|Up early this AM. I am again departing from the planned agenda and taking myself off to Sicily for the day. Border hopping is so much fun and I can collect more stamps in my passport! I had the hotel concierge make these arrangements for me. I suspect I'll have to tip him sometime before I leave.
I was picked up by a small van at 5:30 AM (and you call this sort of thing a vacation?) from my hotel and taken around to the Grand Harbor where the sea embarkation wharf is located. Got to show my passport to a lot of people (something reserved for non-EU citizens, they all get sort of a free pass). And I boarded a hydrofoil for a 90 minute trip to Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy. It was another beautiful day and the sun was coming up in a cloudless sky as we left. It was a very smooth ride.
I really need to get a map to really figure out where I went, but here are the sketchy details.
Upon getting off the boat those people who had purchased this tour were assigned to a bus. All Americans got on bus 1, I think there were only three of us, but all the tour guide narration was in English. On the other bus it was in German. My bus stopped at a little seaside restaurant in Pozzallo for breakfast, rolls and tea. But I actually got to walk on a sandy beach and pick up a couple of pretty shells.
Then it was straight on to Mt. Etna. We went through several small towns with just a couple of stops for a Kodak moment or two. It is pretty amazing that you can go just a very short distance and everything is different from Malta. I was clearly in a different country. The architecture was different. In Malta all the roofs are flat. In Italy they are all slightly peaked and made of red tiles. The land was more verdant, a lot more vegetation and agriculture. It simply looked and felt different.
As we started our ascent of Mt. Etna (the highest volcano in Europe) we again went through different climate and geological zones. The trees became quite scruffy and pretty soon all there was were these funny little pine trees called "broom pines." Then, almost as if someone had drawn a line, there was nothing but black basalt rock, lava rock. It was very black and gritty. And pretty soon we started seeing patches of snow...yes snow. People actually ski on Mt. Etna.
We could see all the evidence of eruptions. We saw one house buried up to its roofline in lava flow. Our destination was the ski area, where we stopped for about 90 minutes and we got to wander wherever we wanted. I did not take the funicular to the top, but I did hike to one of the dead craters and walked all around it. There are several craters on Etna, the main one and then several smaller ones. Etna is still active and most recently had a serious eruption in 2001. However I could not see any steam or other evidence of current activity. It was a beautiful clear day, but it was quite cold and very windy. When I was walking around the crater I thought I might get blown off. I had never seen a volcano before so it was a pretty interesting experience for me.
Then it was time to head back to Pozzallo. On the way we stopped in Modica, a Baroque Italian city. The old part of the city where we visited sits in a bit of a valley surrounded by mountains. It has been subject to earthquakes and there was one there a few years ago, but the city was rebuilt in its Baroque style.
I walked around the center of town, visited the main church and bought chocolate. The city is quite famous, at least it claims to be famous, for its chocolate, which is indeed unlike any other chocolate I have had. But you know, "will work for chocolate." I bought a pile of stuff to bring home. I admit it might not make it home! The chocolate is a bit gritty, not creamy. But it is very dark and VERY good. If you're lucky, you might get a taste, but only if my willpower holds out.
Then it was back to the docks, back on the hydrofoil and back to Malta. I had to fill out a bunch of paperwork to get back into Malta even though I had been gone less than 24 hours. I was back at my hotel by 9:30. But it was a long day and I was tired by the time I got back.
I'll try to find a map and scan it to include here for you.