Train to Cefalù; Visiting Cefalù

Today I spent a little more than three and a half hours traveling by train to Cefalù from Taormina. The trip started in Taormina a little after 11:00 in the morning and involved two trains, with a transfer in Messina.

Train to Cefalù

A view from the train to Cefalù

When it’s not barreling along a track through tunnels, the train between Messina and Cefalù spends much of its time traveling on a track close to the sea. Barrelling and/or traveling on tracks is the very best thing for trains to do. Trains that travel off tracks tend to meet disagreeable ends. But you probably knew that.

The point is, for much of the time that the train is out of tunnels, the view is fantastic. I highly recommend the trip. By the way, if you take the trip going in the direction I traveled today, rather than in reverse from Cefalù to Messina, when facing the direction of travel, sit on the right side of the train.

(Cefalù is an intermediate stop. The train goes on to Palermo from there. So, if you don’t visit Cefalù you get the same views on a trip Messina<->Palermo.)

I posted a picture here of one nice view from along the way. Unfortunately, it suffers from being taken through a train window. Use your imagination.

Setting Expectations

After taking the train to Cefalù, I didn’t get to my hotel and settle in until mid-afternoon. Consequently, I feel the need to set expectations before I go on. Because I didn’t have as much time to wander around and visit sights as I do on most days while traveling, this journal entry will probably be short.

The only way it could possibly turn out long is if I put in a lot of filler drivel that will bore the heck out of everybody. So, based on my history, there’s a good chance it will indeed turn out to be lengthy. We’ll see what happens.

You’ve been warned. Just not warned of what, exactly

Visiting Cefalù

Just one part of the Cefalù beach, with the old town in the background
Just one part of the Cefalù beach, with the old town in the background

Although I didn’t have a lot of time to explore Cefalù today, I did have a little. I used it to wander around and visit a sight.

The tour book I use on this trip calls Cefalù a “salty fishing village.” Um, I question that label. It looks considerably bigger than what one would usually call a village. I’d say town, and not an overly small one at that.

Although, according to wherever Google gets its information from when it doesn’t send you to another web page, in 2017 Cefalù had a population of only 14,310. That doesn’t seem like a particularly big town.

However, if that is indeed the population, I think I saw every resident of Cefalù while wandering around today. Either that, or there are a lot of tourists in town. Considering how much English and other non-Italian languages I heard in the streets, it’s probably the latter. What’s more, I think a lot of Italians vacation and do day trips here. Some of the Italian I heard was likely spoken by Italians from out of town. So, it almost certainly is that tourist thing.

And, fishing village? Nope. I saw one guy fishing off a rock. But I didn’t see any fishing boats, or boats of any kind for that matter, or any place they’d likely dock for the night.

To be fair, the tour book went on to say that fishing is not the main industry here anymore.

Cefalù, Beach Town

One end of the Cefalù beach, at the old town
One end of the Cefalù beach, at the old town

Rather than a fishing village, Cefalù is a beach town and tourist destination. And what a beach. It stretches along most of Cefalù’s seafront. And it was heavily used today.

I like beaches like a cow likes a steakhouse. I exaggerate. In truth, I love long walks along beautiful beaches. (I know, I know. It’s amazing no woman has snapped me up yet. It might have something to do with my neuroses, pathological shyness, fear of rejection, and extreme lack of self-esteem. Those aren’t unrelated. But I digress.)

Wait. Let me amend that statement about loving long walks along beautiful beaches. I don’t like sand in my shoes or between my toes. So a seawall, boardwalk, or some other hard-surface walkway just behind the beach suits me better. Cefalù has that. A long promenade stretches pretty much the entire length of the beach.

Having said that about beaches, to be honest, if the shore is stingingly rocky and I can gaze at how the land dramatically meets the sea, that’s even better as far as I’m concerned. On my walk this afternoon I saw one small section of the seafront that could sort of fit this description, but the vast majority is beach. Then again, I didn’t have time to walk around the whole town. I have another day here tomorrow. Maybe there’s more.

