Let me start by saying Sicily would be a lot easier WITH a car. You can see more places (especially the smaller towns) and could move around more quickly, without all the waiting and inconvenient connections of a bus. Driving on the highways looked easy.
However, we knew that driving in the cities would require stronger nerves than we possess at this point in our lives. And many of our b&b's and hotels mentioned parking concerns.
So we opted for public transportation. We ended up using a combination of buses and private transfers, the first transfer being from the Catania airport to our hotel in Taormina, when we arrived on April 23. You can take a bus, but after a long day we were glad to be delivered from the airport right to the door of Hotel Taodomus on Corso Umberto. This is the main street in Taormina. At first glance it looks like a pedestrian-only street ... narrow, with people walking right down the middle ... but no, there are brave drivers who attempt it.
We had 4 nights in Taormina, which was just about right. Every day was lovely and sunny except, of course, the day we had scheduled a driver to take us to Mt. Etna. Cloudy, foggy -- we could not even see Etna from Taormina! But we had a great time anyway. Our first stop was for coffee at Patisserie Russo, in business since 1880 in the little town of Venerina. The owner, a sweet little lady, invited us back to see the bakery's kitchen! What fun. Our driver said he had never even seen it, so that was quite an honor. She gave us a little package of pastries to bring along, and I bought some amazing marzipan. Then we drove to Mt. Etna and eventually found ourselves above the clouds and fog, so we were able to see the mountain and walk on it, and see all the little craters. We stopped at a winery and an orchard on the way home. The benefit of a private driver, instead of a bus tour, was having all these extra little stops along the way.
We were not sure what to expect on Liberation Day (April 25). It seemed like a normal day at first, so we went to the amphitheater (a little disappointed by all the concrete and plastic seats) and hiked up to a little church above the town. As the day went on, Taormina got more and more crowded. We learned that residents of the little nearby towns use this occasion to come to the city to visit with each other! They stroll very slowly up and down Corso Umberto, stopping in big groups to talk, often creating gridlock!
That night we saw a performance of Italian Opera in a building just off the main square. A soprano, a tenor and a pianist played and sang arias from 10 operas. There was an intermission, with prosecco on the lovely rooftop terrace, and at the end we all sang along to "Funiculi Funicula." If there is a performance when you're there (look for the signs around town), I would highly recommend it.
While in Taormina we also took the funicular down to Mazzaro Beach and Isola Bella (both rocky but picturesque) and visited the beautiful Public Gardens. Our favorite restaurant in Taormina was L'Incontro, near the funicular; we ate there several times.
(to be continued ...)