Joining a friend of ours at Etnapolis, supposedly the largest shopping mall in southern Italy, seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, we had driven by countless times on the way to other places, and from the outside the modern blue-glass box is quite attractive. I also fancied the large fountain-slash-pond out front with numerous bridges criss-crossing it at different points.
First impression is that the mall is located next to the highway. More specifically, it is to the southwest of Catania, just past the town of Misterbianco (I know, weird name, supposedly derived from a monastery called 'monastero bianco'--translation, the 'white monastery'--not so strange anymore).
Anyway, the mall is past the congestion of the very overdeveloped and unattractive town (to be fair, I have never really been there, so I am just repeating second hand reviews of the place), but--here's the surprise--just behind it is quasi Tuscan-like countryside with the town of Belpasso at the foot of an unobstructed Mount Etna. I took the opportunity to take a bunch of photos of this clear view of Etna with her peak covered with snow. A sight for sore eyes and hope you can sense some of the beauty from the photo posted here.
Inside the mall is another story. It wasn't extremely crowded, but the noise levels seemed unbearable, as did the lack of natural light. (I know you're probably thinking, 'but of course, what were you expecting, this is a mall you're talking about'!) The stores seemed to be competing for the loudest music selections, and just stepping into one was enough to bring on a wave of nausea (oh where oh where has the suburban girl in me gone to?).
On the bright side, the noise levels did not seem to phase the bambino one bit. And he just loved the pet store and ran back and forth between the fish tanks, bunnies, birds and puppies. The kids corner happened to be just in front of the pet store and consisted of obnoxious kiddy rides, each one with bright lights and its own loud music, not exactly suited for small toddlers (he was curious, but not willing to get on any).
Yes, after only a half hour the grown ups were ready to go.
But we stuck it out. We still had to meet our friend.
To kill time we ended up outside in the chilly air checking out the fountain out front. That lasted until the toddler discovered a deposit of cigarette butts, and we then wandered towards the parking lot behind the mall for my Mt. Etna photo session. Here we spotted an open and empty bus--what an opportunity to let the toddler have his first experience running around in a cozy bus sans passengers to disturb! He was in absolute toddler heaven and did not want to get off.
The bus driver finally arrived and we turned down the kind offer to ride around with him for his 10-minute loop, managing to convince the toddler it was time to move on. At the same time our friend finally showed up. Fortunately, the fresh air had given us a much needed second wind and we marched back inside. We still had to join him in the electronics store (sensory overload!). I peaked into the Mondadori bookstore, a very decent chain. Checked out the Levi's store, but then realized that buying Levi's in Europe really makes no sense. A peak into a very cute children's shop and a Champion store (you know the maker of sporty stuff) just pushed us over the edge and that was that.
Time to go home.
Sorry Etnapolis, but chances are I will never be coming back again.
On second thought, when the memory of this first visit becomes distant and vague, and if I ever find myself REALLY desperate for American mainstream culture, I may be driven to come back and try a) the Tex-Mex restaurant (risky business) and b) the Warner Village movie theater. I imagine it has comfortable seats, big screens, popcorn, and the full range of mainstream American movies dubbed in Italian. A good piece of information to store away for future bouts of homesickness.
I am sorry for such a poor review of Etnapolis and my intention is not to deter anyone out there who really likes malls. This is an above-average mall with your usual mall fare and could be picked up and plopped down just about anywhere the world and blend right in (maybe with slightly better food options than the norm as this is a Sicilian mall we are talking about). I guess it is this predictability that can make malls so appealing. And I know that malls can have other advantages, too: one-stop shopping, good rainy day activity,...help me out here, there must be other nice things to say about shopping malls that aren't coming to mind???