable schedules would make missing the ship fairly likely. Our ship had excursions to Mt. Etna for less than the price of taking a taxi there.