| Part 2: Catania,
All Seasons, Acireale. Part of a package deal, the room must have cost
80 Euro/night. This is for a nice, large room with two double beds,
suitable for four people. The room has a flat screen TV, phone, fridge,
A/C, attached bathroom with shower bath tub, table, decent furniture
but no cupboard. It's a sort of "budget no frills luxury" hotel.The
(buffet) breakfast is included.
Weather: +4°C, rainy and overcast in
Munich in the morning. +14°C in Catania with a mix of clouds, sunshine
and light rain.
reach the airport around 8:20am and proceed to the check-in counter.
Lots of people at the airport this morning, as if half of Munich was on
the move. Long queueing time at the Air Berlin check-in counter, long
queue after that at the security check. The plane, a B737-700, is
almost completely full. In fact at the check-in counter the guy had
mentioned that they overbooked the flight. Tiny, narrow seats in the
plane (rows of 6 seats).
This 9:45am flight finally takes off at 10:10am with 25 minutes of
delay. Some turbulence when flying over the Alps, otherwise the flight
Despite the delay we land in Catania on time at 11:55am. I check the
distance between Munich and Catania - slightly above 1200km. At a
flight speed of 900km/h this can be covered in 1h 20 min, but Air
Berlin declares a flight time of 2h 10 min. It seems that Air Berlin is
including in these 2h 10 min processing delays at the Munich airport
and an extra long time for the plane to finally take off after boarding
is completed. By contrast, Airasia has minimal processing and take off
It takes a while to retrieve the luggage at the baggage retrieval belt.
But the cool thing is that there are no trolleys, despite the fact that
they charge you 1 Euro to use one. I can't remember having ever
landed in an airport which charges money to use trolleys upon arrival
or which has no trolleys in the arrivals area. Even those tiny remote
rural airports in Malaysian Borneo have baggage trolleys in the
arrivals area, but the Catania airport has none.
Apart from the trolley issue the Catania airport seems to be ok. I was
fearing the worst (deep Italian south, mafia etc.), but no, Catania
airport is more or less ok.
I then proceed to the car rental. I've rented a mid-sized saloon car
for 16 days with Europcar through a German reseller. The counter is in
a small building about 50m outside the airport. The staff is
professional and friendly. Initially they give me a compact car, one
class below what I ordered. When I complain they change the car into a
much larger one (Peugeot 5008), sort of a small minivan. For the same
The Europcar staff tells me I can park the car in downtown Catania. No
problem according to them as long as no luggage is visible, i.e. as
long as I keep all stuff hidden in the car boots.
It's about 1:40pm when I have finally the family and the luggage in the
car and am ready to leave. Some initial panic as I can't find the
controls, then finally we leave. The car navigation system (a Samsung
S2 smartphone with the Navigon Europe software) works flawlessly from
The airport in Catania is just 5km out of town, so driving into the
city centre takes not much time. It's just that the road setup is a bit
unusual, so I feel a bit uneasy to drive on the streets. And I'm not
yet used to the size and shape of this car and the controls.
We park the car very close to Duomo square, near the fish market. It's
2pm and parking is free until 3:30pm, so we'll have to come back to buy
a parking ticket. Then we start exploring Catania.
We get overwhelmed by the fish market. Very amazing place, with fish
sellers, big sword fish, very picturesque. In fact the entire market
scene is great. Soon after that we reach the Duomo square. Very nice
and would look even better if the sun was shining and there was the
It's 2:15pm and we still have had no lunch, except for a sandwich
served at 11am on the AirBerlin flight. There is a small restaurant
next to the Duomo square promising authentic Sicilian food. Not cheap
though, since a dish of noodles starts at 10 Euro. But we can't find
any other restaurant in the immediate neighbourhood, so we decide to
have some quick lunch in this place.
Big mistake, as this turns out to be an overpriced tourist trap. The
pizza is thin and burnt, the French fries are burnt as well, and they
charge us 12 Euro simply for using the table (four "coperto" at 3 Euro
each, one per person, even the small kids pay that). Total of 37 Euro
for two pizzas, the French fries and one bottle of water. I guess that
for the rest of the trip we'll avoid whenever possible Sicilian
At 3:15pm we continue exploring Catania. Actually we don't get far,
because Shirley and Natasha are tired and can't walk. We just walk
around a bit the area. It's sort of nice, although not too impressive.
Would probably be nicer if it wasn't raining and the sun was shining
Shortly after 4pm we get back to the car. The idea would be to get to
the hotel and on the way to stop at a shopping mall where to buy some
food, shop around and have dinner.
Somehow the navigation system chooses not to use the motorway, which in
fact is too far inland and guides us through a maze of streets in
Catania, then through a maze of streets outside of Catania. Really
complicated to get to Acireale where the hotel is. The streets are
very, very narrow and there is a lack of street signs (I often wonder
how fast I'm allowed to drive). When it gets dark, it is difficult to
see the street border because it is not marked.
We stop at a supermarket along the way where we buy some groceries,
then finally reach the hotel. Surprise, surprise near the hotel there
is a big shopping mall, the type we have been looking for.
In the evening we just stay in the hotel.
