Tag Archives: Catania

We’ve got the snow, now when can we ski?

Last week, I was in shorts. It is fair to say I got a few strange looks from the locals. A few old people shivered and drew their coats up around their necks as they passed me, but it was 22c and for me that’s summer.

That was last week though. The temperature has dropped significantly and winter has rocked up, shocking us to the core. Most Sicilians now look like they are about to go on an expedition to the Artic. It surprises me how many winter clothes they have, considering they get such a relatively short winter. Like it or not, old ladies are wearing fur which has  passed down generations, mind you, I have seen fur coats being worn when it is 20c.

The best thing about this cold snap? Snow. Snow has turned parts of Sicily into a winter wonderland, especially in the Madonie mountians and on Mt Etna. Schools have closed and everyone is grappling with snow chains or rushing to buy them. Avid skiers are looking for news as to when the ski runs will open. It is exciting that you can ski on an active volcano while marvelling at views of the sea in the distance. It is also quite scary, not just that the volcano could erupt at any time but also when you are up there it looks as though you are going to ski right off the edge into oblivion! But if that’s not for you then there are other places to ski in Sicily, such as the Madonie Mountains at Piano Battaglia. If you want to know when the slopes are open then you can check out www.pianobattaglia.it and Etnasci.it.

And if skiing isn’t your thing, then you can partake in the popular pastime of Catanese and drive up to Etna, pile a load of snow onto your car bonnet and drive down the mountain and see how long it takes for it to melt!

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Descending into the Valle del Bove

‘Hmmm….’ the Parco Del Etna guide looked us up and down, ‘…………..they are walking shoes, not boots and have you got anything warmer it can get cold up there’. My partner and I looked at each other and promptly decided we would be fine as we had used the same shoes in Iceland where there are far more volcanoes, we had warm clothes in our backpacks (which in the end we didn’t need anyway) and that the guide had just felt the need to say something as tends to be the case here in Sicily. Someone is always there with some unwanted advice and this was no different. This was confirmed when others joined us and the guide said nothing about their ‘inappropriate footwear’.

Every now and again, the Parco Dell Etna organise walking tours at the weekend. You pay a very small and reasonable fee and you get to discover new walks on Etna whilst learning titbits of information along the way. Finding out about these walks is down to luck as they are not advertised very well and you therefore often come across them by chance, as I did. This one particulary intrigued me as it was a walk into the Valle de Bove or Valley of the Bulls. I have stood at various points and looked down into the Valle del Bove but never have I actually ventured into it, mainly because I had no idea how to get there.

The Valle del Bove is a massive, wide valley that was thought to be created from a collapsed crater. It hugely important as the majority of lava flows from eruptions end up here and the basin is so large that it is able to take all this lava thereby protecting the towns on the lower slopes of Etna – most of the time anyway. When you see it you can’t quite take in how big it is but what you definitely notice is that it is one vast, black expanse of lava. For more information on its formation, click here, it is quite an interesting read!Above the clouds

The weather was perfect on the morning of the walk. Clear blue skies gave us the best view of Etna that we have ever had as we made our way up the winding roads to Rifugio Sapienza. A group of about 20 of us took the cable cars up to a height of 2,500 m. The view of distant mountain peaks and the occasional lake was  quite a breathtaking sight. We walked uphill for a short distance before veering away from the main craters and walking to a ridge which overlooked the Valle del Bove. Here, the panorama was something else. Yes, we could see the mainland of Italy to our left but on our right we were also able to make out the Scogliera at Aci Trezza. As we marvelled at the view a cloud of ash blew out of one of the craters behind us.Black & Red

As we stood on the ridge, I kept looking at the angle of the slope we were about to go down. A steep slope which consisted of volcanic sand. As we started to descend my legs felt a bit wobbly and I nearly lost my bottle but I soon learnt to lean back slightly to steady myself and before I knew it I was taking bigger and more confident steps. The sand was so soft that it went up to almost knee height. Little by little people grew in confidence and soon one or two of them went flying past me. It didn’t matter that we were only wearing walking shoes and  not boots as everyone had to stop now and then to empty the sand from their shoes. The changing landscape and views as we made out way down continued to impress as we snapped away with our cameras and phones. Several stops to empty shoes (and boots, I gleefully add) later we arrived at the bottom of the valley where we pearched on some lava rocks and ate something, lamented how we should have brought some wine with us and emptied our shoes again.Angles It's all downhill from here The long way down

The next part of the walk was equally as fascinating as we meandered through the valley past different lava formations, jumping over large cracks and finding a new route around a large rockfall.Cracked open

After a brief respite we started the climb out of the valley. We had to climb over a few trees which had fallen across the path and the climb was steep. Most of us stopped to take photos of a particulary poisonous mushroom which glowed bright red against the black earth. For me, it was a great excuse to catch my ever dwindling breath. Once we got to the top, we were again met by beautiful views of one of the craters and the Valle de Bove. I managed to appreciate it despite my now wobbling legs.

