First Stop in Sicily

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Catania

We used EasyJet to fly from Milan to Sicily. It’s about a 2 hour flight and the price is right. EasyJet is similar to Allegiant Air or Ryan Air in Europe. It’s a no frills airline, but it provides a quick and economical way to get around Europe. We like EasyJet because it usually flies out of the main airports, unlike Ryan, which flies out of the minor airports and therefore could make it harder if you have a connecting flight with a major airline.
Catania is the second largest city in Sicily and a bit rough around the edges. But the old town center has some beautiful baroque churches and plenty of piazzas for people watching and relaxing. It has plenty of busses and a small Metro. The Metro only has six stops, so it’s not well used. But the metro stops are clean and you certainly don’t fight the crowds—even during morning rush hour.
We found a nice wide street, called Corso Italia to walk down to the old part of town. We like to see the city sites and know that it doesn’t hurt to walk off the wonderful Sicilian pastries that we can’t resist sampling. In the morning, you can find vendors on most street corners selling wonderful fruits or vegetables. Right now there are oranges and lemons everywhere. They also have beautiful cauliflower, eggplant, artichokes and greens. The roads are busy with car and pedestrian traffic, but if you step out into the street like the locals do, the cars always stop. At first we waited until someone else went first, then we joined them. But after a few days, we got the hang of it and we’re still untouched. But don’t trust drivers using their cell phones!
Catania is a city of contrasts. It’s a big, bustling city with plenty of graffiti and trash. But there are also pleasant little piazzas, beautiful baroque architecture and quiet neighborhoods with potted plants and clean sidewalks. Even in this big city, we’ve found the people to be very polite and friendly. Today we were walking down a main boulevard and we were greeted by the barista who served us espresso yesterday. We had only been there once, and we didn’t even talk to him much, but he recognized us and said ciao. That was pretty amazing to experience in a town this size.
From Catania, it’s easy to visit other interesting towns. You can take a bus or the train a bit north to see the rugged coastal towns of Acireale or Aci Trezza where the cliffs are made of black volcanic rocks. This area is known as the Riviera dei Ciclopi because of the outcrops of lava rock that are said to be the place where Odysseus escaped from the blinded Cyclops, Polyphemus. The Homeric legend tells how he hurled the large, lava rocks in an attempt to prevent Odysseus from escaping.
The first few days in Catania were a bit stormy. It rained lightly, but the winds were blowing at about 20 to 30 mph. It was considered a big storm and almost nobody was out walking the streets except us. We went to a museum near the beach and we were the only visitors there on a Saturday! The next day it calmed down, but it was sprinkling lightly and everyone had their umbrellas open. We are guessing that the Sicilians aren’t used to anything but sunny weather.
We were fortunate to take a bus ride to Acireale on the first sunny day of our time in Sicily. After exploring the pleasant old town, we found the pedestrian walkway that leads to Santa Maria Della Scala, a small fishing village right on the Ionian Sea. The cobbled path runs through a nature preserve and old lemon orchards. It’s a steep climb down (and up), but the views and the peaceful passeggiata are worth it.
During the season—April through fall, there are several seafood restaurants open serving fish caught that morning. Luckily for us, one restaurant La Grotta, was open, and we picked out our fish and had a wonderful insalata di fruti di mare. Besides the very tasty fish, they had fresh, homemade bread with a perfect crust. That alone was worth the hike back up the hill.
Acireale has a puppet and art museum—but both weren’t open on the Monday that we chose to explore the town. However, we enjoyed visiting a few of their beautiful baroque churches and relaxing in the sun on the main square. If we waited another month, we probably could’ve sat on the beach or gone scuba diving. But even in early spring, this is a great place to be.

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The Walk to Santa Maria della Scala

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A church in Acireale

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About msraaka

I am a writer, ESL teacher and desktop publishing consultant living in the Pacific Northwest. After our first visit to Italy, my husband Bob and I have found ways to spend more and more time there. We love the people, the language, the food, architecture, art and the history of this amazing place.
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