After wrapping up the year that was with my last post, I popped over to England for Christmas with Helen and her parents and a couple of weeks in slightly colder, slightly grayer weather than we’ve got down here in Madrid. Before returning from our holiday excursion, though, Helen and I stopped into Dublin for a couple days to ring in the new year with her friend, Carmel, and to take an all-too-brief tour of the city.
This was my first time visiting Dublin (and Ireland for that matter), so I was excited to add it to the list of visited countries. It was a brief stopover, though, so if you’re looking for tips on what to do in Dublin or wondering if I hit up your favorite Dublin hotspots, chances are this post isn’t for you.
Which is not to say I didn’t see a lot. We packed in as much as we could in our short time in Dublin.
It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but across a total of two full days—New Year’s Eve & Day—and a brief morning drive before our flight out on the 2nd, we managed to see Phoenix Park (twice), the Forty Foot (and the Dublin coastline), Clondalkin Round Tower (it’s both a tower and round), Temple Bar (though we didn’t stop here; as Carmel explained, “It’s a tourist area with overpriced drinks and people playing Irish music.”), and St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Up above you’ll see the famous Molly Malone Statue in front of St. Andrew’s Church. Can you guess which part of the statue tourists like to touch?
New Year’s Eve in Dublin, Ireland
We didn’t go out clubbing in Dublin for New Year’s Eve, which I’m sure is a thing people do. That isn’t really our scene (or at least not mine). Instead, we stayed in with Carmel, a few bottles of wine and a fifth of whiskey. Carmel is currently hosting a woman from Ukraine and that woman’s daughter was visiting while Helen and I were there. The mother actually went out on the town for NYE, but the four of us—one American, one Brit, one Irish, one Ukrainian—stayed in, drank, ate chocolates, and discussed life.
It might not have been a Lonely Planet guide to New Year’s in Dublin, but it was a memorable night and a chance to do what I like most, hear people’s stories.
New Year’s Day involved two major stops.
The first, Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was an absolute treat. I’d never heard of it and had no idea there was this big, beautiful park right in the middle of the city. We initially drove through on the morning of NYE (before going into town for lunch) and then on the 1st, we took a walk through it. We saw the giant Papal Cross, the gate to the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence (that must be a prime gig), and all the deer that roam freely through the park.
The Forty Foot
Later in the day, Carmel drove us along the coast until we reached the Forty Foot. You’ve possibly heard of it because Matt Damon was photographed there not long ago going in for a swim.
The water is freezing off of the coast of Dublin, but tons of people like swimming at the Forty Foot, including Carmel and Helen (I stuck to photography duties; my hands are cold enough without submerging them in arctic waters). As it turns out, it’s a bit of a New Year’s Day tradition to take an ice dip at the Forty Foot, so we weren’t the only ones there, even though we went later in the day as the sun was starting to set.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
Before we flew out on the 2nd, another of Helen’s Irish friends, Dawn, offered to drive us around so we could see a bit more of the sites and sights of Dublin. One of our brief stops was the Kilmainham Gaol, the former prison where the UK government used to hold and execute Irish revolutionaries before the nation’s independence.
We spent a little extra time around St Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the city’s numerous ornate churches (as Carmel said when I asked her to identify one cathedral, “I don’t know, we have a lot of churches here.”). St Patrick’s is the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland and, as Helen likes to say, has been around longer than my country. The famous satirist, Jonathan Swift, was at one time the dean of the church. To this day, it continues to be a central structure in Dublin’s religious culture.
There are two things I did not get to do this trip: tour the Guinness Storehouse or drink my way through the Jameson Distillery. I know, sad face. But, don’t be too bummed, because I did get to have my very first “real” Guinness (I have it on good authority from at least a dozen people that Guinness tastes best in Ireland; which, I suppose it did) and I consumed a couple liters of Irish whiskey, including Jameson, Bushmills (American Oak Cask Finish), and one or two others. I also returned with a bottle of The Busker, which I’ve yet to crack because my liver is on strike.
