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Etna, Sicily

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Starting a new thread here, in my quest to organise my oncoming Easter Sicily visit. Having initially planned to stick to the western end, my travelling companion now tells me she is keen to climb Etna. I've done a lot of checking around - some accounts seem a bit confusing - and have come up with two key queries:

1. This mountain erupted last month and is very active. Is it stupid to go up there? (This spoken from one who regularly hikes over New Zealand's Mts Ruapehu and Tongariro, both erupt from time to time).

2. Question 1 notwithstanding (and snow and altitude issues aside) - is it mandatory to have a guide to climb right to the summit?

And lastly - having got through the above queries - any personal experiences (KJA I've read yours, thanks) - and recommended company to go with? And best place to approach from? Apart from the summit, is there any preferred 'number one' trek that people do on Etna?

And in an aside - we will visit Catania: an advice? Any recommendations for budget(ish) - good value accommodation? Thanks Fodorites

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    We just returned from Sicily and Mt. Etna does have lava flowing at the moment. We could see it each evening. We drove around the base which we enjoyed but didn't venture up the mountain.

    As far as Catania, be very careful visiting that town. We stopped at the WW2 museum on Via Africa, the outermost road of town, parking in the very nice parking area in front of this museum complex. All our luggage was stolen from our car trunk while we were inside. It looks as though the thiefs gained entry from the passenger side door and gained access from the back seat. We were driving a Fiat 500 2 door.

    The guard at the museum center was totally uncooperative in my request to call the police. I walked to the train station where there is a small police office and they told me I was an American and they were there to help Italian citizens.

    Finally we did get a police report, but it was quite an ordeal. Afterwards as we were leaving town our car was encircled by motorcycles. Terrifying.

    Another couple we met were also robbed in Catania, but as they were driving, motorcyclists actually opened their front and back doors of their car and robbed the contents, even as they were in the car.

    Sicily is very beautiful and has many sites, but the stories we were told by B&B owners after this were very eye opening. Be careful at all times while on Sicily.

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    Images2--very sorry to hear that. We had worried a good bit about thieves before heading to Sicily for two weeks with car, but never had any problems.

    In fact, the reverse: we had a very difficult time finding our hotel in Ortygia (Siracusa) and drove on and off the Island a number of times, calling the hotel and stopping for directions. At some point, I missed my Blackberry (which had all the trip stuff (links to hotel reservations, contacts, etc.,stored in it). Panic ensued. We finally found our hotel. Next morning at breakfast while my spouse and I were wondering what we were going to do about the phone, I was asked to go to the front desk: Someone had found the phone, gone through the recent calls, guessed where we were staying, and called to tell us they had the phone. They were, however sorry that they could not leave their business to bring the phone to the hotel so we would have to go to get it. Which, of course, we did quite happily in a cab. They refused any reward.

    I have no doubt there are thieves on Sicily, as there are anywhere else, and of course it is a good idea to keep your eyes on your stuff, hide your stuff in the trunk or under the luggage flap, and keep your car doors locked and windows rolled up.

    We stayed at the Katane Palace, which is not inexpensive, but it is in a good location and has good food. Only downside for me was that (again) it was difficult to get to and did not have sufficient parking for all the guests: if you go, insist they let you reserve inside parking.

    However, if I were going east primarily to climb Aetna and only secondarily to visit Catania, I'd try to stay outside the City (on the slopes of the mountain)-- somewhere with good train or bus connections to the City, and then go in that way. Traffic, while not as bad as Napoli, is very bad and I would not willingly drive in Catania again. You can see everything important on foot. Should be a good bit less expensive as well. Use Trip Advisor to locate and book.

    FWIW, we found the people in Sicily much friendlier than Italians in general. Not so many people visit there as on the mainland, so they were generally delighted to see us and showed it. Based on our experience, we could happily live on Sicily.

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