Sicily's Active Volcano

Trip Start Nov 14, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mary's Impressions:
Sundays in the South of Europe are days meant for taking some time to slow down and relax. The majority of businesses are closed for the day as it's a day where people spend it with their families or friends.  You won’t find much activity in the streets.  The towns and villages look deserted as the only people wandering around are the tourists looking for something to do.  I have grown to love and hate Sundays while being in Europe as I’m constantly fighting my North American attitude to be on the go and do something!  My need to always have to do something does exert a price as I have had some close incidences where my body has provided clear reminders that I cannot keep maintaining this regime of constantly being on the go.  Sundays are therefore a reminder for me that things can always wait.  The body needs some time to relax and do nothing!
While we were in Catania (the capital of the province of Catania), anywhere we went, the volcano – Mount Etna can be seen in the distance.  As the mountain was not too far away from Catania, Jeff and I decided to go and see it up close.  Mount Etna is the most active volcano in the world and it is in a constant state of activity (It’s most recent eruption was on January 5th, 2012 when huge blasts were released in the night).  The volcano is the tallest active volcano in Europe (about 10, 900 ft. or 3,300 m).  The area around Mount Etna is densely populated with towns and villages.  Its foothills are covered with shady wooded areas as well as plantations of olive and fruit trees as well as vineyards.

On our drive to Mount Etna, we stopped in the town of Zafferana (a town that had to be rebuilt numerous times due to the fallout from Mount Etna.  As recent as 1992 the town was once again threatened to be destroyed if not for the diversion techniques employed to redirect the path of the flowing volcanic ash) to take in the views while having a gelato (always a must in Italy!!).  We continued on our way to go up to the top of the volcano.  The drive up the mountain was windy with roads that constantly switched back and forth.  The landscape although populated at the bottom of the mountain, the higher we climbed, the only homes we saw were burnt out shells of former homes where people once lived before the lava and ash extinguished any thoughts of possibly living in this area.  The countryside was active with life – we saw some foxes and the land was lush with greenery of all types.  As we approached closer to the top, we started noticing large, wide patches of burnt ground framed by the forest.  This is the area no doubt where the last eruption flowed burning everything in its path.  However Mother Nature is a forgiving soul and what was once lost and dead is now slowly being reborn.  Within the patches of burnt ground, I saw new vegetation taking root.  At the top of Mount Etna there was an eerie sense of tranquility despite the number of tourists who were climbing on top of the piles of burnt ash and rocks.  I enjoyed looking out at the countryside that has been defined by the eruptions of Mount Etna – its hills and turned up rocks that are constant reminders that this volcano is never sleeping.  The weather at the top of Mount Etna was cooler than what we have been use to – we really needed our fleeces and warm pants to enjoy a longer stay not the shorts and light shirts we were wearing.  With the cooler weather, I noticed that some Sicilians chose to come to Mount Etna to picnic and spend the day – probably a reprieve from the heat where either they have no air conditioning or it’s too expensive to run (something that as North Americans we take for granted).  We headed back to Catania to relax at our hotel before we went out for dinner.

Jeff and I picked Catania as our home base as it’s a central location for some of the visits we wanted to do in the area.  The city of Catania (on the east coast of Sicily) has a population of over 300,000.  The city was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and suffered from the effects of Mount Etna is 1669.  Therefore the town was completely rebuilt and today, you’ll find a mix of Baroque, Renaissance and Modern styles of architecture.  Catania also has its share of Greek and Roman ruins and buildings scattered throughout the city.  Driving and walking around the city, you can see the beauty and wealth that this area once had but now it feels like the city is a bit poorer and neglected with rundown buildings and graffiti defacing these once grand homes and monuments.  Looking past these things, there is still a lot to see and do in Catania.  On one of our walks through the city, we noted that the Piazza Duomo was the central meeting point for families and friends to do their walks and catch up with a coffee or a glass of wine.  It’s also a favourite spot for the wedding photo shots as we counted 4 couples with photographers in tow walking through the Piazza taking their photos.  One wedding couple took advantage of some local musicians who were playing Spanish music to the restaurant goers to incorporate them into their wedding photos as they danced to the tunes of Salsa music (they were quite entertaining for all the onlookers who stopped to take their photo – including myself!).

Our dinner that evening was a restaurant that served all types of large size meatballs called polpette (meatballs made with chicken, beef and seafood).  Jeff and I both had chicken polpette, I picked the polpette in an orange sauce and pistachio nut, Jeff chose the polpette with spinach – they were so favourable!  We headed back to our hotel after dinner as we had a big day planned for tomorrow – visiting the town of Taormina.
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