I have often said that when traveling in Sicilia, Catania is like Purgatory: everybody goes there, but you don't have to stay long. As a major transportation hub, many bus and train changes go through Catania. I've had a couple of overnight stays, but Catania has never really been a destination for me.
Well, I was wrong. This time I stayed in the university/Duomo area, and it made a huge difference. I saw Catania's elegant and graceful side, my B&B, Palazzo Bruca, is in and older building in the historic center. Huge metal doors open to reveal a courtyard (now a parking area for condo residents and B&B guests), with a serious fountain sculpture in the center. I took the lift to the B&B, where I met lovely receptionists, and discovered that my passport was still in Lipari (previous post about that). After working out how to retrieve it, I paid in advance, and went out to find the conference site, which turned out to be around the corner. The B&B serves in-room breakfast for €2.50, but I passed on that, since I wanted to be sure I was on time for my conference. The next morning, I walked past the area where the women were assembling breakfast to order: coffee, juice, yogurt, piles of fresh fruit, bread, pastries, meats, cheeses - a bargain! The following day I skipped breakfast in order to catch the early bus to Milazzo (passport retrieval), and on my last morning I took an early taxi to the train station so I could meet my friends at the Palermo airport. I would not hesitate to stay at Palazzo Bruce again.
Between conference activities, I just wandered around Catania. I walked through the huge daily market, visited several churches, will have to go back for museums (conflicting hours with conference). From the bus stop, I asked for directions to Piazza Duomo, and was directed to go through the arches, it was nearby. The route looked a little seedy at first, but it turned out to be a few street vendors, several groups of old men sitting at permanently set up card tables playing cards, dominoes, or just talking. Reminded me of the card games my father played with me when I was a child, including blackjack, scopa ("sweep"), and others.
Then I walked through the arch and onto the Piazza, which is stunning. Lots of cafes, the elephant fountain which is a popular meeting point, and shops. Good shopping in Catania!
A word about my taxi driver (the B&B reserved the same one for me both times): what a kind man. The usual chat about heritage, travel, impressions of the city; he told me twice to be careful, and seemed truly concerned. I told him I survived Miami for forty years, but I would be careful. Then I remembered the man who followed me out of a bar to return the coin I had dropped, the B&B receptionists who helped with my passport issues, and I realized, once again, that travel often relies on the kindness of strangers.
So, Catania is closer to heaven than to purgatory, in my opinion.