- Mt Etna - Acireale
All Seasons, Acireale. This morning we discover that the breakfast is
really excellent. Buffet type, wide choice of things to eat, fresh
fruits (even pineapple). There is even a machine into which you put an
orange and which generates freshly squeezed orange juice.
Weather: sunny weather the
whole day. The
temperatures are mild, probably around +15 or more at sea level. On Mt
Etna it's still sunny but quite fresh, with a very strong wind blowing
We get up, have breakfast and at 11am leave the
hotel and drive towards Mt Etna. Initially we drive along the coast
towards the north for a while, then at one point we follow the
indications of the Navigon navigation system and turn left. By the way,
beautiful countryside and great light on this December morning.
After a number of intermediate photo stops we reach the Zafferana
village shortly before 12pm.
I must say that we are driving relatively slowly, since we are not in a
hurry and the roads anyway are quite horrible. They are very often very
narrow and we need to turn left and right very often. I wonder if it's
the navigation system which is sending us on a weird route or if really
this is the only way to reach Mt Etna from Acireale.
Zafferana is sort of cute, but not too interesting and after about 20
minutes we leave for Mt Etna, by turning left at the Tamoil petrol
The road finally improves, as we get out of the village areas. It's no
longer a maze of narrow alleys with frequent intersections. It's a
decent mountain road which allows to drive at a bit faster speeds
(although actually most of the time you may not/cannot drive faster
Great views of Mt Etna covered with snow. Especially the contrast of
the black lava stone with the white snow is striking. Along the way we
see cars with snowmans on the front windscreens driving down from Mt
Etna. Apparently it's a local custom to drive up to Mt Etna, make a
snowman on the car and drive down to the sea.
Shortly after 1pm we reach the Rifugio Sapienza mountain station at
1920m altitude, which apparently is the highest point you can reach by
car. We are now surrounded by snow fields and I'd guess that the snow
must have started around 1600m above sea level.
To continue towards Mt Etna there is a cablecar, the Funivia dell'Etna.
Quite pricey, as we pay a total of 85 Euro for the four of us (kids pay
15 Euro, adults a steep 28.75 Euro).
Later I realise that the hill station of this cable car lies only at
2520m (i.e. 600m higher), making this cablecar ticket price even less
The scenery in any case is impressive. It's slopes of black and brown
lava stone with white snow streaks. Also this panorama with the snow
mountain on one side and the Mediterranean sea on the other side is
There is still not that much snow, probably it's too early in the
season. This is a skiing area, with lifts and cablecars designed to
bring skiers up, but at the moment the ski slopes are not properly
covered with snow.
We reach the top station of the Etna cablecar at 1:40pm. It consists of
a building which houses a shop and a restaurant. From here you can
continue with a short skilift to a higher level. Outside of the
building it's cold and there is strong wind.
There is the option to continue with a minibus to a place called
Montagnola. The cost is 26 Euro per adult + an obligatory guide for 9
Euro. Two adults + two kids must be close to 100 Euro. A quick check on
a map shows that this Montagnola list just at 2670m, only 150 metres
higher than where we are now. Not worth spending so much money for such
a short trip.
Since outside the wind is very strong, I leave Shirley with the kids in
the restaurant and continue on my own to a higher place from which
there is a better view of Mt Etna. Walking up the slopes is quite a
challenge, because I'm not used to the thin air and initially struggle
a bit with the breathing. And then there is this very strong wind
blowing into my face.
While walking up I run into people who are getting down and
back to the cablecar station. I have a chat with a group of tourists
from Sardinia, who in the end insist that I drink a glass of wine with
them. I decline because I still need to walk a bit and the conditions
are so challenging. I don't need alcohol in my blood right now.
Essentially, if you walk a bit from the cablecar hill station, you
reach a point from which you have a nice view of the summit of Mt Etna
and of the Mediterranean sea. Really an impressive view, with the snow,
lava fields, the sea. What a contrast.
While walking back I notice that there is something looking like a
mini-crater from whose rim there are gas emissions.
I'm back at the cablecar station at 3pm. We then take the cablecar to
get back down to the car and at 3:35pm start driving back to Acireale.
The idea is to head to this Il Ciclope mall (the one near the hotel)
and spend the rest of the
day relaxing there, shopping, having some food etc.
It takes quite some time to reach Acireale, more than I would have
imagined. In fact we are at the mall only at 5pm, after having driven
for well over an hour across a crazy maze of Sicilian roads.
The mall turns out to be a disappointment. It's not what we were
thinking it would be. There is no food court area, only two cafes
serving a very limited choice of food, mostly sandwiches and simple
ready-made meals. I finally get SIM cards for the mobile phones (15
Euro with 7.50 Euro of airtime, 23 cents/minute for calls and a 250MB
Internet package valid for one week).
We do some more shopping, then eat something in a cafe. Not worth
mentioning, the kids have each a chocolate pancake as dinner, Shirley
and I have an ice cream. Later in the hotel we eat more sandwiches.
From a culinary perspective our Sicily trip has so far been well below
expectations. We haven't been able so far to find good Sicilian food,
were ripped off in a restaurant and now are having difficulties even
finding restaurants. We see very few restaurants along the way.
Hopefully tomorrow the situation will improve when we visit Taormina.
After the mall we head back to the hotel and spend the evening there.