September Travels – Sicily via Naples

[This post is part of a series which records my road trip to Sicily during September. I took loads of photos, but have only included a few at the end of each blog post.]

I’ve already touched on some of my travels around Sicily in my Blogtember Challenge post reviewing the Blue Guide to Sicily. This post will generally chat about what we did, what we enjoyed and where we want to go back to. I love Sicily. I love the fact that it’s a bit crazy, a bit run down and has lots of stray cats. Obviously, it’s a bit different for the people who actually have to live there year round, but the quality of the food and friendliness of the (Southern) Sicilians is fantastic.

This visit was the second time that I had driven to Sicily. I last drove there with my parents in the back of a non air-conditioned Vauxhall Cavalier with a cooler wedged between me and my friend. This trip was somewhat different: we had air conditioning and a plug-in cooler, it was September instead of August, and we stayed in self-catering apartments instead of camping.   I really enjoyed camping last time, but staying in self-catering was pretty awesome.

We sailed to Sicily from Naples on a friday evening. When I told my sister-in-law this, she looked very shocked. Apparently all the Neapolitans living in Rome drive back to Napoli on Friday afternoon and the motorway is absolute carnage. To pre-empt Italian crazy driving, we left Rome at 3pm and had a clean run all the way to Naples.

It’s amazing how quickly the scenery can change on a road trip. From the relative lushness of Rome and the hills surrounding it, to a much drier and dustier plains and jagged mountains surrounding Naples. This also exacerbated the relative poverty of the places that we drove though.

The port in Naples is hilarious. That’s the only way I can describe the completely nonsensical directions, totally insane roads and the chaos of the different docks and shipping companies that make up the port. I didn’t have an actual address of the Ferry company (Tirrenia) that we were using and I knew that Naples was in a world of its own, so we arrived pretty early at the Port in order to have a good drive around and figure out what the hell was going on. Eventually we found the appropriate ticket office and place to sit until the Ferry was ready to start loading. After faffing around sorting out tickets and getting very confused about where to park and when we should start loading – or even where loading would be, I had time to take some photos.

The Ferry took 2 hours to load. This was mainly because there was no real queuing system for trucks, cars and pedestrians; and because they had to reverse the trucks into the loading bay. By the time the ship started to sail it was dark. The OH and I had a wander up on deck and I remembered how much I loved being on a ferry with the feel of ocean air moving past me. This air was heavily concentrated diesel, but that’s beside the point.

We arrived in Catania the next morning and it only took about 1 hour to unload. Luckily we had befriended a retired Italian fighter pilot who told us what the hell was going on and eventually we were able to disembark. Immediately we were besieged by crazy Sicilian driving. My MIL remained very quiet in the back, while me and the OH found the whole experience quite entertaining. The best analogy was we were in the middle of an Italian version of British Touring Cars where everyone just about avoids crashing into each other.

We decided to have lunch on Mount Etna. I’ve had a phobia of volcanoes ever since I was last in Sicily and wanted to get over it. Going up Etna seemed like a good idea. However, it was cold up there. I was so not dressed for it in shorts and a t-shirt. The landscape totally changed on the drive up the mountain and became much more barren. Our helpful Sicily guidebook told us that:-

  • First known record of an eruption at Etna was by Diodorus Siculus
  • Virgil gave a first-hand description of an eruption in the Aeneid (probably)
  • Apparently and eruption of Etna thwarted the Carthaginians in their attempt to advance on Syracuse during the 2nd Sicilian War (396 BC)
  • After a particularly violent eruption in 122 BC caused roofs as far as Catania to collapse. The Roman government exempted the population of Catania from paying taxes for 10 years to help with the reconstruction.
  • In 1669 there was a huge eruption that destroyed 10 villages (at least) prior to reaching the walls of Catania, five weeks later. The lava was largely diverted into the sea, but a small portion did break through and destroy some buildings before stopping in the rear of the Benedictine monastery.

After wandering up one of the smaller craters near the Refuge, we decided to drive cross-country to arrive in Sciacca. The route was amazing. Very twisty roads, cows wandering across our path and pretty much nothing else other than scenic views, decrepid or abandoned houses and a lot of dust. We did see vineyards and other agricultural areas as well.

Eventually we arrived in Sciacca and settled into our rented apartment. In the next installment of our road trip, I’ll write about Sciacca, the apartment and where we visited when there.

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  1. Pingback: September Travels – Sciacca, Sicily | Canadiankate's Weblog

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