Okay, so I have been to Italy of number of times since 1997 which included a school trip around the country in 2002 where we toured a number of sites including Florence, Rome and Pompeii. In early October of 2014 (this, once again, shows how far in advance I am writing these) we stayed in Catania, the second largest city on the island of Sicily. The fact that Sicily is ~20% larger than Wales still throws me for a loop.
I will be negating my regular postings this week (since Monday is usually a music post it is a bit redundant stating this I know) to write up my diary notes of the trip with some pictures as well as ticking a few things off of my list. So, here we are with Day One:
Day One – Arriving in Sicily
When we were choosing a place to go on a week long holiday in October there ended up being a four-way battle between Sicily, Sardinia, Malta and Venice. Sicily ended up winning for a number of reasons, a major one being that this is somewhere that gets really hot in the summer so visiting when it was milder made sense for us. All I can say is… it’s called an average for a reason. Where Catania has an average October high of 24°C we arrived in the late afternoon and it was at 28°C. Being able to write this in retrospect I can add that the hottest temperature we saw out there was 34°C but more about there when I write about that day.
After a rather manic taxi ride from the airport we arrived at the rather nice NH Bellini hotel which would be our base for the next five days… apart from we had accidentally booked for 4 nights instead of 5 for some completely unknown reason. The man at the front desk was really helpful and found us rooms and charged us the same rate that we had prepaid at so not the BEST start.
The sun was hanging low in the sky as we left the hotel to make our way to the Piazza Duomo. It was hanging even lower when we realised we had made an incorrect turning onto the Via Etnea (all recently paved in lava stone which gave the road and pavement a silvered black appearance) and when we were far down we agreed it would be a good idea to stop for a drink… when I noticed the first of two region specific food items from my food list: granita
We stopped at the La Dolce Vita café on the Piazza Universitá (where we would keep going back since the prices were good and the view of the Piazza and its related foot traffic was perfect) and I was able to have by first taste of granita, a Sicilian iced drink which lies somewhere in the realms of slushie, shaved ice and sorbet. The one I had was the on the right of the photo and was lemon flavoured whilst my engagement partner had the mulberry on the left (if someone had told me that black mulberry was just blackberry/bramble I would have been able to cross it off yonks ago). During my stay in Sicily I tried lemon, mulberry, pistachio, orange, coffee, chocolate and watermelon granite from a number of different areas but none beat the lemon granita found at La Dolce Vita. One of the most refreshing things I have ever tasted and it is something that, writing this eight hours after landing back in the UK, I am already missing.
After eating these it was night time and we went for a quick around the immediate are surrounding the Piazza Duomo and we went for dinner at the Caffé del Duomo looking onto the square where I just could not decide what to have since Catania is basically a food heaven. We all decided on fish since it is what Catania is known for and from this I was able to gain a few more list items.
I decided to go for an old favourite of calamari fritti (fried squid) and judging by the size of the fried tentacles I am more than happy to be able to tick off baby squid now. With a green lemon on the side this was perfectly cooked with the squid still being tender to the bite. I am not too used to having the tentacles too since most places tend to discard those (something I don’t get since I always include them when making my own).
My mum had swordfish for her main and gave me a bit in exchange for some squid. I never imaginged swordfish to be so big as to provide a steak of this size (something which would be burned into my mind when I saw the decapitated head of one at a market stall later in the week) so when this colossal piece of fish arrived on her plate it was a bit surprising. The closest thing I can compare this to is a tuna steak, but more meaty and less fishy. For something so expensive over here in the UK a giant steak fetched only 7€ at the market and could be found in nearly every restaurant we came across.
My engagement partner ordered a platter which was basically described as small “catch of the day” fish fried… and he was presented with the above. The fact that he doesn’t like eating pork ribs or lamb chops will go a long way to explain why I was proud of him being able to finish this off (despite him gagging badly on a half-swallowed fish rib towards the end of the platter); minus the red mullet I spotted which I managed to trade for some of my calamari. The mullet I had was very easy to strip from the bone and had a delicate flavour.
To finish off I had to have my first (of four across the week) cannoli. Something I have heard a lot about thanks to U.S. shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and Sex & The City and I was not disappointed.
Despite the great food and getting to know Catania on a tiny level I do admit I went to sleep wondering if I had made a mistake pushing for Sicily. This is something my mum always has on the first day of a holiday before really loving a place but this was the first time I felt apprehensive about a new place… I am glad to say that after day two these feelings evaporated.