Day Two – Mount Etna
List Item: Visit an active volcano
A Sunday in Italy, seeing how we did not expect much to be open we decided it would be the most opportune time to take a trip up Mount Etna. During my researching of Catania I saw that there were numerous excursions up the mountain with experts and the like but, to be honest, I am not overly fond of trips that are too structured. So we ended up going on one of the tourist buses up there where we could just be dropped off, picked up and (most importantly) allowed to do our own thing.
I have to say that the trips to and from the volcano were beautiful… once we got out of the city that is. Although, the city part of trip was fun because of the slight confusion between left and right when the recorded commentary pointed out the local sights. It also mentioned how there is a crossroads nicknamed “Four Corners” because none of the surrounding buildings had a corner on it… who knew the locals had an acute sense of irony.
The bus ride to Etna and back really helped to demonstrate the sheer size of Etna. I had previously been up Vesuvius and thought it to be massive… and Etna is some two and a half times the height of that. Not only that but it is surrounded by a number of craters and mounts that were barren, heavily forested or somewhere in between.
On the way up we also saw a number of buildings that had been damaged by previous eruptions. Some were burnt out skeletons and one was even nearly completely submerged by lava. In any case the journey took about an hour and a half either way which gave a lot of time to take in the scenery.
The bus dropped us off at around 2km high at a rather touristy spot with a hotel, a few restaurants and a number of shops. We then took the cable car up to 2.5km (a 15 minute trip where we able to observe a previous cable car station damaged by a previous lava flow) and walked around the surface of volcano. Mum had ‘Mars’ by Gustav Holst playing on her iPod as we wandered and climbed around.
I have to say that walking around on the surface of an active volcano (which is going through a minor flank eruption at the moment) was absolutely mind-blowing. This was especially so when we came across a very small vent where it was releasing some gas. Or course I had to get a photo near it… at which time three more small streams of smoke appeared in the direction we came from (which explains my face… I hope). So frickin’ cool!
Speaking of cool, the temperature up there was a nice relief from the heat down in Catania, down there it was 29°C but up on the volcano it was clearly about 6-7 degrees cooler. Talk about perfect weather.
I wish I could have had more time there, when we were told we had three and a half hours it sounded like a long time but I could have been up there for hours. If I ever find myself back in Sicily I will definitely be up there again.