Is anyone else a fan of the Godfather movies? When I saw Sicily on the itinerary for our cruise, I had to find a tour that would encompass the trilogy. I found a company called Coop Sicily Life that did indeed offer a “Godfather Tour”. I couldn’t resist; I had to sign up immediately. I had no idea if any of my fellow Cruise Critic cruisers would be interested in joining this tour so assumed that it might just be Clayton and me on this one. To my surprise, we ended up filling up the van (8 total), and yet more people expressed interest in the tour. We ended up with a group of 8 and another group of 18. I could have added more to the tour, but opted not to. In preparation for the tour I watched, “The Godfather Epic” on Comcast. This movie combines Godfather, part I and Godfather, part II into one film that is in sequence from Vito Andolini’s father’s murder in Corleone forward. I didn’t watch all of the movie; just the parts that were filmed in Sicily.
This was our first tour of the cruise and we were delayed getting into port by an hour. Apparently the port authorities scheduled three cruise ships to all arrive at 7 am. Since we had the last berth, we were the last to be able to dock. The gangway was on deck 4 but the NCL employees would not allow anyone to wait there. So, of course, we went up to deck 5 and waited there (we were supposed to go to a lounge on deck 7 or above). We were not the only ones; we were joined by people that turned out to be on our tour! I had posted my picture as my avatar on Cruise Critic so that people would recognize me when we met up for tours; it worked like a charm. We first met Wendy from Australia, then Christine and David from Alberta. Christine made my day; she told me I looked much younger than my picture. That definitely put a smile on my face! We finally were able to disembark a bit after 8 am. The nice NCL employees told us that since we were not on an NCL tour that we would not be able to exit the port through the gate directly in front of the ship; we would have to walk all the way to the end of the pier, through the building there, and then back to where we started (on the other side of the fence where the tour vans were parked). It seemed a bit petty but we didn’t have any choice. Grrr! I had the lists of people that were in each vehicle; I handed the 2nd group list to Payal (thanks, Payal!) and checked in the people in the van (as well as collecting funds for the excursion). We met up with our van driver and off we went!
Today was a holiday in Sicily. The tour guide said it was like their Halloween, but it was actually All Soul’s Day, which since Sicily is Catholic, is a religious holiday. There was very little traffic because of it. We were docked in the city of Messina which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1908 and has been completely rebuilt. It is only 3 km from the mainland of Italy. There is talks of building a bridge, however, because Sicily sits on a tectonic plate, the land is constantly moving, so the estimated cost is over 8 billion Euros. The island is the largest in the Mediterranean and has always been important, so has been fought over repeatedly. There are still visible effects from the bombings during WWII. It has been part of the Byzantines, Greeks, Spanish and Romans, to name a few. It sits in the shadow of Mount Etna. This past year has been very quiet; only 3 eruptions. Last year, there were 27; 39 tjree years ago. Because of the frequent minor eruptions, it is not expected that there will be a major eruption of the volcano (or so he claimed).
There is very little frozen food found in town; the women (sexist, yes!) shop daily for fresh food, including freshly caught swordfish.
Our first stop on the tour would be the town where the bar where Michael asked Appolonia’s father for her hand in marriage, as well as the church where they were married. The original Godfather movie was supposed to be filmed in Palermo in 1971 but the mafia was killing so many people there that Frances Ford Coppola decided against it. The owner of the hotel where he and his crew were staying came from the Messina area so took Coppola on a tour of the small villages in the area. He ended up choosing a couple of them for filming the movie. We would not be able to see the castle where Michael and Appolonia lived because it is privately owned. It can be viewed, but only by appointment.
Our first stop was Bar Vitelli. Prior to the movie, it was simply labelled, “BAR”. Vitelli was Appolonia’s last name in the movie, so the bar’s name was changed to promote tourism. We looked around, then climbed up the hill to the Church of Santa Lucia which was built in 1308. On the walk up the hill we had to move to the side of the road to let a car pass. It turns out that the woman driving it was the woman that played Appolonia’s mother in the film (lady Vincencina); she still lives in town. Many of the extras in the movie were from the town.
We passed through an archway to the Medieval part of the town. Caper plants grow wild along the path. We passed an old synagogue that was in ruins; it had never been repaired. We reached the church at the top of the hill. Only the exterior of the church was used for filming. We were able to see a little bit of the interior. The church is now only used once yearly for the Festival of Santa Lucia; it is also available to rent for weddings.
According to our tour guide, if you came to the village on a Sunday around 11 am you would smell all kinds of delicious scents as the young men in the area come home for Sunday dinner with their mamas. We stopped by a shop that sold olive oil, chocolate and pistachio pesto. Of course, we had to sample some! We also dropped in on a bakery to sample some freshly baked almond biscotti. Very tasty! I left my purse in the car or would have purchased some.
Our next stop was Forza D’Agro which is an Arab Fort with a Norman Tower. This is the village where Vito Andolini grew up; the scenes where his mother begged the Don for his life and where he was smuggled out of town on a donkey basket were filmed here. The houses here have the original exteriors, and are passed down from generation to generation. The houses have 3 levels. Originally, the bottom level was for the animals (donkeys, etc.), the second floor was for the kitchen, and the third for bedrooms.
We visited the church in town. The priests are buried in the church; there were cement staircases leading to their tombs, and in front of the staircases were altars. This church has not been kept up well; many things have been stolen over time, and so security cameras watch your every move. There is a cool pipe organ which is no longer played. They actually had a synthesizer set up instead. Horrifying!!!!!
We walked to one more church. The exterior was used for filming a dancing scene in Godfather III. There used to be large palm trees in the courtyard which apparently are seen in the movie. However, immigrants brought insects to Italy that infested and killed most of the palm trees on the island of Sicily. How sad.
Back to the vans to drive to Taormina. We passed by some old Byzantine tombs from 8 – 9 AD. Visible way up on the hillside is a Greek theater; we drove up switchback after switchback to reach it. We were dropped off for 20 minutes to wander the area, then headed back down to Taormina. The town of Taormina is partially a waterfront resort (there is a skyride to reach the beach because the town is built into a hillside), and the rest is a charming village filled with shops and restaurants. Cars are not allowed in town (although we did see a Polizia car driving down the street). We had a couple of hours to meander through the town and eat lunch. Can you guess what we had to eat! Of course! Pizza and lasagna! Clayton amused himself after lunch by photobombing groups of tourists.
Our driver picked us up at 2:30 and we headed back to the port. We had one final stop at the town square in Messina. There is a large church with a pretty cool bell tower there. We took a few pictures and then headed back to the ship. It was a wonderful day. The other people in our van were great, which makes the day that much more enjoyable.