Messina, gateway to Sicily

Now I am not even going to try to explain how we ended on a 9 hour journey on a freighter to Sicily, or the fact that we were the only passengers on board besides sleeping truckers, or the fact that there was no food except for beer, wine and chips on board. Yes, I admit, we have a ways to go in booking savvy, but here we were, drunk! Well, what else is there to do when stuck for 9 hours with your sister in the middle of the ocean surrounded by delicious and inexpensive wine? Let’s just say the next few hours were not pretty.  But when we held up the ship, I mean literally all the truckers had to wait for us to disembark first, things got even uglier. All those angry truckers were looking at us with murder in their eyes (this is the land of Mafia after all), we were gulping and apologizing left and right fearing for our lives as we scurried off the ship, with our luggage between our tails, I mean in tow, to a waiting taxi below. Yes, the ship’s stewards called it because she feared for our safety; we were in landing on the working docks, in the dark with irate truckers who could be well-connected. We were going to thank that steward, but thought it best to just scurry.

When we got in the non-English speaking cab we showed him the address on our phones and sat silently awaiting our fate.  We were glad when he stopped and dropped us off in front of this huge door. Yes, we have arrived safely at our accommodation, albeit three stories up with no elevators.

Polo sisters Adriane and Marina with goodies for a 9 hr passage.
Our freighter to Sicily
Sunset over the Tyrrhenian Sea
Marina enjoying the cool evening breeze
Our accommodation, three stories up, no elevators.

Once we got to our Bed and Breakfast, our room was very accommodating and comfortable and we were starting to warm up to Sicily. The next day we took a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city.

Messina is the third largest city on the island of Sicily. Its main resources are its seaports as it is the gateway to Sicily.

20 feet high stands The Madonna della Lettera, patron saint of the city. She welcomes and blesses all ships, citizens and tourists. Below is written in Latin  Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus, which translates to“We bless you and your city” 

Founded by the Greeks in the 8th century B.C., Messina has been conquered and ruled by many empires, such as the Byzantines, the Arabs who converted it to Islam, Romans who converted it to Christianity, Normans, French, Spaniards… The city survived many wars, battles, fires, natural disasters and was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami on December 28, 1908, killing close to 100,000 people and destroying most of the ancient architecture. The city was largely rebuilt within a year thanks to the determination of its people. Today Messina is a bustling harbor town with a huge university student population.

Beautiful Norman architechure is seen in this church.
Santuario della Madonna di Montalto
World’s largest astronomical clock.

Our stop was in front of the largest astronomical clock in the world in the bell tower. Each day at noon the clock comes to life for a 12 min show.  The bells chime, the lion roars, the rooster crows, statues strike the hour, as the figures replay civil and religious historical and biblical scenes.

The 200 foot (61 meter) bell tower which holds the clock was built in the late 16th century, but after being destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1933. This is when the astronomical clock was added. For a small fee, you can climb to the top.

The adjacent 12th century cathedral holds the remains of King Conrad, who was the ruler of Germany and Sicily during Marco Polo’s time in the early 13th century. During his funeral, the candles set fire to the roof and almost burned down the whole church. Since then it has been rebuild several times due to disasters like earthquakes and bombing during WWII.

Messina Cathedral

The lady at our hotel told us about the street food festival that was happening in the evening and we were excited at trying some of the street food Sicily is famous for.

Sicilian street food festival at its finest….and the food was yummy too!
Meat on a stick. Who doesn’t love that?
The most famous desert is Cannoli and we stood in line for 30 minutes to get ours. And my friend, every minute was worth it.

It is a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet ricotta cheese and chocolate.

The BEST canolli ever!!

The next day we ventured out to explore more of Messina on foot.

Fountain in main square
War memorial with young couple celebrating life.
Santuario della Madonna di Montalto
Sacrario di Cristo Re
Marina finally gets a date.

As we walked through the street we were getting hungry. We stopped at this little ma-and- pa shop and asked for their menu. Since there was only pasta and pastries on the menu, we decided to leave. This is when pa asked us what we were looking for. We replied “pesci” or fish. He said, “uno momento” and he went next door where they sell fresh fish brought it over and said he will make it for us. We grabbed a few Sicilian beers and chilled while he prepared one of the most delicious sword fish, Sicilian style. What a treat. 

The family that made that delicious lunch for us at Ambra Bar
Happy campers Adriane and Marina. After a rocky start Messina truly did live up to her promise and blessed us.
Arancini and Sicilian beer. Life is good

Watch our video here.