Etna Sud

On May 29, we decide eventually not to stay the night up on 2.000m / Parking Etna Sud, proving us being smart camper girls. Otherwise, we would have been shaken…

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None of this is predictable when we start on our 12th day from Sabbiadoro towards the Etna. We would love to tell you that we catch one of the rare days when Etna’s peak is clearly visible, but we rather see business as usual: one third of the volcano is covered by clouds. The more we approach it, the less inviting looks our surrounding.

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Approaching the Etna. And the Garbage. And the Clouds.

It gets better, though, as Hector’s wheels climb up and up the mountain. Grey lava and colourful flowers embellish the road and give a first impression of nature’s forces that may be calm, but always present.

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Somehow Beautiful

I suddenly smile, thinking of a friend who comments left-but-slow-drivers on the highway with a reference to common video games: “Die rechte Spur ist Lava”. Right he is… (special greetings to Klaus!).

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Hector meets Lava

Walking around a volcano is like landing on a foreign planet. It is almost irritating to see the regular blue sky above us, a yellow or violet firmament would fit in even better.

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Extra. Terrestrial.

With a few metres of distance, it becomes obvious that Hector is parked right in the middle of a former lava flow. That is what they do here: they observe. They wait. Once the Etna erupts, they wait again (more cautious now). When the lava is cold enough, they re-build the roads and welcome tourist busses.

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Hector = Vulkanaut (Auto, das Vulkane hoch fährt)

The same is true for the funicular: the former one got partly destroyed by eruptions? Never mind, we erect new pylons beside the old ones and start all over again. Danger vs. tourism, money vs. nature.

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Funicular Etna South

We leave Hector for expensive parking fees at the tourist parking and choose early lunch at the local (and very touristic) restaurant. It is only there that I wonder if some parts of the building might be less stable then others – it seems that the walls are slightly shaking sometimes. At that point we still make jokes about possible earthquakes…

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After Lunch, we go up on one of the older craters. While the Stromboli had been extraordinary with its regular eruptions, the Etna impresses by its sheer size. We look south and see the sea in a far distance – like merging Mars into Mediterranean.

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Looking north, we see more craters and the massive clouds that swallow 1.000m of the volcano’s height.

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Etna. And, in the distance, more Etna.

It is fascinating up here, a whole lot of nature jumps at our faces. Partly due to the view and the weird landscape, partly literally with all the pumice that is blown up on us. Volcanos and wind always come as a couple.

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…did I mention the cold Wind??

We consider the option staying the night up here. Yet, 6°C and light rain is not the most comfortable surrounding – hence, we decide to go down to Catania for a relaxed campsite with seaside. Hector is already focused on the destination and off we go.

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Like an Aerosmith Song: “Going… down?!”

Camping Jonio is just perfect for our last common night. Any parking position more than 20m away from the sea is so not our style, and here we have everything we need. Apart from being close to downtown, that is. However, we are in walking distance to a small harbour and detect wonderful fish shops along the way.

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Lava with Summer Feeling: Back to the Sea

It is our last evening together before Martina catches her flight the next morning. Consequently, we find one of the most excellent restaurants of the entire trip and enjoy all kinds of fish, a bottle of Donnafugata Cattarratero, dessert, coffee and total luxury at Nitto restaurant, Porto piccolo.

When we fall asleep that night, we are not aware of the Etna and its erupting activities.

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This Picture was probably taken in the very moment of the Etna’s Eruption. Well – we missed all the Action, but that is not so bad

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Noto

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Another Culture Day breaks its dawn with fabulous Hector and bright sun. We start full of youthful enthusiasm which is good – otherwise the 2,2 km march to the next bus station would have annoyed us.

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We could have spent the day at Sabbiadoro, doing nothing. Instead, we are off to Noto. Sometimes it is tough being intellectual…

As soon as we stride the Porta Real and enter Noto’s prinked baroque centre it gets obvious that this place is worth a visit. Especially when fresh wind is more tempting for a light jacket than for sand coating in your tiniest bikini.

