Before I left on this great adventure, one question that was occasionally asked was, “What are you the most excited to see?”
Well, besides saying “the *world*” or simply “the whole experience of the adventure” – when pressed to pick just one thing, it was usually “Italy.” Not to put a damper on any of the other places I got to visit (least of all my ancestral country of Poland… which I was extremely excited to learn lots more about).
Italy, though, there is something about it that has always pulled at me: the combination of Italian culture, the lively passion for life, the family traditions that they hold so tight, and least of all the amazing food. I absolutely love Italian food, with all my heart. It’s hard to describe exactly what makes Italian culture *Italian* per say, but all of the things that contribute to it I am pretty smitten by. That and I just think Italians are very hot!
So, finally visiting Italy, I’m sure I left the ship with a great smile on my face. And the brief time I got to spend exploring the city of Catania, Sicily certainly didn’t disappoint. The first impression that hits you is “my gosh, this place is absolutely ancient.” Maybe not as literally ancient as, say, the pyramids… but here it just still looks and feels traditional. Cobblestones, narrow streets, incredible European architecture, piazzas. In sum, I think you can say I was beginning to absolutely fall in love with the traditional “look” of Europe.
I wrote a bit before about how lots of the cities I visited around the world were losing an “authentic” feel because of modernization and ‘westernization.’ Well, I suppose Europe is sort of already ‘westernized,’ – but many parts of it (especially the old cities of Italy) lacked the whole commercialized aspect that took away from the ambiance. Italy was dripping with ambience… and that was absolutely amazing to soak up.
One of the first things my friends and I did in Catania was stop at a cafe for authentic Italian cappuccino. And boy oh boy, these people cannot screw it up. Certainly made up for the disappointment of the lackluster souvlaki in Crete. That and the roving accordion player entertaining us added to the charm.
Naturally, the cafe we visited was bordering one of Catania’s several piazzas: lined with classical buildings sculptures and, of course, a fountain. I think piazzas (much like the pedestrian malls in Australia) are urban perfection. And that is another element of Europe I greatly enjoyed – that downtown cores cater to pedestrians who sit down, enjoy a coffee, explore some culture and add life to the city.
Walking around and exploring Catania, my friend Raymond and I quickly got lost. Generally we had been pretty good urban explorers capable of finding our way. A volcanic island like Sicily (Mount Etna was literally towering overhead in the distance), however, makes finding your way difficult. Challenging would be an understatement, as our “visual path” back to the ship was blocked by random spots where the island just ended in water. We ended up in a detour through some ‘questionable’ areas (though never felt unsafe… I wouldn’t have gone there alone!) and really saw quite a bit of the city.
A brief visit to Sicily, but a beautiful introduction to Italy.