There are undoubtedly hundreds of things to do in Dublin that I missed, but, hey, this was my first visit and I fully expect to be back. Go ahead and sound off in the comments what I should do the next time I’m in Dublin. Until then, I always have my whiskey to take me back.
Is it just me or was this a reeeally long year? It feels like spring was a decade ago. Perhaps it’s because the summer was the hottest on record, the unrelenting heat making every day just drag on. Even more than 2020’s pandemic-elongated year, 2022 has felt markedly divided into periods. Three distinct ones.
First, of course, there was the winter/spring period. I’m sure some interesting stuff happened in the first months of 2022, but since that was 17 years ago, it’s hard to remember. I think there was a party or two. Whatever happened, it all culminated in a two week vacation to Greece (Athens and Hydra) and Sicily, Italy, my first trip to either country.
Upon returning from that trip, the summer immediately kick into high gear. From June to September, Madrid was smothered in a bracing heat, only occasionally breaking enough to breathe. Helen and I stayed in the city most of that time, only getting away to the slightly cooler Cercedilla for a weekend with her parents. Otherwise, our only escape was frequent trips to Madrid’s various pools, which, thankfully, are cheap but very nice.
Helen and I also saw The Smile in concert during one night of Madrid’s Noches del Botanico. If you’re unfamiliar, The Smile is the side project of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (both of Radiohead) with jazz drummer Tom Skinner. Their album, A Light for Attracting Attention, splits the difference between Radiohead’s In Rainbow era and Thom’s solo material on Anima. With a slightly more improvisational spirit. A highly enjoyable concert experience (even if some random girl dumped her red drink on my white shirt two minutes before the concert began).
Then came October; the heat broke and we had a couple months of pleasant weather. That meteorological shift was marked by a trip to the south of Spain where I visited Cadiz for the first time and spent a week on the beach at El Palmar de Vejer. If you haven’t been, add it to the list.
This was perhaps the most prolonged autumn I recall having experienced since moving to Madrid, with a sustained string of warm days and cool nights, the leaves gradually changing colors. Of course, that all led into December, which has easily been the wettest I’ve experienced here. It might not be record-breaking (yet), but it’s notable that the sun has been in hiding the majority of the month (though it’s peeking through today), and more rain is expected up through Christmas.
But, we won’t be here for that. Helen and I are hopping on a plane soon and will be back in the UK for Christmas, followed by New Year’s Eve in Ireland—which will make it three new countries for me in 2022. Huzzah.
Highlights of 2022
At times, with the various posts about my trips, this managed to be the “10 Cities/10 Years Travel Blog.” But, of course, most of the year didn’t involve travel. There were long stretches of time that I was just here in Madrid, working, listening to music, writing, listening to music, seeing friends, and listening to music. There was a lot of music this year. (Last.fm can confirm.)
I don’t have a Top 10 Albums of the Year, per se (I love end-of-year lists, but some albums need more time to be appreciated), but these are the 2022 releasees that have gotten the most play in my ears this year, in no particular order (and with the possibility some will fall off in the future):
The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention (Favorite track: The Smoke)
SZA – SOS (Favorite track: Nobody Gets Me)
Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa (Favorite track: The Devil & Mister Jones)
Hurray for the Riff Raff – Life on Earth (Favorite track: SAGA)
Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows (Favorite track: Foxglove Through the Clearcut)
Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever (Favorite track: My Love)
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (Favorite track: Mirror)
Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time (Favorite track: Western Wind)
The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out (Favorite track: Mark on You)
I wish I could do the same for 2022 movies and books, but I rarely catch up with those until the next year (at the earliest). I did see a couple new releases; while I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped, Everything Everywhere All at Once was probably the most fun at had in theaters this year. Off the top of my head, the best movie I watched this year was Florian Zeller’s The Father (from 2020). There’s a slew of new releases coming out in the States right now that I hope reach Spain in the next few months.
