We were met at Catania airport by our son who we hadn't seen for five months. After the excitement and greetings were dealt with he introduced us to the family who had brought him to the airport. His host family hadn't been able to bring him so he took a bus to Catania and spent the day with a family who are also involved with the same student exchange program. Their son will spend three months in Belgium soon. They helped us get our gear to a cab and put us on our way to our hotel.
We are staying at a small hotel called the Villa del Boscoe. A converted nineteenth century villa or mansion, it is four storeys with a walled courtyard and would have had expansive views of the harbour and seaside before the ugly 1970's apartment block obliterated most of it. Once inside we were impressed by the stunning period furnishings and still can't believe just how cheap this place is. We are waiting for the sting in the tail! As it turns out, there isn't one. We were given two rooms here for 128 euros buffet breakfast included.
Next morning, after a leisurely poolside start, we caught a taxi back to the airport to collect our hire car. The process was quite convoluted but eventually we were able to take possession of our chariot for the week. We had been expecting a Volkswagon Passat and somehow ended up with a brand new Mercedes C-Class station wagon. Not sure quite how that happened but since it's all paid for (including the additional insurance to cover the exorbitant excess) we shrugged our shoulders and took it on the chin. While we waited I noticed the daily and weekly charges for walk-in customers and was pleasantly surprised at just how much money we had saved by booking in advance.
Negotiating Catania was interesting to say the least. We were not only dealing with the challenges of driving on the opposite side of the road in a car with the driver's seat on the wrong side, but we are driving in Sicily! That means: turning signals are erratic; road signs are vague; stopping at traffic lights is optional. Needless to say the road system is a mess. Navigating from one major road to another could involve taking a series of labyrinthine alleyways for example. After several wrong turns we managed to find our way onto the road north to Taormina.
As we headed out of town the road took us to a spot which ran alongside the sea so we pulled over and decided to take a look. At this point there are a number of large hotels and access to the sea has private rights. There is a fence running along the length of the road here (about a meter high and easily climbed) and every so often there is a locked glass doorway. The others had gone ahead so I was stumbling along looking for an easy way in so I wouldn't have to climb the fence when I came to one of these doors with one pane of glass completely smashed out. Apparently it was logical to smash an inch thick glass door than to easily climb the fence for one determined beach-goer. It's not the tourist season yet though so the fence and gates are unmanned.
Now when I say 'beach' I am using that term very loosely. This is Catania. Catania lies in the shadow of Mount Etna. What we have here between land and sea is solidified molten lava. Beneath the water are large moss and seaweed covered boulders. Getting to the water involves climbing over large jagged black rocks. If you are lucky enough to gain access to the sea via one of the hotels you get to sit on a wooden platform and use a metal staircase to get to the water. Once in, the water is lovely! Book this tour of Sicily Highlights.
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