We left Taormina on the 21st of July 2005 and as we entered the city of Catania we hurriedly grabbed our bags and fought our way through the many people gathered in the small hall of the 1950’s train and headed for the exit. The ride had took about an hour and even though the ride was short compared to our countless other rail adventures, we were both ready to get settled into our pre-booked hotel rooms at the Hotel Mediterreano.
Armed with the address we headed off in another expensive taxi ride. After experiencing such inflated costs throughout Europe, I would never again complain about the taxi fares in the USA. The short 7 minute ride cost us 15 Euros and needless to say…there was no tip involved. The hotel was shadowed on a very small street and seemed out of touch with the surrounding buildings, as it was a modern oddity amidst 200-year-old apartment buildings. Our scheduled arrival at the hotel had been anticipated and the greetings with the manager and one of the owners were pleasant and thoroughly informal.
We were shown the lounge, the bar, several small meeting rooms and the breakfast area, which were designed for easy access directly from the lobby. The weather in Italy and here in Sicily had been un-relentlessly hot and after unpacking our barest of necessities, and turning the air-conditioning to its coldest settings, we hit the beds for a short nap, which turned into a 5 hour much needed rejuvenation.
Awaking around 6:PM we headed out to explore the city. Dressed as coolly as possible and armed with our cameras we walked toward the heart of the city. It was not built up as a tourist attraction and that was what we appreciated…it was the Sicily I had wanted to get to know. Un-crowded streets, more relaxed and less stressful people, fairer prices from the vendors and restaurants…it was all a pleasant surprise! The city seemed to be the real soul of Sicily adorned with a real working class. Being genuinely friendly and a curious people that offered their goods and services with more harmonious smiles and appreciation for our business. The tourist vultures were housed in the major attraction centers of Italy, Rome, Florence, Naples, etc. and in this city of 100,000+ the atmosphere was and is a good example of the true Italian spirit and hospitality.
Walking around the city for the next 5 days we got to know many of the shop keepers, the managers and the staff of countless sidewalk cafes, fine restaurants and even though most Italians do not speak any other language, their smiles and friendly greetings were much more expressive of their sincerity.
Catania is definitely not Paris, Rome or other European city laden with endless attractions, but does have a lot to offer its visitors desiring simply to have a pleasant, no stressful vacation. The city will not only provide some, although limited, cultured attractions, it is fluent in fine architecture, large open squares, an ancient Roman Forum and some excellent dining choices, and in addition…the city will save you money.
Be advised to stay away from the beach, as it is not safe for swimming or for walking on the sand as both are contaminated with open sewage runoff.
Traveler’s Digest recommends visiting the city of Catania, which is only a 2 hour train ride from Taormina, and staying at the Hotel Mediterreano…it is a proud member of the great family of hotels…Best Western, where quality, comfort and price is assured.
Our next journey would begin on the 26th as we boarded a 5-hour ferry ride to the world-renowned holiday destination of the Mediterranean…the Isles of Malta & Gozo.