An E Ticket…and an EEK Ticket!

Last evening we attempted to follow the rather convoluted directions given to us by our hotel people. We were in search of the BEST restaurant in Giardini Naxos: Sea Sound. We walked around the cape — no sign. We walked up another road — no sign. We even asked two different people, one at the archaeological center — never heard of it. We finally found the right road and walked for about 1,000 miles (so it seemed). It had better BE WORTH IT, we said. We finally found the sign and then had to follow a winding narrow path down down down. We arrived at the restaurant and found it had an open-air roof and one entire side opening onto the sea. We ate a great meal, listening to the sound of waves crash below. After dinner, we peered out at the water just below us and spotted fireworks in the distance. The Italians are always celebrating life in some way. On the way back, we stopped and I had a Nutella (which is the consistency of peanut butter with with a chocolate hazelnut flavor) crepe, made before my eyes. Yum.

This morning it was clear and blue and warm. Not a wisp of a cloud. We jumped on our reserved bus and rode up to Taormina on our way to Etna. The bus was double decker and of course we had to ride on top for the extra thrill. The driver expertly navigated around the tight hairpin turns, the wheels seemingly right on the edge of the road…cliff…the sea farrrrrrr down below. What an E ticket that was! (Disneyland back in the day had coupons you had to buy to get on the rides. Their best rides were always designated as the “E” tickets.) At one point, we had to back up (down the hill a bit) in order to let two other buses by that were coming down.  That was dicey.

We continued our way up towards Etna. Since the day was crystal clear, we had picture perfect views of Etna smoking in the distance. We arrived at the first level, 1800 meters. We all got off and then jumped onto jeeps that held about 25 people. Here is where the EEK Ticket ensued. We were slipping and sliding UP UP UP roads that were not paved, but made of crumbled lava. Again, the hairpin turns, but one false move and we would be dashed into a crater or down the side of smoking Etna. We passed swaths of lava…red, black, gray, sprinkled with clumps of yellow-green foliage poking up here and there between the forbidding rocks. Trees that had been mowed down and burnt white-crisp were either skewed here and there, or standing starkly alone.

We passed the cable car that was destroyed by the large eruption in 2002, the cable lines lying like limp spaghetti down the mountain. Former souvenir shops and restaurants were melted into a metal heap. Hmmmm….should we continue? Up we went to 2800 meters. We got out and walked around, marvelling at the terrain. On the way down, we stopped at one point and were able to scramble down a trail to the 1800 level, peering into a gaping crater created during the 2002 eruption. NO fence. If you weren’t sure-footed, one tumble would take you away.

The ride down was as eeky as the way up. I even had to close my eyes a couple of times as we made tight turns on the slippery lava. The temperature difference at the top was amazing. 25 celsius down below, 8 on top. The tramontana (cold north wind) blew the air clear.

We returned to our hotel, perched on the top of the double decker bus, having snagged the very front seats. Another E ticket!!! Our shoes are covered with the dust of Etna and our knapsack is bulging with lava rocks. It was a GREAT day!!!!

Time for dinner.

Tomorrow we are taking the train back to Palermo to catch a plane (on Wednesday) to Athens.

It’s all been worth it.



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