Crazy Catania!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Following the buffet breakfast at the hotel, we rested until check-out time and then walked over the river to Trastevere in search of a light lunch. We ordered the obligatory bruschetta and a pasta dish and ate outside on the sidewalk patio. After lunch it was time to head out to the airport to catch our flight to Catania, Sicily.

We booked a flight to leave Rome at 5.15 pm arriving in Catania at 6.30 pm. The plan was to collect our luggage, pick up our rental car and then get to Taormina with plenty of time to spare before nightfall. Turns out our time calculations were hopelessly wrong.

Things started to get weird in the departure lounge at the Rome airport when the airline made us check our cabin baggage. We only had two pieces between us and they were well within regulation size. By the time, we emptied our valuables from one of the bags into a carry bag, the original bag was empty. Anyway, we had to check the empty bag. After this process, we noticed that virtually all the other travellers had larger cabin bags than ours and they were allowed to take them on the plane. To make matters worse, when we finally boarded the plane, most of the overhead bins around us were empty! What a waste of time. It goes without saying that when our bags were eventually delivered to the baggage carousel, our two late checked cabin bags came out long after we had already picked up our suitcases.

We followed the signs to the car rental agents until there were no more signs and no rental cars in sight. After some further exploration, we located the rental kiosks and made our way to the Avis desk. There was quite a long line up at the desk but because we have an Avis membership, a big sign told us that we should go straight to our rental car to finish the rental process. We went over the rental car lot, only to find out that the sign was telling lies and that we would have to join the queue back at the kiosk. We shouldn't have listened to the lying sign because now the queue was longer than when we first got there. After waiting in line longer than the flight from Rome, we eventually picked up our car and were ready to leave.

Turns out the Avis lot is pretty much like the Hotel California - you can check out but you can never leave! It seemed that every road we took to get away from the Avis lot, brought us all the way back. Guess this was a precursor for what was still to come. Eventually, we veered off on an unmarked side road and left the airport behind. We were headed in the direction of Messina and this was clearly marked at the first couple of intersections, then the signage dried up. As a result, we ended up in the traffic mayhem of Catania guessing which way we were supposed to go.

We learned real quick that driving in Sicily is not for the faint of heart. There are no rules of the road and no directions to anywhere! Scooters shoot past you on all sides, cars pull out right in front of you and speedsters come tearing up behind you honking and flashing their lights.

Eventually, we came across the highway we were looking for and got started on our drive to Taormina. All was going reasonably well for a tiny Fiat Panda struggling to do 90 km/h on a 130 km/h highway until we came across a toll booth. The automated booth was covered in graffiti so it was impossible to figure out what we were supposed to do and we couldn’t find anywhere to insert some money. So I just put my hand near the machine, dropped a Euro on the floor and drove off hoping that if someone was watching us by camera, we could hoodwink them into thinking we had paid the toll! Turns out the graffiti machine was actually a ticket dispenser and we just needed to find the button to get the toll ticket. Anyway, the lady at the toll booth when we left the highway at Taormina was very understanding and just charged us 1.70 Euro for the toll.

After climbing a series of steep switchbacks in the dark, we finally arrived at our hotel – the Hotel Villa Carlotta. The staff were very friendly and welcoming and we were glad to have finally arrived. We were also glad to see someone else drive our rental car off to be parked! At the hotel, we booked an apartment with a large sun deck and view of the Mediterranean but we will have to wait until morning to see what the view is like. Before calling it a day, we had our best meal of the trip so far. The hotel chef made us a fantastic bruschetta that was not on the menu followed by a delicious mushroom risotto, vegetable canoli and tiramisu. Having a backdrop of the night lights from mainland Italy reflecting on the Mediterranean in the distance certainly added to the wonderful meal.

Comments are closed.