212 – Wednesday 18th November 2015: Aci Trezza Walk and … Lunch
We had thought being in the town would be noisy, but it was actually very peaceful. J was up and about very early for the sunrise – you can tell how long he was out there by the changing light – I thought he gone fishing with one of the locals!
The Aged P’s arrived … on time! If anything 2 minutes late …. had my ribbing about being always early had an effect? It threw us off – we’d started a quick tidy and a hoovering.
Coffee in Chardonnay and then a walk along the front to Acicastello, passing the Isole dei Cyclops: basalt rocks creating usual shapes near the harbour. According to Homer, Polyphemus threw them at Ulysses who had blinded him. Part of the path wended through a private lido with changing huts, plants and sun bathing areas … yours for EUR3. J and I wandered up the stairs into the town – the town where we had struggled with tight turns in Chardonnay yesterday, but we forgave it. It had a nice high piazza by the castle and views over the sea.
It was a little early for lunch, so we tried another of the Slovenian wines we had brought back for Horvat winery in Maribor … this is the second we have tried with the Aged Ps and they are really good. Despite trying for pizza; most seemed to be shut, we ended up with a very good lunch of swordfish overlooking the harbour.
213 – Thursday 19th November 2015: Mount Etna
A plan for Etna today. The Aged P’s had driven up part of it some years ago (they have been most places!), but it is so much part of Sicily and the largest volcano in Europe, that it really is a must. The other name for it is Mongibello: from the Italian ‘monte’ meaning mountain and the Arab ‘gebel’ meaning mountain too. So ‘Mount Mountain’. Regular eruptions from the main core and side craters – so constantly re-‘cratering’ itself, that it gets to be named twice! I hope you spotted my weak pun there!
We drove via a motorway services for imperfect motorhome services … I won’t go into detail about the concrete hole in the ground ….. Another stop for GPL. And several abortive stops for water. Ho hum … we were a little late at our rendezvous of Zafferano Etnea with the Aged P’s …. just as well. They arrived before us and rang to say the road was unsuitable to get Chardonnay down. We plugged in coordinates number 2 (we like to have a Plan B, and C and sometimes, even D) and met at Piazza Kennedy. The Aged P’s failed to find coffee and cakes in town and so joined us in Chardonnay, whilst J munched through a volcano sized bowl of cereal.
We drove in Chardonnay up to the Rifugio Sapienza, where the cable car starts for the summit of Etna starts.
K had googled:
- That the road was suitable for motorhomes and so it proved – much easier than most Sicilian roads! Wide and with a good surface for all the summer tourist coaches.
- The prices for the Etna ascent. Not going to happen for us … EUR30 for the cable car. 23 for the 4 wheel drive jeep and you still had to walk the rest. And then 9 for the compulsory guide to get to mouth of the main crater. A whopping total of EUR62! EACH!!
However, Etna had kindly gushed a small crater near the carpark and we circled that. A quick and disdainful look at the souvenir shops … who would pay EUR10 for a lump of rock when you can pick one up? And then lunch in Chardonnay, admiring the effects of the changing light on the lava. Fascinating to see the lava, both black and red, and how vegetation starts to grow on areas of volcanic rock. Drifts of volcanic ash that covered the road in places and must be a real hazard to walkers and cars in high winds.
Our Belgian neighbours from Aci Trezza had arrived too. They would stay overnight nearby and he would pay for the cable car and then walk the 5km up, but tomorrow morning as it was too late today.
We could have stayed overnight in the car park in Zafferano Etnea, but the guide book had promised a permanent agricultural fair with local wine and produce …. since there was no sight of either, a whining dog well within ear shot, and the rain had started … three good reasons to head back down the side of Etna towards the coast and higher temperatures.
Brad SatNav was duly tasked with taking us directly to an overnight parking near San Marco close to the coast….. Well, we coasted along following his directions….until he guided us down a quite narrow nondescript road. We followed confidently – the road got more narrow with trees brushing our roof… The road which seemed very narrow got more and more narrow. Did I just use the word narrow twice in the same sentence ? It then got narrowissimo ! Molto narrow, pissedoffissimo narrow, in fact… We came to a point where further progress was actually impossible with nowhere to turn around ! We have been in tight spots before, but this was definitely the worst. Calmly (not), we assessed the options – reverse our 28′ beauty along a ‘kinometre of blind mans alley – or (on finding a sort of gateway) turn in down a gravelly sandy slope with multifarious potholes – and then reverse up the slope and around an impossibly tight corner ! K (calmly) volunteered to drive – and I gave directions from outside the van. Reversing up the gravelly slope led to many wheel spins and slides – this was not promising… Finally, K administered some teacherly wellie – and Chardonnay made it up the gradient. As we share everything, I took my turn behind the wheel at this point. After a 27 point turn, we somehow got our home straightened enough to head back in the direction from whence we came ! Gulps of air (and relief) all round – the gin would have come later, except we don’t have any…
Brad (suitably admonished) finally led us to an alternative oasis – that just happened to be – a campsite! It was the one we planned to stay at tomorrow. We decide it was fate – and bivouacked for a peaceful evening…..
