There are many unusual places in the world, and volcanoes are quite something to explore. There are even some specific travel agencies offering expeditions on top of volcanoes. I enlisted in one to travel to Mount Etna, the highest and most active volcano in Europe, sitting on top of Sicily. As long as white smoke rises from Mount Etna’s snow-Capped peak-visible from 150 miles away when not cloaked in mist-all is calm with the world. But too frequently it tums black, stirring restlessness among the area’s 1 million residents. These locals continue the centuries-long love-hate relationship with ”a muntagna”, as they call her in dialect, building and rebuilding their homes perversely close to the volatile mountain. Etna has erupted 300 times since the first recordings 3,000 years ago, most recently in 2001. In one of the most violent eruptions, in 1667, rivers of lava destroyed much of Catania, 19 miles away. No other gardens in Sicily are as lush as the vineyards and groves of lemon, orange, almond, and olive trees that today cover the fertile lower slopes leading up to the Volcano. But a bus trip that passes through this green belt and continues up to the crater’s lip fast becomes a ride through a toasted lunar landscape-brooding, dark, and fascinating. A cable car carries visitors over pinnacles of frozen lava dunes, minor craters, smoke holes-this vision of petrified chaos makes the ascent to Etna’s 11,000-foot summit one of Italy’s most haunting day trips. As of very recently, the top of the volcano has been forbidden to tourism due to an eruption, but some companies still get special groups to the top to admire the raging lava. Such groups are corporate, which I have been fortunate enough to follow to get access to the volcano. My advice is to get a corporate event agency to get you to the top, they are still allowed to.

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