Catania – Sicily

Archeological site in Sicily
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Four months after moving here came the moment of the first vacation in Romania. And because we have events we wanted and should attend, we tried to group them together so that we don’t spend a lot of our time on the roads.

And this is how problems and questions appear, especially because we’re far away from going to all the events that we would have wanted to. After long discussions, analysis, and moving of vacation days in the calendar, this was the plan:

  1. Leaving Wednesday evening from Basel, straight from the office, with a short layover in Munich and landing in Bucharest at 1 AM;
  2. Thursday and Friday are dedicated to being spent with dear friends and family, people we could not see otherwise, and doing some bureaucratic tasks we need to;
  3. On Friday I’m going to Cluj with Tarom where I have to go to a baptism party. My husband stays in Bucharest and attends a wedding;
  4. On Sunday I come back to Bucharest around noon and I meet my husband at the airport. From there, we embark on Wizz Air flight to Catania, and we add a piece of checked-in luggage so we can take some things from Bucharest with us;
  5. The next Sunday we go to Basel from Catania, with EasyJet. This was one of the reasons to choose Sicily – it had connections with both Bucharest and Basel.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, please hold that thought. Read again this plan after you finish reading the article and notice how much of this really happened.

Step 1: Leaving Basel

One week before leaving we were pleasantly surprised by some news. Against all odds, we managed to convince my husband’s brother to join us in Catania. We had to insist and butter him up a bit, but he finally caved and we convinced him it would be cool to join us this year. He decided on Monday and the scheduled departure was on Sunday.

On Monday he made the flight reservations and those for certain activities we had already scheduled, and we added a plus one to our accommodation. Everything worked really well, we didn’t bump into any problems with this process.

We found it hard to pack our bags. We tried to put in two carry-ons everything we needed for a week of a beach vacation and some fancy clothes for the events. It is difficult, especially if you also have snorkeling masks that take up a lot of space, if you have to limit the liquids to only 100 ml bottles and when you have weight and volume limits that have to match the allowed ones for many airlines.

After some long-time efforts and the constant moving of stuff from one bag to the other we managed to fit everything perfectly in our trolley and a beach bag, and kept the heavier clothes to wear them that day and I also wore my platform sandals that couldn’t fit in the bags no matter how much I tried.

We came to work with the luggage; since the office is near the train station, it’s easier for us to go directly from work and it takes us half an hour to arrive. We left at the required hour, reached the airport very early because I’m crazy and I always insist to be there at least two hours in advance and we went near the gate to wait for our departure.

An hour later, they announce that our flight is delayed by one hour. They also specified the reasons, but we couldn’t clearly hear them and it didn’t matter: our connection was in 45-50 minutes in Munich, which is not at all a small airport. Of course, I started to wander around, afraid we’re going to miss the flight, and I asked the information center and they told us we would definitely catch the connecting flight.

Then, we relaxed, realizing it’s nothing that we could change. We finally made it to the plane, a CRJ900 like we had when we went to Poland. So, right after ordering a beer (as we realized we couldn’t do anything to change the situation, we figured we might as well enjoy the ride) we encountered some turbulence.

The sky looked very cloudy indeed but it didn’t seem like we should be worried about it. I almost had a panic attack, that’s how strong the turbulence was when we entered the cloud. The plane felt like a leaf in strong wind or as a roller coaster and we felt lucky we had the seat belts on, while we were closing the tables and putting aside anything that we thought could injure someone.

My panic attack didn’t last long, but I almost cried out of fear and I tried to close my eyes, take deep breaths and count in my head. It was horrible for me and if this would have been my first flight, it would have also been my only flight. And if you could think it was only me, keep in mind that this is the worst turbulence my husband also encountered (and he went to places, unlike me).

Also, I could hear someone at the front of the plane that was in a deeper panic than I was, so it was not just my freaked out brain messing around. When I got off the plane my knees were shaking but we had to start running to hopefully catch the connection.

After what felt like a marathon on my high heels (well, the platform sandals are actually quite comfortable, I’m just not wearing them enough so I’m not used to them) we reached the gate, just to find the take-off being delayed by one hour. In the beginning, I was so mad.

But then I thought I would not want to see that storm cloud ever again and probably that was the reason for the first delay too. We arrived in Bucharest at 2 AM, where my nice brother-in-law was waiting for us.

