Mount Etna (largest active volcano in Europe) and Catania

Mount Etna Travel Blog

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Mount Etna from the road

Wednesday’s schedule called for “individual course itineraries,” meaning we were committed to no prearranged activities.  So we all took a bus to Catania where we split off into our different departments.  My group went first to visit the largest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna.  This was another tour that I had been excited about since we first arrived in Sicily.  We could see the mountain appear in the distance and stopped to take pictures from the road for some pictures with the smoking peak in the background.

 

I had never before seen an active volcano much less ridden to the top of one.

Mount Etna from the road & School of Technology group
  Driving up the windy road from Nicolosi to the gondola terminal (about 19km) seemed to take forever.  The gondola ride itself was rather unnecessary, but the from our suspended vantage point, we were able to take in the broader features of the volcanic slope below.  It was a slow ride, but short at only a kilometer or two.  From the upper gondola station 4-wheel drive Range Rover busses transported us another 7.5km farther up.  We stopped once again along the way at a rest stop before we reached the end of the road.  Hiking on foot the last few kilometers toward and around the summit in the thin atmosphere was more challenging than I had anticipated.  The air at the top was frigid; a smattering of snow broke up the stark blackness of the lava-scape.  A low-lying haze slightly obscured our view of Sicily below, but we could see well enough to appreciate our elevation.
smoking peak of Mount Etna & School of Technology group

 

Our tour guide spoke only Italian, so we mostly wondered around by ourselves.  At one point I began my ascent toward the smoldering eruptive vent, but the guide, fumbling to find the words in English and gesturing with his hand, warned me, “No no, you go higher you get rocks in head… is forbidden.”  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to observe glowing hot magma in mouth of the volcano, but I was still happy to get as close as we did (about half a kilometer short of the crater).  Valle de Leone, an enormous basin with steep slopes, was perhaps the most impressive feature.  I took a ton of pictures and brought back several types of lava rock and clumps of ash as souvenirs.  The light rocks, I learned, were from material blasted into the air and the heavier, darker rocks oozed out in lava flows.

smoking peak of Mount Etna & School of Technology group around the warning sign

 

After surveying all of the accessible areas for a couple of hours we began our decent.  Half way down the mountain, we stopped for lunch at La Cantoniera, a restaurant, bar, and gift shop (later in the year, I would learn that Etna erupted again, and a lava flow had destroyed La Cantoniera).  As we negotiated the twists and turns of the road we passed Silvestri Crater, a former eruption site, and approached a house that was buried under ash and rock.  Our driver stopped the bus to let us take a few quick pictures, but Dr. DeLaura and Charlene, insisting that we were in a hurry and instructed the driver not to let us out to investigate the building more closely.

Sicily from Mount Etna
  The house had been engulfed in lava during a previous eruption.  Only the roof and dormer windows remain exposed.

 

Joe, the shyest student in our group, happened to have relatives living in the area, so Charlene arranged for us to meet with them and we had a very nice visit.  After spending time with Joe’s family we went to downtown Catania and toured the city starting from Catania Duomo.  The mostly subterranean Odeon ruins (a 2nd century BC Roman Amphitheatre) were not open to enter, but we had a decent view through the fence from street level.  From there Behn and I walked around the city with the two Sarahs from the History department and came upon Giardino Villa Bellini, a large, inviting park and garden.  Behn and I sat on the wall along the steps beside a group of elderly men while Sarah took a photo.

Evans by the smoking peak of Mount Etna
  A group of local youths seemed entertained by our antics.  One of them greeted us in broken English and we all had fun trying to communicate for a while.  They were very friendly and sat for pictures with us before we had to go.  When it started to get dark, we headed back to Piazza del Duomo by the Fontana dell'Elefante (a.k.a., u Liotru) and rejoined the others.

 

Following our afternoon in Catania, we were able to get some rest on the bus back Ortigia.  It was about a two-hour drive and everyone was exhausted, so the downtime was a relief.  When we arrived at the Domus Mariae, I relaxed a little bit before we gathered the troops and headed out to the bars.
Evans on the edge of Mount Etna
  Our first stop was at The Irish Pub for Salsa Night.  It seemed salsa music (or at least dancing to it) was as foreign to the Sicilians as it was to us as a very sweaty man led the throng of people from the stage.  Energetically he demonstrated the proper choreography and motivated the crowd.  And of course the local Italian men gladly volunteered to teach the American girls how to dance to the seductive music.  As had developed our nightly tradition, we concluded our evening at The Atrium.  Regulars already, Andy and I approached to order our drinks, but the bartender had our liter beer mugs filled and waiting for us before we even reached the counter.  This was a nice ending to a very long and eventful day.
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Mount Etna from the road
Mount Etna from the road
Mount Etna from the road & School …
Mount Etna from the road & School…
smoking peak of Mount Etna & Schoo…
smoking peak of Mount Etna & Scho…
smoking peak of Mount Etna & Schoo…
smoking peak of Mount Etna & Scho…
Sicily from Mount Etna
Sicily from Mount Etna
Evans by the smoking peak of Mount…
Evans by the smoking peak of Moun…
Evans on the edge of Mount Etna
Evans on the edge of Mount Etna
Evans on the edge of Valle de Leon…
Evans on the edge of Valle de Leo…
Valle de Leone Mount Etna
Valle de Leone Mount Etna
Lizard on Mount Etna
Lizard on Mount Etna
La Cantoniera Restaurant on Mount …
La Cantoniera Restaurant on Mount…
Silvestri Craters, Mount Etna, old…
Silvestri Craters, Mount Etna, ol…
Ruined house on Mt Etna (Behn shot…
Ruined house on Mt Etna (Behn sho…
Mount Etna
photo by: Vlindeke