After four (yep FOUR) days of lazing around (pretty lazy for someone that hates sunbathing!) we headed off across the centre of Sicily to Catania, trying to avoid the rain that was coming in. It was an outstandingly beautiful route and one that was pretty straight and flat, despite the terrain. Nearly the whole road was raised on pillars and it made sense as it had less effect on the countryside that way and the road was much less likely to be washed away by seasonal floods. Tim looked beautifully relaxed after the stresses of Tunisia and it was a truly lovely journey.
We found the campsite Jonio after I had sent Tim the wrong way a couple of times and then pitched the Tentipi with every guy rope out to stop us taking off with the high winds that were blasting through. The guide books say that Catania is not the most interesting of towns, because Mt Etna has destroyed it so many times. It is, however, interesting to see what is visible along the coast….
On Friday we decided to take a drive out to Mt Etna and see what we could see. I want it on record that it was ME who suggested the motorway north and Tim who thought it might be nice to take the pretty way (it’s usually the other way round, for sure). It was about this point when we began to realise that the local drivers could give Tunisians a run for their money. They are less likely to drive the wrong way down a street, but they come at you from every other direction, don’t signal and feel that most road rules are advisory (speed limits, double white lines, no overtaking signs…) It is not unusual to witness an Italian driver overtaking coming up to a totally blind bend. They do, however have the odd way of enforcing the rules…
The coast road north was, indeed, lovely until the rain closed in and we hit the nice little town of Giarre. OK, we were rather distracted by these
Towards the end of town there was a diversion that sent us down to the sea. Not seeing any other diversion signs, we started following signs to our original destination. We ended up finding another road block. Oh joy, roadworks. After we drove round in circles with everyone else for a bit, we finally found our way right to the sea front and going in the right direction. I swear there will be many cars still driving around the town in circles for days to come. I think someone needs to tell them that a diversion needs more than one sign…..
Eventually we found the road to Mt Etna and you could tell you were heading in the right direction by the sulphurous smell in the air and the way it felt like your teeth were dissolving. The road up, with its hairpin bends, was highly reminiscent of the route into the Three Valleys and the snow, as we got higher, reinforced the impression.
It soon became clear that we were not going to get anywhere near the crater. Etna is one of three active volcanoes in Italy, the last event happening at the beginning of February. At the moment they are on medium alert, so you could not get there on your own, even if you could get through the snow. We did get up to the ski area, but decided that it would be way too much hassle to get our ski gear out for such a tiny area.
Despite not getting anywhere near the exciting bits of Etna, it was still well worth the drive. Driving past the multiple historical lava flows and seeing the black lava against the snow was well worth the trip.