Wednesday 22nd June, 2011.
We hired two cars so Frank, Sue, Clive, Trisha, Jim and I could visit Mount Etna together. We had hoped to get a people carrier but he did us a special deal for two cars as the first people carrier available was the 9th July. We took the dinghies ashore and left them opposite the boats and walked along the stony beach to meet Frank and Clive who had been up early to get the bus up to town to collect the Fiat Panda’s.
We arrived at Etna after successfully navigating the mountain roads to the top car park where we stopped for our picnic before taking the cable car up to the next level and then we were taken by big Mercedes jeep carriers up to the highest craters. Our guide gave us the details of the 1983, 1985, 2001 and 2002 eruptions and how it had changed the landscape each time.
Mount Etna is the highest volcano in Europe at 3,350 metres high. As it has repeatedly erupted over the last few years it is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world. On the 9th May this year the lava covered the winter snow and it was snow we could see crossing from Lipari. Although it was so warm in the town up at the volcano crater it was very pleasant but amazing to see all the snow buried under lava. The amount of lava cannot be visualised until you see it. We were so lucky to have such a clear warm day to go up to the top. We could see for miles around the coast and even pinpointed the airport at Catania and thanks to a cruise liner which arrived in our bay that morning we knew exactly where Ariel was anchored.
During the 2001 eruption the cable car and skiing facilities were lost. The flow was mined by dynamic to change the direction of the flow to save the village below. Etna is puffing all the time and from several sites. Sometimes it is dark brown and other times white smoke. The guide picked up some lava from the crater we walked around and you could feel the heat without touching it. It was a very exciting experience and when we were down at the restaurant level we had drinks to celebrate our time on Etna before we took the cable car down to the car park.
The Romans believed Mount Etna to have been the forge of Vulcan who was the God of fire. From Ariel we have witnessed the sunset with Etna puffing out her smoke. There is the Circumetnea railway which runs around the base offering good views.
On the way back to Taormina we went to the gorge where you can walk for two hours in chest high waders along the gorge in the Alcantara valley which consists of lava rock formations. You can also canoe here when the water is high enough. We were too late to enjoy the gorge but on the way we had passed several villages high on the hill above the valley well away from the river which must run all winter with water off the mountains.
We ended the day having dinner together overlooking the sea. Later we all marched down the stony beach back to the dinghies in the dark carrying extra shopping we had managed to buy during the day like large bottles of water. It seemed a good idea at the time!!!!
We had had the most marvellous day and one which we can recommend to anyone visiting Sicily.