First Impressions of Catania

First impressions of Catania Sicily

You see Mt. Etna the moment you begin the approach. A plume of smoke rises above it, creating a halo that can be seen from just about every corner of the island. The landscape includes some amazing rock formations created by a river of lava forcing its way through the nooks and crannies in the earth before it cools. Bubbling hot springs, stinky sulfur leaks from the ground and black sandy beaches create an otherworldly appearance.

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You can spend hours roaming the narrow, picturesque back streets of Catania. I love taking pictures and wondering about the characters who live behind the cascading flowers, colorful awnings, and artful brass railings. You can see the blending of all the styles in the Greek scrolling, Roman reliefs, and Baroque columns. It’s all rather romantic.

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And yet Catania is also a little rough around the edges. Graffiti covers most building facades. The locals don’t appear concerned with the overflowing trash cans. But there is a charm that can’t be denied. I couldn’t wait to visit again.

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Nature’s Influences on Catania

Catania is baroque and not medieval due to the many eruptions of Mt. Etna. Catania has undergone several rebuilding efforts because Sicily sits on the fault line where the tectonic plates of Europe and Africa meet. It’s this friction that creates a chain of active volcanoes. Mt. Etna is just the biggest, worst, and most famous of them all. And each time Catania was rebuilt, it took on the architectural characteristics of the current era.

The last time was an earthquake in 1693. Roman, Greek, and Norman ruins punctuate the entire city. Those cultures also influence the food and daily life of the current inhabitants.

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So What’s Catania Like?

Honestly, it’s difficult to describe. My first impression of Catania is that it has some really beautiful architecture. The locals have tagged a lot of it with seemingly ugly graffiti.

The roads in and around the city are bad is an understatement. Some lanes on the highway are impassable because the divider shrubbery has not been trimmed.

Walking Catalonians are nice. The locals are the most impatient people on Earth and that’s saying a lot when you include all Italians. They beep at you to move out into unsafe traffic and rarely obey stop signs, park where they want, and pass you even if you are well over the speed limit.

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Lasting Impressions of Catania

The Roads, the Driving & the Mafia?

The roads are hella bad. People toss garbage out the windows of their cars. We’ve decided that the locals live in the shadow of an active volcano so screw the speed limit. You have to pay the locals to “watch” your car when you park on the city streets and public lots.

The roads are terrible, it’s pretty dirty and everyone is looking for a little “grease” to grease the wheel. I paid total strangers to park my car in public lots in fear I’d return to a flat tire or worse.

The locals consider themselves Sicilian and Italian– in that order. And the mafia appears to have something to do with all the above.

Catania, in particular, and Sicily, in general, is a very old school. No one talked about them to me, but I suspect, unlike the mainland, the Mafia still has a lot of sway in Sicily.

Initially, it was a little uneasy knowing mighty Vulcan was always contemplating his next move. But you get used to it. The food is delicious and the locals are extremely friendly. You’ve got to visit an agriturismo and several wineries on the hike-challenged slopes of Mt. Etna. My impressions of Catania– it ain’t perfect. The city is gritty, yet there is beauty in that too. So go ahead, book a flight to Catania and check it out for yourself.

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