We then completed our walk passing through a familiar trail and all feeling tired but satisfied with the day’s walk. The only downside was the large amount of litter we encountered at the car park. All those ignorant people who picnic there and dump their rubbish should be hanging their heads in the shame as they are destroying the very nature that the flock to visit.

Fire & Ice (cream)

I have been waiting for Etna to erupt ever since moving back to Sicily, she has been so quiet lately, yet in 2013 she didn’t seem to stop erupting. My partner came out here before me and kept ringing me to tell me about her activity in December 2013 and January 2014. At one point he said that the windows were shaking and his mother was praying and that she had never sounded so loud. Back in England I felt like I was missing out.

Why would I want the volcano that I live at the foot of to erupt? Well, that’s a good question and one that years ago I would have asked myself. When I did my Geography degree and studied disaster zone management I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to live in a disaster prone area but here I am living beneath (actually sort of on) a volcano and in an area that experiences earthquakes.

I have seen Mt Etna erupt before and each time I have to blink and check that it’s real. You can’t fail to be impressed by a display of nature’s great power. Volcanoes create and destroy, whilst their lava flows can claim land and houses they in turn create rich fertile land. Etna has vineyards on its lower slopes and orchards of apples and pears higher up. Etna makes you aware of your own mortality and makes you appreciate your very existence here on earth. I think living with an active volcano explains why many people here seem to live dangerously and without a care. They have a saying ‘In bocca al lupo’ which means in the mouth of the wolf – our fate lies in the hands of others.

On Sunday night, June 15th, after slight strombolian activity from it’s new south east crater in the preceding days, Etna’s activity increased and she put on one hell of a show. In fact, she is still erupting. Our in-laws called us as they have a great view of the top of Etna from their house and we drove straight over there. A block of flats annoyingly blocks the view from our place, go up or down the hill a bit and you can see her clearly. Huge rivers of lava streamed down her side and into the Valle del Bove, an expansive valley on the volcano which contains the lava flow and naturally protects the villages below. It seems to be bottomless holding the lava from eruption after eruption but it is going to have to fill up one day, surely? We watched, transfixed as lava, gases and rocks shot up into the air again and again reaching what seemed from below, astonishing heights. We thought about driving a bit further up the mountain to get even closer but decided we were both too tired and that we would do that another night, we could see the flashes of cameras high up the volcano. I am not sure how long we sat there eating ice-cream whilst watching her erupt but we saw her again last night and she was still going strong. It is difficult to tear your eyes away from an eruption.

Etna Eruption 15 June 2014 137Etna Eruption 2014

If you want to keep abreast of Etna activity then check out these two great websites: http://www.volcanodiscovery.com/etna/news.html and http://www.ct.ingv.it/en/webcam-etna-en.html

 

 

Il Mercato di Ognina – Ognina Market

Men gather on the harbour wall watching the scenes below. Fishermen shout over one another in deep Sicilian voices waving their cleavers around in the air as they advertise their catch of the day. A group crowd around a bucket of fish, jostling for a good position as they start their bargaining. An octopus tries to makes its escape from the plastic bag it has been flung in to as it is unceremoniously plonked on the scales. A fish which has been desperately flapping around in a crate full of apparently lifeless fish is thrown back into a pail of seawater as another one is pulled out in its place; the fisherman’s attempt at showing how fresh his fish are. A man selling parsley pushes through the crowd shouting ‘Prezzemolo, prezzemolo’ over and over again. Another seller cuts a piece of tuna and eats it in front of an interested customer in an attempt to persuade her that his tuna is freshly caught that day whilst a new boat arrives bringing its fresh catch straight from the Mediterranean sea. Next to the fishermen are fruit and vegetable stalls, cockerels and live rabbits are also for sale along with cheese and bread. The smell from the oranges ripening in the sun is intoxicating.

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This is the Sunday market in Ognina, Catania; the one day of the week when the fishermen forgo the middlemen and sell directly to the customer. The market is like an open-air theatre as the fishermen throw their voices and dramatically wave their hands around in the air fighting for attention. Their Sicilian customers are shrewd and know what to look out for and are fully aware that some of the fish will not be fresh and might have come from the freezer of a truck instead. They know to look through the fruit and vegetables that have been placed in punnets and check carefully those at the back where the bruised and old ones are usually hidden and they enjoy the experience knowing  when they are done that they will return home with the freshest fish and cook up a feast for all of the family.

Carciofi at Ognina Market