So the next morning Saturday we set off to explore the area round Mount Etna which was now out of the cloud.
We had booked a car the previous night - the office very conveniently on the quay.
We decided to visit the north side first as had read this was quieter. We had abandoned the idea of an organised wAlk and in any case since an eruption in March you are not allowed near the top crater which is what we really wanted to see.
Driving through Sicilian villages is a challenge and many of them have one way systems which seem to take you in the opposite direction from where you want to go to. But we eventually found the Brown signs to Etna Nord snd started winding our way up through forests of Oaks Chestnuts Silver Birch and then Pine trees and came across a busy Refuge - stopped for coffee by this time temperature well down and we rather stupidly hadn't brought too many wArm clothes with us!! The noticeable thing was the number of motorcyclists enjoying the hairpin bends and we'd followed up several trucks with Quad bikes on them and It turned out that this was the thing to do up there through the forests and lava fields . After coffee and warming up in front of the log burner we carried on up and soon started to go through open lava fields past a ski lodge that had been caught up in the 2003 eruption and wAs no more up to a newly created area with ski lifts and lots little huts selling stuff to tourists and presumably skiers in winter.
We were impressed with the never ending lava fields - the one from a 2003 eruption and then older ones around with a bit more vegetation growing tbrough. A wild landscape. We found another refuge for lunch and it was full of guides who'd obviously brought people up to go wAlking but we were not sure to where. After lunch we drove down through more forest and odd cars parked in strange spots and we think they were people either collecting. Chestnuts and /or mushrooms and possibly hunting. Once down we started climbing again on hairpin bends tbrough older lava fields to the south side .
So were a lot of other people and plenty of coaches and once at the end of the road disappointingly lots of tourist shops, fast food outlets and the cable car which takes you to 2500m after which you apparently can take 4WD a little further.
We had a look to see if worth going up but by this time 3.30 and lots of cloud around ( a lot created by the volcano itself which since it has been visible is shooting out a lot of steam. ) and the web cam showed poor visibility so we decided not worth it and we were definitely underdressed!
Driving back we were also impressed with the number of Vineyards and Sicilian wine we are enjoying but even more so with the acres of nurseries with row upon row of container grown shrubs, trees and old olive trees . Never seen that extent in the UK. Where do they all go ? Certainly a lot of balconies in the various towns and villages we've visited but a lot of these too big for them.
So yesterday Sunday we set sail for Catania where we picked up a crew member who flew in that night. On Saturday when we went off to Etna it was very windy though sunny and clear - the Mistral a northerly wind so a bit chilly even at sea level so we weren't sure how the seas would be although the wind had calmed down. After filling up with fuel we set off.
Interesting notice at fuel berth
The wind forecast was easterly so we thought great a sail. No way southerly on the nose but interestingly at nearly 11000ft the smoke from Etna going out south so wind up there from the north'!!