11th May 2015
The kindest hotel owner in Sicily carried my bags to the car and drops me off at the bus station in Agrigento, waving me off with a smile. I’m reluctant to leave, I’d stay in Agrigento forever if I thought I wouldn’t melt in the heat.
I don’t have time to explore some of the more hidden gems here, I have a bus to Catania to catch and as the journey is a bum numbing three hours I won’t reach my destination until late lunch.
The bus terminal is close to the station and I’m too hungry to venture very far to grab lunch. I have my first taste of pasta alla Norma, a Catanian dish that I immediately fall in love with. For the remainder of my trip I’ll be ordering it whenever I see it…
With a change of clothes in my small bag I leave my huge backpack at the train station left luggage overnight, reluctant to drag it around with me as I am only staying in Catania for one night. My hotel is on the busy Corso Sicilia and I definitely chose it for the low price and convenient location. Just as well, it has no other redeeming features other than a free breakfast. Why would a hotelier leave the toilet brush in the actual toilet? Once checked in I escape as quickly as possible and wander aimlessly towards the Cathedral of Saint Agatha.
I’ve quickly learnt that Catania is a dump. My guidebook tried to compensate by calling Catania ‘edgy’ and ‘moody,’ when surely they meant to write ‘dirty’ and ‘occasionally terrifying.’ As I’m wandering down one residential street an agitated man wielding a knife emerges a hundred feet or so ahead of me, yelling. An old man is watching him from a balcony above me and silently gestures to me to stop still and hide in a doorway. Geez.
As with the similarly neglected Palermo, the old buildings that could be beautful are practically left to decay and crumble, graffiti covering patches of flaking plaster and paint. Sicily is definitely an island of extreme contrasts. I idly wonder what the residents of Catania and somewhere beautifully kept such as Erice think of each other. My guidebook writes of Sicilians being increasingly economically desperate for tourism. I wouldn’t need to be a tour guide to tell them that they can start by giving their big cities a thorough clean.
Reaching the Cathedral I’m tempted by one of the little trundle trains that give tourists a little tour with a commentary. There are a few to choose from, the prices ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. I’m exhausted from my Agrigento adventures the day before so hand over 5 euro for a 40 minute tour.
Highlights tour over, I set off for the Castello Ursino which now houses the local museum. Catania doesn’t want me to find it easily and my small map doesn’t help much, but I eventually manage to get to the 13thC castle.
The museum has a Picasso exhibition on, which I’m not ashamed to say doesn’t interest me at all, being so very modern. However, it does have a few lovely exhibits pertaining to the long history of Catania.