Catania 37.31N 15.11E and Mt Etna

Thu 10 Sep 2015 10:53
We wanted to see Mt Etna, and decided to go into Catania, as it was significantly cheaper than another marina we looked at, and despite some initial reservations, we had a great time there! We entered Catania harbour, which is a working port, and made it to Diporto Nautico Etnea. It was one floating pier, next to the fishing boats, but it had unlimited water and electricity which was a bonus, and the staff were very friendly. I found a company, Aquaterra tours, and arranged for a full day trip to Mt Etna and surrounding areas including a trip to a gorge. We then went into town for the evening. Because of the ash that falls from the volcano, the city was grey and dingy looking at first glance. When we were walking around, by this time at 6 30 pm, it seemed deserted, and a bit creepy. The architecture is of a Baroque style, as the city was covered in a lava flow in 1669, and was rebuilt in the style of that day, and this is part of the creepiness. It is
very elaborate and visually overwhelming style. The streets were narrow, and there was graffiti everywhere, along with peeling paint. We eventually made it to the town square. There was a famous cathedral there and a monument of an elephant, done in a simple fashion from the roman times, with an obelisk protruding out of its back. We found a tourist pizza place, and the local wine was OK and very cheap ( 6 euros a litre). We hung out at an ice cream shop, sitting outside, people watching. It was quite interesting as there was a beauty pageant underway. Also, as it was a Saturday night, we saw several brides in white dresses and veils and their wedding parties. On looking at the townsfolk, I couldn't help thinking of the reality show Jersey Shore. That was the vibe and the style of dress. We got a taxi back to the marina and tucked in for the night.

The next day I got up early, and went to the local coffee shop, passing the fishing boats offloading their shrimp catches. It seemed that buyers had arrived, and were assessing the quality of the seafood. The coffee shop was packed with short Italian men, drinking impossibly small cups of espresso. I got a few cappuccinos to go and some filled croissants( chocolate, lemon and apricot) and got the troups fed and ready for the day. Catherine wasn't too sure about it, as she didn't want to get too near a volcano. We were picked up at 9 am at the marina entrance, and spent a wonderful day driving around Sicily and Mt Etna. We saw the small villages at the base of the northern side, and went off roading. Then to a lava tunnel. Then to an amazing coffee shop for a break with the best hot chocolates ever. Then we hiked up to the summit of hill created by an explosion which produced ashes. It started to rain! So we got soaking wet, and it was cold and we ran for
it. Then to a restaurant for a "light" lunch. It consisted of excellent bread, followed by about 10 appetizers, and a main course, with mineral water and a 1 L jug of cool local Mount Etna red wine. Desert and coffee followed. I had the fruit of the Prickly Pear cactus, which was in season and typical for the region. Our tour guide was a 35 year old Sicilian mother of two, who spoke about 5 languages. She was delightful, and we learned much about Sicily and the people. To get insight from a local made the experience unforgettable. After lunch we headed to the countryside and had hazelnuts, blackberries, grapes and figs off the trees/shrubs at the side of an old country road. We then had a drive by citrus orchards, and saw the town up on a hill where the Godfather was filmed:) Then into a deep lava gorge, and kids played, swam and had a great time. I think we were all very happy to have gone on the tour, and it totally changed our opinion of Sicily and

The next day, we were off to north Sardinia, via the Messina straights, as the weather looked promising. We were hit soon after leaving Catania with a wicked thunderstorm. There was lightening everywhere. We could see it hitting land. Loud thunder. Then Vlad felt a cold breeze, we took in the main ASAP and then we were hit by strong winds, gusting up to 50 knots! Down below, as the waves were small, it was as if nothing had changed, but up above the wind was wicked, the rain was torrential, and the sea was full of foam. It didn't last long, thankfully, and the boat got a good wash down. No problem. On we went.