Alone In Catania

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— By Dalene

Here is what I will remember of Catania:

White sheets, white walls. One garish purple wall, with equally garish and wrinkled orange curtains. An orange couch, a blue and red duvet. Who decorated this place?

A pile of snotty toilet paper wads on the floor beside me. Endless games on my iPod to pass the time alone. Multiple episodes of The Office.Β Sleep. Waking to find my wonderful hubby has brought me tea, food, or drugs. More sleep.

Sounds like fun, right? While I spent two whole days in a new city trapped in bed, Pete was left to explore the city on his own….

— By Pete

Simply put, Catania is a volcano. Literally and metaphorically. Rage, anger, depression, impatience, tenacity, and powerful chaos –Β all characteristics which I believe nearby Big Mama Etna has instilled in her people.

The chaos hit us as soon as we arrived; we immediately stumbled from the train station when a local bus driver guided us to the wrong part of the city. We wandered up and down sketchy streets in the dark and then finally just coughed up for an expensive taxi ride. After that first encounter, we were both felt exhausted and out of sorts. Dalene moreso then me of course, as the head cold had hit her full on.

Her illness meant we even had to stay an extra day and scratch a destination off our itinerary. With all this time to myself, I was determined to give the city more of a chance. What I found is that it is certainly difficult to get past its outer crust.

Walking alone, I was warned a couple of times to be careful of my valuables in public. I had to turn on my “be aware” senses I had developed in South America. I hadn’t turned these on in a while.

I found some impressive ancient ruins, beautiful cathedrals, and picturesque squares.



Catania, Sicily - statue





In all honesty though, I just wasn’t feeling it. I don’t know if it was because I don’t enjoy exploring without Dalene or the fact that I was uneasy and never quite comfortable in my surroundings. Probably both.

Rarely did I find anyone smiling. Stares were quite common as I walked through the city. I never did feel the comfort and connection like I felt in other parts of Italy or other cities in our travels. It just felt like a big city that was building pressure and just waiting to erupt.

I gave it my best shot though. And for me to say that I don’t like a place takes a lot. But I was eager to move on.


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    1. Always honest. No sense just always writing glowing reviews. πŸ™‚ I always give places a chance, and I know that there are definitely things that I missed. But it was my feeling over the four days I was there. Just never felt the pull to stay.

  1. I really don’t enjoy exploring without my wife all that much either, but like you I’ll dutifully press on if the need arises. I’m not a particularly observant person though, so without Lori to guide me in the right direction I tend to just be walking streets and not noticing anything of importance. I can tell from your pictures that you don’t suffer the same problem. Very nice shots.
    Hope you’re feeling better Dalene!

    1. Thanks Steve. I really like to aimlessly wander. Sometimes I come across some beautiful things. Sometimes not. But when I get people staring at me like I don’t belong and a few warnings from police officers and others to really watch my belongings, it just puts me on edge and I can’t enjoy the experience as much. Dalene says thanks for the wishes πŸ™‚

    1. I was wondering who would ask πŸ™‚ From what I understand, Sicily has deep Arabic ties. Around 900 AD it was known as Balad-Al-Fil which in Arabic translates to “The Village of the Elephant”. It is a symbol to protect the city from its enemies and keep away misfortune. *good old wikipedia πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Jan, I was hoping the B&W would set the mood. The rest of Sicily is…. stay tuned for our next few posts πŸ™‚ I can say this, things definitely went better.

    1. Agreed. Feeling uneasy just takes away from the experience. I would give Catania another chance if I was convinced that it was worth it. Although there were other spots in Sicily that we didn’t have time to get to, so I’d probably end up heading there first.

    1. Thanks Amanda! It was easy to find some nice architecture (almost everywhere in Italy). Just the uneasy feeling that came along with it I didn’t like.

  2. I’m kind of nervous what you are going to write about Palermo. I didn’t know that Catania has a theater right in the city. Love that the other buildings are so pressed against it, like they want to take it over.

    1. Don’t be nervous πŸ™‚ Yes, I was a little shocked about the theater as well and the backdrop is pretty amazing. I imagine you pay a little extra for a flat that has that view πŸ™‚ I was the only one inside exploring so not too many knew about it…

  3. I was very interested to read your reactions, because in a couple of weeks I’m devoting a whole week to Sicily at A Traveler’s Library. Before delving into my reading for that week, I didn’t realize the strong Arabic influence, and also had never quite understood why Sicily is NOT Italian, even though it is nominally part of Italy. Complex and interesting. Perhaps it takes more time to get under its skin–and certainly good health!

    1. I never realized the strong Arabic influence either – which was most evident to us a little further west in some of the buildings and even in ancient fishing techniques that they use.

      I’m not sure what you mean about Sicily not being Italian? We asked one local about that, about how she felt the relationship was with Italy and if they consider themselves Sicilian only or Italian, and her view was that they are very much Italian!

  4. A new book, Seeking Sicily, by John Keahey goes into all the details of Sicily’s complex history and their strong sense of different-ness. Another book I’m reviewing, The Honored Society, written by British travel writer Norman Lewis in the 1960’s confirms everything that Keahey says. The third review is of the old Burt Lancaster movie, The Leopard, based on a novel by Sicilian writer Lampedusa, and emphasizes that the Italians coming into Sicily upon unification were looked upon as no different than the Arabs, Romans, Spanish, French and other conquerors. I wonder if your sample of one happened to be a woman who was part Italian, instead of 100% Sicilian?

    1. That is very interesting, and while we had wondered about that (and hence why we asked the question), she even seemed kind of surprised by our question. She is our age and 100% Sicilian.