As far as favorite books, again, I rarely read anything that came out in a given year. The only one I managed was Devil House by John Darnielle (lead singer of The Mountain Goats); definitely a fun read, especially if you’re interested in the Satanic Panic era of modern American history. Darnielle’s gift, both as a songwriter and a novelist, is his unflinching empathy for people of all types, particularly the “losers.”
Other books I read and loved this year (but written before 2022) were Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Andrea Levy’s Small Island, and Richard Wright’s Pagan Spain (easily the best book I’ve ever read about Spain). I also want to give a special shout out to Sapphire’s Push, which I had always dismissed out of hand (undoubtedly for ingrained racist bias), but which I found to be a reliably effective dramatic work.
To the Future
As far as personal creative output, it’s felt a bit underwhelming, despite finally finishing a novel that began as a short story idea over a decade ago, getting published in Newsweek, doing my first public talk about the 10 Cities Project, and bringing this very blog out of hibernation. I’m hoping 2023 will allow me to build on that momentum into something more productive and sustained. We’ll see.
But, whatever the year brings, I’ll try to be right back here recapping the year that was next December.
I hope your year was more ups than downs and more Scotch than soda.
A week ago I spoke in front of a small gathering about my 10 Cities project at the Secret Kingdoms, a recently opened English-language bookstore here in Madrid. It was a surprisingly brisk hour (for me, at least) in which I shared a few favorite stories from that decade of my life and read some of my writing, including an excerpt from Yahweh’s Children.
At the end of my talk, there was a Q&A where the audience asked a number of interesting questions about my travels and the motivations for my choices. Even though I’ve answered questions about 10 Cities for well over a decade now, there were still some fresh inquiries, which were a fun challenge to tackle on the spot.
One of the most common questions I get is, of course, “How did you choose your 10 cities?” With the half dozen interviews and articles I’ve done, and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers over the years, I’ve answered that question countless times (short answer: mostly, circumstances decided for me). But, I realized the other day, never once have I turned the question on the inquisitor to ask, “What 10 cities would you choose?”
So, I’m doing it now. Whether you’re a new reader or you’ve been on this journey with me since the early days, I want to know, what 10 cities would you have picked if you were doing this project? You can stick to the same limitations I was under and select ones from your home country, or you can just pick any 10 cities throughout the world. You do you. The only firm rule is, in this hypothetical, you will live in each city for 1 year exactly, and none of them can be your hometown (sorry New Yorkers).
Feel free to answer in the comments, or on Facebook, or Twitter, or simply write it on a piece of paper, bury it, and have your grandkids digs it up in 100 years.
Another Spanish city checked off. This time, Cadiz.
After a sweltering summer in Madrid, we took our first break from the Spanish capital since our May trip to Greece and Italy to visit one of Spain’s many southern beach towns: El Palmar de Vejer in the region of Andalusia.
While being the most populous autonomous community in the country, home to Seville, Málaga, and Granada (to name a few of its better-known cities) Andalusia has historically been one of the nation’s poorest regions. Interesting tidbit: The Catalonia Independence movement is partially rooted in the wealthier Catalans resenting their taxes subsidizing the poorer Andalusians. But, hey, whatcha gonna do? We live in a society.
On Saturday morning, we took a train to the city of Cadiz, which is also the name of the province that includes El Palmar and numerous other beach communities. There we spent the weekend before bussing it to El Palmar Monday morning.
In many ways, Cadiz resembles the other Spanish southern beach cities I’ve visited, including Valencia and Málaga. There are the requisite cathedrals and churches towering around every corner; citrus trees of various colors and sizes abound along both the ornate and unremarkable city blocks; seafood is plentiful (especially fried); and outside the tourist sections, drinks are a steal.
But Cadiz, Spain has its own unique charms and I do say, I think it’s one of the prettiest I’ve visited in the country. I’ll let the photos speak for me, but between Playa de La Caleta, Parque Genovés, and Jardines de Alameda Apodaca (with its towering, winding ficus trees), it’s one of the most charmingly designed seafronts in Spain. (As always, click on any photos in the galleries to see them bigger.)
