Sunday, 3 July 2016 – Day 18 – Malta to Sicily, Italy

Sunday, 3 July 2016 – Day 18 – Malta to Sicily, Italy

I was still awake at 2.00am this morning as just could not go to sleep. Nodded off and woke up just seconds before my wakeup call at 4.00am.  I dressed and went downstairs for a coffee and waited with three cats for my 4.45am pickup.  Made good time and arrived at the Valletta wharf at 5.50am.  After a short wait with a passport check, it was onto a Virtu Ferry, (the Jean De La Vallette).

P1030302

It was just like a cruise ship taking cars, trucks and caravans as well as passengers.  We set off at 6.30am.  We arrived at 8.20 in Pozzallo. – 50 nautical miles from Malta. We had to wait until all the vehicles disembarked and then the walk on passengers could then disembark.  We then joined Bus No.1 and set off towards Taormina.

On our way we passed by Ispica a baroque town rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, Rosolini a typical rural town dusted back to Roman times surrounded by orange and lemon groves. We then passed Noto. The city was also destroyed in the 1693 earthquake and was rebuilt to become the Capital City of Sicilian Baroque city and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we had hills on the left and the sea on our right. There were many vineyards and wheat fields around this area. Next was Cassible. It was still continuing on to Siracusa, the hometown of Archmides and home to the world famous archaeological zone. In this area there was a huge oil refinery.

We continued onto Catania, an Italian city on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea and sits at the foot of Mt Etna.  Catania is well known for its historical earthquakes, having been destroyed by many earthquakes and rebuilt. Catania is now a large city with a busy port and has a rich culture and history having many museums, restaurants, churches, parks and theatres and is well known for its street food.

As time was limited we did not get off the coach until we reached our destination of Taormina. Taormina is spectacularly perched on the side of a mountain on the east coast of Sicily. Taormina is Sicily’s prime tourist resort and was discovered by the British aristocracy in the mid 1800’s. Facing Mt Etna and the blue Mediterranean, this peaceful panoramic resort, 206m above sea level was colonized by the Greeks who built a theatre in the Hellenic period – 4BC. The present Teatro Greco, altered by the Romans is the venue for classical plays every summer.  As we climbed we passed the narrow stretch of sand known as Isola Bella that connects to the mainland. It is a nature reserve and there were many swimmers going off the rocks.  We were given a couple of hours free time to wander around and have lunch.

P1030350

Taormina is a beautiful city perched high up on the mountainside and had gorgeous views down to the sea and out to Mt Etna.

P1030312

There is a cable car that ferries tourists to and from the seaside resorts down along the coast. Cary Grant and Greta Garbo were regular visitors to Taormina. I wandered along taking in the views and enjoyed going along the narrow streets with their cafes, boutiques and restaurants. The main street, the Corso Umberto, seems to be a bustle of nationalities.

P1030316

P1030319

It was then time to board the coach for our next destination of Mt Etna.  We took a very scenic drive further up the mountain and the views out over the sea were absolutely spectacular. It is just amazing how the coach drivers negotiate these narrow windy routes. If we meet another coach, there is only about 6 inches between coaches.  We made our way to Mt Etna.

Mt. Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily in the Province of Catania between Messini and Catania. Elevation is approximately 3350 metres and is the tallest active volcano and is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Was designated as Decade Volcano of the United Nations. In June 2013 it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

The top of the volcano is actually a series of craters. Because it erupts frequently, the landscape is constantly changing. Most recent eruption occurred on 26 October, 2013. Twentieth century eruptions occurred in 1949, 1971, 1981, 1983 and 1991-1993.

We were climbing through picturesque villages and an ever changing landscape. The lower slopes of the volcano are extremely fertile with groves of lemons, oranges and other Mediterranean flora and of course vines which produce Sicily’s best wines. We drove through forests of chestnut trees which gradually gave way to oak, beech, birch and pines. We finally got to Refugio Sapienza where we purchased our tickets for the Funivia dell’Etna cable car up the mountain to 2500 metres. It was then onto a 4 wheeled vehicle that took us up to the spot where we got off and had a short but steep walk to one of Etna’s crater. We were at about 2920 metres high.

mt etna 4

As we walked along there was the black lava sand, volcanic gravel and rocks crunching underfoot. It is an amazing site looking down into the crater. Hard to imagine that anything can grow in these surrounds but there are lots of little plants and pines growing.  Was amazing also, looking up to the summit of Mt Etna with its smoke rising up to the sky. This area becomes covered in snow and is a very popular skiing area. As we walked back to the jeeps, there was still some frozen snow along the way.

The jeep took us all the way down to the waiting coach. We had another stop at Zafferana and called into a large shop, Oro d Etna to sample  the local honey, nougat and wine. I did buy a couple of products. It was then back to Pozzallo to get the ferry back to Malta. It was a smooth ride back to the mini cab that took me back to my hotel arriving at 12.30am.

It was an extremely long but interesting day.  I did my packing for tomorrow as I fly back to England and bed at 2.00am.

Sadly, I have not any of my own photos of beautiful Taormina or Mt Etna as my Ipad decided to play up and I could not retrieve anything off it. To reactivate my Ipad, everything on it had to be deleted. I shed some tears but nothing I could do about it.