Italy 2015 #2: Mt Etna

Yesterday, Matt said that I am his “sense of adventure”. I wouldn’t have guessed that since he’s the one that goes on mission trips to foreign countries while I stay home. But he explained that those are all planned out and he is just along for the ride. He said that if I wasn’t with him one this trip, he probably wouldn’t do many fun things. Well, I had to take care of that. The past two times we had been on Sicily, I had wanted to go up on Mt Etna, so I determined that this time we would make that happen!

Volcanoes have been of interest to me ever since we studied them with our sons for homeschool. How scary to think that the middle of our planet is filled with hot, molten lava. But Mt Etna leaves no doubt of that fact. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and in fact has erupted each time just a few days after we have left Sicily. These smaller eruptions are beautiful to witness from a distance at night and I wished I had seen it. I glanced at the beastly mountain that first evening after we arrived in Sicily, but there were no trails of orange, seething lava streaming down. That meant we could explore Mt Etna. Here is a photo of it that I took last year in the Spring when it had snow on it.Mt Etna

I love looking at the 10,900 ft giant towering over the rest of the island. But I wanted to look at it up front and personal, so we started winding our way up the mountain. I was surprised by the little towns on the mountain as we drove up. Weren’t they afraid of it blowing and taking them out? There was an eruption in 2002 that took out a resort on the mountain. It was sobering.Mt Etna

We took a tour ride up after cars were no longer allowed to proceed. Here is how it looked behind us as we ascended.Mt Etna

Mt Etna doesn’t erupt from just one crater, but instead there are several craters on the mountain. Our 4 wheel bus stopped at one that had steam billowing out of holes in the bottom. We stood amazed at the top of the crater and our guide said something in Italian. I didn’t know what he said, but suddenly, Matt took off and started climbing down into that crater. Was he crazy?! I really wanted to, but I was afraid it would be terribly difficult to climb back up out of the crater since there were little loose lava rocks that gave way as you walked. I saw Matt reach into the steam vent.Matt on Mt Etna

I asked if it was hot and he said, “No, just warm.” That did it. I was not going to come all the way to Sicily, finally get up on Mt Etna, and not go put my hand in a steam vent! All the while I was pretty much sliding down the little lava rocks into the crater I was thinking, “I hope they can get me out of here!” And that steam was pretty hot! Just not scalding.Matt and Janine on Mt Etna.

What a wonderful experience! And I actually made it out all on my own and proud of it too! I was really glad that we had brought our hiking boots.Hiking boots on Mt Etna

We got back into the bus and went up to one more stop. Here there was an observatory where they measured seismic activity. Mt Etna observatory

I asked how much of a warning they were given before an eruption. The guide reassured me that it was very safe. They would be given a two hour notice before Mt Etna would blow. I was reassured, but still surprised that it wasn’t a larger window of warning! He explained that in 2002, they were given enough warning to get everyone off the mountain so that even though buildings were destroyed, no one was killed. Matt and I hiked around at this stop and I shot some pics of the summit up above us.Mt Etna

Mt Etna looked hot and active to me! I wished I was further up the mountain to the summit, but they explained that the gases were noxious.Mt Etna

Matt and I built a cairn out of lava rocks to say, “We were here!”Mt Etna

When we returned to the bus, a woman suddenly looked at Matt and said, “Bruce Willis!” We had a good laugh and got into the bus. On the way down we passed an elderly man carrying a basket. Our guide said he had been picking mushrooms for the restaurant. Soon, we passed a sheep herder guiding his flock down the mountain. Life does indeed go on, even on a volcano.Mt Etna sheep

After all that exertion of hiking on Mt Etna, we were ready for dinner. Into downtown Catania we ventured. I wanted to eat in the old town square. It was a busy place and would you believe that we sat next to a couple that had flown all the way from Washington DC with us on all three flights? The man said he recognized us because I was so good looking. Hahaha! Here was our view as we ate dinner.Catania, Italy

What a day! Adventures, hot steam, lava rocks, hiking, good food and even compliments. Yes, a good day. Here is the beginning of this Italy Adventure: Italy #1, and the next post: Italy #3On Mt Etna

Italy 2015 #1: Arrive in Sicily

Traveling is always an adventure and this Italian adventure began as soon as we arrived at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC. A man offered to check us in at the curb, and was able to check my bag and print out a boarding pass for me, but didn’t seem to be able to take care of Matt’s bags. Finally, after taking us inside to have someone else check us in, Matt had a boarding pass in hand. We had a short flight from DC to JFK airport in NYC. Both airports had an international feel to them. It seemed as if we were already in another country! People-watching is always fun in airports and we were hearing many languages.

