Catania: Hustle and ash.

Nausica, our incredible AirBnB host, picked us up from the train station a) because she’s rad, b) because she said we’d get totally lost otherwise and wanted to make sure we got there ok. Instantly, we loved her—her short purple-tainted hair, her trendy style, her infectious smile and friendly chatter as we drove across town to our home for the next three days. As we passed, she pointed out markers in town which we would find during our walkabouts in the following days; the market, the bus station, the main square, the shopping streets. As we pulled up to her home, she mentioned that she would be heading out to meet some friends for a drink, and we were welcome to join them if we wanted. Um, did you say, “Join for drinks?” We were so in. Before leaving, she couldn’t help herself and pulled out a map of her beloved Catania and proceeded to point out and mark all of the spectacular places that we had to visit during our stay. My mind started exploding, “How the heck are we gunna fit all this in! I want to do it aaaaaaaaaaaaall!” Our eyes were spinning, but we had a night to attend to, so we did a Superwoman change and ran out the door with our new friend to see what Catania’s night had in store for us. The next day we went to every single place (and added a few more) that Nausica circled on our map. I learned that Catania is a city that has been destroyed several times by Mt. Etna, which is one of the world’s most active volcanos and lies a mere eighteen miles to the north. In certain parts of the city (see photos below of the ancient colosseums), you can see the old peering out into the new. It gave an eery feel to know that we were walking on top of multiple layers of civilizations below, each one preserved within a molten lava grave. The last photo is of a rose that our waiter made for us out of tin foil when we left his barbecue stand full bellied and tipsy from a platter full of meat and glasses brimming with Grillo. The people in Sicily, and especially in Catania, are some of the most genuine, friendly, and down to earth people in all of Italy. This I say from my small burst of time there, but it is very much a sentiment shared by every Sicilian you meet—they are very proud of who they are and where they come from. Catania has gotten its share of international press this year, with hundreds of refugees landing on its soil daily—the citizens struggling to figure out how to assimilate the masses into their tiny, yet thick cultural soup. As far as I could see—and feel, the love for Catania and its hustle and ash was stronger than any other city we had been. It’s as though thousands of years of Etna’s soot was flowing in the blood of every person you passed. No matter what trials and tribulations they have to go through, the blood and ash flow as one.