Day 8: A Night In Catania (Sicily)

250px-Catania_BW_2012-10-06_11-32-08_2_fjOur final day in Sicily was spent in Syracuse and then Catania. We arrived in Catania in the early evening at our hotel Hotel Liberty near the center of town. Catania seems a city that embodies the principle that you should not judge a book by its cover. It is a city without much of the natural beauty of a Syracuse or the charming streets of an Agrigento. Indeed, when you drive through the city you recoil a bit due to the trash and the graffiti. While we stayed at Catania to be close to the airport for our flight, we ventured out and found some interesting sights.

27861564Consistent with the first impression of the city, our arrival at the Hotel Liberty left us apprehensive. I had written that this was an interesting and beautiful hotel. However, you drive through Cantania which looks like a hellscape of graffiti and trash. The dinky and dank street of the hotel proved to be much like the rest of city and we honestly thought of not going into the hotel. That would have been a huge mistake. You enter the hotel off this ugly street and emerge into one of the prettiest and most interesting hotels that I have encountered. The hotel building dates to World War II and the owners gutted the entire property about 10 years ago. They painstakingly created a gorgeous and modern art noveau interior from large Triffany lights to antiques throughout the hotel. The rooms are large by Italian standard and full of lovely art and antiques consistent with the art noveau period. It is incredibly cute. One warning. parking is available down the street in a garage that looks like a real nightmare. The hotel staff said that we could park in front of the hotel and just pay for a street ticket of three euros. You do not have to pay after 8 pm and not start to pay until 8 am the next morning. I was extremely worried about the rental car. I did all of the driving throughout Sicily and I was amazed that we had not gotten nary a scratch. I did not want to blow it on this narrow street. However, the staff assured me that the car would be find and it was indeed without a scratch the next morning by some miracle. (Returning that car to Hertz without a scratch is now one of my greatest achievements in life.)

Having been wrong about the hotel, we walked to a restaurant recommended by the staff: Trattoria del Cavaliere. Ironically, everyone we asked, including the hotel staff, gave directions from the McDonalds at the city centre. Out of curiousity we went in and the Italians have clearly changed McDonalds to get closer to the high Italian standard for food:
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trattoria-ok-dOnce again, we judged the restaurant by our first impression and it was not good. There seemed little interest in seating us (though like the rest of the Westerners we arrived way too early by Italian standards for dinner at 7:45). Soon however Italians began to arrive and, more importantly, so did the food. It was incredibly good. I had the mushroom risotto, which was “perfecto” with fresh mushrooms and local spices. Leslie had the pesto pasta which was equally great. I then had the local meat roll recommended by the waiter, which were awesome. They are cooked on a skewer and contain meat and cheese. I loved it. Better yet, it was dirt cheap. We ordered a large bottle of the Italian beer (which I love) Moretti as well as sparkling water. The whole lea for two came to 20 euros. The restaurant is classic Sicilian and has steaks and seafood, including horse meat.

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We visited the Duomo as well as another church nearby before walking to the Roman amphitheater where gladiator games were held. There are some great ruins in this city and the Duomo itself dates back to 1078. It was built upon the ancient Roman Achillean Baths by Roger I of Sicily. That’s right, the ruler of this part of Sicily was named Roger. Somehow that seems incongruous.

I cannot say that Cantania is a recommended destination for travelers to Sicily, but there is more to this city than the trash and the graffiti (which is everywhere, including on old buildings). While people here may appear a bit harder on the exterior, they are all uniformly nice in our experience and eager to guide lost Americans. If you come here, stay at the Hotel Liberty and eat at the Trattoria del Cavaliere – and ignore your first impressions.

14 thoughts on “Day 8: A Night In Catania (Sicily)

  1. I visited there several years back in a prior life as a human. I have some Siciliano in me. This is the area where the guy on the bicycle scoped us out in the car and saw that the lock knob was up and that there was a handbag there on the back seat. When we were stuck at a stop light he came back by and opened the door and snatched the bag. Off he went. I turned around and caught up with him as he headed down a street or alley too narrow for my car. But, I saw some of the other sights there and like Catania. Now, the thing about McDonalds: if they know that you are American then they want to please you and tell you about the American eatery. Those Sicilians aim to please. In America, Northern Italians will talk down about Sicilians and do not want their daughters to marry one. It is not just the Mafia aspect of Sicilians in America. It is the ethnic aspect. They don’t see us as fully Italian and see us as part Malta and other areas of the Mediterranean. My favorite places in Italy are Firenze and Venizia. Not Roma. Milano, fair. Sicily rates high.

    Now. JT. Think about getting a teaching gig for a year somewhere in Italy. Or at least a semester. Then you could really examine the culture.

  2. I am addicted to these journals of italy by Sicily now and wish for you to miss or skip your flight and instead wander through Italy continuing this wonderful unfolding of its charms until you tire of doing so. Or tag out with me. Sounds like someone is trying to redevelop poor Catania.
    , first they have to blight it and drive down the value then grab it and change it and market it. Glad you saw it prior albeit having to overlook graffiti and garbage. They actually pay kids to spread the garbage for them. It’s a ‘gang’ endeavor. Wonder if they’re going to try to build a casino.

  3. happynappies: I´ll bet Prof. Turley didn´t gain any weight. When you eat real food, not processed junk, you can eat a lot more of it.

    • I don’t eat processed junk. There is a lot of sugar and cream in what I was looking and and I have been drooling over linguini and olive oil and fresh Parmesan and Romano. If he doesn’t gain it’s cause He and His Wife are walking around everywhere and running away from wild dogs and such like.🙂

      I was married to a Man who’s last name was Lauricella that made me cook all that kind of stuff for him and he taught me about it. Olive Oil is really good stuff but Pasta weeellll. The Mushrooms are yummy though

  4. Since watching the series Rome, I have come addicted to graffiti, although I can only translate if it is in Latin or Spanish, and both are weak. Enjoy you last few moments of piece and joy.

  5. Thanks much for the great narrative, interesting photos, and allowing me to enjoy all that great food in my imagination without putting on an ounce.

  6. I’m sure it’s a bit melancholy as your trip winds down. But, you are a positive person and that attitude comes through most clearly in this great travelogues. Many tourists avoid cities like Catania, Naples, Genoa, etc. I’ve been to the last 2 and avoiding them is a big mistake, something you learned about Catania.

  7. Riesling, Being an urbane European, you probably are aware Italians have the lowest BMI in Europe. The US culture has lost its soul to corporate food. If anyone wants to see how one should eat, they should travel to Italy. I live in FAT Wi., the antithesis of Italy.

  8. Italian food is incredible. So different from location to location. The cuisine in the Northern area is more like Switzerland and it changes as you go south. I’ve not eaten Sicilian cuisine, but it does sound delicious. I think that I must get a cookbook of regional Italian cooking….soon!

    It is a shame that there is so much trash and graffiti. I wonder why there and not other areas you have been traveling in?

  9. DBQ, I’ve not been to Sicily but have eaten some of their great cuisine here in the US. He has a subtle, north African influence.

  10. Nick, you´re right. I haven´t seen many fat Italians. I think it´s because of their delicious food, not in spite of it.

  11. You’re braver than me. I would have probably slept in my car rather than enter the hotel or the restaurant. Bravo for you!

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