      1. It is quite possible that the present (younger adults) generation have lost some of the antipathy left over from the ages of domination by other countries. At any rate, I highly recommend Seeking Sicily for a deeper understanding of the region.

        1. Thank you for the recommendation, I will put it on my list! We rushed through Sicily so quickly that we didn’t get to dive too far into the culture like I usually prefer to do.

    1. There is plenty to do around Catania though (and is the reason why we were there in the first place!) Mount Etna, Siracusa, etc. Unfortunately we didn’t get to do it all because I was sick, and that meant a lot of time in the city for Pete. We’re not big on congested cities either, but there are good reasons to be there!

    1. Not every place does, unfortunately, but that is to be expected. And it may have been a different experience if I had managed to make it out of bed as well! πŸ™‚

  5. Bah, being sick on the road stinks! These are lovely photos that Pete captured, though, and I agree with everyone else that they look great in B&W. We haven’t made it to Sicily yet, but I have a generally negative feeling about the city and I’m not really sure why. Maybe hearing about the crime? Hearing of Siciliy also makes me think of the mafia, lol.

    1. Talk to the guys at @For91Days for mafia stories – they have some interesting ones having lived in Palermo (where apparently 80% of the business “give” to the mafia)! Now having been all around Sicily (we are so woefully behind on our blog!) our uncomfortable feelings were totally limited to Catania.

    2. Anyone who thinks only of the Mafia when hearing of or going to Sicilia, needs to stay off the island. That is just negative, stereotypical ignorance and I find it appalling. I have been to La Sicilia 8 times since 2006 (all 8 in Catania and then going around the island on several of the 8 trips) – the first time knowing no one there and now having at least 20 people I can honestly call “dear friends” – never did I feel threatened or alarmed! The people were warm, caring and very helpful if I needed assistance getting around. Perhaps it was my appreciation for “their” land and how they live on a daily basis, and adapting to their lifestyle while I was there.. totally emersing myself in the culture and traditions. As my “Sicilian” grandmother used to say “if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all!”

      1. Hi Rosa – I am sure that Christy’s comment was made in jest, of course there is much more to Sicily then the mafia, as we discovered for ourselves while we were there. I am glad that you have been able to immerse and enjoy yourself so thoroughly – we wish we had more time to do the same, this was unfortunately just a quick trip for us. And with all due respect for your grandmother, our goal on this blog is to be completely honest with our experience and reactions to the place we visit, good or bad.

  6. Bummer that it wasn’t a place that you loved, but you can’t have great experiences everywhere because then you won’t appreciate the really awesome things as much. Gives some balance to it all πŸ™‚

  7. I know how that feels when you are uneasy in Italy! That happened to me in a small town outside of Venice. I was searching for a cash point and a group of 3 guys were following me for about two hours. I was sure they were going to rob me! Glad you got out of there intact, and I hope Dalene got over her cold!

  8. Oh, Darlene, I can so relate to the piles of wadded up toilet paper and days lost to sleep. I have had the worst cold and I just can’t shake it.
    I wouldn’t have enjoyed ANYWHERE with this cold. And if my husband was the sick one, I wouldn’t have had much fun exploring without him.
    I hope you recover soon so you can enjoy wherever you are. And happy new year to you both. I’m looking forward to reading about your 2012 adventures.

  9. Interesting post – my daughter (16) was there this past summer on a Rotary short term exchange and sadly what was to be an experience of a lifetime was terrible. She stayed outside Catania and did not enjoy that area, commenting much as you did about the filth, dirt, grafetti etc. The family did not do much to welcome her or show her the area and it has sadly colored her love of travel. It was up to me to e-mail her suggestions from our guide book so she could ask the father to take her to those sights! I took a lot of her comments with a grain of salt so it was helpful to read your comments that bore out her tales.

    1. Oh boy – I am so sorry that your daughter had that experience! I hope she got to see some of the great sights in the area, even if overall it was a bit of a let down. I hope she hasn’t lost her desire for travel. If she claims to, send her our way and I’ll talk her out of it! πŸ™‚

  10. It sucks having to travel without your partner, especially in a choatic environment like that. The black and white is quite nice, although almost serene compared to your description.

  11. I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy Catania, I stayed there in 2009 and I had a great time. The fish market was amazing and I didn’t feel threatened. I will agree that getting from the train station to the hostel I stayed at was a bit confusing. The hostel was a very popular club so 1 night it was insane, but the rest of the time it was very laid back. I did make friends at the hostel which helped.

  12. I’m an American currently living here in Catania. I know this post is old, but it saddens me that you had that experience! I was warned before coming here that as an American, I would be looked at. Constantly. Not under a judging eye or to be watchful but out of curiosity of Americans in general. I have never been fearful of my valuables. We were told ahead of time to not leave even change in your car because someone would be willing to break into your car just to get a few Euro. I have yet to hear of anyone in recent years, nor do I know anyone that has experienced it! Parking is a chore however. If you wish to park, there are always men standing buy, waiting for a euro. They watch your car and keep people from going near your car. I find it a little ridiculous that this is an expected exchange, but this is not the culture I was raised in. I find it slightly amusing! It is not custom here to say hello. They think you are weird if you say it and they don’t know you. For the most part, people have been incredible! πŸ™‚ Sorry for your experience. I wish it didn’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth!

  13. I went to Catania for spring break with my roommate when I was studying abroad in Italy. I can see your perspective. My teacher said that when she went to Sicily, She felt the tension in the air. I definitely felt that when we were at the airport. However, when we were in the city center, we felt like the city was pretty relaxing. Our only complaint was about the extremely confusing public transportation. Evidently, even Italian-speaking tourists don’t understand the public transportation system

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