Old Town Cefalù

An old town Cefalù street
An old town Cefalù street

In addition to walking along the seafront, I also spent some time wandering around Cefalù’s old town. It is a warren of very welcoming streets. Little shops, restaurants and bars line them, with a couple of levels of residential above the street-level retail.

As far as I could tell, there are two widths to the streets there. One is large enough for a car to drive along with pedestrians having a little room to just barely walk in single file on either side of the car. The other size was wide enough for a car to drive along if the pedestrians ducked into doorways.

(There are also some lanes that I think are exclusively for pedestrians. But considering how little width people here need before they’ll drive through a space, I’m not sure.)

Fortunately, traffic in the old town was light to non-existent.

There’s a reason the traffic is light. Although it will take a bit of build-up to get to that. Bear with me.

I stopped to take a picture on one of the streets that heads out toward the sea. But I couldn’t take the shot because the sun bore down along the street and caused too much glare in my iPhone camera to get a good picture.

I moved on.

Another old town Cefalù street

A minute later I thought, “Wait! It’s late afternoon and the sun god is heading out toward the sea. There might be a great sunset here.”

I stopped in my tracks and looked at a map. I thought Cefalù was on the north coast of Sicily. And I was right. But it sits on a short, stubby peninsula and the town faces kind of northwest.

Then I pulled out my iPhone and looked up when sunset would be here today. 19:57, i.e., 7:57 pm. I had already made a dinner reservation on a reservations app for 8:00. The app allowed me to change it to 8:30.

I stopped in my tracks while I did this because I’m not very good at walking and doing stuff on my iPhone. If I’d tried walking, accessing information, and chewing gum simultaneously I would undoubtedly have injured myself and ended up in the hospital. This is one of the reasons I never chew gum.

Where the hell was I going with this? I lead myself astray sometimes and get lost in the weeds.

Oh, yeah. I asked you to bear with me in the lead-up to me saying why traffic is light in Cefalù’s old town. While I paused, three tourists and a hotel clerk happen to step out of a small hotel near where I stood.

Old Town Non-Traffic

The conversation among them was in English and went something like this:

Tourist #1: “Can we park here?” (Pointing to approximately where I was standing.)

Hotel Clerk: “No. There is no parking here.”

T #1: “What about somewhere else on this street?”

HC: “No, sorry.”

T #1: “So, where can we park?”

HC: (He named a parking lot and described where it was, just outside of the old town, but I didn’t here it all.)

T #1: “But can we park here if we have a handicap parking tag?”

HC: “Oh, you have a handicap parking tag! Well then, no. You still can’t.”

T #2: “But I do have a handicap tag.”

HC: “It doesn’t matter. The town only allows residents to drive and park in the old town, even if you have a handicap tag.”

So, dear reader, that’s the boring story of why traffic is very light in Cefalù’s old town. Only residents of the old town are allowed to drive there. Aren’t you glad you stuck around for that explanation?

What? You’re not glad? Oh, well. You can’t get that reading time back no matter how dissatisfied you are. Sorry about that.

And, yes, before you ask, I do often eavesdrop when strangers talk almost into my ear. Literally, how can you not?

Cefalù Cathedral

The exterior of the Cefalù Cathedral
The exterior of the Cefalù Cathedral

Cefalù has an old cathedral. It’s an Italian town. Of course it has an old cathedral. I visited it today.

The cathedral is a big stone cathedral built in the 12th and 13th centuries. It doesn’t have many adornments of note except…

Apparently, above and behind the altar, the cathedral normally has a big, dazzling mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. The tour book I’m using said it’s considered the most elegant in Sicily.

Yeah, well, I’ll have to take the author’s word for it.

The interior of the Cefalù Cathedral
The interior of the Cefalù Cathedral

When I visited the cathedral, scaffolding sat in front of the mosaic. Draped on the front of the scaffolding was a large reproduction of the mosaic printed on plastic or cloth, I’m not sure which.