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Perfect conditions for a city tour at Noto

While Taormina shares a style mixture with a range of aprox. 2.000 years and with Siracusa having a more off-scaling charm, Noto is all bright and nice and beautiful. Like easy-listening pop or chocolate ice cream, Noto is the everybody’s-darling-town of Sicilia’s East coast.

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Like pearls on a string, grand buildings present their baroque facades along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Following the flock of tourists, we step through Porta Reale and make our way through Baroqueland.

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Santa Chiara

We start with the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, a wonderfully inviting church with dignity and a statue of Padre Pio. Driven by the atmosphere of the church, I ignite a candle before we step out into the sun for the next highlights.

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Cathedral of Noto

Next stop is Noto’s Cathedral, majestic and impressive yet with a different charm compared to Santa Chiara.

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Getting more into the local style of decoration, we follow our guidebook and admire elaborate balconies in some of the cross-roads. Guess showing off in front of your neighbours was a common hobby back in 1694.

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Even before everybody wanted a Porsche, people found a way to show their richness

No matter where you turn here, you will always stand in front of beautiful buildings. Passing by the theatre is almost like: “yeah, see? Another one…”

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Noto’s Theatre

With a bit of a distance from the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, we finally find an open place with a modern building at one side. It looks like something with bureaucracy in it, while the pattern of blind windows comes with a particular beauty.

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A few weeks ago, Noto was all blooming and flourishing during the annual flower festival Infiorata di Noto: Roads and stairs around the historic centre get filled with flower arrangements, all adding up to gigantic pictures in the slope streets. The forms are still visible and some of the stairs around have been painted, following this year’s device of “I Siciliani in America”. Hence, it is no wonder that the Statue of Liberty is to be found right here.

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2019_05_28L1For lunch, we get served with all kinds of delicious antipasti + main course at the Trattoria Ducezio. Sometimes when I think back of the Sicilian holidays, I still dream of gamberetti all’ arancia

However, we are not here for fun but for culture! Hence, next stop is an exhibition with works from Banksy, one of the contemporary artists I admire most.

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Banksy’s street art is a nice contrast to the Baroque-as-Baroque-can architecture in Noto. Still full of impressions, we hop on one of the afternoon’s busses (ignoring the toothless taxi driver that tries to talk us in his car), heading up for Avola.

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Last glance on Noto, here: Palazzo Ducezio

The town between Noto and our campsite is described as a hidden champion, a quiet town with a small historic core. In fact, it is non-touristic with only local highlights. The highlights are today’s funerals that pass one after the other while we wait on busses that might or might not exist on the cryptic timetable of the bus station.

Eventually, we make it on a bus and the friendly driver offers an extra stop for us, bringing us all back to Camping Sabbiadoro.

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Siracusa II: Ancient Stones

Siracusa and its surrounding area have been inhabited since ancient times, now with 2 temporary citizens added (Martina + me), all cosy on the simple camper parking “von Platen”. It looks like leftovers from a former industrial site, now used for busses and camper vans. With lookouts on the adjacent estate, it even comes with the illusion of supervision and bodyguards. Which is not true. True is that we feel comfortable here and appreciate the warm welcome from other guests, from the gatekeeper and the drivers of downtown-shuttle busses.

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Between Hector and the Greek Theatre

The Greek Theatre and further Roman relics are right around the corner of our camper parking. On our way, we pass by the lookout tower and admire the futuristic church “Madonna delle Lacrime” that seems to be an elder cousin of Bahá’i Temple in Hofheim/Langenhain.

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Madonna delle Lacrime

The historic site of ancient ruins opens at 9:00 am. We arrive at the main spot, the Greek Theatre that awaits us since the 5th century BC, at 9:10 am, only to bump in two busloads full of pensioners. Although they do not appear like super-sports-seniors, they somehow managed to outperform us. With a sigh we give in to the early-bird-crowd and hand them over our cameras – at least it eases the search for a portrait-photographer.

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Next time I come here, I will order more stable weather and organize an evening at the theatre festival. The scenery is inviting and, with wooden planks on the echelons, it must be comfortable enough to enjoy modern interpretations of historic dramas.

