Thursday, May 29th, 2008


A Journey to Mount Etna… for all four of us in a couple of different ways.


Jean and Kathleen decided to go on the cruise excursion to Mt. Etna. They did it the traditional way: going on a motorcoach, via the main city (Catania), up the main road, to the main welcome center, to the main viewing area, etc. jbom and I, on the other hand, did not go the traditional way.


This was jbom’s day. He had the choice of what we would do today. His father’s family is from Sicily (remember the notation about the Venetian’s in Dubrovnik), well, it was jbom’s choice of where he wanted to go for the day. He set the agenda as we had a car rented through EuropCar for the day.


But before I go any further, I have to say that I am so relieved that I have my laptop with internet service. It’s not just for the blog or for work from time to time, but for anything unusual that pops up that you need to get in contact with someone. Well, another surprise happened — the port location was changed from Messina (north of Taormina), and the location of our car rental agency, to Giardini di Naxos (south of Taormina). So I scrambled. I contacted EuropCar via email and fortunately without too much fanfare, I got the reservation cancelled in one and added to the other.


So we picked up the car and headed out on the morning – an Alfa Romeo 159 with a manual transmission.  Fortunately jbom and I can both drive manual transmissions, but he let me drive (yeah – or so I thought!).


I had read in Kathleen’s guidebook (Fodor’s) that the less hectic way of seeing Mt. Etna is to go via Linguaglossa – a small town that has spectacular scenery all the way up the mountain. Okay, so we set off. We found our way just fine and I loved driving the car. The road signs were challenging as you would come to an area and there were no less than 8 signs for different areas to go to. You first look for the color (highways in green and state roads in blue – this would come to haunt me later) and then look for the city. As we got closer, the national monuments are in brown and white (just like in the USA), so it was easy to follow the signs to: Etna Nord, or Mt. Etna North.


During the ride up we passed a number of sleepy towns that were so picturesque… places like Calatabiano, Linguaglossa, Mareneve and Fornazzo. After that, we couldn’t find ourselves on the Michelin atlas but we felt that we were headed in the right direction. We made it to the summit – ie. the end of the road, but there wasn’t much there… just a few mobile trailers selling Mt. Etna knickknacks and hiking trails. I imagine that they use mobile trailers so they can be moved as the lava flows move over the mountain. This is a big area in the winter for snowboarding and skiing.


We hiked up as far as we could go. Unfortunately not much to see, but pretty cool scenery… especially the lava flows and piles and piles of lava rocks and ash surrounding the area… a bit like walking on the moon, I would expect.


So we headed down the mountain and, well, made a wrong turn. We were headed in the right direction towards Taormina, but not on the state surface road, but on the highway. I followed the wrong color. To make matters worse, here we were, at the toll booth with no man to give us a ticket, no button to press and no ticket that had popped out of any machine, anywhere.


If you recall, I mentioned that in Italy they break for lunch in the afternoon? Well, I guess the “ticket man” was taking a break. No one in site. What do I do????? Well, drive right through the ticket booth with the alarms blazing!!! I figured that I would ask for mercy on the other side when I was to present my ticket (billet) at our exit.


Okay, I admit that during this time I was more than a little stressed out… I was hoping that the local police (“polizia”) would not show up. We quickly ducked into the rest stop a few miles up the road to regroup. Okay, I had to regoup. We grabbed a sandwich and a couple of drinks and began trying to figure out how to say “I did not have a ticket”. The best I could find was “I lost my ticket.” That would have to do.


We finished our sandwiches and set off for the Taormina exit. Only 2 miles up the road we got off and came to the man in the tollbooth. Okay, be brave I said to myself and smile and apologize A LOT. I asked him if he spoke English and he, of course, did not. I told him in broken Italian that I didn’t have a ticket and he said: “no problemo!” We paid an extra Euro or two and we were off! Phew!!!! Okay, no more following of the green highway signs, or is it blue?!!!


We drove a little ways to TAORMINA a picturesque town high on the cliff. Okay, picturesque is not the word, it doesn’t begin to describe it. It was a beautiful drive up the cliff-side passing bougainvillea trees, cactus (yes, really cactus), flowers and flowers, etc… just a beautiful place.


We had about an hour and a half before we had to be back with the car, so we tried to find a place to park and walk around, but it was packed. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon and no real spot to park. The lanes were very tight and many of them were one way. We just ended up driving around the area and then back down again to the main state road before returning the car. I was disappointed that we couldn’t park, but I was more worried about getting TOWED. Nikki, from my office, had her car towed last time in Italy and she was staying locally so she could work it out. We had a cruise ship to catch, so I didn’t want to risk it. Fortunately, on the walk back to the pier, we found a “pay and display” parking box that was in Italian and ENGLISH. We noted the directions so that we’ll be all set for our day trip in Tuscany in a couple of days.


The best part for me was the drive itself. I loved the car and loved driving in the lanes. When in England visiting family, I never really drive as I am fortunate to have everyone cart me around. I had forgotten how much fun it is!