The first vacation I booked while living in Italy was a trip to Sicily by myself. I ignored warnings from my students that it wasn't safe because I was told they have the best desserts in Italy and I have an infinite capacity to consume sweets. My first thought when planning the trip was that I'd take the long, romantic train ride through Italy to get to Sicily, but once I found out I could fly there for half the cost and 1/10th the time, I opted for the more modern route. I booked a flight on Air Italy, which none of my Italian friends had ever heard of, so I showed up at the airport unsure if there would be a flight or if this was some kind of elaborate hoax. Luckily, I got on a plane that whisked me off to Siracusa, the subject of my next blog post, and then I took the train to Catania before flying back to Napoli on the main land. This is the story of Catania.
As I mentioned, everyone had told me I was totally insane to go to Sicily by myself, and having more or less confirmed their fears at this point, I was a little on edge. For this part of the trip, I had booked a hostel, which is totally unlike me due to a scarring hostel experience to be addressed later, but, like me, I booked a single room all to myself. The hostel itself was totally awesome - it was right in the city center and had built an underground restaurant in a natural grotto, complete with a small stream running through.
The hostel was next to a fish market, meaning the surrounding area stunk to high heaven. While it was kind of cool to see things like this:
It was slightly more disconcerting to see things like, a guy carrying A QUARTER OF A COW through the market ON HIS SHOULDERS.
Or to see/smell the leftovers at the end of the day. (Though it did make it easy to find the hostel - just follow the stench!)
Given the surrounding grossness, I more or less arrived in Catania, dropped my bags, and left immediately to spend the day in Taormina. I returned to Catania close to nightfall, and despite being painfully (PAINFULLY) shy, decided I should go have a drink. My first attempt was at the hostel grotto bar, but I got too nervous being there by myself and left before ordering anything. Armed with a map labeled by the hostel concierge, I decided to just walk through the city until I found a bar.
I walked for about ten minutes until I arrived at the area by the university, but there were no bars to be found. At this point it was night, and I was wandering through the streets of Catania alone, holding a map - you know, like the locals do. After a few minutes, I realized a man was following me. He was probably in his 40s, with graying hair. I crossed the street and kept walking, not necessarily knowing where I was going. The area I was walking into started to have more and more dead ends, and I noticed that most of the streetlights were out. The man continued to follow me, and I started to panic. I decided a drink was wholly unnecessary and quickly walked back in the direction of the hostel, but then the man yelled at me to stop.
"What are you doing?" he asked me. I replied that I was just walking around, and he stopped me and said, "Are you crazy? Catania is not safe at night for a girl by herself. All those streetlights that were out? The mafia does that." At this point I was shaking and close to tears - he saw that he was scaring me and asked where I was from. I told him I was in Catania on vacation and had wanted to find a bar for a drink but now I just wanted to go home.
"You want to have a drink? I will take you to have a drink."
I thanked him for his offer (which was more hospitable than creepy) but explained that really I just wanted to go back to the hostel (also I didn't want to have a drink with someone old enough to be my dad). He insisted on following me back to my hostel to make sure I got home okay, and at this point I trusted him enough to do that. Once I was safely deposited at the door, he waved goodbye and I retreated to my room, locked the door, and left the next morning.
You may be shaking your head at this point, thinking to yourself that I've got this backwards, that a man following me through the pitch-black streets of Catania couldn't possibly be the least creepy Sicilian man of the trip.
Yeah. More to come next week.