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We leave the amphitheatre and make our way to the Ear of Dionysius. The spiral shape and the altitude of the natural cavern produce impressive acoustics, tempting people to clap and sing and shout and do any kind of strange noise just for the fun of it.

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outside in…

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…and inside out

The ancient Greeks have been successful in culture and politics and it is all obvious how they got there: strong hierarchies on short distances. The quarry for the amphitheatre is just around the corner, interspersed with natural and handmade caves. No wonder that the Romans, some hundreds of years later, took over the place and added a fight arena. More blood, less elegiacs – sometimes culture is a question of habit.

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Roman Arena

Satisfied with the cultural aspects of today, we get back to Hector. We hop on board and head off to Camping Sabbiadoro which will be our home base for sunny hours, a nice beach bay and a trip to Noto – adventurous public transportation included…

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Siracusa / Ortigia

So. Everybody tells me, Siracusa is soooo beautiful! Well… the first impression is at least ambivalent.

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As with most things in life, it seems to be a matter of timing. Huge parts of Ortigia, the baroque peninsula of the city, must have been fabulous around 1705, when the buildings were brand-new. Nowadays it rather looks run-down – just like us during the one rain shower that gets us, jumping athletically under the parasols of the very next restaurant.

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Fading Beauty in Ortigia / Siracusa

While the afternoon enfolds, Siracusa shows more and more facets of beauty, tourism and weather. The sea turns from grey to blue and buildings get brighter, especially when approaching the historic core of Ortigia.

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When we reach the Cattedrale metropolitana della Navità die Maria Santissima, we put aside any scepticism and stare fascinated at the mixture of Greek and baroque style, Catholic symbols amid Doric pillars and the dignity ascending behind scattered tourists.

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The atmosphere is particular. Peaceful and strange, dark and bright mixing up, somehow pure and decorated all the same.

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From the outside, the cathedral is not less interesting. Behind the baroque portal you find the ancient pillars from Greek eras with the later Christian church built in, creating a unique symbiosis of architectural styles.

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Greek meets Baroque

We continue our way and follow the travel book’s guidance straight into the next church: Santa Lucia alla Badia. It contains a huge painting from Caravaggio that attracts far more people into the small church than it can swallow. Consequently, masses of people shuffle through the aisles, all aiming to get a good selfie in front of the painting, accompanied by the constant megaphone reminders that it is absolutely forbidden to take pictures inside the church.

Further down the road we reach the next highlight which is the phenomenon of a fresh water well located only inches from the salty sea. It attracted settlers already thousands of years ago and still is famous for being the source of European papyrus.

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Papyrus plant growing at the Fountain of Arethusa

You do not have to drink the water directly from the well though, there are enough bars and restaurants around. A glass of aperitivo and some rays of sun are all it takes to finally convince us of Siracusa’s qualities.

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We stroll along some further for the rest of the afternoon, detecting wide space and relaxed students around the Castello Maniace, a studio filled with sensual modern paintings where we have a nice chat with the artist and a local festival where they celebrate stalking men (= men walking on stalks, joking on naïve tourists).

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We conclude the evening with fantastic food at Divino Mare and come to the opinion that Siracusa may not be as charming as Taormina on the first glance, but definitely has a special flair.

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Isola Bella

Our first week has been filled with 1.837,7 km (Hector, driving), 900m altitude difference (Stromboli, outbreaking) and overall 9h on ferrys and boats. Now we decide to take it slow and stay one more day at Paradise Camping / Taormina.

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Even under Cloudy Sky: Isola Bella, all bella

Martina is keen on hiking up to mountain villages and crash traditional Italian weddings, while I am just lazy. For the morning, however, we both head off towards Isola Bella – which in fact is not more than a tiny peninsula that lies there like a leftover from Taormina’s basement.

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I assume the inch of sea water between Isola Bella and land is handmade, created by some inventive tourist office – and you know what? it works! Everybody is keen on wet feet and on the walk over to the island.

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Weather is dithery today, but nothing we cannot cope with. The general rule of our holidays is: Rain is something that happens elsewhere. Every now and then we get told about the “brutto tempo” and Sicilian folks are all upset about it. Compared to the rainy May we had in Germany this year, we are happy about the sun-and-clouds-mixture we face here. Furthermore, I like the diffuse light that almost merges the sky with the sea.

