Kids on Volcano: Etna

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In Europe there are 12 active volcanoes, half of which lie in Iceland and four in Italy. Iceland aside (for a sec, be alert!), today we will commence the tale of our adventures on the volcanoes of Italy. We start with the highest and largest volcano in Europe, Mungibeddu!

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WTF?! Okay, it is also known under the name Muntagna or Mongibellopo. Not ringing a bell? 🙂 It would, if you knew lu Sicilianu, or Sicilian language, or rather one of its several dialects. So what the Romans called this volcano? The ancient ones – Aetna, the modern ones – Etna.

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Geo-fact

Etna is big! When you take a look at the map, you’ll see that it occupies something close to the 1/12 of the area of ​​Sicily. Looking from above, it is shaped like an ellipse inscribed in a rectangle measuring about 47 km by 38 km. Big, I told you! When it comes to its height, the matter is variable – due to eruptions, the shape and height of Mount Etna is changing. Currently, it reaches a height of approx. 3350 m above sea level, and it lies next to the sea, so … Well, it’s big!

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We were as happy as kids (both, the kids and the adults), when we set off on this trip. When we saw it for the very first time… Whoa, the volcano emerged from behind the houses of a town we were passing. Unforgettable. And as the road went winding up the mountain, we at last couldn’t wait, we pulled over on the side, get out and run around over the hardened lava fields, enjoying magnificent views of the mountain up above us.

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Facts & Tips

You can get on Mount Etna on feet – walking, hiking or running (we’ve seen all the three variations applied). You may also ride a bike up (also seen, twice!). Yet having small kids and limited time, it is not unreasonable to consider driving or being driven up as an option. You can take a car (or a bus) up the very picturesque winding road SP92 and reach Rifugio Sapienza nearly 2000 m above the sea level. The road goes from the town of Nicolosi in the south (direction of Catania), to Zafferana Etnea in the east (direction of Taormina or the A18 highway). We were going from Catania and stopped along the way at fantastic small Sicilian villages, where finally (after Catania, which is a large city), you can feel the atmosphere of “Good Old Sicily” a bit like in movies.

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On our way up we took a break and parked by the truck of a seller of memorabilia made of obsidian or polished volcanic rock. It was there that, for the first time in the history of our travels, we took off our drone! The flight went extremely well. We could, for example, take a glance from the air to discover the roof of a house once flooded by lava!

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Let us invite you hotly (like Lavazza;) to watch the short video, where you can see all that and all the rest of our Etna challenge:

 

 

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The highest point that can be reached by a private car is the mentioned Rifugio Sapienza, the “Base Camp” for most of Etna explorations at the altitude of 1910 m. It is a pretty huge building, which hosts a hotel (judging by the description and assessment of 8.4 on boooking.com – a pretty cool one) and a traditional Italian restaurant, and storage, and mountain equipment rental, and a gift shop. And right next door, there is the bottom station of the cable car Funivia dell’Etna. Yes, you can take it waaay up Etna. Nice, isn’t it?

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Gastro-Tip

For the hungry fans of volcanoes, there are several places around Refugi Sapienza that offer a pretty nice range of options to charge your batteries, either on the way to the volcano, or back from the volcano. First, there is the on-place nice traditional Italian restaurant, Albergo, that offers good pizza and other delights of Italian cuisine. 200 meters further you can sit down to a feast at La Cantoniera, which also offers a nice selection of Italian dishes, with a wide variety of pizzas, and even toothpaste desserts. Judging by the photos on the walls, it was already there in the 30s and more than one eruption made the panes in its windows tremble. And also at least once it was burned be flowing lava. And still, like Phoenix, it got reborn and may serve you gooood! And that is not all. Some couple hundreds meters further there is still another Italian restaurant Crateri Silvestrii Ristorante.

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Funivia dell’Etna cableway cabin takes you from the Rifugio Sapienza station to the upper station at approx. 2500 m above sea level. After leaving the carriage you can opt either for trekking toward the main craters (about 1.5 hours each way) or take advantage of the jeepbus 4×4, which will get you up in less than fifteen minutes. No matter whether on legs, or by the jeepbus, you can reach only the height of 2920 m without special supervision (paid extra). However, as some say, theoretically you can ignore the red tapes and warning signs and move towards a number of smouldering crevices and small or large craters. And only the climb to the central crater is strictly prohibited except for while in a special team led by a special guide.

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Facts & Tips

Return Funivia dell’Etna tickets can be bought for the cablecar ride only (€ 35), or in a package with the jeepbus 4×4 (€ 65). Not too cheap, ha? Ticket office accepts both cash and credit cards. It must be remembered that the last ride down from the top station leaves at 5:30 PM in summer (and 3:30 PM in winter).

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Point of Interest

Did you know that in winter Etna turns into a nice ski-resort? They say it is great for downhill skiing. There are several lifts and apparently quite good conditions. With all the fire and ice there, maybe George R.R Martin skis there, too?

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Etna has currently four main craters (the number and height of which are, for the obvious reasons, liable to change). The highest and largest is the present Cratere Centrale formed in 1911. It is possible to climb on it, but under strict guidelines: first of all only when the volcano is in a relatively sleepy mood, secondly, only in organised groups led by qualified guides.

So, when the jeepbus makes it to the parking at the highest point of its route, the majority of volcano enthusiasts just march left less than a hundred meters to visit the best available crater of Torre del Filosofo (2 920 m). And only the handful of more pro-inclined maniacs go for the main craters still high above.

We as well, as family, had decided to explore rather the lower craters, because climbing over vast surfaces of rough slag-fields seemed a bit too demanding for our youngsters. And still, the experience of Torre del Filosofo was great, and the views worthy to be truly admired. And we flied the drone there!

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Practical tip

Climbing a volcano calls for good, enclosed shoes. They may be sneakers, trainers, or best – shoes for mountain trekking. No holes. Surely every one of you knows what it’s like to have a piece of slag in the shoe, let alone several pieces. Besides, it winds terribly up there, so it is advisable to take something for wind (a windbreaker? Or, better still, pro-mountain jacket). It also pays to have some suntanned cream for the face, especially kids.

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And these white little worms in the picture below, they are not sheep on pasture, but jeepbuses on the volcano.

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Five days before our arrival, there happened one of the biggest eruptions of Mount Etna that year. A column of smoke and steam from the main crater soared up the sky, whereas lava was pouring down the slopes. Four days before our arrival the phenomenon grew, three days before our arrival, it began to wane. Two days before our arrival Etna dozed off and slept soundly on our arrival. It had its advantages, of course (family safety), but… Well, one would like to see flowing lava, right?

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Etna never calms down really, not for good. During our visit it emitted masses of steam both, from the main crater as well as from the slots in Terre del Filosofo.

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While planning an Etna climb, we’d recommend you to keep track of the current status and forecast of volcano activities online (eg. here)

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And we saw fire-red lava streaming down the slope of a volcano in the end! Wanna see? Just watch the next episode of Kids on volcano: Stromboli. Coming soon!

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PS.

By the way, we heartily invite you to watch our short and funny video from Catania – the city frequently mentioned in this article. And it’s relevant to volcano topic, for many buildings in Catania are constructed of blocks of lava there. It’s worth to know, too, that one of the biggest eruptions of Mount Etna happened in 1669, when it threw out such a huge amount of lava that its tongue travelled all the way down to Catania (16 km!), destroying several villages and towns on its way… (well, it’s not on our film, true, bur we hope you’ll enjoy it anyway).

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Written by mereczonthego

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