Finally in Sicily: Catania and Mt. Etna

Days 9, 10, and 11: Christmas Eve ferry to Sicily, Christmas Day in Catania, and a hike on Mt. Etna

I used to think Naples was so far south on the Italian peninsula. Although it's pretty far down there, you don't realize there's more to southern Italy until you venture past Naples. As I mentioned in my previous post, we stopped in Calabria for two nights, so from there we drove to the very southernmost tip of the boot. From the port town of Villa San Giovanni, you and your car can catch a lift across the strait of Messina on one of the tourist ferries. A 20-minute ride in either direction, it's fairly quick and painless (even on Christmas Eve), as several ferries run every hour.

We had booked a few nights at a campsite outside of the city of Catania, so we made our way there to set up camp. Upon our arrival, the guy on night duty greeted us with friendly small talk. It was very sweet to watch him gush about wanting to visit southern California someday to see Hollywood and the palm trees. It was also quite funny to hear all this coming from a person who lives in SICILY with her own palm trees and mild weather. Oh well, the grass is always greener...

The next day, we wanted to take a regional bus to Mt. Etna for a hike, but the camp staff didn't know if the buses would be running on a holiday. We decided to chance it, as the worse that could happen is we'd just stay and explore Catania. Because past experience (in Rome) had taught us that many Italian buses do not run on time (or even a posted schedule for that matter), we left our campsite with plenty of time to take the local bus to the train station to catch the regional line.

After waiting at the bus stop a half hour or so, we started to ponder the idea that the buses have to run on some kind of schedule, or else how would people arrive at work on time? I thought I'd ask a local who also appeared to be waiting for the bus. Maybe he had a booklet with the timetables or at least knew what time his bus should be arriving and with any luck it would be the same one we were waiting for!

"Excuse me, Sir?


"Are you also waiting for the bus?

"I'm not sure. Are they running today?"

Great. Perfect. You're just as clueless as I am. "I think so, Sir. I just saw the number X pass by going in the other direction..."

Shortly thereafter a bus finally did come by, but not ours. Mr. Local Man stepped in, and I overheard him negotiating with the driver.

"Do me a favor and stop at such and such?"

"Fine. Get on."

That would never happen in Switzerland!

Anyway, it turns out the regional buses were not running so we walked around Catania exploring the open-air markets and Baroque architecture. Not to worry, we did make it to Mt. Etna the following day -- by car.

I think I'll take a moment to mention panettone here because from this point on in our adventure we ate panettone almost every day for breakfast. Candied orange peels, raisins, and yummy cake-like bread can do no wrong. Isaiah doesn't generally care for cake, but he sure loves panettone!

Don't you love our laundry hanging in the background?

Breakfast: caffé latte (made on a campstove) and panettone

Traditionally, Italians eat panettone and drink spumante after Christmas dinner. During our visits to the supermarket, we had noticed these boxes with the two elements conveniently packaged and ready for quick pick-up. Imagine our surprise when the camp staff members kindly presented us with this box as a welcome gift the night we arrived. Auguri! (Best wishes!)

Fruit market near the seaside promenade in Catania, with Mt. Etna in the background

Outside the cathedral

Isaiah of the (lava) rocks

Examining the lava formations

Atop Mt. Etna

Before hike

You won't find an "after" photo because I would not be smiling in it.

The two hour hike to the gondola station was pretty miserable for me because the weather turned terrible very quicky. Blizzard-like conditions, really. I made it to the gondola and rode it down. Isaiah, on the other hand, RAN back down the mountain and made it to our meeting point just as I was stepping off the gondola. Crazy dude!


  1. Hi Amanda! Just wanted to let you know that your trip sounds amazing and I'm actually going to go back to your day1 entry because I'm fascinated by your trip story.(Newly joined your blog!) By the way LOVE your pics. the lava rocks, the boats, laundry in the background, Jaja..hey it wouldn't be camping without it right?

    from A Mexican Chica to another!

  2. I'm really enjoying your Italian trip. What a great way to spend Christmas!

    We *love* panettone and have made it part of our Christmas tradition ever since we had for the first time a few years ago.

  3. There's nothing better than pannetone! Those lava rocks look really interesting. I'm sorry the weather didn't cooperate but Italy is beautiful in any temperature.

  4. Hi Elisa! Thanks for reading! btw, your little girl is adorable! I look forward to reading about your adventures in Croatia. Hasta luego...

    Kathy - thanks! Glad you're enjoying it. I'm certainly having fun retelling and reliving it here on the blog!

    After this trip, I am sure panettone will be an essential part of future Christmas celebrations.

    Fly Girl - You know, Mt. Etna was the only place that gave us weather problems. The rest of Sicily was around 20-23 degrees C, so mild and pleasant, a huge relief from December weather in Switzerland...

  5. hahaha! The bus bit had me cracking up. "That would never happen in Switzerland!" I bet something made you think of saying "We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto" ;-)

  6. Hi Elisa! Although I've been spoiled by the "efficiency" of Switzerland, I was still able to really enjoy our time in Italy: the laid back lifestyle, the warmth of the people, etc. The bus issue was the only thing that I could have done without...


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