Sicily and Mount Etna

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To celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary we spent a week in Paris followed by a Mediterranean cruise. The first port of call was Sicily. The ship passed through the narrow strait between the island and the toe of Italy’s boot and then into the harbor of Messina, the island’s third largest city. A golden statue known as the Madonna of the Letter greets you as you enter the sheltered bay. The latin quote at its base says “Vos at ipsam civitatem benedicimus”. It means “We bless you and your city” and is a taken from a letter sent by the Virgin Mary to the people of Messina in 42 AD.

The Madonna of the Letter
The Madonna of the Letter greets ships arriving at Messina, Sicily

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is rich in history with Greek, Roman, Phoenician and Byzantine influences. There are many ancient ruins as well as cathedrals to visit, but we opted for a trip up Mount Etna. The only volcano I had seen up close before was Mount Saint Helens in Washington state.

A bus took us along the shore road that included a number of short tunnels as we wended our way south. We stopped at the town of Giardini Naxos where we saw a copy of the Winged Nike, Goddess of Victory. The original is in the Louvre in Paris. The metal statue was created by Italian  sculptor Carmelo Mendola in 1965. It stands on Cape Schiso looking out to sea. It marks the spot where Greeks landed to found a colony in 734 BC.

Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily
Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily

From there we went up the coast to the small town of Giarre where we visited the artisan jewelry factory of Gival. It is located in a grand old mansion, a beautiful building which features gilt ceilings in its spacious lobby.

The ceiling at Gival Jewelry
The magnificent ceiling at Gival Jewelry

In the basement we saw a number of artisans at work. Later we were treated to complimentary drinks and snacks. The banquet room had a display of seven swords in a fan shape on the wall.

Artisans at work making jewelry
Artisans at work making jewelry
Swords on display in the banquet room
Swords on display in the banquet room above the table of goodies

After we left the jewelry place, we took a long and winding road up Mount Etna, passing a number of vineyards along the way. The road took us to the Sylvestri Crater, the highest point you can reach by car or bus (1900 metres). Etna erupted at this point in 1892 but it has been dormant since then. The Google Earth map below shows the crater.

As you can see, there is a restaurant nearby as well as a large parking lot. The entire complex straddles a lava flow from higher up. The landscape is stark and almost barren. A few grasses have managed to emerge in places.

The Sylvestri Crater
The Sylvestri Crater

A roadway between the restaurant and the parking area runs right over the lava flow. This flow, a guide told us, is less than twenty years old. Etna is still a very active volcano. Unfortunately, some people don’t know how to take pride in this piece of heritage and litter could be seen on the lava.

A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.
A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.

Nearby was a gondola ride to a higher elevation. It was a bit foggy on the day we were there so we did not go higher. But what we saw was spectacular. I’d love to be there when Etna is actually erupting. That would be one heck of a sight!

Hardened lava is everywhere.
Hardened lava is everywhere.

After some time on Mount Etna, we took the bus back to our ship. I’ve got more pictures in the accompanying Photo Gallery. And a few additional links.

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Photo Gallery: Sicily

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The city of Messina, Sicily
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
The chandelier in the lobby.
The chandelier in the lobby.
An artisan at work.
An artisan at work.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater (on the left). The car park area is on the leftover the lava field. You can see a plume of mist on the left from a steam vent. 
Lots of trails to walk here.
Lots of trails to walk here.
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The Sylvestri Crater immediately in the foreground. 
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The long winding road back down to sea level.
Many vineyards along the way.
Many small towns and vineyards along the way.

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One Million Years BC – A Visit to Mt. Teide

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In 2009 we took a repositioning cruise with our friends Chris and Sheila. The ship, the Navigator of the Seas, left from Fort Lauderdale and was at sea for seven days before finally reaching our first port of call, Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands. As with all ports of call on cruises, there was a variety of shore excursions we could take. Or we could just wander around the town of Santa Cruz. We opted to take the trip up Mount Teide, the island’s volcano.

Mount Teide last erupted in 1909 and is considered dormant. It could erupt again in the future. At 24,600 feet (7500 meters) it is the third highest island volcano in the world after Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

The bus took us on a meandering road through fields and villages and finally into Teide National Park, which gets about 2.8 million visitors a year. As we got higher and higher we had many spectacular views of the villages and the sea below. Upon entering the park, the peak drew closer and closer. We stopped for a photo op part way there.

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Janis and I and Mount Teide

We left the verdant landscape behind as we continued on our way. Soon we were left with nothing but lava fields all around with sparse patches of vegetation. Almost a moonscape.

It was here in this wild setting that parts of the movie One Million B.C. with Raquel Welch were filmed.

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Scenery like this formed the backdrop for Raquel Welch’s One Million Years B.C.

Finally we arrived at our destination – not the summit, but a tourist area where we could get off the bus and wander around at our leisure to take in the many interesting rock formations.

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Tourists clamber over the rock formations on Mount Teide

From one vantage point you could see a frozen river of lava in a bowl between the peaks. I called it the Teide Bowl (Tidy Bowl). My warped sense of humour.

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River of lava in the Teide Bowl
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She’s got the whole world in her hand – well, at least this rock formation on Mount Teide!

After some time here the bus took us on the long and winding road back to town.

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We leave majestic Mount Teide behind

We took a slightly different route on the way back, one that took us past Tenerife Airport. This was the site of the world’s worst aviation disaster in 1977 when two Boeing 747s collided.

We arrived back at Santa Cruz with enough time to explore this bustling seaside city. It is a lovely city with a good-sized pedestrian mall and lots of shops and restaurants to explore.

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The bustling city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The Canary Islands are an autonomous community of Spain, sort of like a state in the U.S.A. or a province in Canada. Spain’s government is very decentralized with a lot of power residing within the smaller divisions of the country. We visited three more Spanish ports of call on our trip, as well a Lisbon, Portugal.  I’ll cover the highlights of those in later posts.

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