Sunday, October 28, 2012


(And not so fast.  There's an "engineering issue" with my flight so they've delayed boarding.  In the middle of boarding.  Having not yet been on the plane, they sent me back to the lounge.  And the wi-fi!)

We had to have our bags packed and ready to go at 7:00 a.m., which meant I was up at 6:00. (I just learned today that some folks in our group have flights out at 7:00 a.m., which I’m pretty sure means they have to leave our hotel around 5:00. Brutal.) In any event, it was a pretty early morning, so I stuffed myself full of eggs, bacon, pastries and tea (lots of tea) before we hit the road out of Siracusa.

First stop was a rest stop, in a totally unmemorable location, excepting the local coffee bar also had sippin’ chocolate so that pretty much made my morning. I also learned that, in contrast to your standard Starbucks, the coffee bars serve you and expect you to pay after you’ve consumed your beverage. So I had some cioccolata on faith, then ponied up my 3 Euro (totally worth it – it was accompanied by a pile of whipped cream (to season to taste) and 4 little chocolate-drizzled cookies) and got back on the bus.

We were driving up to (and up) Mount Etna (or, as our tour guide calls it “the Etna.”) We didn’t actually get to the top of it – apparently, there’s a gondola that takes you up there, but it took longer than our 50-minute stop. Instead, we parked near a random crater (lava flow will do that) – one Crater Silvestri. Big ol’ lava crater. We were permitted to get up and hike around it. Also into it. I was totally prepared for this. Weather on the Etna was a bit dodgy – colder, windy, and, at one point, raining a bit. I was wearing a big sweater and a rain jacket. Zipped my rain jacket over the sweater; plopped my rain hat on my head (tightened the cord so it didn’t go flying off) and went on out toward the crater. I even had my folding walking stick with me, because – as I explained to anyone who asks – “I have no depth perception so I’m unsteady downhill on uneven surfaces.” Most people got it. One woman in our tour seemed to think I was blind. (More on the people in our tour later.) Anyway, walking into a lava crater seems to be the very definition of “downhill on uneven surfaces,” and I’m thrilled to report that the walking stick made me downright quick.

I was the only one – or, at least, the first one – to go down into the crater. At first, I thought perhaps it was too far to walk. (Remember: no depth perception.) However, I saw what was more or less a path marked by a ton of footprints, so I figured that I wasn’t going off into something I’d never get myself out of. (Although, in retrospect, I didn’t see all that many footprints leading out of the crater.) In any event, it was really really cool. Really. Cool. Standing all by myself in the center of the crater reminded me of standing alone in the stone circle in Stonehenge. (Although, you know, totally different.) I took about a billion pictures, because I really dug just being surrounded by all that lava (and seeing people way up there on the rim).

Also, great views from the rim of the crater -- as we were fairly high up the Etna:


After Etna, we went … come to think of it, I think we came to Taormina, which is our very last city, and where I’m typing now. (But won’t be posting for another day or so, because of the internet situation here.) A word on the hotel: Gorgeous. Another word: Monastery. 

We’re staying at a hotel called the San Domenico Palace Hotel, which is a converted monastery/convent. I got a great photo of the row of rooms in which my little room is situated. You can totally envision these as little cells (cells?) for the nuns. 

Of course, it’s a five-star hotel, which means it has been renovated with every modern convenience, and is downright beautiful

  – but it also apparently means that they charge several limbs for internet access. (You can get a password for 30 minutes free wi-fi if you buy a drink in the bar, and water is about seven bucks.) So, yeah, the posting will happen later.

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