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Sicily 4: Mount Etna.  When I had visited Sicily in 1975, for me the most exciting discovery, of all the amazing discoveries on the tour of the whole island, had been Mount Etna.  Our visit to it had taken place on a grey day, but that hadn’t mattered at all.  Up first in a jeep, then a funicular, and then a little way on foot to be almost within touching distance of a slow, glowing, tinkling, crinkly, lava flow, from which we could feel the warmth.  I recall that, in those days when you took just one photo of a given area and that was that, because of film and processing costs, I used a whole 36-image film just on that lava flow, so excited was I by it all.  And I came home and bought a book on how volcanoes work.  (Soon afterwards, that particular funicular was destroyed by a further eruption.) Since then I have done an Open University module on geology, a significant part of which was on volcanoes.  So my hopes this day were high.

Nathalie, presumably a self-employed guide, took us in her people carrier. Up and up and up we went, P1260331001

and we stopped to look at a road which was distinctly no longer a Z-bend.P1260332001P1260334001

Then we moved on and up to about 2500 metres, to the north, less tourist-frequented side of the volcano.  Pictures of devastation and desolation.


The white gas is water vapour, the blue sulphur dioxide



Geoff surveys where a hotel used to be


This was the highest we got.  Apparently it is possible to go further up in a funicular, and then further on foot, to get much closer (but not too close!) to where the action is, but that had not been the intention for our particular group.  So I was a little sad.

Francesca looking on.

We moved round and a little lower down by car, and were introduced to Etna birch, Betula Aetnensis, found only on Etna, its peculiarity being that, unlike other birches, it has multiple trunks coming from the ground. (Virtually nothing on it is to be found via search engines on the internet.)  We started off on a walk towards a spectacular view.  Unfortunately my ankle did not at all enjoy the terrain – small broken up lava – on which we were walking, re-twisting itself frequently.  I found a nice Etna birch on which to perch, and Francesca kindly decided to stay with me, stating she had done Etna a thousand times.  I have to say it was really rather pleasant sitting there in the sun, though I didn’t fancy stretching out on the ground as Francesca did.  She insisted on taking a photo of me with Etna in the background,


then a close-up on the grounds that I had a ladybird in my hair P1260382

which I couldn’t see in the photo until I blew it up…P1260383001

Finally we went on to a refuge/bar where we had a drink – of course – and watched some videos of Etna erupting, and looked at a map.  P1260390001

I took a panorama from that spot.


Lunch, described in the next post, consisted of a wine tasting and antipasti a few kilometres away…