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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: 37.503, 15.0881
This morning in Taormina was a unique version of Hell, as we browsed and shopped away on Taormina's fashionable main strip, or rather, Benita browsed and shopped away, as I was dragged along for the ride, like some poor puppy being pulled around by his leash. What made today a unique form of Hell, was that the dreaded cruise ships were in, taking the whole experience to unimaginable masochistic levels.
It's a phenomenon common to coastal tourist destinations, when a small town becomes inundated and overwhelmed with tour groups - the streets are jammed so full of people that you can barely move or breathe, and prices of nearly everything in town rise. Cruises are great for what they are, convenient ways of seeing the World, without the headache of having to coordinate accommodations and transport. Most that take cruises are self-sufficient and intelligent people, who do it because of the convenience factor, and also because they want to be pampered - that's fair enough.
What is funny about cruises is the small minority, who seemingly are completely useless human beings, with IQs lower than that of the average Sicilian cannoli, though without offering the slightest contribution to society, which
at least the humble, but great, cannoli does, in the form of smiling faces, as people tuck into its wonderful deliciousness.
We almost burst out laughing as we browsed at a street vendor, one who quite obviously dealt only in cash. One tour member asked "Do you take credit cards?", to which the Vendor replied "So sorry, but no." "So do you take MasterCard?" "Uh ... sorry, but no." "Do you take American?" It was at this point that we left, as we felt our IQs plummeting just listening to this person, fearful that our grey matter would turn into a creamy and lemony ricotta filling, and that we would become targets of Sicily's fine pastry chefs, who would hope to use our brains as cannoli filling.
Probably even worse was when we heard another cruise passenger, a perfectly able-bodied and relatively fit individual, comment on how steep the street was. Uh ... I'm not sure where this person is from, but the average Canadian driveway is about as steep as the street we were on. But in fairness to this person, perhaps they were a little out of shape after having eaten a few too many Sicilian cannoli, made from
the brains of her fellow cruise ship passengers ...
As beautiful as Taormina is, we couldn't wait to leave behind the crowds, and head to Catania, a completely different experience, a gritty big city, with only a fraction of the tourists. Catania is a major transport hub for southeastern Sicily, and you get the impression that most people are only stopping briefly, en route to other places. This is actually the second time I have been to Catania, with the first time being a brief stopover at the bus station, before heading out to Agrigento.
On that trip, my brief time in Catania told me it wasn't a place worth staying in. But here we were, with two nights scheduled for Catania, a necessity to be able to take a day trip up to Mount Etna, especially for people without their own vehicle. While parts of Catania are run down and ugly, and some areas downright decrepit, it really is a slice of Sicilian life, as anywhere you go you are surrounded by locals, with only a few tourists sprinkled into the mix.
Catania's historic centre is stunning in some areas, with the Duomo impressive in both beauty and size, as
was its massive piazza out front, with a unique central fountain featuring an elephant, Catania's symbol. The buildings here are unique, built from dark volcanic stone, with any light-coloured buildings also darkened by the volcanic soot that continuously falls from Mount Etna. Beautiful but a pain, as Catania seems extra hot at night, probably because all the dark stonework absorbs the sun's rays all day long, releasing it long into the night.
Perhaps the highlight of Catania today was Etoile d'Or, the most amazing Tavola Calda, an Italian deli serving hot dishes, that we lucked upon. Not expecting much, we only wanted a small snack, as it was 5 PM and didn't want to spoil our dinner, despite not having had a proper lunch today - between a big breakfast at our hotel in Taormina, and some rather large portions of granita and gelato before departing for Catania, we weren't super hungry. We settled on an excellent slice of pizza, served to us straight out of the oven.
Not feeling completely satiated, we were tempted by the granita offerings - we should've known better than to order two servings, because the waiter had given us three samples, a combined volume of granita
that would probably exceed most full servings you would find in Northern Italy. But it was the most unique granita we've had, because it was so rich and wasn't like the shaved ice variety we've encountered so far - the gelsi (mulberrry) was thick like a sorbet, and the amazing almond granita was as thick and rich as gelato. Though the almond didn't seem to contain any fresh almonds, merely almond extract, it was amazing.
Left so full by the granita, we skipped a proper dinner, instead having two fruit cups on the main piazza, and returning later on to Etoile d'Or for an amazing eggplant and mushroom arancino, and one of their wonderful pastries, a bun stuffed with a delicious mushroom ragu. Moreover, the value here is incredible - for less than $5 CAD, both of us were completely stuffed - Etoile d'Or deserves a gold star!
Though it was only 11 PM, we were tired from the day's oppressive heat, and only had the energy for a short stroll around town before calling it a night. Catania was strange on this evening, feeling a bit sketchy as it was quite deserted, even in the main tourist areas. We
Cool Fountain in the Piazza ...
... especially with the contrast of the light stone against the dark building.
returned to the B&B strangely unsatisfied by the evening, as Catania was nowhere near as lively as other Southern Italian and Sicilian towns that we had visited. But the funny thing is that we later found out the motto of Catanians, which is carpe diem, live for the day - as such, Catanians come out to play later at night, so we were comfortably in bed before most locals even ventured out!
Gelato Selections Of the Day: Back in Taormina, the day started out with really good peach and strawberry granitas, that would later be put to shame by the almond and gelsi varieties at Etoile d'Or. Also back in Taormina, we had some pretty good stuff at fancy little pastry shop near the hotel, D'Amore, a house specialty of croccante mandorla (kind of like an almond brittle), gianduja (hazelnut chocolate), and pistachio - good, but a bit rich with a few too many flavours going on. Also had were a decent strawberry and a killer hazelnut.
Since we were all gelatoed out today, we finished off the day with a couple of fruit cups - cantaloupe and watermelon that was good, but not great, by Sicilian standards. But you
Catania's Famous Elephant ...
... I read somewhere that the statue was originally sans testes, which Catanian men took as an insult to their virility, so the artist added some Elephant-sized ones.
cannot avoid delicious frozen treats while in Italy, because after the waiter cleared up our fruit cups, he brought us a free cup of granita!
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