El Palmar de Vejer, Spain
After two days in Cadiz, we boarded an early morning bus and rode roughly an hour and a half east to El Palmar. There we had rented an apartment just across the street from the beach, at one end of what could generously be called “the city strip.” El Palmar de Vejer is a pretty quintessential beach town, which means most of the development happens along the road that runs parallel with the beach. Traverse more than a couple blocks back from the seafront and the area reveals itself to be a very literal desert.
Fine for us, because our plan for our five-day stay was to sit on the beach, read our books, swim occasionally, and play a whole lot of cards over drinks.
Which is not to suggest there’s nothing to do there. There are surf schools every other building and opportunities to ride horses and do other activities. But after a long, hot summer, we wanted less activity, not more. There were plenty of other tourists there to keep the surf schools occupied, mostly from Germany. I heard more German that week than English or Spanish.
Each morning, we arose for sunrise (which wasn’t until 8:20ish, so it wasn’t too bad), and each evening we returned to the beach to watch the sunset. Helen was brave enough to get in the water a few mornings for a sea view of the emerging sun, but even with her love of cold-water swimming, she didn’t stay in long. (I stuck to quick dips in the afternoon when I could count on the sun to thaw my frozen limbs once I was out.)
We took long walks on the beach, ate most of our meals at the various bars and cafes that lined Paseo Marítimo, and made a few feline friends, including one who joined us for a sunset viewing. And, of course, Helen swam in a half dozen swimming suits while I took pictures.
We did get out of El Palmar one day, walking down the impressively long (and windy) beach to Zahora, another local beach town. There we had noontime drinks by the beach before lunch. After eating, we realized we were too hot (and I too drunk) to walk back in the midday sun. Unfortunately, we quickly found out that no taxis would come by to take us back. Walking was our only choice.
We struck out along the road back to El Palmar in the scorching sun with the seemingly hopeless plan to hitchhike. This may surprise some readers, but I have never actually successfully hitchhiked before. So, it was a great relief (and surprise) when a Portuguese/Argentinian couple picked us up and drove us back to our rental.
The couple owns Verde Agua, so if you’re ever in the north of Portugal and need a nice place to stay, check out their establishment.
Back to Cadiz, Spain
After five days in El Palmar, we needed to catch a bus back to Cadiz. A tip for anyone who is going to visit El Palmar. You need to pick up the bus from the same stop where you’ll be dropped off. Expect the bus to be up to 30 minutes later than the schedule states, and when you get to the first stop at the station in Conil de la Frontera, you’ll likely have to switch buses to continue on.
Back in Cadiz, we had one more night to enjoy walking about the city. I’ve said it before, the walkability of European cities is a huge selling point, and one that only a small handful of American cities comes close to replicating. Cadiz isn’t a particularly large ciudad (just over 115,000 residents and falling), but it has plenty to occupy a couple weekends.
As we enjoyed a few pre-dinner drinks in the Plaza de la Catedral (where the massive Catedral de Cadiz stands), we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by a crowd. It turned out that we had chosen to spend our last night in Cadiz during the Festividad de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary; alternatively, Virgin of the Rosary), one of the countless region-specific Catholic holidays that occur throughout the year.
As with most such festivals, there was a procession of elaborately dressed priests, choir boys, and a marching band, along with the requisite bling-festooned floats. We broke away from the crowds to have dinner, after which we came across the procession once again, this time in the Plaza de San Juan de Dios. It was all very…religious.
If you choose to visit Cadiz, I can’t recommend highly enough staying at Pensión España, which is ideally situated, well priced, and very clean, albeit no frills. It’s also just around the corner from Plaza de San Juan de Dios and the delightfully indulgent (if a bit Instagrammed out) El Café de Ana.
While it might not be high on the list of must-see cities in Spain, if you get the opportunity, a visit to Cadiz is well worth your time. And visit El Palmar, too; if for nothing else, for the sunrises/sets alone. Just make sure to put some rocks in your pockets or the Levante winds will carry you away.
P.S. If you’re in Madrid on Wednesday night, October 19, I’ll be speaking about 10 Cities/10 Years and more at the Secret Kingdoms in the Barrio de las Letras. Get tickets here.
