Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Etna

Sicily Day 6

Tuesday 22 September 2015

This is the last day of the touring part of the holiday – we are staying on a further week in Taormina in the hope of getting a suntan and maybe seeing some further sites depending on how we are feeling.

Today however we are visiting the huge volcano – Etna – which we have seen in the distance on earlier days.  It is clear this morning and as we progress down the main road we can clearly see the top of the volcano.  It is active and the height of the mountain is slowly growing.

The photographs are here.  It is hard to convey the scale of the volcano and I hope they give some idea of the size of it.

We progress up to the station and then take the cable car to much greater height.  Then like on Lanzarote it is a coach to higher still where we are shown around the slopes of the volcano and some of the vent holes at higher levels are indicated.  I go for a walk which appears in the pictures and so we are (for once) almost the last back to the tour coach at the bottom.

Next is a real surprise.  A wine tasting had been promised but the Nicosia wine tasting is a real step beyond anything I have experienced elsewhere.  Not only do we get to sample some fine wines grown on the slopes of Etna with local grapes in some very well maintained surroundings but also the kitchen turns out a huge meal which had not been mentioned in the itinerary or the by the guide.  Marvellous anti-pasti and arancini.  This was superb and quite unexpected as I had been a touch worried over consuming alcohol with no significant food.  We later discover that the wines do not seem to be imported greatly into the UK – which is a pity.  And of course I should mention the chicken collection.

We return to Taormina itself and take a walk through the town and visit the amphitheatre – the photographs are here.  The site is of Greek origin but much of what can be seen is actually Roman who reconstructed it.  Still heavily used in the summer for concerts of all sorts – although nothing which appeals to us whilst we are here, so there is also more modern seating; none of it looks particularly comfortable.

In the evening our tour guide leads us out of the hotel (which I omitted to point out is really in Letojani) and along the front – luckily in the opposite direction to the one we took the previous evening to a very nice modern restaurant where we have another excellent meal.  Very nice.  This is the last time we shall be together so thank the guide and bid each other farewell as we walk back.

We return to the hotel for the final time to pack prior to our transfer to Taormina in the morning.


Sicily Day 5

Monday 21 September 2015

Much earlier in the year Sicily had suffered some enormous storms and as a result a section of the motorway A19 had suffered damage as the ground had suffered a landslide.  Consequently many journeys are being delayed as the alternative is a long journey around the hills.  We take a break (much needed) in Polizzi Generosa which these days has a major claim to fame as the birthplace of Domenico Dolce.  On the way we can see the distorted motorway – and that will take some time to fix.

Our target today is Villa Romana del Casale which is almost in the centre of the island.  Perhaps a brief recap the history of Sicily might be in order.  The Phoenicians had the western end of the island, whilst the Greeks had the eastern side.  The latter evenutally drove out the former.  When the Romans were in dominant form they took the island from the Greeks but later the westward spread of the muslims saw a complete change in the island which was recaptured for Christianity by the Normans (although it took them 20 years).  Subsequently the island was passed around various European countries by treaty and eventually Garibaldi landed at Marsala and this finally led to a formation of a single Italian state in the nineteenth century.

Sicily is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and holding the island was often key to being able to trade across the sea.  During their time here the Romans were at their pomp and consequently there was a lot of money which the owner of this villa ploughed into the building – it was both an extensive but also extremely well decorated villa.  Our guide has been excellent throughout but today I wander through the villa following the approved route taking the photographs which I fancy and from which a small selection has mare it to here.  Given the mosaic work used throughout the edifice the entire property must have been owned by someone very wealthy – although there seems to be no certainty about that aspect.  For more history go to this Wikipedia link.

The villa has been dated back to about the 4th Century AD; it was abandoned in about the 12th Century following a landslide.  Excavations commenced in 1929 and finished in 1960.

Having had a look around the web there are some excellent photographs to be found on this site.

The most famous mosaics relate to the “Bikini Girls” – so not a sixties invention after all – and hunting scenes.  My own pictures do not do the enterprise justice and I am quite disappointed that I have not managed to get the light levels right.

We have another lengthy drive across to the east of the island to a hotel near to Taormina. For lunch however we go to a restaurant in Piazza Armerina which is a relatively short drive.  Another good meal.

In the afternoon we cross through a huge agricultural area and I can appreciate how the island was considered a valuable resource as it could easily provide food for armies.  Later in the drive we can see Mount Etna in the distance as we pass the southern side of the volcano before reaching the motorway and then passing the eastern side of the volcano.

Our destination (Hotel Antares) is a large tourist hotel built on a hillside with its own private little cliffside railway to provide a route between the rooms and linking the public areas top and bottom!  The town itself (at sea level) is reached by descending by yet another lift through the rocks and then a walk through a car park, under railway and roads on viaducts along to the front where we found a restaurant on the sea front and had a good meal.  Most of our fellow travellers seemed to turn up in the restaurant as we were leaving.  Also entertaining was a waiter attempting to chat up the girls at the table next to ours!