Sunday, February 21, 2016

What else to do in Catania, Sicily

- That is, what else in addition to taking a tour of Mount Etna.
I'd never heard of Catania. Most people have heard of Palermo. But Palermo is "just a city", I was told -- albeit a pretty one with lots of relics and stuff. Whereas Catania is the Gate to Mt. Etna.
And so it came to pass that, after spending a week in Rome, we were in a taxi from Catania airport to to the center of town.

"Is this Catania?" My husband asked, trying to stifle the dread in his voice.
"No, this is just the outskirts of town," replied our driver cheerfully, as he continued driving through the dreary, poor housing projects. (He didn't actually use the word "outskirts", but that was obviously what he meant.)
"There we are," he said about ten minutes later, pulling over to park.
I looked at the exterior of the building and my heart sank.
Entrance gate to the building
Via Dottor Consoli 55, Catania

 The inner court was not much better, with its grey, peeling walls. I couldn't even hope it was a mistake, because the sign outside confirmed we'd reached the B&B we'd ordered online.
However, once we were inside, we calmed down.
The interior was bright and happy-looking, and Lucia at the desk was effervescently friendly and helpful. Which reminds me I should offer the owners my English editing services for their website :-)

Our room, though colorful and youthful-looking, wasn't the best. But then, we did choose one of the cheaper rooms offered on Expedia. Looking back, I think it was more suitable for a couple of students on a budget than for a couple of pensioners with aching backs and too much luggage.
Michael relaxing w his iPad

Not enough room for clothes and stuff

Unnerving glass partition and door to bathroom

As you can see above, it was winter time, when bulky coats, cardigans and boots take up a lot of space. I am told tourists usually prefer going to Sicily in summer, to enjoy its beautiful, relaxing beaches. So maybe in summer, with bathing suits, flipflops, a few T-shirts & shorts, the shelves are sufficient.
I don't know why so many B&B owners give so little thought to bathroom shelves and hooks. I bet the designers are men, of the type whose toiletries comprise toothpaste and shaving gel. Though surely the typical Rome gentleman uses deodorant and after-shave? Be that as it may, I rarely find a suitable spot to place my necessaire with its cute small vials of creams and lotions.

The Elephant at the Piazza Duomo, Catania
It was Sunday afternoon, and we were starving. Off we went, trotting down Giardino Bellini to Via Etnea, assisted by Lucia's map and Michael's nearly-infallible sense of direction, in search of what my younger daughter calls FOOOOD. The streets were nearly deserted. Not only off-season, but probably still siesta-time. I have no recollection of what or where we finally grabbed a bite. So long that it was enough to keep us going.

Walking along Via Etnea (and courageously ignoring the fashionable shops), we finally reached Catania's highlights: three consecutive piazzas, each boasting a few beautiful old buildings, mostly of Baroque style I am told, and plenty of alluring cafes. My personal favorite was the elephant in Piazza Duomo.

To me, it may just be an elephant, reminding me of  Terry Pratchett's Discworld and perhaps of our trip to Thailand; but to Catanians it is a symbol of their city and its long history.

close-up of elephant
Anyone into history, architecture, and/or religion will surely appreciate the cathedrals and churches. I was rather upset by the glaring contrast between the "important" buildings, which had been scrubbed clean and were relatively well-maintained, and the adjacent "ordinary" buildings which were dirty and run-down. The city obviously doesn't have the funds to clean up and restore more than a handful of major-interest structures.
Side by side
Church, cleaned up
Adjacent building, looks like hell
 To end this totally-inadequate-post on a sweet note, here are a few recommendations and heartfelt thanks:
Food: Blanc a Manger, Brasserie Italienne, 55 Santa Filomena, Catania
Coffee and cake or snacks: i dolci di Nonna Vincenza; a chain with branches in Catania, Roma, Bologna and Milan. We enjoyed it at Piazza Duomo 17/18, Catania
Guilia Bacillieri, tour guide, Catania; works with InSicilia Vacanze and Etna Tribe; see also my post of our Etna tour
Lucia, our delightful and efficient hostess/receptionist at Miro B&B:

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