Inspired by the Nature of Sicily

This is a series of blog entries from SkySurf.Travel’s first travel hiree, Romanna.

Active volcano Etna while erupting
Active volcano Etna while erupting

If you climbed an active volcano and at that moment it began to erupt, what would you feel? I had a euphoria!

I am so glad that we live in a time of well-developed science, we understand nature and can calculate what to expect from it. Everyone already knows that the giant Enceladus is not chained under the volcano Etna, and an eruption is not his desperate attempt to get outside – it’s just that Sicily is located simultaneously above two tectonic plates of Eurasia and Africa.

Volcanic lanscape. Etna, 2500 meters
Volcanic landscape. Etna, 2500 meters

Etna’s danger is a myth. Convinced, the local people have lived and will live at the foot, which is very reassuring. They even call it a “friendly volcano.” Etna’s eruption is not explosive but rather calm. You can observe the release of gas, ash, and smoke as the lava flows down, without causing much harm. Sometimes the force of the eruption is so strong that the ashes impair visibility for the aircraft of the airport of Catania causing flights to redirect to Palermo.

Closely monitored are the lava streams, and often people carry out work to expand the channel, even during an eruption. As soon as the news about the eruption appeared, people did not run away, but, on the contrary, they came to watch it specifically, because this is a unique spectacle. Of course, there are special security measures, depending on the activity of the volcano. So the maximum altitude for an ascent on this day was 2,700 meters, although on a clear day you can go up to 3,000 m.

There are three ways to climb Etna. There are eastern and northern routes to the volcano, but they are less touristy. The most popular course is from Catania.

The road to Etna
The road to Etna

By bus, you can get to the station Rifugio Sapienza, and continue to climb on foot, or by the cable car. The last option takes you to an altitude of 2,550 meters.

Queue to the cable car to Etna volcano
Queue to the cable car to Etna volcano

I did not have much time and bought a full ticket, which included the funicular and travel by tourist SUV. Usually, after this, you are additionally accompanied by a guide to a height of 3,000m, but on that day there was no such possibility. The ticket price is 65 euros. Even in the summer, it is necessary to prepare thoroughly for the rise of Etna. The fact is that at the top it is always freezing – that day it was only 2 degrees, and a strong wind was blowing. Of course, you can rent boots and warm jackets, but it is better to prepare in advance – take warm clothes, trekking shoes, sunscreen, and water.

Etna volcano during eruption, 2,700 m
Etna volcano during eruption, 2,700 m

Another way to enjoy Etna with an unusual company without climbing is trekking with alpacas. Yes, you were not mistaken! Six years ago, Farmer Luciano received a call from an animal shelter. He was asked to host alpacas, which is how everything started.

Luciano - alpacas farmer
Luciano – alpacas farmer

Today, it is the only farm on the island where you can meet these animals so closely. In total, there are six alpacas on the farm, but during my visit, one of them was pregnant – it is quite possible that there are more of them now!

And so, I will tell you more about my experience. You cannot get there by public transport, only by a rented car or with a person who agrees to help you. Few people know about this place, and you can rely only on geolocation on the official Facebook page https://is.gd/aJjyAZ. There is also a phone number, which we contacted and clarified a convenient time. Please note that for a quick response you need to write in Italian – so there are more chances to reach an understanding. After meeting at the farm, Luciano loaded the alpacas in a special trailer, and then you go to the Piedmont of Etna.

Alpacas transportation
Alpacas transportation

There, you will be given your alpaca on a leash, and you can enjoy walking in the forest for about three hours. I want to assure everyone who cares about animals – this is a very peaceful experience. You go near the alpaca, while it eats grass and the leaves of trees.

Alpacas trekking
Alpacas trekking

The animals are not skittish, but you can hardly cuddle with them. This experience was my first meeting with alpacas; I was amazed by their calmness and incredibly soft fur. These are herd animals; therefore, you should not worry that they will run away. Moreover, they love their master and are very attached to him.

Look, how cute they are!
Look, how cute they are!

Frankly, the emotions from the walk were even stronger than from a volcanic eruption. If you are in Sicily – trekking with alpacas must be included in your plans! The cost of trekking is 20 euros.

