Travel Report from Catania Italy

Travel Report from Catania Italy

Wednesday May 16th. Today as I sit in the ship’s computer room looking out the window I see cargo containers stacked up and cement elevator storage containers with large industrial cranes. This is not a pretty harbor and the city looks very industrial. There are some 360,000 people here with a high population density. This place and the surrounding area has been destroyed by earthquakes over the centuries. In fact, this city has been buried in lava at least seven times in recorded history. Under the lava layers is a Roman City and a Greek City below that.

We decided to check the town out anyway and walked to the gate where taxi’s were waiting. Gesseppi was in the first cab in line. He spoke very little English and wanted us to go to Taormina, an hour’s drive away, for a larger fee then going to town, but we declined. After driving a short distance through an area with as much graffiti as we have seen anywhere and getting a good look at a town that looks like a very industrial like big city, we changed our minds, which delighted the driver. It was an hour’s drive which gave me a chance to practice my Italian. I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but we communicated well enough to understand each other. Of course, we Italians have the advantage of many gestures to assist communications so the hand gestures may have been a major factor in our communications. As we drove along the highway, we had a good view of Mount Etna. It towers above the area and has a large plume of white smoke coming from it continually. The sides of the mountain are snow covered. The top has been blown off in the past and it has a resemblance to Mt St. Helen’s in shape, but with a lot less snow.  We also got a good view of the area and the landscape on our way.

Taormina is a lovely small village located above the water with steep sidewalks going up and down from the main walk way. There is an old city gate and many shops. There were not many tourists and the strolling was enjoyable. Lita and I split up and I went into a shop with antique maps, books and illustrations. I was tempted, but didn’t buy anything as nothing really caught my eye. I checked out many of the small shops and grocery stores. Dried mushrooms, bottles of olive oil, pasta and lots of grocery products line the shelves in these small narrow shops.

After walking around an exploring for some time, I sat at an outdoor cafe along the main walk way to enjoy the passing parade. Two men showed up in black pants and white shirts. They sat up chairs and opened a guitar case with a sign selling their CD’s for $9.50 Euros directly across from the outdoor resturant where I was sitting. The tuned their instruments. One had a guitar and the other a mandolin. They put on old fashioned straw hats and began to play and sing Italian songs. Lita joined me a short time later. I never saw anyone buy a CD, but lots of bills and coins were dropped in the guitar case. Tourists sit on old fashioned metal benches near them listening. In the shade, some distance away, old men who clearly are locals, sit on a bench with their back resting against the church building. They are watching the passing parade and carrying on conversations at the same time, with much arm and hand gestures to make their point.

Some of the people passing are clearly tourists with camera’s strapped around their neck taking photos or dressed like people who clearly don’t live here. Some are the young and beautiful who are dressed in the most modern Italian fashions and look like they are on their way to a fashion show to model them. They love bright colors and close fitting clothes with very fashionable shoes. Two elderly women walk by, arm in arm, dressed like someone going to church on Sunday. Elderly men with sport coats and non matching slacks and a dress shirt without a tie carrying a shopping bag go by as well. The weather is warm, but not hot and the ones I’ve identified as locals, dress as well as they can. You hear more Italian being spoken then English. The tourists, however, including me, are another matter when it comes to dress. Casual is the order of the day for us.

After our expresso’s and water we move on to a restaurant Lita remembers from one of our previous visits to this village. La Buca is down a flight of stairs to a outdoor balcony area looking towards the sea. When we inquire if they are open, because it is noon and most of these places don’t open until 1:00 or 12:30 at the latests, the man says certainly so we go down. Lunch was not memorable, but OK. Melon and ham for me with scampi and a pizza for Lita. We try the local wine and it is rough, but very full bodied. A good wine. By the time we finished, it was time to meet our taxi at 1:15. He is waiting and we head back to the ship.

When we arrive back in Catania, he drives us through town on another route. At one point he turned down a street that has two lanes coming up the hill and one lane going down. The two lanes are one way up and the other is one way down for taxi’s and buses only. What was shocking was the fact that all kinds of motor scooters and some cars ignore the one way designation and drive right towards us going up and we go down the hill. The motor scooters are frequent and weave back out of the way at the last minute. The cars just cram into their proper lane to avoid us. Our driver complains in Italian about this, but for the entire ten or more city blocks going down the street we encountered this. On the other hand, I’ve have come to understand that painted lines on the streets and highways, including center dividing lines, are regarded by Italians as advisory only. The same is true of stop signs. In addition, driving in these cities is like traffic in the center of Rome where cars challenge each other as to who will give way first. It is like a intricate dance done with autos. They seem to sense a rhythm to it and move within inches of each other turning in an out to avoid contact at the last possible moment and passing each other with only inches to spare. I thought of our driver as a matador who missed being hit by the horns of the bull by inches. After awhile, you decide that accidents are a matter of fate and you sit back to wait to see what happens. We made it back to the ship without an accident and said good by to our driver. We clearly made the right choice.

We had a wonderful out door buffet last night on the ship deck mid ships. The selection of food was incredible and there was live music as well. The food, as always was fresh and very delicious with a huge selection, but unlike large cruise liners or Las Vegas buffet’s this was elegant and done well. Very enjoyable. We had an hour of rough seas around midnight, after we went to bed and then the sea was calm.

It’s about 3:00 pm and I intend to take  nap so we might be able to stay up for a show. We have yet to stay up past 9:00 pm and haven’t seen one yet. More reports to follow as Hank Williams used to say at Grand Old Oprey "God willing and the creeks don’t rise."

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