Step 2: Two days in Bucharest

The next morning, after taking care of some paperwork stuff we had to handle, we dressed up nicely to attend a civil marriage, the one I couldn’t otherwise attend since I was going to Cluj, and then we went to our godparents.

A few minutes before having to leave home I receive an email from Tarom stating that a “minor” change appeared in my flight schedule for Sunday and the flight was delayed by one hour, the total flying time being 45 minutes. I felt really angry and thought it’s not their decision if this is a “minor” inconvenience because I was affected quite a lot.

We established that if I don’t make it, my husband and his brother were going to leave and I would come later or the next day, with a combined flight with Alitalia. Also, in the flight confirmation, it was stated that the luggage policy depends on the airplane’s model.

This felt stupid, as I shouldn’t care about what airplane they decide to use that day, the luggage policy should remain unchanged and if they don’t fit in the cabin they should be sent to the baggage compartment for free. So I called them to try and find out more details.

After I tried all the available phone numbers, because they have more than one (they don’t have a classic call-center as all 21st-century companies have), and after I was on hold for 20 minutes before my call got disconnected I managed, at the 10th try, to talk to someone.

The lady told me that the delay was not their problem because I don’t have the connection guaranteed (true, unfortunately, I had bought the plane tickets in two different transactions and I was using two different airlines) and that my luggage will be freely checked-in when flying with the ATR (a propeller plane).

Still, if everything worked as planned, I would have had 40 minutes for the connection which was enough, but it didn’t provide any buffering time. We spent the day trying to see lots of people and to spend so much time with everyone, even though we had slept for 6 hours (him) and 2-3 hours (me), but we missed those people so much that we didn’t even realize when it was already 2 AM again.

We continued the next day with visits to our former jobs, some shopping and other bureaucratic things we had to do, and in the evening I went to the airport to go to Cluj. This was my first flight by myself, so I was a little bit on the edge, but after the flight with the nasty turbulence, I had a new type of respect for the pilots.

Step 3: Going to Cluj

After I had passed the security area I discovered that the terminal for domestic flights was very close, so I was way too early for that flight. I wondered a little bit around the three duty-free shops in the area, I had something to eat, read for some time, and patiently waited for my departure. And because I didn’t have enough of this already for one vacation, of course, this flight was delayed for half an hour.

When I bought the tickets, two flights were departing at the same time, one was from WizzAir and the other one was from Tarom. I choose Tarom because it’s not a low-cost company and I thought it’s more reliable. While I was remembering these facts, I was looking at the gate next to mine where the flight from Wizz was in the embarking phase.

And as a bonus, I started thinking of my chances of being on time on Sunday when I only had 40 minutes between the two flights. So, in this situation, I bought another ticket for that Sunday, taking off at 6 AM, which is a great hour when you’re going to a party the night before, but I just wanted to be sure I won’t miss the beginning of my vacation.

Up until now, I have had a percentage of 100% delayed flights out of the total. I would have loved to change the ticket, not to just buy another one, but Tarom doesn’t allow this except for a direct call-center call or by going to one of their offices, both options being available only on weekdays, up until 8 PM, and it was already Friday, 10 PM, and the change should have been done for Sunday.

After the take-off, we were told that the flight was delayed due to the Stuttgart-Sibiu flight being late (??). Don’t ask me about the connection between the two, I still have no idea how are these related.

I finally arrived and fully enjoyed the 30 hours I had. I think I slept the whole first night and not at all in the second: I got home at 3 AM and at around 4 AM I had to go to the airport, so I didn’t even use my pajamas, I just got myself dressed up for the road and stood in bed for a little bit.

That flight was the first one that was on time during this vacation. I was very afraid of flying with an ATR, they look so fragile with their propellers exposed, and the fact that I stood on the 4th row, with a view right to the engines didn’t quite help me. I was still too tired to be afraid, I think I was already dead inside and couldn’t develop complex feelings like fear anymore.

I arrived in Bucharest and managed to sleep for a few hours, being ready to wake up around 11 AM to go visit some friends that had a three days old baby I didn’t have a chance in visiting before – and I mean the friends, not the baby. While we were getting ready to go visit them, we were suddenly rushed by my brother-in-law.

