My excitement started to fade as I walked along the grimy, graffiti-laden buildings and consistently uneven sidewalks. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find such a neighborhood around a train station, but this was the main street.
My first impression of Catania wasn’t the best. I started to doubt my plan to stay for three nights before starting on a Sicilian road trip.
My satisfaction with easily finding the building of my Airbnb lodging dissolved when I realized that my host hadn’t shared the information needed to identify her flat. I stared at the long list of names with call buttons hoping for a clue. Nothing.
It wasn’t an auspicious beginning.
But I shouldn’t have worried—Italy was just waiting for the right moment to unleash her magic. It didn’t take long.
Before I realized it, the owner of a nearby restaurant came to my rescue. He was familiar with the Airbnb hostess and soon I was settled into my room and my Sicilian holiday began.
Of course, I dined at the white knight’s restaurant that evening. Fortunately, that was a pleasure-inducing obligation in the form of a delicious grilled zucchini pizza and a carafe of the house wine.
That was the first of many delectable encounters. One of the top resulted from a local’s recommendation: Eat Pizzeria. Eat’s pistachio pizzolo was the best pizza of my life. A thin, crispy crust encapsulating pistachio pesto, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, Grana Padano, and crushed pistachios. The smell alone could have sustained me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stop there.
In addition to culinary delights, the city offered enjoyable exploration. From the park that served as a daily calendar to the amphitheater remains in the middle of a major intersection to the grand plazas with funky statues, wandering about the city kept me easily engaged. And, of course, there were the markets.
I smelled the sea and heard the waves of voices before I entered. The constant chatter washed over me, rising and falling, only broken by attention-seeking calls of specials and the reverberations of a butcher’s knife slamming against a wooden block. The only surprise in the fish market was the burst of cigarette smoke from some of the vendors.
Over my three days in Catania, the city’s edge softened. As the graffiti and grime melted away from the foreground, the grandeur of the buildings and the lure of the city emerged. The spirit, generosity, and warmth of the people took center stage. I left charmed by Catania—the first impression of the city a distant memory.