Catania • Italy
Located on the east coast of the island of Sicily, at the foot of the active volcano Mount Etna. Baroque buildings and churches, volcanic rock beaches, markets and streets littered and marked by graffiti.
First impressions of Catania and nearby areas are not very positive. On arrival, I witnessed an attempted bag snatching and the thief left running barefoot empty-handed. On my third day, the draw of my departure was the event to look forward to. My main gripe is really the conservation of the city. What I find is a littered and graffiti marked city, not appealing to the eye or senses.
The beaches really have been a shock, not used to ‘Lido’ beaches where you pay a fee to enter (in a country where beach access is free to all), of course, you get conveniences like a clean beach, possibly a chair and sun umbrella, a choice of bar/restaurant to chill out, or even a small hut to keep your belongings. The best Lido I could find was Le Capannine, offering a sand beach, recreational activities for adults and kids, a good choice for families, bar and restaurant. In the evenings it offers nightly entertainment for adults where you can dance in the open disco under the stars.
There are free beaches too, but they differ as you have none of the conveniences mentioned above, and in Catania much rarer. Getting to the beaches means you’ll need to drive or take a bus, where I prefer the beach at your doorstep. You have a choice of rock or sand beaches. Rock beaches are simply places where the lava has once flowed and now hardened, offering deep-sea swimming in clear waters. The sand beaches are also near town but the further you go the cleaner the water gets, it is shallow and warm, but be warned about swimming next to jellyfish, which were plentiful, locals would often bring them on to the beach and bury them in the sand.
I prefer the all-natural environment where the beach is free and your free to do as you wish. I’m a nudist and prefer to swim and bath nude, wearing wet trunks is like sitting in your peed underpants. What’s the point? As a nudist, I simply dry myself all over by the power and warmth of the sun, no wet patches, and dry trunks to get into. But nudism is not accepted here (only discreet beaches accessed by car only).
I stayed at BAD CATANIA B&B and Design, stylish and chic, having taken the self-contained apartment with kitchen and roof-top terrace with views of Etna (if the sky clears enough to see it – best time is in the early mornings). I was most impressed with a small patch of glowing lava on its side as I glimpse Etna before heading to bed – of course, this is at about three to four in the early hours.
Catania is a small representation of Sicily, though I admit it doesn’t draw me to see more of it. My Favourite bits are of the fish market that happens every morning near the town square. Breakfast consists of a sweet pastry along with a cappuccino (this is a high carb diet), and it shows especially on the beach! Having a kitchen means I can assemble mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil drizzled with olive oil, a dash of fresh pepper and salt – a refreshing meal after hours in the sun. What is it about Italian tomatoes? How do they keep their sweetness and taste? Homegrown, homegrown!
What once was the Hard Rock Cafe of Catania sits empty on the corner of Via Columbo, just across from under the railway arches near the old fish market. It sits on an empty lot littered by trash and old rusty planters that must have been filled with something lush and alive at one time. Across the street is Villa Pacini, a small park where people gather and sit in the shade. Its proximity to the entrance to the Plazza Duomo would make this a good location, but in Catania I don’t believe Hard Rock Cafe was accepted.
By night the Plazza Duomo really has its ambience, the buildings come to life! Though the streets fill with lost vagabonds that sit on pavements of side streets with their poor dogs which almost attack anyone crossing their paths. I decided to take the small tourist train around the town to better understand this place, however, it only confirmed the feeing’s I already had. There are monuments to see like the old Roman amphitheatre and Greek Theatre called the Odeon, I was already put off by the state of Catania that not seeing them would mean I wouldn’t have missed much.
The main street, Via Etna, has recently been restored to show off the unique Baroque architecture of the city, which really is impressive if you get beyond the litter and graffiti. After a few days in Catania, I can’t help but admit that the city grows on you, becoming desensitized, at night the side streets fill with the hum of busy bars and cafes.
My end to Catania ended being a pleasant one, having stayed here a total of seven nights I got the chance to absorb its ways, however, I wouldn’t consider this the first destination of choice, it just isn’t free enough to be you, nor is it the place to be noticed, it is raw and crude, people are intrusive, pushy and cruel, rules of the road don’t exist (like much of Italy), it is filthy dirty and littered, marked by graffiti, beaches are far from free and noisy and finding your own space can be hard to find.
Mount Etna is near and many times I wished this place to be buried again by lava, but after my fifth night here I really began to enjoy all the things I grew to dislike. I learned that its best to just put on a different pair of shoes, learn to chill out, not care about it and just enjoy yourself.
Why Catania? Because you simply don’t want to do much anyway. You come here for great home food – some of the best. Your proximity to the sea, a rock beach or sand? You want to avoid tourist things and just want to chill… this may be the place for you.