Monday, March 23, 2009

Wanna Catania? Catania on ya?

Yes, I understand it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve written anything, and yes, I realize that those two weeks were probably the most picture-heavy weeks, making it even harder to convey the events of last week in these posts. As such, I’m going to divide it into two segments. The first will be talking about my five days in Catania, a city on the eastern coast of Sicily. The next will be discussing the five or so days we spent in Rome. I don’t know how long the posts will be, Dunbar, so no promises. We’ll start with the bus ride there.

The bus ride was a bit long (and started off delayed, in typical Italian style) but one good thing can be said about it: the countryside was beautiful. I know it’s been said countless times before, but the Tuscan countryside really is beautiful, and it’s a pretty awesome sight to take in when you’re seeing it for a good two hours straight. In other places a pretty sight may only last a few minutes – here, you have to try NOT to see the beauty of Tuscany to miss it.

Even though I didn’t write about this before, one thing is worth pointing out – it was vastly, vastly better of a bus ride, visually, than the Siena-Venice bus ride. That ride was probably the ugliest route in all of Italy (at least, one hopes). Everywhere, for three hours straight, there are smokestacks, industrial warehouses, parking lots filled with construction equipment. Every now and then there’d be an almost-picturesque town if not for the large corporate warehouse stuck staunchly yet wantonly along the side of the road. I understand that Italy has a rich and long tradition of industrial prowess in Southern Italy (Ferraris, anyone?) but really, why put the ugliest of ugly buildings for everyone to see on the highway? Tourists go to Italy to see the beautiful countrysides of the various regions in their entire diverse splendor, not to see the smokestacks from the headquarters of Alfa Romeo steaming and smudging up the sky. I’m not saying they have to give up the entirety of the industrial sector to please foreigners. I’d personally just have pushed the companies back a few kilometers, so that they’re not directly visible on the autostrada. Putting them behind some hills would probably help things out a lot.

Stopping in Rome, we took a quick (or, at least, as quick as possible) tour of the Vatican and of the Vatican museum. I had been here before in high school, but I still was visibly awed by the sheer amount, detail, and quality of the art here. There’s so much to see that a visitor can’t possibly see everything there is, or even everything they want. Fortunately, and surprisingly, because it was Friday and a later afternoon, the museum was almost completely – completely – empty. There were maybe two dozen other visitors, that we saw, in the entire museum, and our professor (who came with us for Rome) kept remarking on the awesome luck that we had.

Afterward the tour of the Vatican, we went to Termini train station, where we started the long, overnight journey to the city of Catania, in Sicily. To do this, we took a train, which had a series of four-person compartments for sleeping. Naturally, the rooms were more or less gender-divided: due to the odd number of girls, however (not to mention the absolute scarcity of men), it meant that a girl would room with the other guy and me. Also rooming with us, however, would be the program director for the tour. That awkward episode aside, the journey was pretty uneventful and we made it to Catania safely and smoothly.

While on our way to the hotel in Catania, I saw something that truly, truly saddened me. Not sad in the way that, say, a stroller full of puppies driven by a gypsy would make me sad (which I did see, and I was sad…for the puppies). No, what I saw made me a different kind of sad. A Timberland store, fully out there, was on the main street of Catania, not twenty feet from the main city square. Now, I know that clothing stores are common in city squares, and often expensive, showy stores at that; that’s not my problem. Why, in a city so full of history and culture as Catania, would a store like Timberland have the prime real estate? Tourists, especially American tourists, go to Catania to experience the Mediterranean Baroque styles and culture, and that includes the shopping. They don’t go there to buy things they could buy by driving twenty minutes in their car at home (it’d probably be cheaper in the states as well). Again, I’m not saying they have to get rid of the places, but sticking them somewhere not as tourist-treaded might spruce up the place a bit.

One of things that's admirable about Catania (and Sicily in general) is that it's got this sort of grimy charm. It's not sparkling clean or showy, but it's got this sort of feel that they have been through a lot (and, considering the ACTIVE VOLCANO just outside the city limits, they have) and it's something that makes it feel like a real city, rather than a tourist trap. It was a cool visit to a place that I wouldn't have gone to otherwise, and I'm glad that Catania was chosen as a place to go for the trip.

We also hiked up Mt. Etna (not all the way, but enough to get the scope of it all). As the largest active volcano in Europe, it’s something of a sight to see, and we spent the good part of a day just walking around it. It’s a pretty stunning view, and the size of the mountain is something to behold. There are lava flows everywhere (not hot anymore, of course) and so in places, the landscape looks really bleak and lifeless. You can almost imagine the lava flows as they sweeped down the mountainside, taking out everything as they went. Pretty surreal feeling.

I’ve found myself surrounded everywhere I go – gelaterias, cafeterias, stores, parties – by Italian music. Though not that I’m complaining. I like the music: some may find it cheesy, and that’s certainly understandable (although I don’t know how ‘cheesy’ translates…formaggioso?), but every now and then you find one you like. They do tend to overplay the hell out of the songs they like, though…

Here are some examples of those currently strangling the airwaves:

I must go to a quick class now, but I’ll be back – with pictures!


  1. James Blunt? Funny, I didn't recognize him in the video you put up, because my only concept of him is the MadTV mockery they did called "I'm Beautiful".

    That sounds like an awesome adventure you've had, though!

  2. HAI!!!!!!!! GJ Charlie. Keep up the awesome. I didn't actually read your blog, cause I'm busy w/ Juggleville shit, but I'm sure what you wrote was fantastic. I'll check it out later. I should send you the link to the streaming version of our show so you can watch it.