This was weird, I am usually the one rushing and bossing people around when we have to be at the airport. This time I was chill, but he was very agitated for some reason. After a small discussion, we realize everyone had another idea of the time the plane had to take-off.

I knew something in the area of 3 PM and he knew something in the area of 1:30 PM, so of course, we had different opinions on when we should be at the airport. So we compared the check-in papers. Surprise!

Somehow, we still don’t know how my husband’s brother managed to buy his ticket for the next day. And I am still amazed, I couldn’t find a route that matched that ever after. Maybe this was what the search engine found because all the flights for Sunday were full, or maybe he checked some other days to check for alternate flights and didn’t properly select the day after. What was clear was the fact that our flights were not for the same day.

So we relaxed visiting our friends and then went to the airport, just me and my husband, and we were going to meet him the next day. So if I were to be late that Sunday, my husband would have gone to Catania by himself. Or, even though I don’t think I could do that, I could have tried to switch the tickets with my brother-in-law, and he would have gone in my place on Sunday and I would have gone in his place on Monday.

Step 4: Going to Catania

At the airport we check-in the big luggage and one of the carry-ons, since we were told that the plane is full and probably we would have to give it up at the gate, so there was no use in carrying it around for no reason. My husband kept his carry-on because he didn’t want to check it in and have it banged against walls.

The reason: he had a microscope in the bag. Yes, my husband is special, he has a microscope bought by his friends as a gift and he uses it to look at different things, as a hobby. He couldn’t risk putting that in the checked-in luggage, but the security check was very interesting.

Of course, they started asking him all sorts of questions about why does he own such a thing, they tested it for explosives and other dangerous substances (we found that pretty normal, actually), but also the guy that examined it called one other guy to see it and to provide his opinion. And of course it couldn’t only be this thing, they had to properly analyze everything in his bag and we almost couldn’t close it anymore.

They also asked us about the full-face snorkeling masks we had (those do look like gas masks, to be honest) things like what are they are, where did we buy them from and how much did they cost. At least this time no one verified me, I was already bored with being touched by strangers.

Of course, they had to separate us in the plane. But this was also the first time we actually stayed like that, since my husband was near a couple (well, not near, but between them), and I was sitting near a person that had already made a change to help another couple have a reunion, and I was ashamed and couldn’t ask the lady to move around so much, even though she seemed quite nice and probably she would have helped me.

We landed on time. Not that we were in a rush, but I was already keeping track, and until now I had three delayed flights and two flights in time. There, we took the bus from Alibus to reach the city center, and the station we got off to was right under a bridge. From there, we had to walk quite a bit to find the place we were staying, and we had the chance to regret, again, the fact that we choose wheeled luggage when we’re going on vacation.

Catania has the streets and sidewalks paved with volcanic rocks, so there’s no asphalt, hence any type trolley is very hard to use in here. Also, we were amazed by the amount of litter we found here. I know, the black rocks that are everywhere can give the illusion of dirtiness, but the actual cleanliness was also not so good and it sort of reminded us of Asia.

People throw away things right on the sidewalks, and I mean both tourists and local people. Salespeople throw away fruit skins right next to their booths, people from fish markets throw away fish guts and scales and leave them on the ground, which turns into a great smell in those temperatures and all street vendors wash up different stuff and just leave the water on the streets.

We tried to not step into any water while on the streets and had to basically detour or get the bags up because we didn’t want our luggage and shoes to smell like watermelon waste. The similarities with Asia went even further when it came to the traffic. I honestly don’t know how I survived that week. Not only they have very narrow streets you may think they are only for pedestrians, but are not, but the drivers are also very aggressive.

We crossed the streets as we did in Bali, putting our hands on the sideways of our bodies and hoping it would work. We actually took a look at the cars and we rarely saw any without any scratches or any signs of accidents. They park on the sidewalks or in the middle of the street, using the hazard lights, and there were also lots of scooters, which indicates that the pollution rate is probably high.

The accommodation was a little bit weird. The placement is very good for the price, and the cleaning was at its best, including daily towel changes so that we were bored of unwrapping them.

But the guy at the reception didn’t speak any English, we had to extract the Italian from the Romanian we spoke. And because we added my brother-in-law to our room, he asked us to pay for him like a single person would have paid – so if we paid 200 euros let’s say, he had to pay 100 euros, even though he was in the same room as us, and this doesn’t feel quite fair, to be honest.