Let’s go further to the Tirana Sea. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Aeolian Islands is an archipelago of volcanic origin. There are seven islands in total, the most popular being Lipari, which is also the most populated island; Stromboli – a small island with an active volcano that erupts every 15-20 minutes; and Vulcano, which is the southernmost island with several volcanic craters.

View from the highest point of Vulcano island
View from the highest point of Vulcano island

Many companies offer excursions to the Aeolian Islands and even combine several island visits in one day. But I decided to go on my own since I only had one day. From Catania, I took the train to Milazzo; the journey took 2 hours. The fare is 8.5 euros. Upon arrival, I walked to the port and bought a ferry ticket to Vulcano. The cost of tickets depends on time. My ticket cost was 18.90 euros.

Take a ferry to get to the Aeolian islands
Take a ferry to get to the Aeolian islands

From the first seconds on the island, you feel the smell of sulfur. Do not worry; you get used to it very quickly. For half an hour you walk to the Piedmont of the volcano. I advise you to stock up on water and snacks, as the road will be a challenge. The route is short, but very often the road leads sharply upwards, or obstacles appear on the way. Amazing flowers are covered everywhere. At first, I wanted to take photos of every bush. Rising above, there are fewer plants, but the view is more and more surprising. The best view is on the top – here you can see the nearest islands, where you can not believe your eyes. Is it real?

Flower piedmont on the Vulcano island
Flower piedmont on the Vulcano island

On the approach to the crater, the smell of sulfur is getting stronger. Here you can see how thick is the gas that goes out from the fumaroles. I sat and watched it for 15 minutes, what an incredible phenomenon!

Fumaroles
Fumaroles

If you are not in a hurry, I advise you to go around the crater in a circle and climb to its highest point. But don’t forget – the way to this place took more than five hours, and if you need to come back to Catania this day, you should keep an eye on the time.

Every new day is better than the previous one. New impressions, new people, new places – all this causes euphoria and makes me look forward to the next direction. Today we say goodbye to hot Sicily, and very soon I will tell you about my adventures in Portugal.
See you soon!

Romanna’s trip to eight cities (five islands) in Europe cost a total of $815 (flights only).  To build your own cheap multicity itinerary, visit SkySurf.Travel.

View more photos of Romanna’s European SkySurf.Travel adventure on Instagram

To read more of Romanna’s SkySurf.Travel adventure blogs, click here.

Sicily (Part 2) – Things to Do in Sicily – Romanna’s SkySurf.Travel Adventure

This is a series of blog entries from SkySurf.Travel’s first travel hiree, Romanna.

Welcome back!

Unexpectedly I fell in love with a hot Sicilian island. From the first days of my stay, I immediately understood that I need to return here. At least because it is impossible to see even one-third of everything in one week.

Castelmola city street from a viewpoint
Castelmola city street from a viewpoint

The whole island is made up of nine provinces. Each has its characteristics, local traditions, and dishes. I decided not to waste time on long journeys and to explore the east coast of the island.

Teatro Massimo Bellini
Teatro Massimo Bellini

Can you imagine the city which rose from ashes? This city was twice destroyed – by an earthquake and by lava flows after the eruption of the volcano. Catania was rebuilt, which allowed creating a town with a unique Baroque style architecture, which was popular in the 1690s.

Courtyard of the University of Catania
Courtyard of the University of Catania

The easiest way to get to Catania is by train. From the train station, you can easily reach the center by foot and explore the city. Of course, you can use public transportation. There is one metro line that runs through the railway station — the cost of one ticket for 90 minutes is 0.90 euros. Moreover, there is a well-developed bus system. There are more than 50 routes in Catania! You can view the schedule at http://www.amt.ct.it/?page_id=48. A single fare costs 1 euro, and an unlimited daily pass costs 2.5 euros.

I advise you to come to the city center early in the morning and immediately move towards the Pescheria market. Just in a few hours, locals, cooks and, of course, tourists will dismantle the entire catch, so I advise you to hurry! Behind the square, Piazza Duomo is the market, which is not difficult to find – go to the smell of the fish and the cries of merchants.

