We met Nuccio again the next day, along with Graziella and Nuccio’s mum, who we took an instant liking to, although she didn’t speak English. She had a friendly, playful demeanour that was very disarming. Our plans for the day this time were to visit Etnapolis, a shopping centre south of Etna — Italy’s largest shopping centre, Nuccio told us proudly. There was a Sicilian food expo on that Nuccio suggested might be an interesting experience.
There were lots of stalls with free samples, and ones selling discounted goods — we grabbed some Sicilian liqueur straight away, coffee and hazelnut. There were Sicilian cakes, biscuits, cheeses, olives, wine — we sampled some wine, and I asked if we could buy any bottles; they weren’t actually selling any, but they give us two bottles anyway! Amazing.
So, we wandered the expo sampling stuff and buying some goodies, then wandered the shopping centre for a little while, Nuccio acting as a go-between while I tried to find a camera battery and printer. We partook of the free pasta back at the expo when the time came, then headed back home.
For the following couple of days, Nuccio who had so generously given us his valuable time had to work some shifts, both at the hospital and in an ambulance, so we had the days to ourselves. We decided to do a trip around Etna, and see what there was to see. Nuccio had recommended a few places to see, so with those in mind, we set off towards Randazzo on Etna’s north-west side.
In need of a place to empty Nettle’s grey water, we were keeping an eye out for a petrol station or something. Then Katherine struck gold and spotted a ‘sosta camper’ sign along the road. We did a U-turn and pulled in, and were struck by the beauty of the place — golden vineyards beside us, with olive groves behind them, and the autumn colours of Etna’s forested flank, with Etna’s snow-covered and steaming peak in the distance. Typical that we only find the place now — it would’ve been the perfect place to stay for a while, aside from the GPRS-only mobile Internet coverage — but it may have been worth it! If we ever come back with Nettle, we’ll visit again — the place is Azienda Agrituristica in Passopisciaro.
I explained to the friendly woman who came out to greet us that we couldn’t stay, although we would’ve loved to, but could we please service our camper here (I have to say, I was pretty pleased that I managed to string together my meagre Italian into a sentence like that). She happily agreed, and showed me where the facilities were.
We mourned our lost opportunity a little, then moved on, with Nettle all emptied and filled where appropriate.
Our first stop was the ancient stone town of Randazzo. We found a park by a magnificent church, had lunch, then wandered the streets, like stepping back in time. We came across a scared lost kitten running all over the road, and tried to usher it off to the side, with little success. Poor little guy.
We came across a friendly-looking old guy who caught our attention and brought us around the corner to an ancient laneway, the start of a marked historical trail, then asked us for some money ‘per mangiare‘ (for food) — we complied cheerily and set off following the markers through the town.
There were lots of interesting nooks and crannies, abandoned churches, gardens, a skeletal yet productively-fruiting orange tree, a great town to explore.
We had a merry time leaving the town, as we realised the nice wide road we came in on was one-way, and the only way out was…Well, twice we very nearly ended in catastrophe, inching between cars with quite literally mere millimetres to spare; several times I had to reverse an inch and carefully guide the mirrors around neighbouring parked cars, as cars built up behind us. If those guys had parked just a fraction further into the road, I don’t know what any of us would’ve done! We have got to stop getting ourselves into these situations!
Anyway, we made it, a little breathlessly, and drove on out of Randazzo. We drove around the periphery of Mount Etna, through the town of Bronte and its odd landscape of old lava, tufts of organic life poking haphazardly through. We didn’t get a photograph of it (damnit!), but one section was covered with an entirely skeletal orchard of perhaps citrus trees sticking out of the rock. Like something out of a Tim Burton film.
Feeling a little adventurous, we veered away from the main road that led more-or-less towards the coast, where we were ultimately aiming for, and took the scenic route, climbing Etna’s lowlands.
We drove through pretty autumnal woods for a time, before we started descending through the now-familiar town of Nicolosi, and towards the coast. A very long suburban drive later, we arrived at Aci Castello, one of Nuccio’s recommended towns, and hopped out to take a look around. The Norman castle that sat high atop a rocky outcrop sticking into the sea was kinda cool, although we only walked up the walkway aside the outcrop, rather than pay to go in. The water around it was the most starting shade of turquoise, even in the dusk light — we stared at it for a while as evening began to settle in.
It was getting on, and we were on the weary side; we toyed with staying put for the night where we were parked on the foreshore, but thought better of it; we were going to visit the baroque town of Acireale, but we were a little touristed out. So, we decided to copy some other motorhomers we had seen/read about and park overnight in the car park at Etnapolis, where we wanted to stock up on some supplies. The drive there was a little traumatic — some inaccuracies in Nigel the GPS navigator’s map led us into yet another tight squeeze, which Nettle handled splendidly, then we hit peak hour traffic on the outskirts of the city of Catania. Yeech!
We survived, and pulled up in a well-lit area to settle in. This turned out to be a false start, as the horrendous pop music blaring out of speakers across the car park didn’t seem to be letting up as evening progressed; we moved to the other side of the shopping centre where it was quieter and closed up for the night.
We spent the next day shopping — or rather, Katherine did, as I stayed put in Nettle working on software, for the most part. Some art supplies for Katherine, some new clothes for me, and some groceries. Then we made our way back to Linguaglossa and parked up for the night in ‘our’ spot by the park.