We have booked a fair few early flights over the years, but I think today's may be one of the earliest ever: 06.20 from Gatwick. Once we worked it backwards, this meant airport parking was booked for 4am and, as the drive to Gatwick takes 2.5 hours even in optimal conditions, this required leaving home at 01.30. It was a painful feeling last night when we set our alarms for 1am... and I have to confess that when mine went off, I gave serious consideration to just going back to sleep and not going on holiday at all
I did drag myself out of bed in the end though, and we set off to Gatwick in the darkness. The journey went well until we realised that the M1 was completely closed for overnight roadworks between two junctions, which necessitated us following a somewhat long and torturous diversion. That added a bit on to the journey time, so it was closer to 04.15 when we ultimately arrived at our airport parking.
Tim had booked the cheapest possible parking, which turned out to be at a hotel in the general vicinity of Gatwick. We had to pay an additional £3 each per direction for the privilege of using the airport shuttle, which was a little bit unusual, but otherwise it was fine and we got to the airport more quickly that I expected.
Our destination for the coming week is Sicily and today we were flying to Catania with Norwegian. Check-in was extremely efficient, as was security, and by 5am we were sitting in the airport Wetherspoons eating breakfast It felt a bit weird to me to be flying with Norwegian to a sunny destination, as it's an airline we've only ever used in the past for flying to cold places (Norway and Finland), but the planes are more spacious than most budget airlines and we had a nice flight.
After such an early start I fell asleep pretty much during take off and only woke up again once we were over the Alps.
From there the plane flew down the coast of Italy but we were on the wrong side of the aircraft to see anything except for a lot of sea! It was around 09.30 when we caught our first glimpse of the coast of Sicily.
Catania is on the eastern coast of Sicily, and so we flew across the middle of the island as we came into land. We will be exploring some of the interior of the island later this week with the help of a rental car. First impressions are that it doesn't look very green!
Ironically for a day when we weren't in a rush to be anywhere, our plane landed slightly ahead of schedule. As we taxied towards the terminal building, I got my first view of Mt Etna.
Any time which we gained on the flight, we lost again while waiting for our bags to be unloaded from the plane Eventually they arrived though and we stepped outside into the baking heat to track down our airport bus. Catania airport is only a few kilometres outside of the city centre and there's a regular bus service to the main train station, which costs €4 each. Unfortunately it was one of those airport buses which isn't really designed either for large volumes of people or for transporting luggage, with the result that it was rather full and we had to stand. The journey into Catania was fairly short though, and within 20 minutes we were disembarking outside the train station.
The apartment we are staying in for the next three nights is located about a mile away from the station and I had booked it mainly on the basis that it was possible to check in at midday. That still gave us a bit of time to kill, so we took a slow walk in the general direction, stopping for an ice-cream when we were in danger of arriving too early.
We've got a lot of different accommodation booked for this trip so I couldn't really remember what this place was like, but it turned out to be quite spacious We've got a large bedroom...
...which has a little balcony overlooking the street...
...and a nice kitchen/dining room.
It's worked out as a about £48/night which seems like good value, especially as it's quite centrally located
I was in definite need of a nap by this stage, so it was several hours later before we headed out to explore Catania.
The guidebook wasn't terribly complimentary, describing "a traffic-choked city centre" "largely constructed from suffocating black-grey volcanic stone". While there were some dark-stone buildings, first impressions were that it was a much prettier city than the guidebook had given it credit for.
Our apartment was a short walk away from the church of St Francis of Assisi.
Not far from there is Catania's cathedral, which is dedicated to St Agatha.
The cathedral is situated in a beautiful square...
...which is home to a rather unusual monument featuring an elephant.
Elephants have historically been a symbol of Catania and in ancient times, the locals apparently venerated a statue of an elephant which was said to have the magical power of being able to predict when Mount Etna was going to erupt. Today's elephant statue is made from lava stone and was erected after a serious earthquake in 1693 which destroyed much of the city.
We strolled through various squares in the city centre, trying to stick to the shade to avoid the baking heat. It was well over 30 degrees in the sunshine.
It was about 4pm by this point which meant that we'd napped through the Italian restaurants' definition of lunchtime, and the owner of our apartment had given us the impression that 8pm might be an early time to try and get dinner. We hadn't eaten since Gatwick and I was absolutely starving by this point, so we did something we're not proud of and followed signs to McDonalds from one of the central squares. We have tried and failed before to get proper food in southern Italy outside of official meal times, most notably in Campobasso, and come to the conclusion that it just isn't possible, so McDonalds was an opportunity not to be missed
McDonalds was actually not far away from a square where there were supposed to be some Roman remains.
We weren't initially blown away by them...
...but later realised that if we walked to the opposite side of the square, there were more obvious remains of a theatre on display.
The owner of our apartment had recommended that we walk down a road called Via Crociferi, which he said had some of the best examples of baroque architecture in Catania, so we set out to try and find it.
It turned out to be a street completely dominated by churches...
...many of which were so big that we couldn't get far enough back from them to take decent photos.
It was really beautiful though
And overall Catania definitely seems more attractive than the guidebook led us to believe
I was expecting to find the same level of chaos as in Naples, but so far it seems comparatively calm (and the streets aren't full of uncollected rubbish, which is a huge improvement over Naples!)
We were feeling tired again by this point so went to the supermarket to pick up some food for tonight and then headed back to the apartment for an early night. (The photo below is our apartment building. It's a lot nicer inside than it looks from the outside )
So far first impressions of Sicily are good and we're looking forward to exploring more tomorrow