That's a pretty grim way to start, but my own trip crumbled somewhat when I arrived in Catania - as I wrote in my introductory post on Sicily -- it was the best of trips, it was the worst of trips. I'll amend again what I amended then -- hardly the worst! And I did find pleasures in this big, boisterous city. I also noted when I began to write on Sicily that my own planning fell apart. In a sort of sub-theme for this post, that we might call "Jack vs the Volcano," there was no reason I should not have seen Mount Etna, for example.
|Mount Etna from my train window|
In fact I began to be daunted in general upon arrival. I tried to find my hotel, very near the rail station, on my own, and could not. A kind taxi driver at the station did not take me for a ride, literally or figuratively, instead pointed in a direction I'd not thought to search, said "Azzuro?" (which means blue). I saw the building he pointed to immediately, only a very short walk away. Then he said, "Rigel." (the name of my hotel. I thanked him profusely and headed toward it. On the way I was accosted by several rather frightening men aggressively offering to carry my bag, to drive me where I wanted to go, to feed me, to sell me things -- god knows what else! And I had to push my way past them to get away from the station and across the few streets that separated me from my destination. And as I had walked the area searching for the hotel I saw just how run-down it was. I remembered the reviews of the hotel I'd read: "Great hotel, lousy area." They were right!
When I arrived at the hotel at about 12:30 pm I was warmly greeted and immediately shown to a very nice room. In fact, such was my state that I thought, "Well, I can always stay in the room!" The receptionist spoke almost no English, but when I asked for it gave me a good map of the city, and when I came back down helped me by signs and gestures in my search for the center, about 15 minutes away on foot.
So you see I didn't just stay in the room. I plunged into a city that grew more interesting to me as I walked. Probably the most important area is the Piazza Duomo, and it was the first place I came upon. Not one, but two enormous churches dominate that square; obviously the Duomo itself but just across the street from it Sant'Agata, named for the patron saint of the city and martyr.
|Piazza Duomo, Sant'Agata on the left|
the Duomo on the right
|The lava elephant|
I continued walking the pedestrian zone (carefully). It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, though relatively few people seemed to be out and about in it.I walked north, on the largest and longest road in the city, the Via Etnea, which leads to, you guessed it, the very foothills of the great volcano.
The first major square one comes to on this route is the Piazza dell'Universita, with two grand buildings dominating either side of it. Catania is among other things a college town, and particularly around this square I felt a good deal of youthful energy, and hope for the place in the future as well.
|Teatro Massimo Bellini|
|The Roman amphitheatre|
|Stones of the Cyclops?|
I had had nothing but great weather up to this point, and when I left the hotel the sky was so blue I didn't think for a minute of taking an umbrella or hat. In fact it was so warm that I wore a short-sleeved shirt. During the bus tour the weather worsened, clouded up, got a good bit colder, and it began to rain lightly. When we were returned to Piazza Duomo from the less than illuminating bus tour I found myself stuck, but several men, in fact a frightening amount of them, came to my and other tourists' rescue, running out into the square aggressively selling the ugliest, flimsiest umbrellas imaginable (echoes of my experience at the rail station). I bought one from the least aggressive fellow for 5 Euros - a wretched looking brolly of blue plaid. It only had to last me the walk back to the hotel and it did, barely.
But in my haste to get out of the rain I had completely forgotten to eat, and around the hotel there were a few cafes open, but with only the most grotesque looking tiny pizzas to eat -- lots of gelato and outrageous sweetcakes, but nothing that would satisfy me. So I determined to fast, and successfully did so! At about 7 pm I thought I might go out in search of food, but it was dark, the area WAS spooky and I'd not seen anything resembling a proper restaurant in the neighborhood, so I decided I could wait until morning, and I did.
The next day, my last in Sicily, was when I could have tried to get to Etna or Taormina, but instead gave up, or gave out, not certain which, and decided that I should give Catania another chance. While I'm sorry that I missed both of the above places, and while I'm fairly certain that, much as I liked Siracusa I will not return to Sicily, I had a rather nice last day in Catania.
|On the outskirts of the fish market are|
stand after stand of vegetables and meats
that seem to go on forever
|Looking down into one|
of the alleys of the Pescheria
The photos I have do not do it justice, but I had been warned to not look too touristy in that wild melee of fish, meat and veggy stands and sales people shouting at bickering customers, as it was pickpocket heaven, so I was maybe a bit too careful going through it. A confession: I do not think I could live well on even such a beautiful island, because I am not the type to throw myself in and fight for my dinner, haggling and insisting only on the perfect cut of swordfish or beef steak. These people seemed to revel in it, while I was exhausted just observing it. But it was something to see!
I spent most of my time that day at the Teatro Romano and Odeon. If you do not know about it you'd never find it, as it sits behind buildings on the Via Vittore Emmanuele, but once you find the entrance you're in for a treat - if you're a nerdy theatre historian like Dottore Gianni at any rate, having seen this hidden gem your day could have been considered at least a somewhat successful one.
|Teatro Romano again|
|Rigatoni alla Norma|
And that ended my trip to Sicilia! In the story of Jack vs the Volcano, Jack had clearly lost, and though I had wanted to see Taormina ever since I played Deeley in Harold Pinter's Old Times - there's a line in the play about it, and I loved saying it - first time I'd ever heard of the place - I obviously did not get there. Too bad, and not a perfect trip. But in this tale of two cities Siracusa, or Ortigia at least, had been wonderful, and Catania, despite some disappointments, was a nice surprise. I hope you've enjoyed reading about it!
|I somehow forgot to have cannoli while in Sicily -|
this one at the airport on the way home more than made up for it