Friday, November 28, 2008

A Sunday stroll through Catania's historic center

I found out last weekend on the way to a play date that Sunday mornings spent in Catanaia's historic center can be very pleasant. There is definitely less traffic, parking is less difficult (and free) and there is a subdued serenity just not possible during the hustle and bustle of the work week.

We parked where we often park, just before the Porta Uzeda--the arched doorway that leads to the Piazza del Duomo--along the side street in front of a series of antique shops. From here we bumped along by foot with bambino in stroller, his whole body vibrating from the uneven cobblestone paved streets in this part of town (thank goodness for those safety straps!), towards the Duomo (for some pictures of Catania's main monuments and those I mention, click here).

We hoped to visit the ancient underground Roman baths, the Terme di Achilliane, located beneath the church and open to the public only this year. The terme can be visited with a guide based at the Museo Diocesano, just a few doors away from the cathedral. Unfortunately, no guide was to be had due to a convention. Since having been amazed by the unexpected and hidden beauty of this site during an earlier visit, I have been anxious to get hubby down there to see (and hear) a section of the underground river Amenano that flows beneath Catania rushing by, portions of the ancient Roman water pipe system, and a few recovered rooms of the once stuccoed and tiled baths. It really is spectacular, but we would have to wait until another day for our visit.

So we crossed the piazza for the backup plan, a second breakfast at the bar Caffe del Duomo, one of the best cafe's of the city. Here we enjoyed a quick espresso and hubby inhaled a raviolo, a delicious breakfast pastry with a sweet ricotta cheese filling. Usually a little too sweet for my taste, but this raviolo was exceptional and truly irresistible as it had come straight from the oven and was just the right amount of hot, crispy and dripping with ricotta to tempt the whole family, toddler included.

From there a walk to our friends' house meant a lovely 10-minute stroll through Catania's historic center. The sky was perfect blue, white puffy clouds floated overhead, and sunlight streamed down creating wonderful effects on the architecture making for a perfect Sicilian moment. From the piazza we took a left on Via Vittorio Emmanuele and a few blocks later turned up Via Crocifieri, famous for its many baroque churches. After passing under the Arch of San Benedetto we found ourselves perched on top of a hill with a clear view of the long avenue, Via di Sangiuliano, which seemed to stretch all the way down to the big blue sea below. What a photo op! Just a few more blocks further up on Via Crociferi, and we had reached our destination.

Oh do I love their building and house. From the street you have no idea how special this apartment is, as it is hidden by your everyday facade and the largest (and heaviest) wooden door I have ever walked through, no exaggeration. Once over the threshold, you enter into the courtyard, and look up to a perfect plant-filled balcony on one side (that's it in the photo up top), surrounded by high walls and arched windows on the other sides. Parking the stroller on the ground floor, we took a deep breath and hiked up five flights of stairs. It is well worth the effort because once you are inside this apartment you feel like you are in an ancient urban tree house. The long, L-shaped floor plan links the different dome-ceiling rooms together and from each one there is a different view. The views can be especially appreciated from the little balconies perched on at least three of the windowed rooms. With incredible views of the duomo, sea and cityscape on one side and Etna on the other, you just don't know which to look first. Yes, I have a serious case of apartment envy!

Amidst all the play date fun I managed to escape the toddler frenzy and step out on the balconies to appreciate the views and take a few photos....hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

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