Catania: The good, the bad and the ugly

I booked a long weekend at an Airbnb in Catania to meet my friend Bena who was coming from Frankfurt with her family. We never meet where we live:) The last time we met it was in Strasbourg, France. They were staying in Aci Trezza a 20 minute drive away, but I chose Catania because it is more accessible if you’re not driving. My Airbnb was very nice, in the same building as the Romanian Embassy, but the area around was a little sketchy. I walked down a side street one morning and came across a group of men huddled around a garbage can fire. There were lots of belongings such as clothes and blankets so it appeared as though they lived there. They were also quite a few homeless people in the piazza a block up the street. They probably were not dangerous but there were a lot of broken beer bottles, even more than usual, in their vicinity and perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but for me smashing bottles shows anger. As a woman on my own except for a very small dog, I didn’t feel very safe walking around once it turned dark. When I took Pearl out for her final walk we just walked back-and-forth in front of the few stores that were open. It was very unfortunate because as I said the Airbnb was nice. The apartment was big and airy and bright and the bedroom had a terrace from which you could clearly see Mount Etna once you disregarded the large crane somewhere behind the building:) If you are brave enough to drive in Sicily, the apartment is perfectly safe because there is underground parking — a rarity!

I found one of the coolest things in Catania the first afternoon that I was there. In the main Duomo piazza there is a large elephant statue in the middle of the square! 

I sat and had a glass of wine with of course snacks because in Sedalia they always give you snacks with your wine, while Pearl had some water and we both watched the people go by. I picked up some pasta to go and we had an early evening. It’s funny, at home I hate shopping for clothes, but when I am in someplace new, I enjoy it. It is part of the exploration of culture. So the next day when Pearl and I were wandering around Catania we visited a few shops and I found a great cotton hoodie — perfect for Sicilian February temperatures. With the 3 legged Trinacria, the symbol of Sicily, on the back. I still had not found a pair of made in Italy Italian leather boots, but knew that it was just a matter of time.

Trinacria the symbol of Italy

In the afternoon we hopped on a tourist bus to go to Aci Trezza to meet my friend Bena. She and her family had spent the day in Taormina checking out the Greek theatre and soaking up some Sicilian sunshine. Pearl and I walked along the seafront for a while, smelling the salt air and listening to the waves until I found a perfect little bar with a great view of the water, where I could relax, sip some wine, have a snack and marvel a the the Rocks of the Cyclops. These large boulders, so myth has it were where Polyphemus, Poseidons’s son, lived. Polyphemus as befits a cyclops was not a nice creature and according to one legend, the bay surrounding Cyclop’s rocks is a young shepherd boy transformed into a river after being killed by Polyphemus. There are many Aci somethings in the area. Either to honour the young shepherd boy or to cache in on the action. Who knows? Whether or not the legend is true, the bay and the rocks are beautiful.

Many of the wines from Mount Etna are also wonderful. The whites are rich with a minerality reminiscent of French Sèvre et Maine and the reds are full bodied with hints of tobacco and tannin, similar to good Bordeaux. So of course when Bena, her husband, daughter and son arrived the grown-ups needed to try more. Bena wanted to know how I found what was obviously the trendy bar in town. Truthfully I had been feeling a little out of place when I first arrived and then I thought screw it, I may not be young, but I’m trendy:) Like many places in our travels, Pearl picked it, but don’t tell anyone!

After our very large glasses of wine we headed off to try to find dinner. I was amazed that we found an open restaurant because it was only 6 pm. Mind you Act Trezza is a tourist town, so I guess it makes sense that restaurants would cater to touriste tastes in dinner times. After huge pizzas and entirely too much Etna red wine, I still had to make it back to Catania, so we walked to Bena’s holiday booking to call a taxi and wait. I discovered that she was not kidding when she told me it was nothing like the pictures on-line! She had sent me a link to the property a month before and I jealous of this big space with two bedrooms and a terrace looking out at the sea. In reality it was a small room with two bunkbeds and you had to take a walkway around the back of the building to look at the sea! There was a private beach, so that part was true, but the room description and pictures we’re completely off! I did arrive safely back in Catania, perhaps due to Aci’s intervention. I have a hazy memory of taking Pearl for a very short walk before going to bed and passing out. I love my wine, but rarely have more than a glass and certainly not more than 3, so the 5 glasses of very strong volcanic wine really hit me hard!

