As I mentioned in my last post, part of my family’s visit included a short trip to Sicily. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is part of an autonomous region of Italy. By ferry, Sicily is only 2 hours away, and another 2-hour bus ride brought us to our destination in Catania.
We were only in Sicily for four days, but we had a blast discovering a very different type of Mediterranean culture from that found in Malta. Malta does have some Italian influences, but is a former British colony, thus featuring a lot of traditional British culture. Sicily on the other hand, was everything that I imagined a Mediterranean environment to be like. With red-tiled roofs, blue seas, lemon decorations and orange trees everywhere, Sicily is a very vibrant and colorful area that has a lot of natural beauty and ancient history to offer.
When we first arrived to Catania, it was on a Sunday afternoon, and it had started to rain. Everything was gray and wet and all of the shops were closed. It was not a very warm welcoming and after a few hours of wandering around the graffiti-covered streets, we all came to the consensus that Catania is gross. The restaurant we ate at for dinner did help to change our minds, as it was bright and warm and had delicious food and a great environment. We tried Limoncello, a classic lemon liquer that is produced in Southern Italy, and ate seafood with eyes and legs.
Our first whole day in Catania we took a tour up to Mt. Etna. Mt. Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe (almost 11,000 feet tall), and one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The base of the volcano covers an area larger roughly 460 square miles, which is almost four times the size of the entire country of Malta. We took a van part way up the volcano, and then took a lift up to the 2500 meter point (8202 feet). While we were up there, the volcano actually erupted a bit for us, which was incredible timing. There was snow on the top and we had amazing views that went on for miles. On our way down, we were able to stop and climb through a lava cave, which is exactly what it sounds like- a cave formed by the lava flow from one of the previous eruptions.
That evening we explored more of the city and found some nicer parts of Catania. Just like Malta, they continued to celebrate Christmas even after Christmas Day. There were lights and trees and a parade of drummers that marched through the streets every night. We saw craft shows and street fairs, fancy crepe makers and fireworks, making Catania a very festive place!
The next day we decided to take the bus a few hours to the town of Taormina. I had heard that it was a beautiful place by some of my friends who went a few weeks ago and that it was worth checking out, and they were not lying. The drive itself had some beautiful views of Mt. Etna and the coastlines. The streets of Taormina were so cute and this is where our ideal image of quaint Italian living was brought to life. Every window and coffee shop and alleyway looked like it should have been on a postcard, it was that picture-perfect.
Our goal for Taormina was to drink espresso and eat cannoli. We found a little shop and did just that, while making such a scene of fawning over our food.
The highlight of Taormina came when we stumbled upon the Teatro Antico di Taormina (The Ancient Theater of Taormina) and decided to go in. It’s an ancient theater from the 3rd century BC with that was in built according to Greek design, but is primarily composed of brick, therefore leading to the idea that the Romans rebuilt the theater overtop of an existing Greek structure. The best part was the incredible view from the theater overlooking Mt. Etna. We all agreed that it is one of our top 10 favorite sites we’ve ever seen.
Our last day in Sicily included visiting the market, seeing the Castello Ursino, and playing cards while eating gelato at an outdoor cafe. Catania really grew on us in the few days we were there. After taking the first afternoon to adjust, we found some really incredible spots to experience Sicilian culture and we loved every bit of it!