Had it not been for the food, this would have been a 5-star review. Our guide, Paolo, was extraordinarily knowledgeable, patient and had a wonderful, dry sense of humor. He had a graduate degree in vulcanology and an excellent command of English, so we learned a great deal about what made Etna special and very different from our rather simplistic understanding of volcanos. While the trip was not really strenuous, it did involve walking up some rather steep inclines on uneven ground on a path that occasionally was narrow enough that it required that we walk single-file, with steep drop-offs to either side. There was no real danger, but between the incline, a slight tendency to agoraphobia by some of our party, and the thin air at about 10,000 ft, we moved at a slower pace than many. James was consistently patient, encouraging and more than gracious about accommodating us.
As noted above, the only negative was the food. After the climb, we stopped at a roadside picnic area for lunch. Paolo put out a tablecloth on the picnic table and then brought out some red wine and a large box of savory pastries. Unfortunately, the pastries were all bread and almost no filling -- very disappointing! For not a lot more expenditure on their part, Excursions Etna could have made this a lovely lunch, but as it was, we ended up digging out what little bits of sausage (that seemed very much like hot dogs), cheese and tomato sauce we could find and tossing the tasteless bread in which it was enfolded.
One other note, we were surprised to find that the "a la carte" cost of the funicular and 4-wheel drive bus -- required for all but the most hardy souls -- was about 70 €, and thus a major piece of the cost of the tour.
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