214 – Friday 20th November 2015: Defeated by Taormina Parking and a BBQ
The Aged P’s left their car at our campsite and J drove along the coast (after a direction error by K and had to do a tight 5 point turn at the entrance to the hospital), which was actually really pretty. A bay with islands and amazing clear water.
They have put a long tunnel under Taormina to get to the multi-storey car park as cars, thankfully, are banned from the old town centre. Bugger …. height barriers and not for motorhomes. We followed a motorhome parking sign, another tight turn, down a slope, just scraping the exhaust pipe and a 7 point turn this time. The ticket booth stated that motorhome parking was a whopping EUR5/hour but it seemed pretty deserted. We walked up the slope and looked at the tunnel we would have to walk through …. none of us fancied this, so we scarpered. Dad had suggested returning the the campsite via the supermarket to buy some fodder for lunch. We elected on a BBQ, which went slightly awry as the charcoal would not get going. J even chucked more lighting fuel on it … (from a safe distance, of course) and that just smoked. Abort. Chardonnay’s grill was deployed for the second time in 7 months, until K remembered the Cadac Safari grill … success … we managed to eat …. eventually.
Unbelievably, our Belgian neighbours turned up at the camping. It is a shame we were all too tired to make an evening of it (we had eaten and drunk too much and he had done the 5km walk up and then down Etna), and they only planned to stay the one night.
215 – Saturday 21st November 2015: Taormina and Pizza
Second attempt to reach and park in Taormina was successful. Dad drove in the small hire car … we discovered the rear suspension had gone. It groaned and growled over every bump and particularly did not like the tight hairpins.
Taormina is very pretty, nestled on rocks above the sea. Restaurant and shops, a small Duomo and lots of small narrow side streets. Nice, but must be horrendous in summer.
We chose not to have coffees or lunch in the Wunderbar Cafe where Taylor and Burton used to sip cocktails … not at EUR7.50 for an espresso! Swordfish (again, but so good) for Mum and I, and pizza for Dad and James … sitting in the sun overlooking the coast. Try not to feel too sorry for us!
216 – Sunday November 22nd November 2015 – Traffic Report … Aci Trezza again and Catania
Planned: A rendezvous in Aci Trezza (where we had previously overnighted) and then a bus to Catania … buses few on a Sunday so an early start.
Actual: K and J arrived in good time at the harbour car park … Aged P’s back on form … Early. Very early and had discovered that the published timetable on the web *updated Sept 2015* was incorrect, which it would have meant a long wait. K stocked up on veggies at the small market and then Dad drove.
Catania: Quiet roads and free parking. Main highlight is the the Piazza del Duomo which is really attractive.
The elephant symbol is also found on the city carriage which is only used annually in a February procession.
The town was flattened in an earthquake in 1693. so all the main buildings are C18 …. Baroque.
The Roman baths under the Cathedral were shut and we did not fancy the Roman amphitheatre (a bit Roman Remains’d Out!), so we decided to return to Aci Trezzo for a risotto in Chardonnay. We picked up some fish on our way back to the car from the Pescheria: a relatively expensive fish, but meaty and lots of flavour … no idea what , but not dissimilar to monkfish.
Aci Trezza: Just getting here from Catania was an experience. And one not to wish for. Traffic everywhere. The WHOLE of the region was out and about and all driving as badly as only Sicilians know how. Once we got close to Aci Trezza we joined the back of serious traffic jam. Everyone who was not in Catania had come here. If one horn was beeped, then another, and then everyone had to join in. Is it a herd mentality? Everyone out in their car crawling along roads. We assumed our car park would be jam packed … wrong! Cars were scooting through hoping for a short cut and not parking. K and J left the Aged P’s in the traffic queue to collect the food makings of a risotto, intending to take it up the the Aged P’s apartment and eat there. Amazingly there were car park spaces – so what were all these people doing? Just driving around? Enjoying being in a traffic jam? K started to cook in the van …. it must have been half an hour before the Aged P’s finally parked up. Wine served immediately on arrival … medicinal. Entertainment on hand as we watched cars try to pass in front of our nose for a short cut thorough the short cut of the car park, only to have to reverse as the only exit was into the water. One young enterprising chap collected tips as he became the unofficial car park helper.