Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Catania and the slopes of Etna

Fontana dell'Elefante (made of lava rock)

Theoretically a short drive today but dire traffic in and around Sicily's second largest city, Catania, kept us in the car for hours longer than planned. I tried to get into the city twice but the roads and the Garmin satnav disagreed at nearly every turn: there were obvious some recent changes but I got the feeling that existing road data was not correct. Ongoing roadwork meant that each mistake was penalised by extra time sitting in traffic.

Although it was only midday I thought we should look for our B&B on the southern slopes of Mt Etna, spied for the first time as we reached Catania. It should have been visible long before, as it is far and away the tallest thing around, supposedly visible from near Syracuse. Further road deviations and the usual blizzard of signs ( pizzerias, B&Bs and cities are all promoted with signs of approximately equal size at most intersections ) meant a longer search than expected. No one was home, so I thought we'd make one more attempt on Catania.

This time we got close to the city centre, and then got trapped on a long one-way street for nearly 40 minutes - amost of the roads leading off it forced you to loop back into it further back up into the congestion ( tick. done it ). Without ever finding out the cause of the slowdown I got off into a side-street and parked, walking Bondi through the fish-markets (with that familiar mal-a-mute chant) and then to the main piazza. From here (it is written) Via Etnea runs north, with the volcano visible over the fashionable cafes and stores. North (tick), Etna visible (cross), fashionable (hmmm, just regular high street stuff on a road not out of place in Manchester) ... but we did settle at a cafe doing tavalo calda ("hot table") which is basically a pick your meat and three veg and pasta from the display and have it brought to you. This was all accomplished quickly despite my limited and dubious Italian, with lots of "questo" , "si", "buono", and smiling a lot. The food was all delicious: a generously portioned primo + secondo course and cafe macchiato for under €14.

Nothing much else to do but the usual ( photograph Duomo (tick) and a fountain (tick) ) and get out of town before the peak hour made the midday slowdown a fond memory.

Checked into the B&B, and Bondi had a sniff around the gardens while I re-packed the car.

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