Pescheria market
Pescheria market

The name itself is derived from the Italian word “pesce” (fish).
Dozens of stalls selling fish and seafood – octopus, lobster, shrimp and the most popular swordfish in Sicily.

Fish marketer in Sicily
Fish marketer in Sicily

Walk a little farther, and there you can find all sorts of fruits, meat, spices, and sweets. Eyes scatter from such diversity, the main thing – do not go there hungry.

Colorful market rows in Sicily
Colorful market rows in Sicily

After the market, you can return to the main square of Duomo where you can find the cathedral. Interestingly, Giovanni Battista Vaccarini Duomo was building a facade of the cathedral over 30 years so that we could see it as it is today – you may spend 20 minutes looking at this fantastic building.

Catania Cathedral facade on the Duomo Square
Catania Cathedral facade on the Duomo Square

Do not rush to look into a map and follow the tourist route. Just walk through the streets of Catania – you will see all the main places by yourself! Sicily has its unique cuisine that you can not try in other regions of Italy. It is also cheaper than on the mainland. Do not miss the opportunity to try the most famous local street food is arancini. It is a deep fried rice ball with different fillings – meat, tomatoes, spinach, and even all together! The cost is 2.5 euros, and it can be a great snack in a long walk.

If you want to try something more exquisite, visit some local restaurants. Choose one without a permanent menu. They prepare only a few dishes a day from fresh produce brought from local markets this morning. Tomatoes, eggplants, and mozzarella often are the main ingredients. Oh, if you knew how the Sicilian mozzarella buffalo is melting in your mouth – I have no words to describe this taste!

Lunch in a small restaurant of Catania
Lunch in a small restaurant of Catania

And do not forget to try the local wine from the vineyards of Etna. Interestingly, the Etna highland wine zone was the first in Sicily in the DOC category (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). Even if you are not a wine expert, you should try at least one glass of this unique drink.

Fera O’ Luni – another market, no as popular among tourists as Pescheria. A lot of things are sold here, but the main thing is the fruit and vegetable department.

Fera O' Luni market
Fera O’ Luni market

To my surprise, the prices in this market are the cheapest I have ever seen. For example, I bought a kilogram of apricots, kg of strawberries and a kg of cherries for only 5 euros – could you imagine! Unnecessary to tell you about how juicy and fragrant they were.

fruit counter in Fera O' Luni market
fruit counter in Fera O’ Luni market

In the evenings, people go to the center of the city, meet with friends over a glass of wine or beer, and share the events of the last days.

Al Vicolo restaurant - one of the most famous places on Catania by its pizza
Al Vicolo restaurant – one of the most famous places on Catania by its pizza

I will be honest; I did not feel comfortable in the evening in Catania. Several local people warned which streets I should not enter in the evening, and generally, it’s better not to walk alone during the dark time.

If you ask a Sicilian what the beauty is the answer will be: “it is when one can see greenery and the sea. But if there are mountains nearby – a real paradise!”.

Isola Bella, Taormina
Isola Bella, Taormina

That is why every year when the season begins, all the locals come to Taormina.
It seemed to me that there were too many people in the city, but in July and August, there are just thousands of tourists! If you arrive by train, you can get to the city by bus, or on foot. The walk will take about 40 minutes, but they will pass unnoticed – there are stunning views! Coming closer you can see the beach and the thin sand bar that leads to Isola Bella. The tiny island is open to visiting. The entrance fee is 5 euros. Just look at the coast and the number of people here!

Taormina coast in front of Isola Bella
Taormina coast in front of Isola Bella

Just a 5 minutes walk from the Isola Bella there is a cable car, which takes you to the center of Taormina. The cost of travel in one direction is 3 euros.