Hello new visitors. It’s quite possible you’ve found this site because of the Newsweek article. If you haven’t already read it, I recently wrote about 10 Cities/10 Years for Newsweek’s “My Turn” feature, which is a space for people to share their unique life experiences. In the article, I discuss the details of the project, what I learned about myself through doing it, and what I learned about America in general.
It was an honor to write for the feature and I’m quite pleased how the article came out. You can read it here:
City living is a great way to be reminded that America is uniquely complex, that there are millions of Republicans in “blue” America and millions of Democrats in “red” America. One of the silliest notions I’ve ever heard is that there is a “Real America.” According to many politicians, because I grew up in a town of less than 80,000 people, I’m from “Real America.” This concept, that “Real America” exists in the heartlands of the country, outside of our main metropolises, led me to wonder: What does that make the over 15 million Americans I lived among, in big cities, from 2005 to 2015?
After Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, I heard frequently about the “liberal bubble,” but that never fit with the country I experienced. In the cities I lived in—many considered liberal strongholds—I met all kinds of people whose views fit more neatly in the “conservative” box. There was the transgender woman in New York who adamantly defended the U.S. government’s use of torture on terrorism suspects after 9/11. There was the co-worker in Nashville who assumed, because I am an atheist, that I “sacrificed” children—her interpretation of abortion. For that matter, there were all the residents of so-called liberal cities who went to church every Sunday. I encountered all types of political and religious views over my 10 years; rarely did they fit in an easy category.
If you’d like more background on what exactly the 10 Cities project was (and continues to be), there’s always the About section. If you want to read some stories from the road, you can check out “The Book” section (scroll down and start with the Prologue). You can also check out other Press coverage. Or just take a look around the site; you may stumble across something I’ve totally forgotten I wrote.
Whether you’re a regular reader of this site, someone who used to be a regular reader and is just checking in, or someone who came across 10 Cities/10 Years because of the Newsweek article, I’d love to hear your thoughts: on the article, on the project, on life, on the 1962 Chicago Cubs, whatever. Leave a comment, show some love.
Cheers from Madrid,
P.S. Anyone who is interested in keeping up with my ongoing adventures, including my life in Spain and future publications, can add your email address over on the righthand side.
P.P.S. If you live in Madrid or are going to be in the city in mid-October, I’ll be doing a talk about the project and my writing at The Secret Kingdoms, a recently opened English-language bookstore in Barrios de las Letras. Get tickets here.
Here concludes a three-part series with a third destination in two weeks: Catania, Sicily in Italy. After just over a week in Greece, with stops in Athens and Hydra, Helen and I tearfully parted ways with the souvlaki. But, that was okay, because our last stop overflowed with pizza, pasta, and pistachios.
Catania, Sicily, Italy
Sicily is an island just off the tip of the “toe” of Italy’s boot (not even 10 kilometers separates them in places). Formerly a province under the Roman Empire, it, like Athens, is littered with ancient ruins. Among them is a former Roman amphitheater that sits in one of the city’s busier intersections, along with other sites sprinkled through the neighborhoods.
For much of its history, Sicily was a separate kingdom, only unifying with Italy in the 19th century. The island’s deep historical roots touch the present, from the ever-present backdrop of Mt. Etna, a volcano enshrined in ancient mythology that continues to smoke daily, to its abundance of churches and religious iconography, to its still functioning Sicilian Mafia (or Cosa Nostra).
There’s also a personal history for me. When they were first married, my parents lived in Sicily for 6 months, well before I was born. My oldest brother was a baby at the time, and I’ve long heard stories of old Sicilian women simply picking him up with my non-Italian-speaking mother unable to stop them. Sicily has long existed in family lore, so I was excited to finally see it for myself.
The Sights of Catania, Sicily
While in Catania, one of Sicily’s most popular port cities, Helen and I stayed at Diletta Oasi, a charming B&B run by a talkative Sicilian woman. She kept the kitchen stocked with breakfast foods all day round and even left us a handwritten note at one point as a means of checking in on us.
