Review of "Catania (Italy)"
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Having visited Palermo the capital of Sicily a few years ago, and liking its edgy rough crumbling gothic feel, part of our December trip incorporated a couple of nights in the island’s second city Catania on the other side (east) of the island. Just a little reminder, Sicily is the island that Italy “kicks” into the Med, and an Italian island and traditional home of the Mafia.As soon as we stepped foot out of the train station in the centre of Catania we weren’t disappointed by the edgy and foreboding feel of the city; it rather felt like we were going to be mugged and robbed within five minutes. We weren’t but we are pretty streetwise abroad, not wearing anything like expensive clothes or flashing jewels, phones or cameras around and not being scared of slowly withdrawing from a part of town. There is a significant amount of both riches and poverty in Sicily and much of it lives cheek by jowl; turn a corner from a posh looking bar and you might find yourself in a dark, dirty alley where were it not for the liberal addition of litter and graffiti you could imagine it looking pretty much the same as it did in 1900.
Our temporary home
Our hotel, the Catania Inn isn’t in a particularly great looking street; like much of the city outside of the immediate city centre the feel was of a very faded gothic gloom, and where quite a few of the local shops are Indian take-aways (rather than sell curry most of these places sell kebabs and other snacks - some do look good for cheap eats). However, all was safe, and our room was in a building secured behind a huge hard wooden door at least twice my height and wide enough to get a car through (exercised the arm muscles to open).As well as be a pleasant, reasonably priced (£55 a night as I recall; something of a bargain in our brave new world where the Uruguayan Peso has rather better value than the pound), and friendly place, the Catania Inn had a great location and was about 5 minutes stroll from the main square, the Piazza Duomo with its very grand buildings of black and white stone (the black is volcanic as Mt Etna is only along the way). Look out for the symbol of the city in the square, a little statue of an elephant.
Chiesa della Badia di Sant'AgataI'm not really one for churches as they all rather look suspiciously like... well ... churches to my eye. Thus we didn’t trouble to go into the main Cathedral on the square, but we did visit one around the corner mainly because it had a tower to climb. At 3 Euros a pop I was sold. The church was called the Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata
I did spend a little time looking at the history of this particular Church and it seemed that after the earthquake of the 1600's the nuns spent many years living in squalid dirty "temporary" shelter before they managed to petition the Church to rebuild (including the Church).For the money you get to climb up some fairly narrow steps (but you can pass others going the other direction quite easily) but not in a tight spiral and you arrive at bell level and where you can peer out through the windows and decorative finishing in the walls to get a great view of Catania's main square below.
There is a second rather narrower route up to the base of the dome. The views from the narrow walkway up here are even more impressive although I felt a little "trapped" and wanted to immediately climb back down again. I do get a little panic stricken if I can’t escape. I don't think I would have liked it up there on a busy day as the steps up and down really didn't offer any kind of passing place, and I wouldn't have wanted to turn round to go back down. Obviously you have to be fairly fit to climb the steps right to the top, but anyone used to doing a bit of walking/hiking wouldn't find it an issue.You can of course take a look around the Church but as I said, to my untrained heathen eye it all looked suspiciously like a Church and after a cursory and respectful little linger, I left rather quickly.
As this is Sicily’s second city there is a fair bit of a shopping centre. We were in Catania just before Christmas and the roads were taped off and there were stalls selling Christmas trinkets and the like. Even though it was before the killings in Berlin, I drove my beloved mad by insisting we walk on the pavement rather than up the street, although there were a few armed Police kicking around. The thought of two armed groups of men rather scare me than reassure as I’d imagine being stood in the middle of a gun battle, but perhaps that’s just me. Despite the lingering thought of a violent death in the back of my mind, there is regardless quite a good shopping vibe in Catania and as well as cheap shops there were also quite a few designer stores. As we didn’t have Urugayan Pesos in our pocket, the prices in most of the shops were rather out of reach.
Bars and RestaurantsA slight Catania disappointment came with the bars and restaurants. Many restaurants are Italian; you can say what you like but the Italians are very particular and traditional about their food. As this was at the end of our week in Sicily we were crying out for something that wasn’t pizza or pasta and I was rather hoping to see a “good” Indian restaurant.
Likewise, we didn’t really find any excellent bars (bar a couple). They tended to be typical euro bars with euro fizz lager and MTV blasting away. I think in summer it might be a more varied nightlife scene, but I’m guessing in any case the real parties take place after I’m tucked up in bed (tip for the young; being married and not into the thrill of the chase puts a very different complexion upon evenings out).The two exceptions to the rule we found was a little run down cruddy hole with graffiti all over the street it was on. We stopped for a glass of wine and found the tattooed lad with those huge split open eared ear-rings stood behind the bar to be a wine expert, and where he found us both an excellent tipple and was an entertaining chatty soul. We do like grungy places (and to fair, my beloved and I tend to dress like over-aged students anyway) so we were quite comfortable sitting on the pavement table with our glasses of wine watching the hard working poor of the city pass by.
While I didn’t keep the name of the place (OK I did, but it’s going to be on one of half a dozen till receipts till that I kept) it just shows once again how dangerous it is to judge a book by its cover.The second place was a bar which sold local real ale; a rather trendy place called Buatta. Even better it was at least a place that serves slightly different Italian food.
The little bar is down one of the back streets on the edge of town and we entertained ourselves watching the number of vehicles attempting to ignore the one way road system here. There seemed to be a direct correlation between the driver's determination and the number of scratches and dints on their vehicle.
We chose a 40cl glass of their "house" real ale; a nice, but cloudy brew of deliciously bitter IPA. At 5 Euros a glass perhaps we should have been the ones that were bitter, but a swift one was followed by a second.For eats I chose a chicken and garlic mayo on sour bread combo; unfortunately the roasted vegetables that were meant to accompany the dish was off, so I had something of a meat feast. It was filling and a little fiddly to eat, but hey, I had 2 real beers to enjoy with it too. My beloved went with the cured beef salad, and it also looked delicious. Our bill came in at 42 Euros for two which to be honest was pretty standard for our dining experiences. Although my meal didn't look huge, there was plenty of protein and it filled me up (and I'm not a slight fellow).
If you fancy an Ice Cream (and to be honest, its’ a crime if you don’t have any Italian ice cream then I can recommend the Comis Ice House, a traditional looking place that felt like people my age used to go there back in milder times for a 6th birthday treat. It’s right in the centre of town near the grand looking theatre (which is also worth a look around if you can grab a tour, or better something to see).
Greek and RomansAny self respecting town in Sicily has to have some 2,000 year old ruins to poke around in, and Catania is no exception. Unfortunately however I wouldn’t particularly advise you come to the city to look at the ruins. They are there, but there’s much better examples in nearby Taormina and Syracuse. We did pass by both the Roman and Greek Amphitheatres in the city centre and took a quick look.
I won’t describe Catania as a must see place. There are a few museums to look around – we did visit one but I didn’t retain any notes of it, and the Greek and Roman stuff while not to be sniffed at isn’t the best. However, for a city teeming with local life and colour then it’s a good place to spend a night or two, particularly if you are using Catania Airport which is just a quick bus ride away on the edge of town. I like towns that are working places with a few warts and all as I really get a feel for how it all works and how people live their lives. For that reason, I enjoyed our brief stay and would happily return.* Note this review contains both new content and a few snippets from reviews already written (by me) and posted on TripAdvisor where I am an occasional contributor (Slug 01).
Product Information : Catania (Italy)
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Listed on Ciao since: 30/04/2001