Thursday, March 23

Fortunately, the weather cleared today making it possible for us to make the trip to Mt. Etna. This is the largest active volcano in Europe, rising almost 11,000 feet above sea level. Mt. Etna erupts every few years, with the most recent eruptions occurring in 2001 and 2002. Most of the eruptions occur in Etna's numerous side vents, we learned that the volcano is greatly feared among Sicilians who are resigned to the possibility of major destruction at any time.

After packing the car and making our way out of Taormina (not an easy task on such narrow and crowded streets), we began the 45-minute drive to Mt. Etna. As we entered the national park area and began climbing Etna's north slope, we quickly saw evidence of the large number of lava flows that have occurred over the years. We'd be driving through forest, and then all of sudden the terrain would change to barren, black lava fields. In many areas it was possible to see the actual path that the rivers of lava have taken, and we saw evidence of destruction including homes that had been almost totally buried.

We drove to the Rifugio Sapienza, the furthest that it's possible to travel by car. During the warmer seasons, it's possible to hike or take cable cars to higher vantage points, but today it was cold and windy, with sleet in the air. Although clouds impaired our views, it was still an amazing feeling to be this high on Etna, and it was easy to gain appreciation for the power of the volcano. The weather on Etna is very dynamic, and it was amazing to experience the difference between the warm sunny slope at the bottom and the frigid conditions at Rifugio Sapienza. David and Katie enjoyed running through some lava fields, and we collected some samples to bring home. The contrast between the white snow and the black lava fields is especially stunning.

We left Mt. Etna and drove back west through the center of Sicily and toward the small coastal town of Cefalu, our last stop before flying home on Friday. Cefalu is beautiful medieval city featuring a picturesque waterfront lined with old fishermen's dwellings. We enjoyed walking through Cefalu's narrow streets and exploring the waterfront before making our final drive back to Palermo and on to the city of Mondello for our final evening in Sicily.

The drive to Mondello was not an easy one. We had no idea of where the hotel was located, and Mondello was not clearly marked on our maps. We stayed here specifically to avoid the need to drive into Palermo again, but after such a stressful trip we weren't sure that Mondello was really a better choice. Tomorrow we'll be getting up very early for our 6:30AM flight to Milan.












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