11 May - Last day in Sicily. today we went to Linguaglossa, a quaint alpine town situated on the northern slope of Mt Etna. The top of Mt Etna was pretty hazy today, so no one got a clear picture as we got closer. Yesterday when we went to Taormina we could see some venting going on, but today we could see nothing. Glad I bought a postcard yesterday. Mt Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Last time it erupted was in 2002 and lava flowed for 20 days and only went 13 kilometers. The flow wiped out 2 ski runs, 3 restaurants and 3 cafe bars. Not a single person was killed. Salvatore, our guide, told us a man could out walk the flow. Because of Mt Etna's rich volcanic soil abundant orchards and vineyards cling to its slopes. Before we went up the mountain for the hike and donkey ride, Salvatore took us to a pastry shop in town where we were invited into the kitchen to watch them make almond cookies. Fresh almonds were boiled to soften the skins and then then are put into a machine that peels them. Those skins left behind are removed by hand. The almonds are ground several times to make a coarse almond meal. Sugar and egg whites are added, then the dough is hand-mixed on a metal table, sort of like kneading, until all the sugar is incorporated and the dough is smooth. Powered sugar is sifted and a bunch spread on the table. A large ball of dough is rolled into a log shape, cut into rounds and then rolled into logs about 3 in long. Some are then placed on the parchment covered baking pans as logs, others are twisted into knots. When baked they are slightly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
On the way up the mountain Salvatore was telling us how the grapes that grow on the slopes there were the same type as in Greece and were very small but made a good wine. The French came along and discovered if they mixed Sicilian wine with some of their own, a world class wine was formed. But when the actual competition was announced and the rules required the origin of the grapes to be included. France did not want to tell anybody about Sicily, so they pulled that wine from the competition. Then the Sicilian wine on its own took the prize. Salvatore said they gave the French the raspberries. When we reached the 6,000 feet level we were met by Salvatore's son and daughter-in-law and 5 saddled donkeys. There were also two - month old foals with them. Some of us rode while others walked the trail. About a third of the way in we switched. I was on the second set, and by the time it was my turn I was grateful. Seems one of the foals took a liking to me and kept goosing me with his nose, then he would prance around and run ahead only to come back again and bug all of us. Only three year and older donkeys can be ridden. So along the path we ran into a couple of 2 year olds. Just like the foals they followed along behind us. When we asked about them, the owner said until it is their time they are encouraged to walk the same paths, but they get a lot more time to graze. I was so proud of myself for riding the donkey, because I have this fear of heights and being on a horse makes me light-headed, but these guys were a lot closer to the ground. We went very slowly so the father and son could point things out and Luca or the son would interpret. When we got about half-way through our part, Salvatore's son handed me the reins and told me to make Sophia go. Kind of scared me, but I did alright.
After the ride, we went to Salvatore's house for lunch. Had chick pea soup as a starter, would never have thought it would be something I would like, but it was yummy. Following this was a perfectly dressed lettuce salad and pork and chicken meatballs and sausage. We ended with fruit and coffee. As in any Sicilian household or restaurant, there was a lot of the obligatory red wine on the table.
Headed back to the hotel to pack and rest up for dinner. We had to have our suitcases out by 10 pm. Found out then that my camera was missing. Luca had warned us to keep things close on our way through town, and I had my backpack secure, but I guess I must have had my camera strap hanging out of a pocket, because it was gone. At least a lot of people took pictures so I should be able to get some of the trip. Nobody's fault but my own, knew I should have put it in a zippered pocket. Did ask Luca if anything was found on our bus, but he said they checked it out and found nothing. So there I was in the room tearing everything apart and suddenly decided "so what?" It wasn't a life and death situation, maybe someone needed it more than me. Good luck to them, it kept using batteries up. So back in my room, I took a nice shower and finished my crossword puzzle book, because I figured one less thing and 4 less ounces to carry. I had my patio door open and someone was playing 40's music. Don't know where it came from but they played Chattanooga Choo Choo, Sentimental Journey, Pennsylvania Six Five Hundred, Hello Dolly and a whole lot more. Made me think of my dad and the old record player we used to have.
Farewell drink tonight in large room. Luca told everyone something he had learned about us. Told Mary Ann he enjoyed hearing about her family. Said he honored my strength and leadership and hugs (guess I am the motherly type too, when he looked worried most of us women would give him hugs and tell him to go with the flow). Some of us read poems we had written about him. I wrote a limerick. "There was a young man from Palermo, Decided that he would go roam-o. Took old folks for a drive, Made them feel more alive, and then he went home nevermore-o." Back at room by 9:30, suitcase out, saxophone playing somewhere in street. Time to sleep, 4:30 wake-up comes early.
Thunderstorm overnight in Catania. It was as if the city was crying because we were leaving. Ciao, Sicily! Now begins our long journey home.
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