Cable Car in Sicily
Cable Car in Sicily

On the main street Corso Umberto, there are dozens of tourist places, pastry, and coffee shops. At every step, you can see tiny nooks that go down and up from the main street. You will be offered to try cannoli in every pastry. I advise you to go to the best one – La Pignolata Guinness Cannoli. Here they are the most delicious, believe me!

traditional Sicilian cannoli
traditional Sicilian cannoli

I was allowed to go into the kitchen and gaze the cooking process. Every morning they bake waffles and knead the creams. Traditionally, cannoli is filled with ricotta cream, but there are more variations. In this pastry shop, you can try a select pistachio paste. They call it green Nutella, and there is something similar between them! Pistachio paste smeared on a tuba, and then fill it with cream and sprinkled with chopped pistachio. Impossible to forget that taste!

I advise you to walk from Taormina to Castelmola, which is a small town on the top of a mountain. You can get there by bus, or you can go on foot. I hope you are not afraid of a small trekking walk, because the views of the sea, Taormina and the mountains from here are incredible!

Views from the trekking pass Taormina - Castelmola
Views from the trekking pass Taormina – Castelmola

Views from the trekking pass Taormina - Castelmola
Views from the trekking pass Taormina – Castelmola

Another city that I managed to visit – the birthplace of the great Greek mathematician Archimedes. Syracuse city is divided into two parts – the main part and the historical center, which is located on the island called Ortigia.

Ortigia street
Ortigia street

Walking the streets, you can almost always see the sea, where in the morning you can meet fishermen. As in Catania, in the center of the city, there is the old atmospheric market of Syracuse. Here you can buy fish and meat, and local delicacies. Sellers are calling loudly to the counters, someone is offering to drink oysters, someone is preparing a special sandwich “panino” in front of dozens of cameras, and someone is grilling seafood caught several hours ago in the Ionian Sea.

Cheese marketer in an old market of Syracuse
Cheese marketer in an old market of Syracuse

Of course, Sicily is not only the cities but also the unique nature. But that’s another story… See you soon!

Romanna’s trip to eight cities (five islands) in Europe cost a total of $815 (flights only).  To build your own cheap multicity itinerary, visit SkySurf.Travel.

View more photos of Romanna’s European SkySurf.Travel adventure on Instagram

To read more of Romanna’s SkySurf.Travel adventure blogs, click here.

Sicily (Part 1) – Sicily Travel Tips – Romanna’s SkySurf.Travel Adventure

This is a series of blog entries from SkySurf.Travel’s first travel hiree, Romanna.

Aeolian islands
Aeolian islands

An active volcano, lemons, and mafia – what are your associations with Sicily?

Romanna’s second SkySurf.Travel destination, Sicily, is the largest island of Italy and the Mediterranean. A land with an incredible history, African winds, citrus orchards, absence of rules, and incredible natural phenomena.

Ancient Greek myths were born right here! Being on the island, it seems, you begin to believe in them. When one of the giants rebelled against the gods of Olympus, Athena threw him into the sea and crushed him down with a triangular stone. When observing lava erupting from the volcano, the giant Enceladus is trying to escape, as so it’s believed, and the smoke from the volcano mouth is his heavy breathing. This legend is how the ancient inhabitants of the island explained the eruption of Etna volcano.

Etna volcano landscape
Etna volcano landscape

The same triangular stone from the myth explains the advent of the ancient name of Sicily – Trinacria. That is how Homer mentioned Sicily in Odyssey, and the word itself means “triangular.” It was the ancient Greeks who created the myths about the gorgons that inhabited the island. Among them, the most terrible was Medusa Gorgon, a monster that took on a feminine appearance with snakes instead of hair. She lured men, and then those who gazed upon her face turned to stone. Medusa’s head is the main symbol of Sicily now, and legend has it she protects the island from enemies with her eyes. In addition to the Gorgon head, there are three more legs on the emblem, which symbolize the shape of the island and the three final points – Cape Lilibéo in the west, Cape Peloro in the east and Cape Passero in the south. In those days, unique stories were created, explaining any natural phenomena fascinatingly.

Let’s get back to real life. Sicily used to be a part of Great Greece, which was inhabited by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Catalans, and Spaniards – imagine the mix of cultures, traditions, and customs.

