I was not prepared for the impact that one day in Sicily would have on me. We got to climb around an active volcano (at least part of it) as well as explore on of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen.
Chuck and I hadn't signed up for a cruise excursion at Catania, but had second thoughts when we docked, looked off our balcony and saw Mount Etna dominating the skyline.
I showered, changed and braved the excursion desk line at 7 AM. I was told there were no tickets left, but as I was leaving, the lady behind me turned in 2 tickets, so we were all set!
Our particular excursion included a trip to the town of Taormina and a close look at Mt. Etna. Our bus ride to Taormina involved switchback roads, but we were promised a wonderful view so I took a deep breath and tried not to get car sick. The bus parked at a garage below the town, but still high up in the mountains. We had to take an elevator to reach the level of the city. The ancient gates to Taormina don't allow buses or large cars in,
How many ships have a real grass putting green?
so pedestrian walkways are the norm, with autos parked outside the walls.
Taormina was already old when the Greeks arrived about 800 B.C. The town has become a popular tourist destination containing shops, restaurants, cafes, churches as well as one of the best preserved ancient Greek Theaters in the world. I wish we could have stayed that night. The theater had a large screen ready for the film festival that week. Later in the month, operas, orchestra concerts, and a variety of entertainment was on the docket. I would find it difficult to watch the stage as the view beyond was breathtaking.
After exploring and stopping at one of the wonderful Gelato shops for Pistachio and Nutella cones, we were headed back down the elevator, onto the buses and 6000 feet up Mount Etna.
Evidence of the most recent eruptions were obvious as our bus ascended the mountain. We could see lava flows covering houses, roads and ruins of a monastery as we climbed. We couldn't go to the top of the volcano, but at the 6000 foot level we were treated to canneloni and lemonade before being let loose to explore a couple of extinct cones
of Mt. Etna. The restaurant we entered had been completely demolished a few years ago and rebuilt on the lava that destroyed it.
Other tourists were stacking large pumice rocks as well as spelling out their names with them in the 5 volcanic cones around our stop. The summit of Mt. Etna was still 5000 feet above us, but we weren't allowed up that far. There were some lifts there used to take people farther up the mountain for winter sports when the weather was more conducive to skis.
Our trip through Catania was brief, and as my friend John Howser says, it was like an appetizer. I definitely want to visit Sicily again and stay a lot longer!