Mount Etna and Taormina

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September 7th 2018
Published: September 9th 2018
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This morning we met our local guide, Salvatore and he is quite the character! He is just over 80 years of age and as fit as a fiddle - very knowledgeable about the area and Sicily as a whole and quite the comedian. He has also written a book and produced a CD! Salvatore joined us in Catania and would be our guide for the entire day.

Our first destination this morning would be Mt Etna, which I was pretty excited about. To give you an idea of what our day with Salvatore was like, as we were driving on the main highway out of Catania he told us that he needed us to wave to his sister, and he would tell us when we needed to do it. So we are driving along and he is telling us some story and then he told the driver (who is also called Salvatore) that he needs to start beeping the horn. So driver Salvatore starts beeping and guide Salvatore tells us to wave out the left hand side window. We were a little hesitant at first but waved half heartedly until I noticed a lady and a man on a balcony standing there waving back at us! We all starting laughing and waving madly to Salvatore's sister! Hilarious.

Maybe I should have known this but I actually thought that Mt Etna was one volcano whereas it turns out there is so much more to it. There are actually around 200 craters and there are five main/big ones. Right on top there is white smoke coming out of the top and Salvatore explained that as long as its white, that is a good thing. It means it is being "filtered" which I think means it is seeping up through the ground whereas when it is grey or darker, that is not good as it means that the activity is closer to the surface. As a matter of a fact, Salvatore once observed this change happening so he contacted the people who were up in the control area. Turns out he was right and if he hadn't alerted them, the 5 people that were there would have perished. The drive to the top of Mt Etna was very scenic especially as we were driving over rivers of lava. Salvatore knew exactly what year every river of lava was from and explained how the darker lava is more recent whereas the lava that is lighter in colour is much, much older.

After a few hairy moments as we drove up the mountainside we eventually came to the section where we could get out, have a coffee and explore. Salvatore pointed out one cafe where he said the window was closed by the lava, which we didn't quite understand at the time. When we walked around the cafe we could see what he meant! The whole side of the building was covered in solid lava, right up to the eaves of the roof. We then went inside the shop and could see the window that has been closed by the lava. They call this place the one that was kissed by the lava. There is also a video showing how they worked on trying to stop the lava from completely devouring the building by standing on the roof with hoses, spraying water on it as it slowly approached. Madness!

It was very windy where we were. So much so that the tables and chairs outside the cafe would sometimes move towards the road and the owner would have to run out and bring them back. Paul, Sue, Jackie and I decided to walk up one of the craters to get a closer look. We did not realise just how strong the wind was but as we got closer to the top, an extremely strong gust of wind hit us and we were all very afraid that we were going to get blown in. I have never felt something so strong before, something I didn't think I could control. We all sort of spread our legs and squatted down and bent into the wind - just as I was trying to get a grip, my sunglasses blew off my face and flew over the edge, never to be seen again. I did not care at this point as I was only concerned about not following them in there. I was slightly higher up than the others so Paul came up to help me, which I was very thankful for. He helped me to get down to the others and then we all slowly made our way down to safety. It was unbelievable and quite scary. We all felt the same way and this quickly put an end to any of us wanting to venture too far. We did start to go for a walk up the other side, past the cafe and heading up a hill but even there the wind was whipping up and stinging us with the volcanic sand so we all decided to give up. We made ourselves useful by sitting on the chairs outside the cafe, to stop them blowing away haha. We found out later that they even had to shut the cable car to the top section, due to the high winds.

We then all hopped on the bus and everyone was discussing just how scary it had been - and of course everyone was concerned about my sunglasses although I was not at all worried as they were a cheap pair I had bought in Stockholm when I had first arrived. The drive down the mountain was just as spectacular as the drive up. Salvatore pointed out different plants along the way - he seems to know everything about everything! He also played some tracks off his CD and he explained the meaning of each song. Our next destination was the beautiful town to Taormina but before we went there, we stopped off at a seaside village for lunch. Most people went to one restaurant near where the bus stopped but the four of us decided to walk along the coast a little until we found one we liked. I has spaghetti pomodore with basil and we shared a litre of the house white wine. After lunch we wandered back, enjoying the sunshine and met the others for a drive to Taormina.

Taormina is another one of those picturesque towns that are perched right up on top of our mountain. This one has spectacular views all along the coastline and in true Italian road style, the drive up with another nail biter in parts! On one had you are "oohing" the view and next minute you are "ahhing " the steep cliff you're staring down a long way to the bottom! Once we arrived, we walked with Salvatore through the ancient gate and onto the cobbled streets of the town. Taormina is another town designed in the Barogue style and the First place we visited was the Opera House. From here we walked to the church of the town, which was being decorated for a wedding so we were lucky to get in. We then wandered through the streets of the town following Salvatore, who everyone seemed to know! He was like the king of the place haha. At the end, very high up, was the ancient ruins of. After Salvatore walked us through and explained all about this place, we were free to wander around and explore further. It was very hot today and the sun reflecting on my face from all the marble actually makes it feel even hotter. Luckily there are delicious granita's on hand and I bought an orange and lemon one. It was lovely to wander around the town and a few of us had some fun checking out the outfits of the guests who were attending the wedding. We were all pretty tired as it was a big day so for once everyone was at the bus meeting spot before the bus arrived! Six of our group were leaving us here, as they were all staying in Taormina for a few days. We said farewell and then the twelve of us settled in to relax on our journey back to Catania - of course being entertained by Salvatore at some points along the way.

It was also time to say farewell to Michele who has been one of the best tour managers I have ever had. The good news though for me (and five others), Michele is our tour leader for the next tour I am doing with Back Roads - Enchanting Southern Italy. I then spent about an hour writing my blog (I am so far behind waaahhhh) and then I needed to have a shower and wash all the black volcanic sand out of my everywhere! I met all the others at our bar at 7:30 and we were going to work out where we might go for dinner. In the end we all agreed to have dinner in our hotel but the funny thing was it didn't open until 8pm haha. We were the first people in there and had two tables of six. We enjoyed a nice meal although Jackie and I were not happy with how our steak had been cooked (mine was as well done as you can cook a steak without burning it). Too hard to sort it out as our waiter didn't really speak much English so we just ate it as it was. The rest of the meal was lovely though and they did spoil us with an entree and then cannoli for desert, all included. We also enjoyed a nice bottle of Etna Rosso (red wine from the Etna area) which was very nice. Sue, Paul, Jackie and I decided to have a nightcap in the bar and it was a lovely way to end the evening and our tour.


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