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For noon, we choose once more our favorite ristorante Porta Messina, again with fantastic food and friendly service. Taormina does it’s best to make us feel comfortable.

 

Meanwhile, Martina is on her own mission and finds even more beauty in architecture, landscape and people high above Taormina.

 

And Hector? Enjoys beach day!

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Hector’s Perspective

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Taormina

The roadmap has been set for all highlights of the East coast with the first stop being Taormina. Close enough (at Letojanni), we take over one of the beach spots at Paradise Camping, including blue skys, empty beaches and a mostly regular bus service to Taormina downtown.

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It feels like beach hours are rare these days, while in fact we are rewarded with the coldest May within 50 years (true at least for Sicilia). Only in my last week, when the typical heat kicks in, I will realize how favourable the lower temperatures are for the sightseeing parts of the journey.

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Taormina offers a vivid historic centre and some ancient stones, most of them to be found at the Greek Theatre. Thanks to multiple tourist groups, we catch at least an impression of its shere size. Even with umpteen or hundreds of people around, the place is far from being crowded.

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How we know that it has been built originally by Greek rather than Romans? Due to the site: Greek theatres are always located on fantastic spots that offer beautiful views on the surrounding – just in case the play on stage might bore you.

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Impressive and Beautiful: Ancient Theatre in Taormina

We continue through the park with somewhat strange, yet fanciful buildings.

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In centro storico, traces of all kinds of Sicilian cultures are visible. Strolling through the streets turns out to be quite a pleasant way to let the afternoon pass by.

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By coincidence and hunger, we bump into the restaurant Porta Messina and enjoy wonderful pizza (even glutenfree!) and adorable antipasti. We could worship the food for hours, when eventually we continue our way through the city. They have several churches here, of which some are used as churches while others are used as libraries.

Being in Sicily for a couple of days by now, a certain pattern revolves: no matter what kind of job someone has, they all fullfil it with passion. Just like the chef of our lunch restaurant, the bus driver is one of the most passionate workers here, proving the vehicle and the road-turns just right for formula 1 races.

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Church = Church

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Church = Library

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Speedbus on Racetrack

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In Between Highlights (II)

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Sicilian Travel Quality

…kann Spuren von geschlossener Asphaltdecke enthalten. Muss aber nicht… Presenting today’s roads: after one direction had been blocked already, there was not much of a choice, so we made our way through rough parts.

…and this is what happens when bumping into a group of young Dutchmen. No complaints.

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Phönix-Statue in Agrigento. Paar mittleren Alters kommt heran, sie zu ihm:
<<Das ist die Bronze-Statue, die hatte wer-weiß-wer fotografiert, ich erkenne den Penis wieder.>>
<<…?!>>
<<Stell dich mal davor!>>
Stimme aus dem off:
<<Wenn Sie Penis vor Penis stellen… das ist vielleicht nicht gut für die Ehe?!>>

Phoenix

Leaving Stromboli

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We rinse off the black ashes from our volcano hike and debate happily over breakfast: How can the Sicilia holidays possibly turn out any other thing than fantastic? For us, the charming Liparic islands, the fire trek up to the volcano, the wonderful breakfast we get served with – it is already worth taking the distance of roughly 1.600km. The only issue now is: how can we top that?

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Perhaps we should skip all of our plans and just sit bored at some beach for the next 10 days.

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Anyway, after fantastic breakfast we take the boat around 11 AM and get back to brave little Hector, waiting all along at Camping Riva Smeralda.

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Hector says he looks slim and sporty in front of blue sea (vanity van??)

Getting back is easy enough, thanks to regular busses and irregular stops at our preferred crossing close to the campsite (try that with a Munich bus driver, ha!). We enjoy antipasti bought along the way and let the afternoon go by with flashbacks of the volcano fire trek, accompanied with images of the charming island Stromboli.