The breakfast felt too little initially, but in fact, turned out to be quite enough to have just a croissant and a coffee. Also, the entrance was in some dark alley without any visible ad or name outside, and it was a little bit hard to find. The neighborhood looked unsafe, but in fact, it wasn’t. Like we saw after, any area outside of the old town looked unsafe in that city, or maybe I am too focused on this after living in Bucharest for ten years.

At first, we didn’t do anything else than to go out to eat and come back to sleep, we were both too tired to have a walk around the area. Also the first night I managed to lean a little bit by the bed and to fall with it. And no, the problem was not my weight like I thought, but a problem with a bedpost. We managed to get in a vertical position and saw that one of the things keeping the bed up was unscrewed, so we just put it back and hoped for the best all night.

The beach

The next day it was scheduled that we go to the beach a little bit and get back in time to meet our wanderer travel partner since we were not sure there was going to be someone at the reception when he arrives. Using the invaluable advice found on-line, we looked for a bigger bus stop and waited for the D line bus that was supposed to take us to the beach.

We waited for at least 40 minutes, we were actually concerned maybe we weren’t in the right bus station, although there were panels that said we were in the right place, and they were also saying we were supposed to stay right in the middle of the station – it didn’t have platforms, but it did have some areas drawn on the sidewalk specific for every bus line, but I won’t guarantee those areas were actually working like they were supposed to.

Anyway, we were only trying to find a place with some shadow and good visibility over the area because we already felt like the sun was taking an act of revenge on us for some reason.

When the bus finally arrived, it got immediately full with all sorts of people, many of them just as lost as we were, but also door-to-door sales guys with huge satchels filled with different types of merchandise, people that were going to work or people going to the airport.

We got off the bus where we were able to, and that was a challenge considering we could barely move in there, and we went to the first beach that also had umbrellas to not stay in the strong sunshine right in the middle of the day. The beaches are, generally speaking, very beautiful and well taken care of.

Most of them are private, you can hardly find any areas that don’t have sunbeds and umbrellas, but are very well taken care of and they have toilets and showers. The water is clean and very warm, August being the hottest month of Catania, one more reason to advise people to visit in September or May when the temperatures are milder and the crowd is smaller too.

The first day, like most of the trip, was pretty uneventful. Most of the adventures happened before we reached the destination, so we basically felt like in Sal, but we also enjoyed having a vacation for relaxing purposes and not spending all of our time running around.

The food

As a part of relaxation, I have to mention the food, and if there’s something everyone knows about Italians, it’s that these people know their way around food.

It only happened once that we got food we didn’t like, but apart from that we totally recommend the place for any foodie. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed huge amounts of pizza and pasta, and my husband and brother-in-law enjoyed every type of fish and sea fruit in every menu, and all three of us tasted all types of ice cream we found.

When it comes to restaurants, our recommedations are:

  • Al Vicolo for their huge and delicious pizza and the perfect wine served by great employees with a very good English
  • Il Gambero Pazzo where they have some huge sea fruit dishes that seem to not have an end
  • Trattoria da Antonio where they have good food for all tastes
  • Il Borgo di Federico for cheap and pretty good food (but avoid the burger)

Concerning ice cream places, the ones that we liked the most were:

When we got back from the beach, we just stood in the sunshine, without having options to cover ourselves or finding some shade, to wait for the bus. We got lucky, it only took the bus 20 minutes to appear, but staying there like a homeless person without even having an idea if it’s a proper bus station in there is not actually a thing to like – maybe we’re just too used to the electronic display for public transport that we have in Basel.

Our long-lost brother reached the accommodation place without a problem, and we followed the rest of our journey like we hoped, like nothing of the above has happened.

The island trip

From all of the options from TripAdvisor, we decided to take a tour of Syracusa, Ortygia, and Noto. Even though the places were interesting, the tour was not so much because it mostly meant a guy taking us places by car but we did the exploring by ourselves, without any actual guiding.

In Syracusa we visited a place where we managed to see, almost at the same time, a Greek theater and a Roman amphitheater, and also a cave called Dionysius’s ear due to its unusual shape that grants a very clear echo.

Then, in Ortygia, this old center of Syracusa, connected to it only by bridges, we managed to see Greek temples, that became Muslim mosques, that became Catholic cathedrals.

