Mount Etna reveals herself

We have not had the best of luck with famous summits. So far, Pike’s Peak, Mount Ranier and Victoria Peak have chosen to conceal themselves when we have arrived in their neighborhood.

We were therefore surprised and delighted to find that Mount Etna – so invisible just yesterday – was available in her full glory today. We took a tour from Taormina, which left all too early at 7AM. But we could see Etna early on, which even amazed our guide, Alfredo.

Our first stop was at a unique gorge formed by hot lava meeting a cold stream of water. It seems there are only three such geological sites in the entire world.

We next went to the town of Randazzo, after narrowly escaping a herd of sheep out for their morning stroll. We were treated to a wine/cheese/salami/olive and pistachio pesto tasting. Great way to start the morning.

We had a few minutes to walk around this lucky town and see things like a lady butcher. Randazzo was spared the volcano eruption of 1981, when the lava flow took a sharp right before burying it. Our group then marched to a small train station, where we boarded a tiny vintage train, the Circumetnea, which took us much closer to the volcano, all the while with Etna outside our window. (Does it seem like we travel around volcanoes a lot?) We were traveling through its rich plains, on which farmers plant fava beans, oranges, lemons, vineyards, and pistachio trees. The bare branched trees are the pistachios trees, which produce a crop every two years. After an hour, we reconnected with our bus, which took us up the mountain.

On the way up Mount Etna, we passed many homes, some currently occupied and others destroyed by the volcano. Now, one must ask why anyone would choose to live on an active volcano. It’s a big world out there, and every day really shouldn’t be life-threatening. (I ask similar questions about people who occupy flood plains.) So when Mount Etna erupts – which it does fairly frequently – are those people surprised? Shocked? Outraged at the authorities for not preventing it? Calling their insurance company (Aetna?) and demanding reimbursement? One wonders.

We got up to the tourist base camp level and had a nice perch to survey the world. Yes, there are cable cars to the very top, but you will have to rely on someone else for that story. We were content to be 6,200 feet above the sea. After our lunch, we went to visit one crater and to admire the view. We petted the lava and then strolled through the souvenir shops, successfully resisting the lava jewelry.

Our trip back to Taormina was nice and quiet – and much quicker than the journey there. We picked the most perfect day to visit, and Etna was very gracious in displaying herself. Maybe our curse is broken!

Don’s Food Corner

“You can’t get a bad meal in Italy,” Part Two:  Oh, yes you can.

Talk about being trapped with no options.  Today at lunchtime we were on the south side of Mt. Etna in what was a glorified parking lot.  Several souvenir shops all selling the same stuff.  A few places for snacks and coffee. And one sit-down restaurant.  We opted for the restaurant, based on the recommendation of our tour guide. The first sign that maybe all would not be great was that instead of having a fabric tablecloths, the restaurant  had paper table coverings.  And they weren’t those classy paper sheets that you see in French bistros.  They were paper covering pretending to be fabric. (We’re thinking Gail is right about Italian restaurant appraisal based on the number of fabric tablecloths featured.)

Despite the poor indicators, we once again hoped for the best.

We started with caprese salad.  It arrived and we knew we weren’t on Capri.  The tomatoes, although bright red, were thickly sliced and not very flavorful.  The mozzarella cheese, also thickly sliced, was piled on top.  But the kicker was that instead of fresh basil sprinkled on top with a little olive oil, they sprinkled dried oregano, seemingly from a McCormick’s shaker, all over.  We had to hunt down some salt and pepper to get us through it.

Then, the main course.  Jo went for lasagna.   Unlike the lasagna that we have had elsewhere that featured thin sheets of fresh pasta, this version used some curly-edged stuff (clearly born as dried pasta). The recipe used seemed familiar.  Off the back of a box of Ronzoni?  Also, it appeared that the restaurant prepared its lasagna once a week with the belief that reheated lasagna always tastes better on a day other than the day it was made.  Our guess that since this was Friday  that the once-a-week preparation day was Monday. (More than six hours since we ate the lasagna and neither of us have developed any sign of food poisoning, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little about the age of the dish.)

I decided to try something regional since the sign outside the restaurant promised cucina tipica. The regional dish I chose was farfelle pasta with pistachio and bacon sauce.  It arrived green.  Very green.  I would say that the sauce was creamy.  But the word gummy keeps popping into my head.

OK, maybe it wasn’t the worst meal we’ve ever had.  But if we didn’t think that we still have two and a half months more to try other Italian meals, I’d be bitter.

8 thoughts on “Mount Etna reveals herself

  1. The meal seemed fitting for a volcano — erupting! (Makes my Kraft macaroni & cheese seem good.) But my only question is whether it is smart to walk on the side of a volcano that just erupted in ’81. I suppose the odds are in your favor, but does one get 24 hour-notice before an eruption? All in all, though, very beautiful!

    • Hah! The food wasn’t that bad – just mundane. And regarding eruptions, evidently there is some way to predict them now. They happen frequently. Since 2000, Etna has had four that threaten inhabited areas – in 2001, 2002–2003, 2004–2005, and 2008-2009. Summit eruptions – just the top letting off steam – occurred in 2006, 2007–2008, January–April 2012, and again in July–October 2012. Yes, we are living on the edge here.

  2. Good decision not to go to the top. You all are intrepid travelers not stupid ones. Looks scary to me. Rather like that green pasta dish.

    • Too bad about pistachios being green. They really are delicious. And you’ll be glad to know we are going further away from Mount Etna today!

  3. Was it sulphurous up there? Or did clear skies mean all the fumes were blown away?
    I guess people who choose to live on the flank of a volcano have a pretty fatalistic attitude. Que sera,sera etc. Whatever!
    Brilliant : Aetna is the perfect fit for the local insurance outfit, but who insures the folk who live in the shadow of Vesuvius?

    • We had no fumes, but the wind was pretty stiff. LOVED that you got my insurance joke. Took Don far too long. As far as the folks who live under Vesuvius, if they have to put up with the dreaded Circumvesuviana, they must be praying for a quick release.

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