Diletta Oasi is on the edge of the city center, just a few blocks away from the Catania fish market that bustles in the morning. Steps past the fish market is Piazza del Duomo, a central square filled with some of Catania’s most popular photo spots. Among them is the Fontana dell’Elefante at the center of the square, featuring Catania’s most iconic imagery, the elephant. (Elephant statues appear all around the city.)
The square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants where you can stop for a drink and enjoy the gorgeous backdrop, including the Fontana dell’Amenano.
Also on the square is Cattedrale di Sant’Agata, one of the many Roman Catholic cathedrals throughout the city. Adorned with statues and sculptures, the church is a picturesque example of Baroque architecture. The towering dome of the Catania Cathedral can be seen from miles away.
The Churches of Catania, Sicily
Though the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata may be the most photographed cathedral in Catania, Sicily (due to its proximity to tourist hotspots), its just one of numerous impressively designed churches throughout the city. There’s a slew of them that line Via Crociferi, including Chiesa di San Francesco Borgia and Chiesa di San Giuliano. You can’t turn around without spotting a cross or statue of a saint.
For my money, the most impressive church I found was the Chiesa di San Nicolò l’Arena. I had just been walking aimlessly one afternoon through a residential neighborhood when I came upon this massive structure dating back to 1687.
Inside, the church is filled with art, statues, and other stunning works of religious imagery. Paintings that depicted various saints and angels were displayed in ornate, marble altarpieces.
The most affecting room was a mausoleum dedicated to local soldiers who died in World War 1. In two alcoves, marble plaques told of the dead, while at the end of the room stood an imposing statue of an angel carrying a wounded soldier.
Adjacent to the Chiesa di San Nicolò l’Arena is the Monastero dei Benedettini di San Nicolò l’Arena. This enormous monastery, which took over 300 years to construct, is now used by the University of Catania. Its various rooms are used as lecture halls and along the marble-decorated hallways students read while staring out on two beautiful courtyards.
Sure beats the study halls at Kansas University.
The Beaches of Catania, Sicily
While the architecture and sculptures of Catania made for impressive views, it’s hard to compare with the wonders nature creates.
We, of course, had to spend some time at the coast. Our first stop was Catania’s southern beaches. A series of private beaches occupy a few miles of coastline, with free access to the water limited to random spots (we had to essentially sneak through a parking lot to get there). The major selling point of these particular beaches is the view of smoking Mt. Etna in the distance.
As nice as those were, though, we enjoyed the coastline up north more. Admittedly less beach than rocky coastline, Catania’s northern seaside is nonetheless awash in beautiful views and natural wonders. One cool feature of the coast are the Islands of the Cyclops, 500,000-year-old rock structures made of ancient volcanic lava. Like much of the land in the Mediterranean Sea, these jagged rocks played a significant role in Greek mythology.
The real feast for our eyes was the Castello Normanno (Svevo di Aci Castello), a former Norman seaside castle that was built upon a magnificent mountain of hardened lava. An imposing mix of human architecture and natural formation, Castello Normanno is nearly 1,000 years old.
As you approach it, it simply looks like a grandly designed, but somewhat modest castle. It’s only once you descend to the rocks below (in reality, a lava beach) that you grasp the imposing form of this millennium-spanning fortress. These images of Helen standing at the base of the lava mount will give you an idea of its size (you might have to squint to see her).
If there was any drawback to our accomodations, it was merely that there was no easy way to get to the coast. Going south took about a half hour bus ride (we didn’t realize we needed to buy a ticket ahead of time and ended up riding for free), and going north was roughly an hour on the bus. The views were worth it.
Swimming was difficult at these northern spots, though, because the lava rocks were sharp and the water was shallow for quite a ways (we kept forgetting our swimming shoes that we originally bought for Croatia). The sandy southern beaches were much easier to swim at, but they were, again, very shallow (I walked out maybe a quarter of a kilometer before I was no longer touching with my feet).
