We were up early to start a new day. After an Italian breakfast at the hotel, we were ready to head out.
The girl at the hotel desk suggested that it would be easy to drive to, and park in, the centre of old town Acireale. But we had been fooled before – so noting that it was just 2 km away, we decided to walk. And that was a good choice! I don’t know if the girl has been to Carnevale celebrations but driving and parking would not have been easy. We enjoyed our walk, stopping in at a pescheria (fish market). We couldn’t identify half of the fish for sale.
We arrived at a Piazza Duomo, the main square in the old town. The piazza is bordered by the 16th century Cathedral, the 18th century Basillica and the Palazzo Municipale. The piazza was buzzing with activity, as the ‘Scuole in maschera’ was taking place. This involved school groups – of all ages – parading in themed costumes – each group enclosed by ropes held by parents. I imagined Kelsey wishing she could rope all her charges together at times! We enjoyed watching this event and as it wound down, it was time for a cappuccino. We then wandered the area, exploring the streets and surrounding environs. The day had started overcast and for a bit, there was a smattering of rain and gusty winds. We decided we would do as the Italians do and have our main meal at lunch time as this would best fit the day’s schedule. So we began to look for a restaurant. We walked and walked and walked. And found nary a trattoria, osteria or restaurante.
We were quickly becoming cold, hungry and somewhat grouchy when I spotted a sign – self-service gastronomia. We were not sure what this was but had nothing to lose so headed in. It turned out to be a sort of cafeteria. The fellow serving (who turned out to be the owner) told us that he spoke a little English. And then proceeded to explain all of the food choices and to lead us to a table and get us settled down. We had a great meal of shared super-fresh salad, freshly-cooked Penne Brutanesca, mixed fish/seafood plate and half litre of red wine. It was great! As we were readying to leave (after I had a blonde moment of using the men’s room – to the surprise of the elderly gent who I met on the way out), we chatted more with our host. He was very excited to hear that we were from Canada as he is heading to Montreal in April to try to open Da Sasa II. We are unsure of why Montreal and don’t think that he really understood how far away we live from Montreal. During the mid-afternoon, the streets were quiet but around 3 pm, the crowds began to gather and the celebrations were on! The parade of allegorical floats was scheduled to start at 4 pm but in true Sicilian fashion, the first float appeared around 5 and they continued to show up at intervals until around 7. There were some technical difficulties in locomotion and lighting but no one really seemed to care.
The floats really were spectacular!! I haven’t been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans but I have seen pictures and video and I have experienced the drunken debauchery that is a Bourbon Street on a random day on October. Carnevale in Sicily did not seem anything like this – it was a time for families and friends. I didn’t see anyone who appeared drunk, or anyone even drinking. It was just fun!! After looking at all the floats and costumes, we headed to the midway area where various food trailers were situated. A couple of Sicilian gents, who spoke no English, convinced us to have sausage on a bun, smothered in mushrooms, onions and lettuce (we could also have had tomatoes, eggplant and other items that we couldn’t identify). They also pulled a bottle of wine out of the back of the truck and poured us a glass. It was great! At that point, we battled through the enormous crowd in Piazza Duomo and trekked our 2 km back to the hotel. We had been gone for 10 hours and spent the majority of that time on our feet, so were exhausted and fell into bed almost immediately.
Carnevale was a great event and we were so lucky to have experienced it!