At JFK, we had to stand in line to get boarding passes for the last two legs of our trip: NYC to Rome, and then Rome to Sicily. The woman at the Alatalia window quickly printed off my boarding passes, but again, when she attempted to print off Matt’s, she couldn’t do it. Three people were working on it at one point. Finally, one of them said they couldn’t get us seats together on the last flight from Rome to Sicily because we were on different flights. Oh no! This couldn’t be. That would mean that in a country where I didn’t speak the language, I would have to take a flight all by myself and wait an hour for his flight to come into Sicily. I was a bit upset by this point, but started praying and also reminding myself of my latest saying, “It always seems to work out somehow.”

Matt mentioned that it had been necessary for him to book our flights by two separate methods. His flight had to be booked through an IBM travel agent since it was a trip for work, but mine couldn’t be done that way. So, as he was booking his flight through the IBM agent, he was also speaking with an agent at Alatalia to arrange mine. He double and triple checked to make sure that all three of our flights were the same. But now the Alatalia agent in front of us in NYC was telling us that Matt must have made a mistake on the last flight and booked us on different planes.

I was surprised. Matt is a man of details! But he had also been arranging a lot of flights lately with work related travel and was quite exhausted. He was, however, able to pull out an email printout that showed us on the same flights. That’s my guy! Our helpful Alatalia agent looked at it and said, “You booked this through American Express? Well, it seems they made a mistake. I guess you are on separate flights unless you want to pay a penalty to change it.”

What?! Really?! I said, “It doesn’t seem like we should be held responsible for a fee when we have a confirmation showing the correct flights.”

She replied, “Well, take it up with American Express.”

I took a deep breath. Rather than getting more upset, I prayed more and told myself that separate flights wouldn’t be the end of the world. I could do this.  Suddenly, she said, “Wait a minute. I wonder if Delta changed it for some reason.” Our flight to NYC had been with Delta and the two airlines seemed to be working together. After typing for quite a while on her keyboard, she found a history of the reservation. Sure enough, Matt had reserved them correctly, but Delta had changed things without notifying us. I thought she would say that we still would need to pay a penalty or just deal with it, but instead she said there were seats available in my flight and changed his for no charge! Finally, we had our flights and seat reservations for the rest of the trip.

Except for a gate change that we didn’t know about at first and a night of very little sleep, our trip went just fine. Our plane from Rome landed in Catania, Sicily at 8 am but our bodies thought it was 2 am. After picking up our rental car, we drove to our agriturismo, Tenuta Giarretta, seeing cacti bearing  fruit along the way.Cacti bearing fruit. ©Janine Broscious 2015

I wondered if Clelia, the sweet woman that took care of me, would remember would us from when we stayed there last year. As we pulled our luggage up the cobblestone sidewalk, out the door she came, gasping and exclaiming. Soon we were greeted with hugs, kisses and a stream of Italian accompanied by a big smile. I’d say yes, she remembered!

This agriturismo is a beautiful relaxing place. They served us lunch which included figs and cacti fruit. We hadn’t had either before. They both tasted so sweet and wonderful, but the cacti fruit was chock full of seeds that you just had to swallow. I liked them both, but I’m a big fan of the figs!Cactus fruit and figs ©Janine Broscious

We met a family from London at dinner. They were delightful and seemed to have the same kinds of adventures that we do, ones that include single lane dirt roads and road blocks. We jokingly practiced greeting each other with kisses to both sides of the face as Italians do. ©Janine Broscious

That evening, the sunset was gorgeous. I loved how the steaming volcano, Mt Etna looked off in the distance.Tenuta Giaretta and Mt Etna ©Janine Broscious

And the moon was full and beautiful!The moon in Italy ©Janine Broscious

Our Italian adventure was off and running and what a wonderful start it had been. After a day of making ourselves stay awake so that we could get over jet lag, I was looking forward to a good night sleep and a day of exploring! Let the adventures continue!

