If you got addicted to crossword puzzles like I did, thanks to my father and his insane ability to finish the daily one in a few minutes, you already know where this post is going. If not, you’ll never miss this clue again!
On Friday evening, I hit the road for Fiumicino airport for my first real excursion out of the Rome. Unfortunately, it started a bit later than planned due to a 2hr delay, but nevertheless I made it after being quite cramped in a plane that had Poste Italiane written on its side… Was I mailed to Sicily? Short answer, maybe.
I arrived in Catania and was greeted by a fellow Tufts veterinary school connection, a vet in the US Army named Elliott. We connected through our mutual interests in non-traditional veterinary careers, and his awesome blog that you should all take a gander at: www.elliottgarber.com. Elliott is posted on a base outside of Catania (Sigonella Naval Air Station), and lives in a small town called Motta Sant’Anastasia. I didn’t know what to expect when I thought about real Sicily, but I got a solid – albeit brief – dose by walking these streets. Small, cobblestone roads lined with elderly men just straight chilling on their stoops for most of the day, and amazing cuisine. When I say small, I mean tiny. Think about needing to do a three(or five)-point adjustment turn just to get around a corner in a Honda Civic…
We ate mussels and a fantastic pizza covered in cheese (asiago I think?), pesto, funghi, and prosciutto. One of the better meals I’ve had this summer for sure. After eating our fill, we returned to Elliott’s place and crashed to prepare for an outing the following day.
Saturday began with an awesome Sicilian breakfast – brioche e granita (basically icy/smoothie goodness). I chose to get pistachio and mandorla (almond), and my tastebuds were in heaven. Once we managed to down our meals, it was time to hit the road!
Within an hour, we were at our base camp for the day. Let the ashy socks time begin – we were hiking up a portion of Mt. Etna itself!
The first mistake I made was when I put my socks on earlier in the morning. We made the decision to hike at the last minute, and I lacked to foresight to switch to more, how do you say, ‘appropriate’ socks for quite a hike up a volcano. If you’ve never hiked a volcano before, here is your first lesson: wear tall socks and high-soled shoes. None of this ankle socks and sneakers garbage. I toughed it out with minimal issues, just a pound or two of ash and volcanic rocks in the socks.
After a bit of hiking, we reached the Valle del Bove, which is the site where the current lava flows come to rest. It is a barren wasteland of black basalt rock and ash that stretches for as far as the eye can see. As of late, when Etna erupts, it tends to spill out large amounts of slow-moving lava, as opposed to some of the violent pyroclastic explosions other volcanoes (for example, St. Helens) may be known for. Elliott mentioned that his base calculated they have five days to evacuate in the case of massive flows given the historic speed of past Etna lava flows.
After getting a view of the valley, we decided to try and follow the path a bit farther up to get a glimpse across the ridge. Follow the path we did, and it rapidly seemed to disappear, or rather many paths seemed to emerge. We think this was because the vegetation has created faux paths depending on where it grows, and where the ash tumbles downhill. Anyways, we went off-trailing up to the top of the ridge to find a spectacular little valley.
After enjoying the awesome views and floral blooms one would not typically expect to find displayed on the slopes of an active volcano, we found the ash equivalent of a ski slope down the mountain. It was a nice direct jaunt back down towards base camp, with only a few minor delays when I needed to dump out the sneaks.
After eating some great American staples – PB&Js – courtesy of Elliott, we were off to find some beaches in Taormina. Hold that thought, we actually made a pit-stop in a beautiful little town called Zafferana Etnea, which was seemingly deserted given the fact that we dropped by during the peak of the afternoon siesta.
Okay, bring that thought back – it is beach time. And no, this wasn’t like your Lake Sunapee beaches or even your Cape Cod beaches, this was what you think of when you hear Mediterranean beach. Picturesque, rocky, covered with overly-tanned and under-dressed Italians, etc. We definitely stood out in our ash-covered calves and t-shirts, but it was well worth the brief trip (and the cannoli/caffe freddo combo that I ordered on the beachfront café).
Elliott, being the great guide, host, and friend he is, drove me to my destination for the evening, the port town of Messina in Sicily’s northeast corner. The highway on the coast of Sicily must have cost an astronomical amount to build, as we must have driven through at least twenty separate tunnels – some of them quite lengthy too! Big thanks to Dr. Captain Garber for showing me the Sicilian lifestyle, and here’s to hoping I can repay the favor in some foreign land someday!
I waltzed around Messina for a short while to try and find a nice dinner spot, but a short while turned into close to 90 minutes… of searching. Where were all the restaurants hiding? It was a Saturday night, and I couldn’t find a single one for a long time. But alas, I settled on a pizza joint, and it is time to appease the angry southpaw Jewish giant back home with some food photography.
Stay tuned for volcanoes parte due, coming to you soon!