Over the past two days we’ve been knocking around Sicily on the slopes of Mt. Etna, an active volcano. During our visit we’ve seen just how “active” it truly is. I’ve never seen a live volcano up close before, but Mt. Etna definitely lives up to the billing. The volcano has produced a steady stream of steam and smoke during the day, as shown in the photo above. At night that activity is even more spectacular, as shown in the photo below, with red hot lava spilling down the side of the volcano like melted ice cream running down a sugar cone.
It’s an awesome nighttime display, made even more impressive by the fact that tomorrow we’ll be hiking Mt. Etna. I’m not sure my sneakers are fireproof, though.
Our last jaunt on our Sightseeing Saturday was a walk over to Castel Sant’Angelo and Vatican City. The Sicilian CEO and I took the path along the Tiber to avoid the crosswalks and check out Rome’s famous river. Our plan succeeded in that we didn’t have to cross many streets, but the Tiber isn’t much to see—or smell. The area around the river seemed to be trashier than the rest of Rome and the river odor was pungent. You could take an upper path or a lower path right along the river. We wisely opted for the upper path to minimize the assault on our olfactory senses.
The river opens up and the scenery improves as you approach Castel Sant’Angelo, the iconic circular castle of the Popes. The castle is a reminder that the Popes were once active (and occasionally martial) figures in Italian politics, as the head of the Papal States. You can still see the castle moat, although it has been drained.
There is a nice pedestrian bridge over the Tiber to the entrance of the castle. The bridge is lined with religious statues—I’m guessing the figure above is the angel Gabriel with his trademark horn—and also street vendors selling handbags, souvenirs, and religious medals. As we passed by the castle itself a really good two-guitar group was playing Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond (and Dire Strait’s Sultans of Swing on our walk back).
The castle is very close to St. Peter’s, and once you cross the street you find yourself part of the stream of humanity coursing toward Michelangelo’s dome. The main street to St. Peter’s is dramatically lined with pillars. St. Peter’s Square itself is huge and spectacular and stands as Bernini’s architectural masterwork. The square was crowded, with a long line of tourists waiting to get into St. Peter’s basilica as they were being harangued by an angry street preacher. We didn’t have tickets so we didn’t go in, but the CEO calculated we had exceeded 20,000 steps on our Sightseeing Saturday. That meant we had burned enough calories for a carbo-heavy Roman dinner fit for a centurion. it was time to head back to the hotel.
Our first stop in Sicily is the Barone di Villagrande vineyard, on the slope of Mt. Etna. The old volcano is still active, and occasionally rains pumice on the vineyard—which helps enrich the soil. You can see an active lava flow near the top of the volcano.
We started with a tour of the vineyard and an explanation of the challenges of grape growing and how modern vineyards blend old and new techniques to grow successful crops. Roses, for example, have long been planted at the ends of the rows of vines. They are pretty, but also serve a purpose: they are a kind of early warning system for mold and tell the sommelier it is time to take steps to address it.
We ended our tour in the barrel room, where the wines are aging in handmade chestnut barrels. The room is mostly underground and was built in 1850. The big barrels aren’t used anymore but sure look cool. They are more than 250 years old and we’re rolled down a hill to reach their current location.