Monday, May 28, 2012

The Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands are a cluster of volcanic islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, just north of Sicily. In total there are seven inhabited islands, Lipari (the largest), Vulcano, Stromboli, Salina, Panarea, Filicudi, and Alicudi. Two of these islands (Vulcano and Stromboli) are actually active volcanoes, with Stromboli in permanent eruption and Vulcano steaming continuously from its main crater.
Looking at Vulcano Island from Lipari Island
After driving the 1.5 hours from Catania, we parked the car in Milazzo and hopped a ferry to Lipari, where we spent our weekend. We were told that when we go the islands we should expect a relaxing vacation. Tourists flock to the islands in the summer to bathe on the sandy beaches, take in the stunning views, swim in the sea, hike the mountains and coastlines, and eat mouthwatering cuisine. Each island has its own uniqueness and charm, but since we didn't want to spend our short time there running back and forth onto ferries, we decided to take the advice of everyone else and just relax. "When in Rome"... or in this case, Lipari.
Dinner our first night.
A quaint street in town.
The next day after breakfast we went on a hike that would take us high up the mountain in order to see the island of Vulcano, along with some breathtaking views of the town of Lipari and the crystal clear water. The ultimate goal was to get to the observatory at the top. We wanted to earn our relaxation time by the pool later! Our walk started in Lipari center, inside the perimeter walls of a 16th century castle that now has ancient ruins and an archeological museum.
The entrance

Ruins from at least 1000 BC

The walls from below.

After leaving the walls we followed the waterfront and walked away from Lipari center. The walk had us stroll past locals' houses with their laundry hanging from their balconies, past the archipelago's only hospital, down small alleyways, under bridges, and eventually away from civilization completely. An ensuing climb had us passing white washed holiday houses perched on top of cliffs, and even though they were situated so close to the town, the serenity, sea, and calmness of their surroundings made them seem so far away.

A lone house.

Eventually we reached a lookout over Punta della Crapazza where a number of rock pinnacles were rising out of the sea. On a faint path we hiked straight up the crest of the mountain and were rewarded with even better views of the rocks. A few more turns led us back onto a concrete road and we walked toward the observatory on the top of the mountain. At this top point, a marvelous spread of islands came into view, including mainland Sicily.
Vulcano Island with a steaming crater

Rock pinnacles rising from the sea.

The islands of Salina and Filicudi.

Now it was time for us to start our descent and head back to Lipari... or so we thought. Thinking we were going to be continuing downwards the hike took us through a very narrow path, massively overgrown with bushes, prickly bushes, and weeds... and we were climbing! How was this possible and why was this happening again?! Had it not been for the random red dots telling us we were on the right path or the guidebook telling us we'd pass some quarries (which we did) we would have thought this was a joke being played on us!

Not a fan of bushes and plants touching me.
View from a brief clearing.

After bushwhacking our way out of the dense woods we followed a small path for about 10 minutes to a church. We were almost there! A walk down a dreadfully steep lane led us to yet another long set of stairs and eventually weaved us downhill through the old part of town.

La chiesa di San Bartolo ai Monte.
Almost there! Just have to descend a little bit more.

To Lipari!
Continuing the descent.
Once we hit the center of Lipari we picked up some cannolis, paninis, and wine, and headed back to the hotel to have lunch on our balcony. The sparkling pool was calling out to us so we quickly changed and headed down to get a much needed dip and relaxation. We spent the rest of the afternoon (and weekend) lounging poolside and drinking wine. We walked/hiked around 6.5 miles so I'd say we earned it!
Our balcony
Lipari from our balcony
Sunning at the pool.
Taking a dip.
Individual chairs with jets!
And loungers!
We can see why so many people flock to the Aeolian Islands during the summer season. With the beauty and uniqueness of each island there's something for everyone to enjoy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mount Etna

Mt. Etna is the tallest active volcano in all of Europe standing almost 11,000 feet (3,330 meters) high and is in an almost constant state of activity. It has already erupted seven times in 2012!
Taken from from April 23, 2012
Taken from from March 4, 2012
Taken from from July 30, 2011
Taken from from Jan. 13, 2011
Naturally, Jon and I decided to check out this beast for ourselves. The recent eruptions have been limited to the Summit craters on the north side of the volcano. Since the volcano has a base circumference of 140km (~87 miles) there are many different hiking paths that individuals can take that are out of harms way if Etna were to erupt. It is illegal to go past a certain point on the volcano, even with a guide, so we were pretty confident that all would be okay. We enlisted the help of Etna Experience to take us on a hike through some parts of the volcano, give us some history and information about Etna, and show us other Etna related things such as lava caves and rivers.
Jon took this picture of Etna in December.
We started with a nice two hour hike from the viewpoint of Bove Valley. It was almost as if we were hiking on sand with the ash under our feet. Our guide told us about the different plant life that exists because of the volcanic soil on Etna, different rocks and boulders that have been spit out by Etna, and the difference between the many types of ash and pumice that have fallen like rain onto the mountain and towns.

Next, we were taken to a cave that has been grooved out by flowing lava. We fastened our helmets and held tightly onto our flashlights as we descended down the steep entrance to the cave.

The entrance.
Tight squeeze!

Emerging from the depths of the Earth... mwahaha.
Lunch was next and we were in for a treat! We had no idea that lunch would be at Gambino winery, a winery that we visited in December and just last week on our own. Needless to say, we were more than thrilled to hear we would be sampling their delicious tomatoes, mushrooms, cheeses, meats, and of course wine. It was great to get to know the other members that were on our excursion (one couple from Germany, one from Holland, and one from France) as we talked about our lives over delicious cuisine.
View from lunch.
The last stop of our program included a visit to the Alcantara Gorges. Several thousand years ago the high walls on either side of the river were created once the lava flow that flooded the frozen river cooled down. It then crystallized in the form of columns. An earthquake caused a gash in the lava which allowed the river to form in the gorge.

After some fresh squeezed orange juice it was time for our trip to end. We're glad that we were able to visit this monster of a volcano and were thankful that it didn't erupt on our watch!

Sabato, siamo andati sul m. Etna per un'escursione. Dovevamo andare domenica scorsa, ma il traghetto era in ritardo e il gruppo e' uscito senza noi. Per due ore abbiamo fatto il hike intorno al lato nord dell'Etna. Abbiamo visti tanti crateri piccoli, piante, cenere, e rocce laviche. Dopo il hike siamo andati a una cava di pietra lavica. Era buia e fredda con neve ancora sul pavimento! Poi ci hanno portato alla cantina e abbiamo assaggiato quattro vini e abbiamo mangiato il pranzo. Dopo siamo andati a un fiume tra mura di lava. L'acqua era molto fredda, ma abbiamo dovuto andare nell'acqua! E' stato un giorno divertente!