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The other side - are we disappointed?

I have realised that you haven't all heard about where we went after Palermo. Well, here is the update. Better late that never, right?

After Palermo, we were ready to see something different. Off we went via train to Catania.

Some of you may know that Catania sits rather close to Mount Etna, and Etna had erupted just before we got there. It closed the airport for a few days and we were worried it might be an issue. Turns out Etna's lava, if it does flow, goes extremely slowly as it is quite viscous. You can outwalk it! SO that was the end of that worry.

What we found was a much cleaner city with more polite people. Nice change. The city is beautiful, but in our opinion, the lack of grunge makes it (sadly) less appealing. You would think we would be glad for the tidy town it was, but we found we loved to rough and ready Palermo more fun. Granted, there are beautiful streets with UNESCO heritage throughout, but something was amiss. What was it? I think music.

Porto di San Giovanni li Cutri. Just past here is a 'beach'. Not sandy, just giant Lava boulders, but the water is great! Wear reef shoes!

We had noticed that our stereotypical idea of Italians (yes, I know we were in Sicily and it's different) was that of gesticular, loud and affable people, was not correct. Hence we plan a trip to the Italian mainland, but I'm getting ahead of myself. There was also a lack of music. Restaurants do not play music as a rule. They prefer to allow people to chat and that is the ambient noise. I get that, but some quiet background stuff is nice. Bars play music, but live music is not a thing. We heard from some locals we met that the music scene had migrated to Palermo a few years previously. Hmmm, didn't see that.

Not sure what you think , but we imagined buskers singing Opera, people playing violins and mandolins.... we saw on violinist and one opera singer in the month we were there. No places were playing live music and in fact, the theatres and opera houses were closed for the season. Note to self, don't go there in the Summer! A few posters went up about events, but they were a first in best dressed situation. Never mind. We found other things to do...

We often hit local Facebook sites for finding out what to do. I found a Clean Up Ursino Castle event that I suggested we go to. Martin agreed and off we went. Instead of complaining about rubbish - do something about it, right? We were quite the novelty, being tourists, turning up to this event. The Mayor came to say hi, and he insisted we were interviewed for a local TV show. We cleaned up, then stopped to chat with the locals. We met some lovely people, and we're even friends with the Mayor now (Ok, Facebook friends, but it still counts, right?)

As we met some locals, we saw another side to Catania. One couple had built a massive complex for children with terminal or serious illness. They can go there to be kids and forget about being sick for a while. Wonderful programs are there, like art and pottery classes, and they bring in animals for the kids to hug. They have programs for the families including counselling and it's just amazing. The place is called WonderLAD. Google it or look it up on Instagram. We had a private tour of the place. It's incredible!

Two of the people we met are architects. Through them we had invitations to exhibitions and were told of places we should see... One such exhibition was back at Ursino Castle. It was an art exhibition, helpd after the Castle closed for the night. In Australia such a thing would have areas closed to the public and guards everywhere, but here that had the entire place open. Check out the art, grab a glass of wine, then wander the grounds and three levels of ancient art. Some of it you could touch, not that you should or would. It speaks volumes about how people are expected to know how to behave and not be 'nannied', like in Australia.

I like to think that if I ever needed it, I would have a job there. As a town planner, there is plenty of work there. If I get bored travelling, I'll learn Italian and do just that.

I know I shouldn't, but I will try to compare our experience of Catania with Palermo. Let's start with the food: In Palermo we found a few restaurants that were ok, but the street food was by far the best. Catania had nice restaurants, good food, but neither really wowed us in general. Pasta was always too salty, pizzas always great, but other meals lacked flavour. Bear in mind, we had come from Australia where spice is a thing. We used to eat a lot of Thai and Indian food. The food markets were great in both cities and as we had a kitchen, we made our own.

People were by far friendlier in Catania. There were still people who just plain refused to be helpful, but I blame not speaking Italian well. The weather was great in both cities and we felt safe in both. Shopping was much the same. The markets in Palermo were open every day. In Catania nothing happened on a Sunday, but the market at Piazza Carlo Alberto do Savoia was spectacular. You could have clothes mended for 2 euros, buy fruit & vegetables, fish, meat, haberdashery, footwear, bags, clothes, kitchen utensils and all manner of gadgets there. Brilliant, but no real street food in the markets, which was a highlight in Palermo.

It was fun to eat in the markets in Palermo. The freshly made peasants food was delicious and the atmosphere was noisy and fun. Note that in Sicily (and other places on the planet), if it fits, it will be OK. Don't be surprised if a motor bike squeezes by your table.

Our accommodation in Catania was superb. We were right next to a Church on Via Etnea (a pedestrian street) and next to one of the major pedestrian squares. Hearing the church bells on a Sunday and everyday at noon was wonderful. The Palermo accommodation was also quite central, but ordinary. It was just off Via Marcheda (another pedestrian Street) and we re in the thick of the Balaro markets. The market sounds started early every day and continued on until after the sun went down. I wish we could have had the Catania apartment in the Palermo location!

Catania, like Palermo, is surrounded by picturesque towns but has the bonus of an active volcano, just a few kilometres away. We did a bit of everything. We had a long weekend in Taormina (spectacular), a day long trip hiking up Mount Etna and another long weekend in Syraccusa and Ortiga. Photos below - don't miss these places if you go there. We did one trip that our friends warned us was "a bit much for a day trip" but we stupidly did it anyway because we didn't want to drive ourselves. In hindsight, we should have taken a bus and stayed over in places like Modica, Ragusa, Scicli and even Punta Secca. Live and learn!

Left to right from the top: 1) Arriving at Punta Secca. 2) A man feeding the Church cats in Ortiga. 3) Feeling fancy at Fontana di Diana in Ortiga. 4) Piazza Duomo, just can'tstop taking photographs. 5) Heading up the side of Mount Etna. 6) Cable car at Taormina. Soo many stairs yet we only took this once! Our legs were killing us after days of steps! 7) We got an insanely expensive couple of sunbeds at Spiaggia di Isola Bella. As we had already busted the budget we added bubbles... to hell with it! You only live once. Worth it. 8) The view from Taormina to Isola Bella. 9) Despite a hectic schedule seeing too many Sicilian towns in one day, we did find a spectacular place for a delicious lunch in Modica. 10, 11, 12) Spectacular views at Modica, Scicli and Taormina. 13) After a crazy hike from Taormina (648 steps) we ended up at Chiesa Madonna della Rocca. 14) Beautiful views on route to the Greek Theatre in Taormina. 15) Behind me is a small part of the incredible Greek Theatre in Taormina. The views were spectacular.

All in all, Catania had some charm, but it wasn't enough for us. It's sort of sad because we made some nice friends there. Now we're talking about coming back to Sicily, but trying out the third city of the island: Messina. It will also allow us to hop over to Italy to see what it's like. More adventures to prepare for!

Incidentally, there were so many amazing things in Sicily. We covered a tiny portion of it and didn't do it justice. I have added photos to a separate blog.

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