We anchored in the bay of Naxos as the first rays of the sun struck the steam billowing from the craters of Mount Etna.

I rose early to watch the sunrise over the Mediterranean sea, sitting with my tea and pastries in the café at the rear of the ship as it cruised slowly into the port of Naxos, Sicily.  The sky was totally clear and the wind completely calm.  As the day brightened and the lights from seaside Sicily towns faded, Le Bougainville dropped its anchor in the harbor, where Mount Etna dominates the surrounding hilly landscape.  When the sun finally rose above the sea behind us, its first rays illuminated the cratered peaks of Etna’s 10,912’ mountain summit – and the steam clouds emanating from its five active craters.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.2019-10-13-73192.jpg

While white steam rose from two of Etna’s major craters, I suddenly saw an explosive puff of grey smoke and ash burst from the middle crater.  This behavior repeated several times during the day, which we later learned (from our local tour guide) was an unusually dramatic display from this active volcano.2019-10-13-73251.jpg

This morning’s clear sky and ‘golden-hour’ lighting conditions were perfect for photographing this impressive volcano, the hillside town of Taormina, and the seaside town of Naxos. We boarded the ship’s tenders, two robust motorboats that also serve as the ship’s lifeboats, for a brief scoot across the harbor to a dock where we could go ashore.  We were then divided into groups and boarded buses that wound their way up the steep hillside roads to Taormina.2019-10-13-73274.jpg

Although tiny Taormina dates back over two thousand years – once a Greek city, and host to several historic structures from the Greeks to the Romans to the Christian era – Taormina now lives for tourism.  The winding road from the coast ends in a massive parking garage, and its central pedestrian street is lined with picturesque balconies, boutique shops, and streetside cafés.  Charming!2019-10-13-73403.jpg

The guide described the history of Taormina, the celebrities who arrive for the annual film festival, and the recent G7 summit that took over the town just two years earlier.  The tour culminated in a visit to the Greco-Roman theater, which overlooks the town and out across the bay to Mount Etna.  Today there was a team busily setting up audio and lighting equipment for an upcoming concert.  2019-10-13-73435.jpg

As the morning progressed, Etna’s craters puffed away and the mountain gathered more clouds around its shoulders, eventually disappearing behind clouds by lunchtime.  We were incredibly lucky, the guide noted repeatedly, to have arrived on such a warm, sunny, clear, and calm day.  Impressive!

Our ship in the bay, Mount Etna erupting at rear, from the hillside town of Taormina.

The buses wound their way back down the hillside, where we could view our ship (and a bigger cruise  ship) before riding the tenders back across the harbor and returning aboard.   We sailed soon after lunch, for a 24-hour crossing of the Ionean Sea to reach the shores of the Greek archipelago.    The perfectly calm seas provided a platform for the rise of the full moon, directly ahead, and we sailed into the night.

Our ship, with Taormina on the hillside behind.

Check out the photo gallery for more.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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