It was not a lovely morning.
That was my first thought as we sat on the train looking out the window at the rain that was starting to drizzle down. It wasn’t going to be a great day to be outside. Unfortunately for us, that was exactly what we had planned on doing.
We’d booked tickets for a cruise of two of the Aeolian Islands: Panarea and Stromboli. We’d chosen that tour for one reason, and one reason only: I wanted to see lava. This cruise specifically stayed out at the islands later than other cruises, so that on the way back into Milazzo, it could do a little loop-de-loop around Stromboli, and passengers could take advantage of the darkness for some Kodak opportunities with the lava stream coming down the side of the volcano. For a girl that’s never seen an active volcano before, and who missed the eruption of Mt. Etna last winter, it was too much to resist. So we signed up.
As it turns out, the islands are further out from Sicily than they look from my balcony in Villafranca. Our first stop was on Volcano to pick up some more cruisers, and it took us an hour to get there on the boat. The next stop was Lipari, where, again, we picked up some more people and went on our way. Our boat left Milazzo at noon, and we were on Panarea by 2:30. It was actually quite a long haul.
Despite the poor weather conditions of our early-morning start, it cleared up a bit by the time we got to Panarea; it was cloudy, but it wasn’t raining anymore. We opted to walk around the town – the tour didn’t stay on the island long enough for us to go out to the panoramic points, but, to be honest, it was still cold and wet, and it wouldn’t have been a very nice walk anyway. Even so, the town was lovely. If you don’t know anything about Panarea, I suggest you do some research. All the buildings in the town are white, and the streets wind up the mountainside in strange little loops and whorls. Every once in a while, you’ll round a corner and all of the sudden have a lovely view of the town below you and the sea out in front.
Also, Panarea has some of the best granita I’ve had in Sicily. One little café near the port has all homemade, unique flavors. I tried a pistachio granita, while Rachel opted for a melone. Just be ready to pay through the nose for it: I paid €5 for mine, and Rachel paid €4.50. Think about it this way: You’re on the islands. You should treat yourself.
Stromboli was a bit different from Panarea (the old, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all mentality does not apply here). The street by the port is filled with restaurants and hiking equipment shops, and not much else. The main part of the town is further up the mountain. The heart and soul of Stromboli, though, is the volcano.
One of the most active volcanoes in the world, the one on Stromboli oozes lava regularly, and occasionally burps up some rocks and ash. People flock to the little island, which has very few permanent residents (for obvious reasons), solely for treks up the mountain. Because it’s one of the most active volcanoes around, you can only go so far up without a guide. After a certain height, you must be with a guide, and you must have hiking boots, pants, coats, and a helmet that can stand up to a volcanic flare-up.
As much fun as that sounds, we stayed closer down to the town – again, because it was a bit wet and the hike wouldn’t have been much fun. The pictures we got of the town more than compensate for the lack of adventurism, I think.
Back on the boat, we started to make our loop around the island. About the same time, the waves picked up. It wasn’t rough, by any means, but the waves were rather large. Big, roly-poly type waves. These, however, kept most people inside the boat, which gave me almost free use of the bow for picture-taking purposes. The volcano was in a less than cooperative mood, and all we got to see was a little blip that made the vapor at the top of the mountain turn red for a few seconds. It wasn’t very dramatic, but I think it counts.
The roly-poly waves followed us all the way back to Milazzo, as did some friendly jelly fish. Specifically, the glow-in-the-dark kind. The crewmember who pointed them out to us was very entertained by how excited we were about the jelly fish – then again, he was pretty entertained by how excited we were in general, given that most people on the cruise were either upset about the weather or making use of plastic bags. I suppose, given the options, sitting on the back deck laughing at us was the best route.
The last adventure of the night: Malvasia. The crew brought us over some local liquor, and we made a toast to beautiful islands, lava, and glowing jelly fish.