Catania

From Ragusa one passes more UNESCO sites than you could shake a stick at, so we could not see them all, opting to stop at Noto and Syracuse, before reaching Catania

Noto

Noto is a UNESCO city known for its baroque architecture, including the reconstructed 18th-century Noto Cathedral. Across the street is the Palazzo Ducezio, now the town hall, with the Hall of Mirrors embellished by gilding and stuccos. Nearby, the Palazzo Nicolaci has richly decorated balconies. Resembling a triumphal arch, the 19th-century Porta Reale marks the entrance to the city.

The old city was totally destroyed by the 1693 Sicilian earthquake. The current town was rebuilt on a grid system by Giovanni Battista Landolina. The new city occupied a position nearer to the Ionian Sea. The hiring of architects like Rosario Gagliardi, Francesco Sortino and others to rebuild the city helped make the new Noto a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque, dubbed the "Stone Garden" by Cesare Brandi and is currently listed among UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Many of the newer structures are built of a soft tufa stone, which assumes a honey tonality under sunlight.

Parts of the cathedral suddenly collapsed in 1996, a great loss to Sicilian Baroque architecture. The cathedral dome collapsed as a result of unremedied structural weakening caused by an earthquake in 1990, to which injudicious building alterations in the 1950s may have contributed. It has since been rebuilt, and was reopened in 2007.

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Syracuse

Syracuse is a historic city notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes.

This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world. The city was founded by Ancient Greek Corinthians and Teneans and became a very powerful city-state. Syracuse was allied with Sparta and Corinth and exerted influence over the entirety of Magna Graecia, of which it was the most important city. Described by Cicero as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all", it equalled Athens in size during the fifth century BC.

It later became part of the Roman Republic and the Byzantine Empire. Under Emperor Constans II, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire (663–669). After this Palermo overtook it in importance, as the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. Eventually the kingdom would be united with the Kingdom of Naples to form the Two Sicilies until the Italian unification of 1860. In the modern day, the city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the Necropolis of Pantalica.

You get both a Roman and a Greek amphitheatre for your entry ticket into the archeological park at Syracuse. The Greek one being the more impressive. En passant I would say that while understanding why they raise money by putting on theatre in the summer, it does spoil the spectacle for the visitor like ourselves getting the modern wooden seats in our faces. Also I could see that the site needed more money spent on maintenance - wooden pathways had decayed and were out of bounds: weeds had taken over areas that were outside the straight viewing of the amphitheatres. Nevertheless the Greek theatre was impressive

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Palace Hotel

A centrally located 4 star hotel. It took a bit of finding once we arrived in Catania - the GPS did not get us there. Once we found it, the staff took care of parking our car, and brought it to the front door whenever we needed it.

We were upgraded to an "executive" room. Chris was not too impressed with the sitting room, and thought that it was soulless. In many ways the hotel was a bit soulless - you would not want to sit in the lounge area on the ground floor, as it was soulless - and the breakfast room was soulless.

The accountants have taken over this hotel and lost sight of the fact that they are in the hospitality business Many things that one expects in a 4 star hotel are either extra, or you have to request them. For example the bathroom was poorly furnished with the normal items - they give you a list instead and you have to call reception. It takes forever to get, say, hair conditioner sent up. This is meant to be a 4 star hotel, not a communist era hostel

Breakfast in the outdoor restaurant at the top of the hotel is extra. You have to take a buffet breakfast instead in a virtually windowless, soulless breakfast room. which quite frankly does not have enough tables for the number of hotel guests. Get rid of the accountants to the back room and run the hotel in a more guest friendly way

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Me Cumpari Turiddu Restaurant

2 meals, 2 completely different experiences. We went to this restaurant because it has a "bib gourmand" from Michelin, which signifies very good food at very reasonable prices. Our first dinner delivered this, so we booked for the next but one night, but that was a disaster. Our experiences seem to sum up what others have found here - it can be very good, or it can be terrible

The problem on oursecond visit was that service just unraveled. Things that should have arrived, did not arrive. Food, that should have been hot, was cold. And in the end nobody was prepared to bring me a bill, and going to the counter still took a good 10 minutes for me to pay and the manager had a far away look with dilated pupils in his eyes

The atmosphere is very nice. I was surprised to find out that it was only done 2 years ago, by a Rome interior designer, to produce the effect. Interior design sometimes does not work, but it did here.

If you book a table, rather than just walking in from the street, you get to a better part of the restaurant, where there is more space between tables.

The bottom line is "did it deserve a Michelin Bib Gourmand", and the answer to that is probably "no". I would guess that the restaurant has been spoiled by its own success, and attracts too many customers for their waiting staff to serve, and for their kitchen to cook for.

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A day up Etna.

Luckily the sun was shining as we set off for Etna. And luckily it continued to shine most of the day. We headed towards the mountain, which is ever present on the Catania skyline. Climbing up the road, one clears the houses and emerges onto a scene of black lava flows. We continued through that for a while and eventually reached the ski station which is the bottom point for the cable car run

It obviously gets colder as one climbs up Etna; it was cold at the ski station, and even colder when we emerged from the cable car at the top of our ride, where we were in snow, apart from vehicle tracks that had been thawed by the hot, volcanic ground. There was an option of buying a ticket in a 4*4 bus and going even higher up Etna, but it did not look value for money. We chose to walk around at the top station, before taking the cable car back down to our car

We paid 30 euros each for the cable car, the 4*4 and a guide costs another 40 euros each, and even then you are not at the top of the mountain. I was more than happy with our excursion in the cable car. Chris bought a bottle of almond liquor, which she brought back to Malta

Not like this when we were there!

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We never did see Etna in full cry

 

Catania

Catania is an ancient port city on Sicily's east coast. It sits at the foot of Mt. Etna, an active volcano. The city's wide central square, Piazza del Duomo, features the whimsical Fontana dell'Elefante statue and richly decorated Catania Cathedral.

The city has been buried by lava a total of seventeen times in recorded history, and in layers under the present day city are the Roman city that preceded it, and the Greek city before that. Many of the ancient monuments of the Roman city have been destroyed by the numerous eruptions, the most violent of which was in 1669.

Catania was founded in the 8th century BC by Chalcidians. In the 14th century and into the Renaissance period, Catania was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy. Its old town, besides being one of the biggest examples of baroque architecture in Italy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Amphitheatre

Situated in the heart of Catania is one of the largest historic amphitheatres around, only the Coliseum in Rome has more seats.

From the outside you can only see one of the half circles, the rest stretches out underneath the surrounding buildings, so its grandness can only be sensed and not seen. It was not until 1904, when mayor De Felice commissioned the excavation and restoration of one of the parts of this majestic monument: before it was completely hidden by houses built on the site. Gradually the city has bought up and demolished houses to reveal the amphitheatre. And even today it is completely hidden by the surrounding houses. You only see the amphitheatre when you find its unassuming entrance, buy your ticket and pass through into the central space

The auditorium of the Roman theatre with its two walkways has a diameter of 100 metres and was probably designed for approximately 10,000 spectators. The rows of seats, steps and the orchestra are made of black lava rock. The small Odeon is directly connected west of the Teatro Romano. The little theatre was also built of lava rock and is slightly higher than the big theatre.

 

 

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On to Taormina

Our Sicily Holiday