Catania Sicily! Sicily’s second largest city is the gateway to Mt. Etna – the largest active volcano in Europe. Catania was vibrant, loud, bustling, busy, emotional, gritty, a little dangerous – a mix of Naples and Palmero – but with a touch of Pisa (because there is a high student population).
Our entry into the city was through the fish market. Dragging luggage through fishy streets, I didn’t stop to drag out my camera – but it was as busier, louder, larger, and more vibrant than any street market we’ve seen so far. It cascaded out from a small square – filling alley after alley. Fish, vegetables, meat – anything consumable – you could find it. First impression – positive.
As we dove deeper into the city to reach our B&B, we left behind the stores and entered a (run down) residential area. Our street was clogged with parked cars on both sides parked high on the narrow sidewalks. Scooters, cars, and pedestrians jostled for the narrow strip in the middle. Tip: If you are crazy enough to take a rental car into Catania – make sure you fold your side-view mirror down after you park or it won’t be there when you get back. To be honest – you’ll be lucky to find the car there when you get back!) Second impression – heading downhill.
Our B&B hostesses were friendly – and assuring us that the area was safe. (The exact words were – “we are all women and walk around here at night all the time – the other night we were out at 1 am. – but watch your purse – because they target tourists.”) Sidenote: I had read that women had a lot of difficulty getting decent jobs in Sicily (and equal pay). Our B&B and an associated Excursions company were both run by a group of women – no men in sight.) We were given a run-down little apartment around the corner. It left me scratching my head trying to figure out how someone would cook in that apartment – just a small burner and tiny fridge. Hmmmm. More curious was the plumbing situation. There was a note by the toilet that said – in many languages – to please not put paper down the toilet. Ken and I had a long discussion about what that could possibly mean. What sort of paper? Did they think we would flush our maps? Could they possibly mean toilet paper couldn’t go in the toilet? It turns out that the plumbing pipes in Catania are so narrow they cannot accommodate toilet paper. Yup – that’s true. I read it on the internet.
Back to this apartment. It was in this building (most likely the one for sale):
And when you enter the building it opens up into a courtyard with steps up the upstairs apartments:
Sidenote: While Catania on the outside looks like a graffiti-smeared mess (and the volcanic-ash (acid) rain that stains the buildings helps with the neglected look) – I suspect that many of the buildings were very nice inside. Sometimes when doors were open I’d peak in and get a surprise – like this garden.
In front of our buildings, someone wrote a love letter (I think). It translates as (through Bing):
Why thou shalt be all the time my only destiny. I can only love you license no brake. (I suspect it didn’t translate correctly since that would be gibberish – but …)
The neighborhood we were staying in is near Castle Ursina. This castle used to be a defensive castle for the city, but lava flows from Etna moved the shoreline – leaving it stranded. My guide book said to make sure you visit it during the day because it is in one of the worst neighborhoods in Catania. Oops.
Actually, people in the neighborhood were great. Everyone would smile and greet us as we walked past. Our first lunch was in a small bakery/shop. There was a cluster of men talking on the stoop, but when we went in by the side door they scattered – with one running in to help the woman behind the counter (presumably his wife) by translating for us. They were incredibly friendly and helpful – warmed up our pastries – gave us little cups for our Fanta – and gave us some cookies to sample as we waited. The cost for lunch for both of us – less than 5 euros!
Catania definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s convenient access to Mt. Etna, but with Taormina so close (a pretty resort town) nearby, I’m not sure if I’d stay there again. But I’m glad I spent a few nights in a large city in Sicily.