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…terrific!!! / The Stromboli Volcano

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At 5:30 PM, we meet our guide, kind of an outgrown hippie, smoking one cigarette after the other and talking in strange languages. Martina with her capability of instinctive understanding brings it down to the core: He invented his own Esperanto. No matter whether he speaks Italian, French or English, it always sounds more or less the same.

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In the Back: Strombolicchio, former
Volcano Funnel

Our group is not huge, but heterogene: it is my first hike without severe sweating, thanks to the maximum speed of other group members. Although I miss a geologist who could tell me more about the elements that are thrown out of a volcano, about the heat and the atomic structure of magma, about the planet’s history and further details, I can do without and focus on the spectacles of the trip.

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Throwing long Shadows

Most of the things we see are unique, at least for what I have experienced so far. Incredible proportions, like the small rock called Strombolichio that once has been the funnel that spit out the Stromboli island. The coniform shadow of the volcano, clearly visible and stretching out miles across the sea. The hike itself leads up to moon-like landscape with paths through lava in all forms: rocks and stones, sands and ashes, all gray with small red particles every here and there.

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We reach the top at sunset, meaning: the exact minute when the sun dives into the sea to our West. Thanks to cloudless skys, we have full 360° view and it is breathtaking. Another gratitude goes to favorite winds that take the sulphur clouds of the volcano’s eruptions in the opposite direction.

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Volcano Sunset

All of a sudden, we see a first volcanic eruption – a small one, not even from the best perspective yet. Even though, like a spark, it sets us on fire (figuratively). How cool is it to see an active volcano while standing on its flanks?!?

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See Video here: Stromboli Eruption during our Visit (filmed ourself)

Up to this point, it was a walk in the park. Now it is time to put on the helmets and, with significant temperature drop and coldest winds, all layers of clothing we have in our backpacks. Let me point out that you are totally wrong expecting a heated mountain to be warm on its peak – not even the thermic baselines about heat rising up are true anymore.

In the end, it does not matter. All that matters is standing up, 200m above the active craters, fascinated by the crater’s roar and the wind and the fireworks that go off around us.

 

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After having seen the highest peaks of our planet (Himalaya, 2018), it now is like looking into the well-heated oven, showing open mouths of red-fervid magma –  deep in the inner earth itself.

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This is…

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Stromboli

The early morning sun shows today’s destination: Stromboli, one of the Liparic Islands. We expect black beaches, fire-spitting dragons and a walk up to the peak, while around 6:00 AM we only see a faint silhouette at the horizon.

 

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Looking like a Postcard Image

The campground crew talked us into the early speed boat, departing from Milazzo at 7:30 AM. The next 4 hours prove them right: instead of aiming directly for Stromboli, the ship stops at each of the main islands and ports: Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, … finally: Stromboli!

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The first impression is a bright one. White cubical houses with blue ornaments and blossing decoration gather together in the populated part of the island. Narrow streets offer batik tissues, colourful tiles and a flair that ranges from Greek hicktowns to Hippie eras.

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The villages Piscità, Eicogrande and S. Vicenzo stretch over mere 2 km, centered around the main church, main piazza and most famous (= least quality) restaurant. Right around the corner, we find our B&B “Aquilone” that welcomes us with a charming courtyard and friendly service. It is okay to share toilet and bathroom outside the room, especially as we only share it among us (all other rooms have bathrooms of their own). Later that afternoon, when we come to a rest in the garden chairs, we hear the vulcano (always in sight) humble and thunder. Somehow it is sort of comforting, like being greeted by ancient natural forces.

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Aquilone, courtyard / Stromboli

Lucky us that we took the early boat: the island is worth a stay of at least half a day. Just like foreseen (ordered, even), we stroll across black beaches, white houses and all kinds of delicious restaurants and bars. With the Fire Trek ahead of us, we buy pizza and arancini meant as victorious snack on the peak.

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While waiting for our trek to start, we see a couple of other tourist groups: elderly Germans, being assured that oh no, they will not need to go up all the way to the vulcano, they may relax during a small guided tour and then have dinner at their hotel. Other groups head off for the vulcano hike, half of them with borrowed trekking shoes or amateur equipment. We get confident that we will make our way easily, when…

(tbc)

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