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Hello From Sicily – A Driving Tour Through Lipari And A Magical Evening In Vulcano

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Source: Flickr

Our beautiful dinner in the old town of Lipari last night was another opportunity to get to know Sicilian cuisine. A light-hearted evening was followed by a night of deep sleep and by 8 am this morning I stuck my head out of the boat: another gorgeous day! Everyone was still sleeping and I had about an hour and half to walk into town and catch another glimpse of picturesque Lipari. I mailed my postcards and picked up some fresh locally grown oranges for the gang on the boat.

Once back at the boat, my co-travellers Herbert, Claudia and I were ready for another excursion: a driving tour of Lipari. Herbert is a German TV travel journalist and is planning to bring a television crew to Sicily next year to film the Italian language learning experience aboard a sailboat provided by Laboratorio Linguistico. Naturally he has to scout out the various locations to check into sights of interest, lighting, and facilities – all the factors that will have a bearing on the shoot.

He had asked our captain Francesco to arrange for a local guide who would drive him around the island and generously invited Claudia and me to come along. Our driver Pasquale Liberatore (what a great name), a Lipari resident, arrived punctually at 9:30 am to pick us up at the Lipari pleasure craft harbour to take us on a tour through this beautiful island.

Pasquale packed us into his vehicle and off we went. His personal story, incidentally, is also quite interesting: Pasquale was born and grew up in Lipari and then in the lat 1950s his family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where there is a large community of southern Italian émigrés. Southern Italy went through real economic hardship after World War II, and many hundreds of thousands of people emigrated from the mainland and the islands. Pasquale spent a few decades in Australia but as the only person from his immediate family, he returned to Lipari to live here. He has now been back for about 15 years and loves living here although he occasionally misses his brothers and sisters and their families who are still living in Australia. Of course he speaks excellent English, and that is how he markets himself – Pasquale, the English-speaking cab driver and tour guide.

The first place he took us to was a village north of Lipari called Canneto which has a beautiful waterfront location, draped around a horseshoe-shaped bay. We decided to catch a little late breakfast first, and I really enjoyed my refreshing lemon granita, a typical Sicilian specialty – crushed ice that comes in a variety of flavours, a great idea for starting off the day. Herbert enjoyed a fresh croissant and an espresso.

On our way out of the bar, parked by the lungomare, the waterfront promenade, a local fisherman was selling fresh fish he caught this morning out of a little three-wheeled cargo vehicle. He shouted out the names of the fish with a peculiar cadence that was sure to attract the attention of passers-by. This is one thing I noticed about Sicily: street selling, particularly of fish, produce and other edible products, is still a popular way of marketing one’s merchandise.

We continued our drive towards the white pumice quarries that Lipari is famous for. This volcanic stone is used for the production of cement, as an abrasive and a cosmetic exfoliant. Pumice is a highly porous, extremely light-weight, usually white stone that is formed during volcanic eruptions. Just a few dozen meters away from the pumice quarries we stopped to see another type of volcanic stone: obsidian, or volcanic glass, which is a dark-brown, dense, virtually opaque and heavy substance.

Pasquale explained that the chemical make-up of obsidian and pumice is essentially the same, but that they are ejected a different temperatures during volcanic eruptions. Obsidian has been used for eons; because of its flint-like quality it can easily be shaped into blades and spear tips and other cutting instruments. Today obsidian is even used as for surgical scalpels which produce less trauma than steel scalpels. Another less high-tech use of obsidian is as a gemstone, and many stores in the Eolian Islands sell jewelry crafted from this volcanic glass.

We came around the northern tip of Lipari where a beautiful view opened up toward the island of Salina. Pasquale took us up a mountain road to the Santuario di Chiesa Vecchia di Quattropani, a beautiful country church located on a hill with a phenomenal view over several of the Eolian Islands. As we were standing by the railing of the terrace, a jet fighter flew by at what seemed like supersonic speed, literally a few meters above the water. By the time we realized where the booming sound was coming from it was already disappearing into the horizon.

Another 15 minutes further on the west side of the island we stopped at an abandoned kaolin quarry. Kaolin is a silica-based mineral that is used in the production of ceramics, as a food additive and even as an ingredient in toothpaste. Everything was blooming around here, and yellow and purple flowers lit up the crags overlooking the sea.

At the southern tip of Lipari we stopped on a parking lot beside a private village and had a phenomenal view of the nearby island of Vulcano. We could even see the columns of sulphur fumes emanating from the fissures near the crater of this still active volcano. A flat stretch of land called Vulcanello is located in front of the main island of Vulcano. This part of the island appeared only about 2000 years ago in a volcanic eruption. Volcanism is still reshaping the earth all around here.

We had seen almost every corner of this small island and Pasquale dropped us off near downtown Lipari. This guided tour provided by a local expert was a great way of getting to know the island of Lipari. Claudia and I headed straight for an outdoor restaurant on the piazza by Marina Corta and had a well-deserved lunch and another nice stroll through town before we started to head back to our sailboat.

Around 3 pm we said goodbye to Lipari and set sail for our next destination: Vulcano. On our way our skipper Francesco took us past some very interesting rock formations at the southern end of Lipari. One protruding rock column was reminiscent of a praying pope while several tall isolated rocks grew right out of the sea in front of Lipari. We circled around to the eastern side of Vulcano and dropped anchor in the bay in front of Porto di Levante, the only landing place on the island. Several ferry boats were making their entries to and exits from the bay, and several other sailboats were anchored at a distance from the island.

Now it was time for our Italian lesson: for two hours in the late afternoon Claudia, Agnieszka and I were studying concepts such as the Italian Condizionale as well as the Congiuntivo under the guidance of our expert teacher Franco. You would definitely be hard-pressed to find a more stimulating environment to study Italian than a sailboat anchored in a beautiful bay in Southern Italy.

The wonderful thing about this sailing trip has been so far that it has been a nearly perfect immersion in Italian, where we are hearing the language all day and both our teachers communicate only in Italian with us. This concept is as close to full immersion as one can imagine, and the learning process is very intense and fast.

For the evening we stayed on the boat and watched a beautiful sunset which bathed the entire scene in hues of pink and purple. After our on-board dinner we retreated outside where Agnieszka, a gifted singer, and Franco, a great guitar player, teamed up and entertained us with many different soulfully delivered classics.

Sitting on a sailboat at night, by candlelight, in the beautiful bay of Vulcano, listening to the touching melodies of two gifted artists, was a magical, almost spiritual experience. I knew tomorrow was going to be our last day on this sailing trip, but I didn’t want this moment to end…..