I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Volcanic

Alone! - / On this charr'd, blacken'd melancholy waste, / Crown'd by the awful peak, Etna's great mouth ... MATTHEW ARNOLD


From Taormina we took a train to Catania, Sicily's second city, which lay further along the island's east coast. We squashed onto our hotel room's tiny balcony for an impromptu picnic of bread and cheese, ham and tomatoes, olives and wine. We squatted and munched high in the air overlooking Via Etnea, up among the flags and flowers, the telephone cables and air conditioning units ...

Peering northwards, through the balcony's ironwork, we suddenly saw the great mountain herself, Mount Etna (3329 metres), looming protectively over the city. Foreshortened by the perspective, she seemed only a short walk away, almost as if she were anchored down right at the end of the street ...

Whereas, in fact, she was a two hour bus journey's distance, as we discovered the next morning. After an hour or so en route to the volcano, the bus driver stopped for a cigarette break in the small town of Nicolosi, the half-way point. We got out to stretch our legs. The air was already noticeably chillier. Then the bus climbed and zigzagged round endless hairpin bends. Lemon tree orchards and green volcanic foothills with little conical peaks gradually gave way to sparsely wooded slopes and solid ash-grey lava flows. The vegetation became thinner and thinner until only a few scattered hardy plants remained.

We reached the bus terminus at the Rifugio Sapienza (which had nearly been engulfed by the eruptions of 2001 and 2002), and carried on up the mountain by cable car and 4WD minibus. (I would have walked this last stage, but you have to let women have their way sometimes, don't you?) The minibus steered a course between ten foot high walls of snow, and across a lunar landscape of black, red and grey lava, patched with snowfields ...

Once out of the bus we circled one of the craters on foot, clouds blanketing the peaks from time to time, sulphurous smoke billowing from the fissures and vents. The ground was hot under our feet ...

Mount Etna is the largest of three active volcanoes in Italy. The other two are Stromboli, on the Aeolian Islands, and Mount Vesuvius, near Naples. Etna is known as 'Muncibeddu' in Sicilian and 'Mongibello' in Italian. Both names mean 'beautiful mountain' ...

Later, back in Catania, we saw this elephant fountain in the middle of the cathedral square. The elephant is the symbol of the city, and it's made of black, volcanic lava stone ...

4 comments:

Bonnie said...

Pics that continue to amaze! It really does look like a lunar landscape.

The word verification for me is 'blesse' - how fitting for I do feel blessed to be able to enjoy these photographs of your trip.

George said...

Thanks for the additional photos and descriptions of Sicily. Unless I am mistaken, I see people in one of the photos hiking around Mt. Etna. Amazing!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comments! Yes, you can hike much of Etna. Though most of the people in the pic came up the easy way - cable car and 4WD minibus - as we did on this occasion.

Tramp said...

Lovely pictures. I'm following your trip with interest...Tramp