Also, we got the chance to see Apollo’s Temple, the Fountain of Arethusa and Saint Lucia’s Church (the island’s protector), and also the Maniace Castle, an impressive fortified area.

In Noto, this small town full of churches, we got the chance of hearing legends about a secret underground tunnel between women’s and men’s monasteries and stories about babies born in monasteries and teenagers forced to choose the church’s path in life against their own wishes.

We got back home extremely tired not only by the full day, but also by the hot sun that accompanied us, but it’s not our fault in Switzerland there’s just one national holiday during summertime which is in August? We’re so on the edge with the vacation days that we cannot afford the luxury of not integrating a national holiday in our vacation time.

The next day was pretty uneventful and I have nothing special to say about it. Because of my brother-in-law, we found a way to go to the beach that didn’t require us to suffocate in an overcrowded bus, and the duration of the commute wasn’t that bad either. We had to pass an area that didn’t look quite nice and I wouldn’t choose that way if I were alone or at night, that’s how resemblant to a ghetto the area looked like.

And it is somehow weird because, if you look at the map, our accommodation was pretty close to the center but, if you also switch to images, you’ll think that’s the place the world ends. The only disadvantage we had at the beach was that the sand was too hot, so hot that it made my husband use his slippers to reach the water, and he’s usually the strong one, but he just couldn’t run fast enough.

It was extremely hot even after getting out of the water and we felt that reaching the sunbeds was a huge challenge. Still, it’s not like someone can do something to change this, the temperatures are so high that even wooden pontoons were too hot to handle. We had a nice walk in the evening to lose the kilos we assumed we gained in the form of pizza, but we had the Catania tour scheduled for Saturday, unfortunately.

The worst idea, of course, we obviously should have done this at the beginning, but the other two trips we bought only had options for Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Catania tour also had the option for Saturday; basically, we could either choose only two of them, or schedule them in an unusual way.

The sailing trip

The second tour after the Syracusa one was a full sail trip on a sailing boat that also had an engine. For me it was a day spent tense because of my fear of water. For everyone else, it was a nice occasion to learn a few things about sailing. The skipper was a super cool guy, with a very good English, that wanted to teach everyone to sail with a small boat by using the wind to continue going.

The other participants were a girl from Austria and a family of three from Germany, which meant a new way to feel sorry we don’t speak German yet. I can honestly say we enjoyed the whole day, even I did too. The first stop was at Ulysses’ caves, a place where the water has a nice blue color and everyone jumped into the water to snorkel.

Well, almost everyone. I didn’t dare to free up the stairs due to a small panic attack. That was the moment when I received the lifebuoy the boat was equipped with, which really helped. I carried it around as I did with that buoy in Cape Verde, even if it started to bug me after some time, but I couldn’t just leave it there, I had to be faithful to it until the end.

The sea bottom was pretty rocky in that area so the boat couldn’t come too close to the cliffs, so at deep water, you couldn’t see anything interesting and when I got closer to the caves I could see some large boulders and a few species of fish, but nothing very impressive. It’s very beautiful, I mean the water is really blue and clear and you can see the rocks and a few fish types but there’s not more than that.

Still, I didn’t go very close to the caves and it may look better there, but I honestly don’t know if it’s okay to do that because the shore looks pretty unfriendly. Unfortunately, when we got back to the ship, we discovered that my brother-in-law met a jellyfish and it didn’t feel very comfortable then, but he got over it after a week or so.

The next stop was at a great place called Acitrezza, where the water is extremely clean and has a great color, perfect for snorkeling. Because the place is very close to some rocks, our boat left us at a pontoon and we have been transported with a normal boat soon after, with a guy that didn’t even speak Italian, but only Sicilian, and kind of looked like Popeye the Sailor, but in blonde.

The experience here was superb. We saw lots of fish types and, the big surprise, a huge starfish, at least 30-40 cm and red so it really stood up in that whole turquoise area. My brother-in-law saw something similar in Zanzibar by hundreds, he claims, so now we had to move up Zanzibar in our priorities list.

The only small problem was that entering and exiting the water was on some hot rocks since they were black, and slippery since they were partly submerged in water and sometimes full of sea urchins that you couldn’t clearly see from above water level. But well, you cannot have it all.