Temple of Apollo in Siracusa
Temple of Apollo in Siracusa

Today, it is a unique Italian region, which attracts with its culture, history, year-round sun and three seas – the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, and Ionian. There’s about 1,000 km of coastline where anyone can find a suited place – cliffs, sandy and stone beaches. Unlike continental Italy, Sicily has many more sunny days, which is quite logical, since it lies in the Mediterranean, subtropical climate. There is a long and hot summer and a fast, very mild winter.

You can get to Sicily by sea or by air. There are three airports on the island, and many tourists come here every day. Let me remind you that I flew from Malta; the cost of the flight was $41. Getting around the island is pretty simple. In cities, there are buses and taxis, and for longer distances, you can ride the train or buses. It is essential to say the train routes are along the coast, so if you need to move inland, you should choose a bus – this will reduce the travel time. I flew to Catania and decided to explore the east coast, so I always traveled by train. The fare depends on the distance. The minimum price I paid was 2.5 euro – to get from the small town of Acireale, where I lived, to Catania.

Aci Castello coast
Aci Castello coast

The most expensive trip cost 8.5 euro when I went to Milazzo. The road took about two hours, and I even needed to make a transfer in Messina. The actual travel cost can be viewed online on the railway company’s website – www.trenitalia.com, they also have a handy mobile application where you can get acquainted with the routes, train schedules, ticket prices, and even purchase them. You can also buy tickets at the train stations just before departure. Do not forget to activate the ticket in a particular machine before you board the train!

When life gives you lemons – make limoncello! It is the main Sicilian principle. Locals enjoy life, never hurry, finish their work much earlier than the set time, and live in the moment.

normal situation on the road - car stops for a chat with an old friend
Normal situation on the road – car stops for a chat with an old friend

For example, it’s quite reasonable to stop the car right in the middle of the road and talk to a friend. This stopping not only happens on empty roads but even during busy traffic! No wonder why they say – “if you can drive a car in Sicily, you can be a driver anywhere!” Pedestrian crossings are just a tourist trap. It’s rare when cars stop at them. People cross the road where they want to, and it does not surprise anyone. It is ok when cars drive despite the red light! Often the streets have no place for pedestrians. All you have to do is walk along the side of the road and hope for the attentiveness of the drivers.

Sicilian road without a place for pedestrians
Sicilian road without a place for pedestrians

Nevertheless, I have never seen more dangerous situations. Somehow they get along in this chaos and look quite happy. With all this, people are insanely friendly. When asking for the way, do not be surprised if they will escort you so that you do not get lost. And when you go uphill, the cars stop one by one to offer you a ride to let you down.

Speaking about hospitality, I want to tell you about the place where I lived. After a successful experience at Couchsurfing in Malta, I decided to continue using the platform and confirmed my arrivals. So, in Sicily, I planned to stay at three different hosts. I started the search a month ahead, and by the time of my arrival, I have confirmed the first five nights in two different places. Moreover, I posted an open request to find a place to sleep for the last two days. To my surprise, having only one review, I received more than 20 offers from people who were ready to host me at their places in different cities. I planned to travel around the island, so I considered not only Catania. I tried to be careful, so I checked the pages of hosts and paid attention to information about them, and what kind of reviews they have. Despite this, life situations can be different, and plans may change. So my second host wrote to me the day before coming that he could not accept me. The first host saved me from panic, saying that I could stay at his place as much as I needed. He is a German soldier who works in Sicily. He lives in a spacious house, and therefore quite often hosts travelers. Because of the specifics of his work, we did not spend very much time together. He was very kind to me and even organized a fantastic experience, but that is another story 🙂
I can say for sure – Couchsurfing changes the perception of travel; it gives new acquaintances invaluable experiences, which is merely impossible to get in a hotel, or renting apartments.

Siracusa street
Siracusa street

I’m looking forward to telling you more about my adventures along the east coast of Sicily.

Follow this SkySurf.Travel blog for upcoming new stories about my adventure!
Romanna

Romanna’s trip to eight cities (five islands) in Europe cost a total of $815 (flights only).  To build your own cheap multicity itinerary, visitSkySurf.Travel.

View more photos of Romanna’s European SkySurf.Travel adventure on Instagram

To read more of Romanna’s SkySurf.Travel adventure blogs, click here.