I thought of trying to get up close to see if the mosaic was still there behind the scaffolding. But I figured it would be rude if I ducked under the rope and asked the bride, groom, priest and wedding guests, who were in the middle of a wedding ceremony at the time, to not mind me while I did so. So I didn’t.

Cathedral Sundries

The Cathedral also has sundry items one can see for a fee. I paid the fee. I saw.

A view from the roof of the cathedral
A view from the roof of the cathedral

I got to climb a cathedral tower and walk a piece on the roof. The views from there are absolutely mundane.

The openings at as high up the tower they let me go had three thin horizontal bars protecting visitors from falling. The bars didn’t impede the view at all. The string mesh that covered the entire opening did. The mesh was sparse enough that I could point my iPhone camera through the holes. But the holes were small enough that I couldn’t snap my choice of a view without string getting in the way.

The roof of the cathedral offered a clearer view over its low wall. But the roof is not all that higher than the surrounding buildings. So I got a good view of some unexciting roofs. However, I did get a view of the really big, dominating rock behind the roofs. (I’ll talk about the really big rock a little more below.)

The Cefalù Cathedral cloisters
The Cefalù Cathedral cloisters

The other fee-based parts of the included a sacristy that displayed fancy, old vestments in cases, a treasury with a lot of silver and some gold religious items, and a fancy schmancy bishop’s chapel, including a bishop’s throne in one of its two rooms. Bishops need thrones?

In the paid portion of the cathedral I also got to visit some peaceful cloisters around a garden of trees and grass.

Sunset in Cefalù

I was right. In Cefalù the sun sets behind the sea. It’s not centred on the horizon. Rather, it sets a little to the right of a set of distant hills that jut into the sea on the left side of the horizon.

The sunset, unfortunately, was lacklustre today. I can’t blame the sun god for that. He, She or It gave it His, Her or Its all. And BSG (blue sky god) dominated the day, so that was good.

The sun god heads to his bedroom behind the sea
The sun god heads to his bedroom behind the sea

I blame the cloud god. I know I criticized the cloud god a lot in my journal entries Mount Etna, on my first day in Taormina and a little bit even yesterday in Taormina for doing too much. But to create a perfect sunset, the cloud god has to be part of the performance.

A perfect sunset needs a few clumps or wisps of clouds to pick up the colour that the sun god displays as He, She or It heads off to sleep.

Tonight, there were too few clouds and they were in the wrong position to pick up that colour. I waited until the sun god was all the way into His, Her or Its bedroom behind the sea, and He, She or It shut the door on the light, but the clouds never did pick up any colour. The sun god, however, was His, Her or Its usual bright orange disk on his way off to bed.

The sun god almost all the way into his bedroom behind the sea
The sun god almost all the way into his bedroom behind the sea

I viewed the sunset from a small, simple piazza immediately behind and a little above the beach. The piazza is a fair walk away from the old town of Cefalù along the seaside promenade.

In addition to the sunset, I took a picture of the town at sunset from that position.

I also took a picture giant rock behind the old town. The giant rock has nearly vertical cliffs on its lower two thirds or so. It’s called La Rocca.

Cefalù at sunset
Cefalù at sunset

I assumed la rocca was Italian for “the rock.” I was wrong. Google Translate tells me it means the fortress.

The tour book I’m using tells me there are stairs up it. It says that a round trip climb up and back down should take a fit adventurer about two hours.

I think I’m reasonably fit for a man my age. But “for a man my age” is doing an extraordinary amount of work in that sentence. I don’t think I’m up to it.

La Rocca at sunset
La Rocca at sunset

The book says that, about halfway up, there is a Temple of Diana from the fourth century BCE, pre-dating the arrival of the Greeks. The book says that makes a good point to take in the views for people who can’t or won’t tackle the full height of La Rocca. It says that should take a fit hiker about an hour to do the round trip. We’ll see whether I can talk myself into doing that tomorrow.

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