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Mount Etna - Sicilian volcano
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Mt. Etna - beautiful but often vicious

by Sam Zeoli

Enrico Rubicondo
Its early morning in mid October and my friend and I were on our way to Catania by train.   My name is Sam Zeoli and I love to travel.   Being of Italian ancestry, I love to go to Italy anytime that I can.   Even though I can not speak the language fluently, the Italians are usually more than willing to help.   And each time I go, I cherish the experiences that I have.

Not being an expert on geography, I had never heard of Catania before.   I had never heard of Mount Etna either.   All I knew is that there was a Sicilian volcano, a large active one that we were going to traverse after we arrived at this vibrant city nestled at the great mountain's base (on the island of Sicily).

From an awesome beach community (on the northern Sicilian coast) called Cefalu', we took a train for a short distance to Termini - not to be confused with the Termini train station in Rome.   The morning train was a little late arriving.   This gave me an excuse to do something that I also love to do - and that is to eat (mangia!).   Panini and café was a good pick-me-up.

The next train would be one that would bring us through the middle of this great island.   Caltanisetta was the next stopping point on our voyage to Catania.   We had to wait a little longer for a connecting train to arrive so it was time to go across the street from the train station and have some more great Italian food and drink.   Train stations in Italy are great in that way.   If you have to wait, you can go across the street to hang with the locals as opposed to leaving an airport on a whole new trip just to get outside.

The weather gods were in our favor for the whole trip.   There was not a cloud in the sky between points of interest.   After a while we embarked on another train destined for Catania.   We arrived at Catania four hours later.   It is the largest city on the eastern side of Sicily.   It is located on the sea about 100 miles south of Messina.   It is one of the most beautiful cities that I visited.   The old cathedrals with rising spires heading towards heaven is a site that should not be missed by anyone whether a believer or non-believer.

In addition to the man made structures, the sea holds two huge rocks that have their own stories.   In the stories of the adventures of Ulisys, the terrible but blind Cyclops threw the rocks at Ulisys's ship as it steered away from the danger of the formidable foe, however, the top of this city holds a foe that is more dangerous than any fictional character in the Anead.   That of the great Mount Etna.   It is the largest active volcano in Europe.   The constant smoldering exhaust of smoke is a constant reminder that this is a sleeping giant in its own right.   It's a much more formidable a foe than that of the great Cyclops.

We met our guide Alfonso and his lovely daughter Francesca at the Roman Theater, considered the center of Catania.   We began our ascent into the mountainous regions of Catania.   We drove through many small Northern Europeanesque towns on the way up to Etna.   They were lovely in their own right and ever so vulnerable to whims of this great mountain.   As we ascended, the trees began to show their yearly change of color.   I was given an unexpected view of the splendor of the change of season in a simple day.   The birch trees kept their leaves of reddish, golden, and yellow pigments.   It felt as though the gods took me as a friend, and behold some the most beautiful sites that I have ever witnessed were right in front of me.   So beautiful, in fact, that I asked Alfonso, who was kind enough to drive his car up the to the mountain, to stop and allow me to photograph the autumn glory that was in front of me.   Only in dreams have I seen colors so clear and rich and full.   The great mountain creates havoc; however, the ground is made fertile by its unwanted ash. Growth was abundant due to ancient lava, which had been ground into dirt from our menacing mountain above.

There were shops, and lodgings and even a very good place to eat at the first plateau.   Here it was very cool and refreshing.   The sun was out in all its glory and sky was as blue as the waters of the Mediterranean itself.   We stopped and browsed for a while, however, our mountain was waiting for us to come and visit.   We took a Mercedes Benz jeep.   If you can call it that.   This transportation vehicle was built like a tank with a motor to match.   We grinded our way up a path towards the mountain with our two Italian friends being the minority in a jeep full of people from the US and the UK.   It was the only time on my trip to this island that English was the dominant language.   Up and up and up we went.   The jeep went in a zig-zagging direction as we ascended up the mountain.   As we rose, less vegetation was apparent.   The terrain turned from beautiful trees and forest to brown grassy vegetation.   No one could feel the effect of the reduction in temperature as we rose, as we were in a comfortable moving machine.   As we ascended higher, the jeep was pushed around by the increasing winds that began to show themselves.   We finally ascended high enough to where there was no vegetation.   Nothing but volcanic rocks and dirt.   It was like we were riding on the NASA Moon Rover.   We finally arrived at an observatory nestled in plain view of the great summit of the mountain.   We were taken up to about the 9,000 foot level.   The summit was about 10,000 feet up.   A measly thousand feet from the opening of a hole in the earth which spews out the very substance of what this planet is composed of.   A release valve in the great pressure cooker called earth.

As the tourists got out of the jeep, one by one, no one told us that it would be unbearably cold with the inclusion of a constant wind speed of 50mph and gusts higher.   The temperature was below zero.   Being the gentleman that I am, I offered my jacket to Francesca (what can I say, I'm a typical Italian-American).   We walked up about another 300 feet.   Now only 700 feet below the summit of the mountain.   Here you could feel its power and visualize its grandeur.   I was getting dizzy.   I never get dizzy; however, when you are 9,300 feet up in the air, you get dizzy from the lack of oxygen at that level.   If the elements were not so harsh, I could have stayed up and watched that great volcano all day.   It commands respect from the population below and it shows no mercy for anyone or anything that gets in the path of the lava it throws out of its great expanse.

Standing above the clouds, looking down on the great eastern cities of this lovely island gave me a great feeling.   The beauty of the water coming in touch with the shore and the cities that have grown out of the land that has been provided by ancient eruptions was majestic.

As we boarded the jeep to begin our decent, I wondered if I will ever come as close to site of such magnitude and power and beauty again.   I was simply ecstatic that I had the opportunity to be part of such a great adventure and to be in the presence of such a magnificent entity...Mount Etna.

Skiing on Mt. Etna

What can be better than skiing on the beautiful snow-capped slopes of Mt. Etna, and seeing burning lava? Yes, Mt. Etna, one of the world's most active volcanoes, is also a popular ski resort. Mt. Etna is easily reached from Catania and Taormina. | Find a hotel in Catania or Taormina

There are 2 sides, the north side and south side. The north one is obviously a little cooler. Here are some phone numbers for Mt. Etna lift companies:

SITAS (south) - Phone:+39 095 914 141 (Sitas)
S.T.E.L. (north) - Phone:+39 095 643 814 (S.T.E.L)

Of course, keep in mind Mt. Etna is an active volcano, so skiing is post-poned when there are eruptions.

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