Day 9- Catania and Taormina

Organ in the church the pope wouldn’t
let the people build…

In  order to catch a train to Catania, we had to leave our hostel at 5:15 this morning. It was hard to get up that early, but the water and bay were beautiful at that early hour before sunrise. We took a few buses to the train station, then a train to Catania, then a bus to our hostel. We dropped our stuff off around 10:00 and set off to enjoy the city. The ladies at the hostel were incredibly nice and had a cute little boy that kept chomping on pens while the hostel owner was trying to tell us the best sights in Catania. She also let us have a little snack from the breakfast bar! We went first to a very old monastery that is now a university. We saw archaeology students working on some old parts of a building there. The church next to the monastery had some interesting history. At one time, the plans were to build it very tall. The pope came and stopped them because no church can be taller than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. So, on the inside the pillars seem like they could support a much taller structure, and the building on the outside does not try to hide that construction abruptly stopped. My favorite part of this church was the beautiful organ, and the plain white walls that made everything really bright in the church.

Elephant fountain in the middle of the Duomo piazza
Cannolis! Yum!

 We also stopped by Greek and Roman theater remains, and the Duomo. The duomo was pretty cool, but the church at the monastery was cooler, I thought. Since Catania is right down the mountain from Mt. Etna, and did get partially covered in lava at one point, the main roads and squares are all paved in lava rock. The main road, which leads uphill towards Mt. Etna, was designed this way to look like lava flowing down from the mountain. On our wanderings, we happened upon a little shop that sold dessert cannolis, a traditionally Sicilian dessert. We wanted to get some anyway, so we stopped off inside. The Nona (Grandma) at the counter was so excited that I was pregnant, and we got these delicious treats. They are definitely better than the ones my mom used to get from an Italian bakery at Farmer’s market for snack (those had a similar shell, but were filled with nutella instead of a yummy sugary mixture that included ricotta cheese.

View from the Greek ruins in Taormina

One of the things we heard about on the train from the very nice Sicilian woman was going to Taormina. This was about an hour away by train and/or bus. Austin is used to the train service being much better than the bus service, so we took the train to Taormina. On the very hot train, I read in our guidebook that the train station is actually 4 km down the mountain from actual Taormina. Great. I knew Austin wouldn’t want to waste money taking a bus up the hill, but when we got there and saw the tiny road with hairpin turns and very steep slopes, he caved and we waited at the station for about 20 minutes for the next bus up the mountain. It was SO worth it. The views on the way up the mountain were absolutely incredible, as was the Greek theater we visited. In the guidebook, it said it was the most picturesque location for a Greek theater, with the sea on one side and Mt. Etna off in the distance the other way. The water here is so clear and so many different shades of my favorite colors. After the Greek theater, we wandered down the main street of the city. The city has been around since Medieval times and had great stone gates at either end of the main street. Now, it is much more of a day-tripping, tourist town, but we still managed to get cheap arancina (fried rice balls with cheese and sauce inside), and eat it in the town square.

 On our way to the english-style gardens down the hill from the main town, we heard a guitar and mandolin duet playing from one of the other town squares. We had to stop and watch for a bit, because in a musical instrument museum that we visited earlier on in our journeys, they definitely talked about Sicilian guitar and mandolins duets and how genuinely Sicilian it was. They were actually really good, and I think Austin even got a little video of them. Our last stop in Taormina was at the english gardens. They were beautifully manicured with many types of flowers and shrubs, and really nice grass. Austin says it is the nicest grass he has seen in all of Italy. They were created by an Englishwoman a really long time ago, and there used to be little houses among the gardens, but now they are mostly abandoned/changed into bathrooms (hooray for me not having to pay for a bathroom!).

Greek theater- sea on the left, Mt. Etna on the right
Mt Etna and the sea

We decided to take the bus from Taormina to Catania due to not wanting to have to take bus+train. Once back in Catania, Austin found a place in the guidebook he really wanted to try. Trattoria del Fiore was an excellent choice. This very nice slightly elderly lady greeted us at the door and seated us. She was Rosa, the cook and creator of many of the dishes that were on the menu. Everything was made fresh, and she made sure to let us know that the food would take longer because of this. For our primi, I got homemade noodles with tomato sauce and fried eggplant and cheese on top, and Austin got the gnocchi with tomato sauce with mozzarella cheese mixed in. We traded half way through because we both wanted to try both dishes, and because both were equally amazing. She makes all the pasta herself, and I’m pretty sure after we ordered that we heard her chopping eggplant in the back for my pasta. The prices were so inexpensive, that we also ordered secondi. Austin ordered swordfish, and I ordered a salad (I needed my vegetables for the day). It was Austin’s first time trying swordfish, and he definitely approved! We wish we had room for one of her signature dessert dishes, but we were stuffed, and all that with drinks was less that 30 E! We were very pleased with our meal that night, but had to go back to the hostel and do laundry. That took until well after midnight, which made for a VERY long day.


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