Thankfully, we found the “Danielino surf school” that let us sit on their deck for free so Helen could slip in for a brief swim.
Overall, the coastline of Catania did not disappoint.
The Best Food in Catania, Sicily
While the architecture and the beaches of Sicily are worth the price of admission, everyone knows the real reason to travel to Italy: the food.
The first thing we wanted was, obviously, pizza. Unfortunately, we arrived in Catania at an odd time, just after 5 in the afternoon. By the time we had checked in to Diletta Oasi and headed back out for food, it was around 6 and nobody was serving pizza. Most restaurants don’t turn on their pizza ovens until 7 or 8, which makes some sense. Spain is similarly strict about when certain meals can be eaten (don’t even try to get lunch at noon at most Spanish restaurants).
We did eventually find a restaurant just up the road from Piazza del Duomo that would serve us pizza. While it was good, my first mind-blowing pizza experience came a couple nights later when we finally got to try Pizcaria in Piazza Santa Maria dell’ Indirizzo: Diavola for me, and Norma for Helen. Under a canopy of colorful umbrellas, we enjoyed Italian perfection.
On our last night in the city, I had a third pizza, a pesto-based one. It was excellent, but Pizcaria won the trip. Naturally, we had pasta a couple places, including at Al Tubo near the Castello Normanno, all of which was delicious.
One evening, we walked over to Via Gemmellaro, a rapidly developed avenue of the city that is now a promenade of hip bars and Italian and non-Italian eateries. Based on the signs hanging from balconies above the road, not all the neighbors were happy with the transformation of their street.
Like revitalized neighborhoods in cities across Europe and the States, it’s clear from the surrounding, downtrodden areas that new development has transformed this portion of Catania into one that’s now making money (for whom, I don’t know). The gentrification vs. revitalization debate is certainly a worthy one, just not one I’m prepared to jump into here.
We went down to the area to try out a place called Vermut for, appropriately enough, a vermouth aperitivo. It was only 6:45 and we were told we had to be out by 9 because there was a reservation. We scoffed at the idea we’d be there that long; we were only having drinks, after all. But then, we smelled the food.
An intoxicating aroma was wafting out of the kitchen, so eventually we had to order something. We didn’t have a full meal there, just a couple rounds of drinks and what were essentially fancy Italian tapas. But that ended up being our dinner.
Rounding out our culinary tour were various pistachio-flavored pastries and desserts. There was the pistachio-filled croissant near the beach, and the salted pistachio gelato near Piazza del Duomo, and, finally, right before we left for the airport, a pistachio granita with brioche bread (a special shout out to the espresso granita we had one afternoon while we took shelter from the sun; think a Wendy’s Frosty, but about 2 times creamier and 10 times tastier).
Helen also partook of fresh oysters straight from the fish market a couple mornings, which she thoroughly enjoyed (not my thing). Sadly, a couple days later, her stomach got dodgy, so we won’t discuss the oysters any further.
Like Athens, Greece, by the time we left Catania, we had eaten enough food to last us a month.
Saying Goodbye to Catania, Sicily
As I mentioned, Helen had a bad stomach near the end of our trip, so on the second-to-last day, while she rested, I walked about the city solo, taking detours down random streets. That’s how I came across Chiesa di San Nicolò l’Arena.
One thing I often think when walking through the non-tourist, residential areas of many European cities is how much they remind me of parts of Brooklyn. It’s not so much that they resemble Brooklyn, it’s just a vibe. The non-trendy or picture-ready areas tend to have a similar, homey, lived-in feel. It always makes me miss NYC a bit.
They’re just normal neighborhoods where people go about their city lives, shopping at mini markets and local eateries.
But then I turn the corner at the mini market and come across a castle that’s older than America and I remember that I’m definitely not in Brooklyn.
After two weeks, the trip ends and I return to my home in Madrid. And I immediately start thinking of all the other places I want to visit. Eventually.
Thanks for reading along on my voyage through Greece and Sicily. Next time, I’ll post some bonus photos from my Mediterranean adventures. Cheers.