The next morning Pearl and I went off for a walk through this lovely Boulevard that I discovered the day before with a great piazza at the end of it. Pearl for her toilette, me to walk off my hangover. We met many people on both days walking dogs, but on this day there were a bunch of dogs off lead playing around the fountain. With no provocation, a large yellow lab mix suddenly came running over and picked up Pearl and started shaking her. I was screaming at the owner who kept saying it was all in fun, they were playing. It was not in fun he pierced her skin and there was blood dripping down her side! When I tried to pick her up he tried to pull her out of my arms! I was yelling at the owner to call him off and she kept saying no he’s playing, he’s playing and I was like no he’s not he’s a bad dog call him off. I had to kick him in order to get him to stop. Pearl was injured, one of my fingers was broken from our tug of war over who got Pearl and the idiotic owner was still saying that he was playing! The next hour was spent, to no avail, trying to find a vet open on a Sunday. I washed her wound with soap and water followed by alcohol, love those little swabs, I take them everywhere, but Pearl was just going to have to wait to see a vet when we got home to Siracusa the next day.

Bena and her family came over for a visit and were very impressed with my apartment. Everybody checked out Etna and we tried to take photos, but the sun was directly behind us, so we are just silhouettes. There is not much to do on a Sunday in Sicily, so we headed off to the market. The Sunday market in Siracusa is great! It has fresh vegetables and fruit, seafood, cheese and meats, clothes and household items, antiques and junk. I was hoping Catania’s Sunday market would be the same because Isha, Bena’s daughter likes flea markets. But it was very small and only had fruit and vegetables, so, it being Italy we partook in another great pastime and went to eat of course.

Somehow we happened upon the perfect restaurant for Sunday lunch (It was probably Pearl, she was developing an uncanny knack for choosing which way to go and what places to go in to). It was full of Italian families having dinner after church, and us. Bena wanted to order another bottle of wine but after the night before I said no way, maybe one small glass of white wine, but that’s it! They had delicious bread and wonderful olive oil to put on it which helped soak up some of the booze from the night before. We each ordered different things so we were able to taste a lot of different pastas and seafood and the owner brought us some homemade cannoli for dessert on the house.

Sadly, after lunch, it was time to say goodbye because they had a flight to catch. After dropping off me and Pearl they headed out to the airport and we had a very quiet afternoon and evening before heading back to Syracuse the next morning. Our first stop was at the vet, suitcase and all. After scolding me for not seeing a vet with her the day before, even though I explained that I couldn’t find one open, he washed Pearl’s wounds and shaved the hair around them and gave her a shot of antibiotics and instructions that I was to come in every day for the next four or five days. Total cost including the shots for the next five days was €20! I also had a prescription for her that I was to take to the pharmacy.

Bite from the cane cattivo! If you happen to find yourself in need of a vet while in Siracusa I highly recommend Dr. Romano Piazza Santa Lucia, 9, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy, His wife does grooming also!

Not a dog pharmacy — a regular pharmacy! But now there was a new problem. When he gave Pearl the antibiotic injection in the back of her leg she jumped and I noticed when we were walking home that she was favouring that leg. Shortly after we got home it started swelling and I was very worried that she had had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics. However, we were in Sicily and nothing is open in the afternoon in Sicily, so we had to wait until the vet re-opened at four in the afternoon. I was there with pearl at 3:30 so we would be first in line, but somebody was already there before us. 4 o’clock came around then 4:05,4:10 and no vet. That’s when I rechecked the hours and discovered that he didn’t re-open until 4:30. At 4:30 on the dot, surprisingly (for Sicily), the doors opened and the woman who was ahead of me went in. I waited impatiently with Pearl, getting more and more worried, because by this point, she couldn’t put her leg down at all! She couldn’t put any weight on it and she cried in pain when you touched it or if she accidentally lay on that side. If you have or have ever had a dog, you will know that they don’t cry unless they are really hurt, so my poor baby was in a lot of pain. Finally we got into see the vet and it was not an allergic reaction, it was a massive blood clot in her leg. He gave me some medication to break up the clot and another prescription to bring to the pharmacy. One prescription was a spray for her wounds and the other was for anointment that I was to rub on her leg to help break up the clot. So off we went to the bank, because I only had about €10 and somehow I knew that the prescriptions would be more than the vet. With cash from the bancomat I set off to the pharmacy with my baby in her carrier. Pearl only weighs about 5 kg, but let me tell you 5 kg starts getting heavy after the first two or 3 km! I had carried her to the vet, the bancomat, than pharmacy and then I realized that there wasn’t much to eat in the house:( I had the tiniest fridge that barely worked, so I bought food for a day or two at most and I was really too tired to think of going to the grocery store and then making dinner. Plus our favourite pizza place was on the way home from the pharmacy. Pizza and an early night sounded good to me.

In my comfy clothes. It drops to between 8 and 10 at night in Siracusa in February, but the damp makes it feel cooler and the heating systems leave much to be desired:)

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