When we got back to the boat, we found a Sicilian lunch already made for us that consisted of sea fruit paste with wine sauce, but during the day we also enjoyed some snacks like cheese, some meat products, fruits, and wine. Basically, our own concern all day should have been to just relax and enjoy the ride – well, at least the people that can be relaxed while being in the middle of the sea.

We then went back because the day was almost over and while sailing on calm seas, the German lady started to scream “Dolphins!”; apparently, this word is the same in German, too. Well, some pretty strange things happened then, and I mean my husband, brother-in-law and the German man jumping into the water, without any fins or snorkeling masks, trying to meet the dolphins.

But they didn’t want to meet our guys, or they didn’t like them, so they continued their trip to wherever they were going while everyone still on the boat was taking pictures or videos. The skipper tried to find them again but he also had to get the guys back on the boat, and it was a tough decision because the guys were not as cute as the dolphins were.

We managed to find them again, both the dolphins and the guys and we tried again to get back, dreaming at the greatness that we witnessed. Apparently, they are not very common there, it was the second time for the skipper to see them in the area, and this event connected us like the whole day didn’t. It was beautiful, I can agree, we were mesmerized by these delicate creatures we had the chance to see.

The last two days we invested in spending time at the beach, where we managed to enjoy also a small rain, and we also went to the Catania tour we had scheduled. The tour was very nice and the information provided was very interesting.

Sicilia, due to its placement, was part of Greek, Roman, Arab, Spanish and North-African cultures. The diversity here can probably be found in Malta too, another destination on our list. I won’t give you the details about the tour and what interesting information I found out in there because it’s not really the same if you’re not there to see and feel the place, but I can say it’s worth it, and it would’ve been better if we would have done it in the beginning.

On the way back, we bumped into a place that provided tours to Etna, the only tour we took off our list for multiple reasons, but we knew he was actually very interested in it. That’s why we advised him to go in and ask, and they really had one single seat for a tour that was happening that evening. It was basically his only chance because the next day we were leaving (yes, even him, we verified his ticket), so he decided to go.

While we were there, we enjoyed a dinner in a place with a nice, hipster-ish vibe. After we had sat down and placed the order, my husband remembered this was the place the tour lady showed us, the only one with a view of the underground river of Catania.

The food was excellent and the vibe was the same, and the river in the cave is actually interesting. We visited that after we had eaten, but it’s really worth it to do this in the beginning or to even have your full meal in the cave. I have no idea how I managed to choose, from all available restaurants on Google Maps, exactly this one.

Step 5: Leaving Catania

We left the next day very early, and my brother-in-law left around lunchtime. While we were going to the bus station we passed an accident scene that looked like it involved a guy on a scooter, but we didn’t see a lot in there and we hope everyone was alright. But this happened on one Sunday, around 6 AM and I cannot say I’m surprised, considering their driving habits.

We reached the airport without any events and we only had one small problem at the gate, because apparently at the check-in counter you have some information, and at the gate, you have another one. We left at the check-in counter a large and a piece of small luggage and the lady particularly asked me about my backpack, which is very small and its role is similar to a purse.

She saw how small it is and she said it was okay. Right before embarking it was apparently not okay because my luggage was the one checked-in and I couldn’t have another. I explained what the other lady said and the answer was: “I don’t care what information you got from the check-in counter, I’m only telling you what the computer says and this is that you cannot take any luggage with you.”.

We managed to finally put it in the carry-on we had, but not before felling amazed by the pretty new things that we discovered – the employees of the same company can contradict without any problems. But still, let’s not be grumpy here, we had seats together and we took off and landed at the scheduled time: how much service do we want from a low-cost company? It’s pretty normal, actually, what you pay is what you get.

And now, after I have finished analyzing everything, please scroll up and read again the initial plan. It matches the story, doesn’t it?

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2 thoughts on “Catania – Sicily”

    1. Honest Travel Stories

      Yes, it really is. Romanian is a romance language, it has Latin roots, so we can understand most other Latin languages (Portuguese is the most problematic one for us).

      Also, we used to watch cartoons in Italian when we were young, and then soap operas in Spanish later (don’t judge, we were young and out of communism, we would have watched anything :)) ). Now I can mostly understand Spanish, my husband can mostly understand Italian, but none of us can speak neither.

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