Alone In Catania


— 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. 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 – 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.


48 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • December 26 2011

    I love the black and white conversion, really gives it a sense of weight to the photos.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Reviewing 2011 from A to Z

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

      Thanks Ayngelina, I thought it would give a better reflection of my thoughts.

  • December 26 2011

    I have heard similar comments from people who visit Sicily. I think I’d still go, just to give it a shot myself, but appreciate that you are honest about your feelings.
    dtravelsround recently posted..Escape of the Week: Radovljica, Slovenia

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

      Always honest. No sense just always writing glowing reviews. 🙂 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.

  • December 26 2011

    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!
    Steve recently posted..Best of 2011 – Best Ride

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

      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 🙂

  • Mom
    December 26 2011

    Wow Pete,that was a bummer. I like your pic’s though. I wonder what the elephant symbolized on that structure?

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

      I was wondering who would ask 🙂 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 🙂

  • jan
    December 26 2011

    Nice. The black and white lends itself to the mood. How goes the rest of Sicily?
    jan recently posted..CHRISTMAS IS FOR REMINISCING

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

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

  • December 26 2011

    At least you gave it a shot. No point in forcing it if you don’t feel it. Feeling uncomfortable is the worst thing in any destination.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Foto of the Week from … Peninsula Valdes – Lines and Contrast

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

      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.

  • December 27 2011

    It’s too bad you guys didn’t really enjoy your time there. 🙁 But you sure did get some nice photos, Pete!
    Amanda recently posted..Photo of the Day: Chihuly Ceiling

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

      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.

  • December 27 2011

    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.

    • Pete
      December 27 2011

      Don’t be nervous 🙂 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 🙂 I was the only one inside exploring so not too many knew about it…

  • December 27 2011

    Nice photos! We enjoyed Sicily too, though we were there in summer and it was very hot, which made it great for some beach fun.
    Federico recently posted..Reflections on 2011 and Looking Forward to 2012

  • December 27 2011

    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!

    • December 27 2011

      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!

  • December 27 2011

    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?

    • December 27 2011

      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.

      • December 27 2011

        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.
        Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..Twelve Posts of Christmas Travel Reading

        • December 28 2011

          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.

  • December 27 2011

    Thanks for sharing your insights on Catania. I’ve heard the people in Sicily are wonderful and I look forward to going someday, but since we’re not into busy congested cities I think we’ll avoid Catania.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..Green Global Travel’s Top 20 Wildlife Photos of 2011

    • December 28 2011

      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!

  • December 28 2011

    Aw, that’s kind of depressing that no one there was ever smiling.
    Maria D. recently posted..Clothing that gives you away as a tourist

    • December 28 2011

      The people that we did meet and talk to were very friendly and smiling, it could just be an exterior towards strangers.

  • Sam
    December 28 2011

    The photos look great in black and white, even if the place didn’t strike the right chord with you
    Sam recently posted..Photos from Southern Utah & Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

    • December 28 2011

      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! 🙂

  • December 28 2011

    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.

    • December 28 2011

      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.

    • Rosa
      December 28 2011

      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!”

      • December 28 2011

        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.

  • December 28 2011

    The black and white photos are really pretty! Sorry to hear you did not like Catania too much … hope she’s feeling better soon.

    • December 29 2011

      Thanks Cheryl – took a few days to recover but thankfully that was all!

  • December 30 2011

    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 🙂
    cailin recently posted..My love-hate relationship with Berlin

    • December 30 2011

      Totally agree – gotta have the downs to have the ups! And if we *loved* everywhere we went, we’d never want to travel elsewhere!

  • December 31 2011

    I understand on the need to move on for sure. Beautiful scenery but if the people don’t do it for me… I need to go.
    Erica recently posted..Photo Friday: A Serious Christmas Lights Display, Medellin

    • January 5 2012

      Yup, the people are 90% of the reason we travel. We did meet some lovely people there, but overall were uncomfortable.

  • January 1 2012

    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!
    Jade – recently posted..A Year In Travel

  • 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.
    Barbara – The Dropout Diaries recently posted..Chiang Mai Bicycle Tour

  • Elizabeth
    January 6 2012

    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.

    • January 8 2012

      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! 🙂

  • February 10 2012

    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.
    Andrew recently posted..Traveling to Asia – Indie Travel Challenge

    • Pete
      February 11 2012

      Thanks Andrew. Interesting take, I never thought of the B&W creating a serene effect 🙂

  • Lori D
    July 24 2012

    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.

  • Kate F
    November 20 2013

    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! 🙂 Sorry for your experience. I wish it didn’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth!

  • Nancy
    June 8 2015

    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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