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Windstar Cruise Day Three: Taormina + Gambino Winery

PHOTO: Breathtaking Taormina from Piazza IX (c) Sery Kim

On our third of eight cruising days onboard the Wind Surf, we went to my new favorite Italian city Taormina.

Located on the eastern coast of the island of Sicily, Taormina is a tiny, tiny city within a larger metropolitan city of Messina. Though I didn't know this, Messina is the city at the bottom of the mountain, right by the water, whereas Taormina is at an all-together higher elevation. If you take public transportation into the city, like the train, than you need to take a taxi to Taormina. If you are a tourist be sure to negotiate your rate before you go all the way up or else you will be taxed for each person, each piece of luggage, and whatever other random item the taxi driver comes up with.

PHOTO: View of Messina below and Taormina above (c) Sery Kim

Taormina was built in the third century B.C. for a purpose I am not all-together sure of. Maybe fishing? I have to get a book and learn more. Most of buildings which still stand 1800 years later came about due to the Romans renovating the city and, what I found to be the most interesting, is the city flawless cleanliness, so quaint and unlike the dirty hustling Rome. Perhaps this is a result of, again unlike Rome, Taormina was forgotten after the Norman conquest and wasn't rediscovered until the 18th century, nearly 700 years later.

If no one visits your town it's pretty easy to keep it clean.

PHOTO: The charming streets of Taormina (c) Sery Kim

The adorable size of the city, as well as its proximity to the nearly clear waters and pristine beaches, means remains a perpetual hot spot during the summer months of July and August. When we arrived, the city was already quite bustling -- likely due to the soon-to-be G7. Fun fact? In order to preserve the security of the heads of the states, including President Trump, only the actual permanent residents of Taormina will be allowed into the city above Messina during the G7. Each citizens had to register at the government office to get an ID which will be rigorously checked. All other individuals who want to visit Taormina during the G7 can not thus, hopefully, not only ensuing the security of the heads of state but to limit the insane protestors who tend to destroy all-sorts of property.

PHOTO: Cute store in Taormina (c) Sery Kim

Once you begin to explore the city, you will find it is mostly filled with tourists and plenty of shops. Taormina is well known for being a bit of a "tourist haven" and I didn't mind it in the least. Every time I go to a new city, I always like to buy something: both as a souvenir for myself as well as my own form of economic stimulus for the place I visit.

For those who don't have international data and can't GPS position themselves on their phones, Taormina basically has one main street so it's pretty easy to just let yourself go and wander. Then, from the off-shoots of the main street, are tiny yet super precious side streets waiting to be discovered. The above limoncello shop was on one such side-street. Other side streets have beautiful walls decorated with art, or rising staircases colorfully tiled or, if you are really lucky, you will find the one side street with a balcony crawling in ivy abutted by gas lamps.

PHOTO: Ricotta Cannoli (c) Sery Kim

Taormina is also well known for their pistachio and their ricotta cannoli. I stopped at the courtyard in front of the historic castle where I found Bar Shaker Caffe. I basically picked it for three reasons: (1) it looked very old and I figured in a historic town 1800-years-old the older something looked the more "authentic" it would be; (2) the courtyard in front of the castle has a series of trees whose leaves have all been grown together so it looks like the perfect dining room table for God; and (3) there were a ton of people there. My dumb luck in choosing actually made it into a great choice. This 2,50 euro ricotta cannoli was spectacularly delicious so thick and creamy it resembled more an ice cream than a cannoli filling.

PHOTO: The vines of Gambino Winery (c) Sery Kim

After a morning exploring Taormina, the entire cruise headed over for a private wine tasting and lunch at Sicily's Gambino Winery. Like so many of our excursions, it was quite the trek to get to our location. For those who have never been to Italy -- or France also -- the roads are narrow and winding. To get a huge motorcoach up-and-down is quite the feat and so we always greatly thank our drivers. For me, I find the whole drive a hilarious adventure. The tiny Fiat cars competing with the enormous buses is a comedy of errors. Many an occasion we had to back-up or go a different route.

PHOTO: Drinking one of Gambino red wine (c) Sery Kim

Gambino Winery is located high in the hills of Sicily and produce a 150,000 bottles of wine a year covering whites, rose and reds. It's a family-owned currently run by the funny Filadelfo (more on him later). I think, though I am not sure since I was too busy drinking, that it is his brother Francesco and not his son who is the winemaker.

Since Gambino Winery is close to an active volcano (Mount Etna), the volcanic vegetation produces a quite interesting taste to the wine. I can't really describe what the finish is ... I wouldn't stay it was "crisp" or "young" or "harsh" or "smooth." Perhaps what makes it unique is I don't have a description from my oenophile vocabulary and my challenge in compartmentalizing my experience made the wine just "okay" for me. It wasn't bad, it was just nice.

Now, even though the wine was nice, my favorite part of the experience was the antipasti plate. Every time I look at this picture of sundried tomatoes and olives I get really hungry!! I really wanted to buy a jar of them but, sadly for me, the winery does not sell any food. BOO!!!

PHOTO: Gambino Winery's oil preserved vegetables (c) Sery Kim

After the antipasti course, accompanied by the very nice Feu D'O Bianco white wine as well as a rose Feu D'O Rosso (I'm not much of a rose person), the pasta course arrived with the most interesting shape to the pasta. The best way I can describe the pasta is that it resembled a "pool noodle." But that sauce ... ! Unbelievably tasty. I actually went up to Filadelfo later and told him how much I loved the sauce. He just smiled politely at me. "I would love to have more," which was my unsubtle way of asking for a bottle of tomato sauce. Instead, Filadelfo just gave me a sheet of paper from his hands. I was so puzzled but when I looked at the paper I realized it was the recipe for the pasta and tomato sauce. LOL! Filadelfo!! I wanted a bottle, I didn't actually want to do the work.

The Fresh pasta "Maccheroni alla norma" just seemed simple yet perfect and was paired with my favorite wine of the day the Alicant (no surprise it was also the most expensive at $34.99). Gambino Winery also was very clever and pan-fried ricotta to drizzle over the pasta. I'm fairly confident I drizzled about four servings worth, haha, yum yum! Definitely make sure to order both.

PHOTO: My Fresh pasta "Maccheroni alla norma" (c) Sery Kim

PHOTO: Filadelfo Gambino (c) Sery Kim

I skipped the second course of grilled pork meat sausage and the dessert course of hazelnut pastry to enjoy the cellar tour with Filadelfo. The white machine in the photo above is actually how they turn the wine grapes into the liquid eventually becoming Gambino wines. Such an interesting modern toy for wine-makers. They have difficult jobs working with unpredictable elements yet still having to produce volumes for all their buyers. I do not envy them!

By the time we boarded the buses back to the ships, we were tired. Windstar has been doing a killer job putting together great expeditions and projects. Tomorrow we are at sea before we land in Montenegro. Then it's three days in Croatia before we land in Venice. Time is just flying!

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