Next post: Italy #2

Another Grand Adventure: Italy 1

As I sit here, smelling orange blossoms and listening to excited children’s voices chattering in Italian, it’s hard to believe I’m here! And it has been quite a journey. Back in February, while we were in Florida, I jokingly said to Matt, “We need to go back to Italy. I want to take more photos.” Would you believe that 2 hours later, he was asked to go to Italy AND England for his job?! I couldn’t believe it either! So after some quick planning, here we are at the foot of Mt Etna in Sicily.

Our flight out of Dulles didn’t leave until 10:20 pm. It was so hard to wait through the day, but finally we were off. It was an 8 hour flight to Munich so we tried to sleep. I remember as I dozed that my head was rocking back and forth. I haven’t felt such turbulence in years of flying, so when we landed, I was glad to be standing again. I eagerly awaited landing in Italy, but first we had to endure an eight hour layover in the Munich airport. We were tempted to leave the airport and look for our first German geocache but that would mean going through customs, renting a car and lugging around our carry-ons. So instead, we lounged and tried not to sleep since we wanted to make sure we could fall asleep when we arrived.DSC_1907

Finally, we boarded the flight to Catania, Sicily. Each announcement was given in four languages: Italian, German, English and Spanish. It took quite a while to get through each one! Looking past the other passengers to window, I saw a bright orange stripe, the sunset above the clouds.

We landed on time, but still had to wait for our luggage, go through customs and get our rental car before we could head to our lodgings. It is quite disconcerting to wander around outside an airport, looking for Hertz Rent A Car in a foreign country. No one spoke English, but someone did point us to the left. So, we followed other people from our flight. Yay! There was the Hertz place. Unfortunately, it was dark and no one was there. Were they already closed?! We wandered a bit more, asking people and receiving puzzled looks until we finally found a building with all the rental car establishments’ offices in it. Whew! Now we just had to drive our little Fiat… in the dark… to our B&B.

You see, we had decided that we didn’t want to stay in hotels on this trip. Instead, I did a lot of research and found 13 different B&Bs to stay in. Each one, we’re sure, will have its own charm and idiosyncrasies, and we look forward to that. So, Matt set up his trusty GPS and headed to Tenuta Giaretta, our first agriturismo, a working farm.  DSC_1958 2

I wondered about our sanity as we drove on narrow roads and then our gps said to go off road. We did see a sign for the agrituismo which gave us hope and we approached a heavy locked gate. It didn’t open. Matt got out and pressed buttons. It didn’t open. We waited. I began wondering what it would be like to sleep in the car, along a road, in Sicily. Matt whistled his ear piercing whistle. Nothing.  He honked the horn. This brought a dog to the gate. Thankfully, it was friendly. Matt told it to go tell the people we were here. It lumbered off into the dark. I prayed. We waited about 10 minutes. Finally, as we discussed what to do, the gate opened! It was almost midnight as we climbed into the bed, thanking God for answered prayer.DSC_1916

We awoke to sunlight pouring into our room. I got up and peered out. Wow! What a beautiful view of Mt Etna. How much prettier this place was in the daylight! Looking down, I saw farm workers sitting around a fire eating breakfast.  One of them sang cheerfully. And why not with such beauty around you?DSC_1922 2

Our breakfast was eggs, fresh from our hostess’s hens.  And she, Clelia, served us orange juice that she squeezed from the oranges of the farm’s groves. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such good orange juice!DSC_1995 2

After breakfast, we were off to find a store. Matt needed to get Italian SIM cards for our phones so that he could do work. I am sure we have seen parts of Italy that most American tourists never see since they usually come on tours. Not us. We have to search for each thing. Where could we get SIM cards? We are so thankful for gps technology! We got the cards, but then had to wait while they were activated. While we waited, Matt worked in the lobby of the agriturismo.DSC_1984 2

But now I am tired! I must go to bed. I look forward to telling you more of our adventures!

See the next part of the adventure: Italy 2