Iggy the Hymer is waking up for his third day in Eden Parking in Sicily. The towering, snow-capped, ever present might of Mount Etna rises, crisp, into the sky outside Iggy’s windshield. The sun has just poked it’s head over the horizon and it’s looking like it’s going to be a beautiful day here. There’s a lot of beautiful days here.
We could get used to this. Sitting outside for lunch, just two days away from Christmas, feels a bit odd to be sure. But it’s a nice kind of odd. There’s an orchard behind Iggy’s bum. Every morning as I pop the kettle on, I roll the kitchen blind down to an eyeful of oranges, lemons and Sicily’s own, special, Chinotto oranges. All hanging enticingly from the tree. Inches from my happy eyes.
I never grow tired of the simple sight of oranges on a tree. Or flowers by the roadside in December. The wasp that flew in for a brief look-see the other day. The fly that came for a buzz around while I was eating my lunch. Three different colours of butterflies on our walk along the beach, and the emerald brightness of wall lizards. Racing for safety beneath my wandering feet. All the little things that say spring or summer to my Scottish upbringing. It makes my brain smile to see them in winter.
It makes my brain smile to turn my head and see that huge lump of a live volcano sitting there as well. I’ve always had a fascination for natural phenomenon like earthquakes, tornadoes, tidal waves – that kind of thing. And volcanoes. Live volcanoes. Pretty, snow topped, live volcanoes. Sitting just behind my head with some kind of smoke coming out of their tops. Yeah Etna! Just like that!
It was our second day in Sicily before we got to see the pretty Etna properly. Our first day, back on Monday, we left Falerna to beautiful blue skies. Iggy had run out of beer on Sunday and the shops were all shut. Half day closing on Wednesdays and Sundays here. So we’d treated ourselves to a Pizza in a Falerna beach bar so Jay could get his beer fix. It was only 11 Euro for a pizza to share, a glass of wine and a large beer. Another 3.50 Euro for double scoops of Gelato each on the way home. Strolling along the promenade, under the stars, exclaiming on how not cold it is… Italy, it would seem, doesn’t have to be quite as expensive as we’d heard it is.
The drive down to Villa San Giovanni next day was normal Italy type stuff. Wow after wow after wow with every turn of the road vying with the last for “Most Beautiful View Ever Award.” And a good few “Oh my God that’s crazy!!” at some of the Italian drivers. The route to the ferry was well signposted through the town and the ticket office is right before the queuing lanes for embarkation. 2 minutes, 96 Euro and a 3 month open return ticket later, Iggy was sitting in the queue for Sicilia. And boy was I bouncing!
Bouncing like a bunny rabbit I was. A mad March hare. A five year old girl on Christmas morning. The perfectest, bestest, bounciest of all bouncy balls she got in her stocking. It was my Cinderella moment. Yes Fiona. You shall go to the volcano. Okay we’d just come from three days on the slopes of Vesuvius. But that was just the warm up. For all it’s lethal power Etna’s little cousin is still fast asleep. Etna it seems does not need so much rest as Vesuvius. If anything she’s a bit of an insomniac is our Etna. And oh, was I looking forward to meeting her!
The sunshine we’d driven through to Villa San Giovanni had run into a ceiling of low hanging, drizzling cloud at the Strait of Messina. The stretch of sea between it’s namesake port town in Sicily and the mainland. I scanned the island visible beneath the cloud hoping for a glimpse of the mountain…but she stayed hidden. It all just added to the excitement.
A dispirited looking bunch of tat sellers went from vehicle to vehicle in the departure queue. A man let his dog out for the toilet and it peed all over his wheel. He watched it as calmly as he dispatched the tat seller who approached him. Nothing unusual. Everyday life in progress. A man cycled up and down the lines while waiting for the ferry. His pooch watching the world go by from it’s bed in the trailer he towed.
Then the ferry was in. People and vehicles poured off in a seemingly endless flow. As it slowed to a last dribble of cars it began to load again for the trip to the island. Four lines of traffic all surged forward at once in the “me first” chaos that is Italy. The ferrymen directed Iggy to follow a bus. Six cars shot in front of us before Jay managed to squeeze Iggy in without a bang to his nose. Adrenalin surging we somehow found ourselves safely on board. These ferries run a constant ro-ro service – and they don’t mess about. Scant minutes after it arrived the engine note picked up. A familiar sound to me from my years of doing this every day in Shetland. We were off!
It was a smooth 25 minute journey with Caronte & Tourist and we disembarked in Messina in no time. Supplies were getting a little low – remember the lack of beer? – and our first stop was, not so romantically, scheduled for the large Lidl on the way out of town.
Thank goodness it wasn’t very far away. The traffic had worsened as we got further south and Jay was not enjoying his first experience of driving in Sicily. The free for all in and out of the ferry hadn’t helped and we were glad to find plenty of space in the Lidl car park We’d not been to a proper supermarket since we’d stocked up at Carrefour in Cannes before leaving France and weren’t expecting too much from this one. What a surprise! Definitly the best Lidl we’ve ever been in. Not to mention the biggest. The trolley filled up far too quickly and we had to restrain ourselves from filling it more. Iggy has to watch his weight and the trolley wheels were starting to creak!
A measly 66 Euro later we staggered back outside to find the car park chock-a-block and the roads likewise. And night had fallen while we were inside. Lidl’s car park was starting to look like a good option for the night, but it was no good. We had to face the roads again for the 25 km drive down the coast to Nizza di Sicilia. 25 kms isn’t far though. Shouldn’t be too hard right?
Wrong! 25 kms in Sicily, on the non toll roads, turns into an hour’s drive at this time of day. Not much less when the roads are empty and the sun’s up. The roads are narrow. Cars overtake constantly down the center line when there’s no room to do so. Scooters whizz in and out. Some people compare them to mosquitoes but to me they’re like May flies. Gadding about, giddily, with no thought for tomorrow.
The long stretches of towns along the beaches are interspersed with outcroppings of cliff. Suddenly the streetlights stop and we’re spinning through the darkness. Unseen voids falling away to our right, walls of rock to our left. Slalom through the darkness into the next town. Dodge a scooter. Brake for a car coming straight at you on the wrong side of the road. Gulp. Sweat. Repeat.
And finally it’s over. Satnav shows the end point 50 metres ahead. We pull into the car park, and Iggy glides his nose up against the sea wall. A black, lava beach stretches out in front of us in the darkness. All is quiet but for the shush of the waves teasing the shingle. We made it. Sicily. We’re here.