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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report 16-Day Driving Trip in Sicily

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SICILY TRIP REPORT

The overview:

My husband and I, in our early 60s and pretty active, spent 16 days, traveling by rental car, in Sicily and three days in Rome in late October and early November. It was a great time to go: The weather was mild and pleasant and the crowds were nonexistent. I had brought a light down jacket, I wore it only twice, and wouldn't bring it again. In Rome in November the temperature did drop at night.

Our itinerary:
Palermo 3 nights
Erice 2 nights
Marsala 1night
Agrigento olive farm 2 nights
Modica 2 nights
Siracuse 2 nights
Taormina 3 nights
Rome 3 nights

What worked:
We would recommend staying two nights in each location because you'll probably end up driving into each too late to see anything that day. We found that most things offered in organized tours, such as cooking classes, could easily be arranged on your own, but of course it takes time to do the finding and arranging. I used trip reports in Fodor Forum a lot (thanks to all). I also used organized-tour itineraries to help plot our course. I agree with those who recommend NOT driving in Palermo and instead picking up a rental car as you leave town. After Palermo, driving was easy everywhere; the trickiest part was negotiating narrow streets in ancient towns. Sicilians spoke at least a bit of English almost everywhere we went, but we didn't see many Americans.

What didn't work:
Daylight savings time changed in our first week, giving us an hour less of daylight to see things. We would try to avoid that next time. Traveling on our own, we did run into closures that we didn't know about; an organized tour probably would have known about most of these, but not all (ruins in Siracuse closed because of rain). We didn't pay enough attention to the fact that many sites, especially churches, close for hours at lunch. We would have preferred a smaller car for two people, but ours did hide the luggage in the trunk.

Conclusion:
Sicily is a wonderful, easy land to visit on your own, but it's laid-back and you need to be too. One guidebook said "prepare to be disappointed" because things can be closed when they're supposed to be open, no reason given. Every time that happened to us, we laughed and said "prepare to be disappointed!" Fortunately, there's so many sights that if you miss one it's no big deal. There's wine and fabulous food at dinner somewhere every night!





Day 1 October 21 2015 OUR FIRST MISTAKE

Left Miami airport at 8:35 pm on Alitalia on frequent-flyer tickets. I had realized too late I could probably have gotten our frequent-flyer tickets thru to Sicily because we ended up flying the short hop from Rome to Palermo on Alitalia. But I booked the main leg first, from Miami to Rome, and the puddle jumpers to and from Sicily weeks later. The Air Bus 737 had entertainment boxes under many seats which narrow leg room. But at least the entertainment system worked, which has not always been the case.

Day 2 Oct 22 ARRIVING IN PALERMO
Arrived on time, claimed bags and had a four-hour wait for puddle jumper. Another Alitalia flight had left earlier but it cost more than twice as much. So we waited. Almost missed the plane because it changed gates twice and we didn't hear the announcement, if there even was an announcement in English! By the time we got to Palermo it was dark and I thought to call our B&B, BB22, as it is not a big hotel where someone is on staff all the time. They leave at 8! They had been trying to call us, they said. They gave us the code for the front door, told us our room was on the third floor, and said the key would be in the room's door.

They said if we took a bus we would not be there before 8, so we sprung for a taxi, which was $60. The bus is $12.60 for two. The cab driver said his cab couldn't go into the narrow, twisting street where BB22 was, which turned out not to be true, but he let us out in front of the San Domenico Church plaza and we walked from there. Suitcases rolling over cobblestones. It's only about 2 blocks but it's confusing. We had to call twice, and tho the staffers were not there, they answered and helped us. We finally saw one of the many little B&B signs posted around the area and we got there.

No lobby, as it's an old mansion or palace which had been converted into apartments. Eight years ago a person from Milan bought it and turned it into a stylish B&B. No lift; don't come here if you have a lot of luggage and are not Hercules! The public area is on the third floor across from our room. It has a staff desk, breakfast tables and a lounging room with an honor bar. Our room was quite modern and Italian chic, with a florid antique chair painted shiny silver. Lovely modern and spacious bathroom, and a tiny balcony with a funky multicolored chandelier looked out over a jungle of a lot next door, many red-tiled roofs and a sliver of the sea. (www.bb22.it)

We dropped our bags and looked for dinner ideas in the "things to do" notebook nicely provided by the B&B. We picked out Antonia Fresca's trattoria nearby, and found it by wandering around. Apparently it's a Palermo institution. During the day, there are seats on the piazza by the old church; at night it's kind of cafeteria style. We ended up with a veal spleen sandwich, their specialty, and two other specialties: sardines wrapped around an orange-flavored couscous and an arancina with ham and cheese. Arancinas are big rice balls filled with whatever, Sicily's favorite fast food. Lots of folks in there but not overrun. About $16 including a glass of wine and a beer, Moretti much to Chris's pleasure. Walked back and went to bed.

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    Day 3 Oct 23 Friday PALERMO FIRST DAY

    We got up in time for the BB22 breakfast, which was nicely average: yogurt, various carbs, cereal, juices. Met Emanuela, a lovely young woman who would be on duty our entire stay. Chatty and helpful. She suggested restaurants for us and offered to make reservations for the casual one we picked out tonight and the fancier one tomorrow. Then we were off to tour the west side of town, with the highlight being the Norman Palace, at the top of everyone's list in Sicily.

    We walked through the Four Corners of the old city, with its four Baroque buildings nodding to each other, a beautiful start. Palermo was fun to walk around, window and church shopping! We admired the racy fountain statues in Piazza Pretoria and toured the Piazza Bellini. Then we made our way to the Ballaro Market, and we were dazzled by all the great stuff that comes out of the sea, particularly those photogenic squid and swordfish. We keep eyeing something orange that looked like a tomato, and finally someone told us it was a "Loti," but in English it's a persimmon. They were in season and we'd never had them before. Once we tasted how sweet they were, we ate them whenever we could the whole trip!

    We stopped for a snack at an outdoor Sicilian street-food place near St John of the Hermits church, whose lovely garden we toured. Then it was on to the Norman Palace. Turned out the Palace closed that day at 2; it was 2:30. Not sure why. The guard said to come back "domani." Glad we have a tomorrow! It was our first instance of "prepare for disappointment" with things closing early or not bring open that day for no appreciable reason, etc etc. We learned not to count on anything. So, we headed back toward the hotel, stopping at the impressive Cathedral where we experienced our first beggar garnering money by holding the cathedral door open and proffering a cup. We figured he was a church worker taking donations as people entered. Not so! We had our first taste of Sicily's famous granita at a cafe across the street. Surprise: my lemon granita tasted just like a Del's Frozen Lemonade, which is practically the official drink of Rhode Island, where we've lived for years. I mean Just Like. I guess no surprise as Rhode Island was settled by Italians, including a big Sicily contingent.

    We recovered by relaxing in our hotel room with a beer from the honor bar. Then went around the corner to Trattoria Mangi y Bevi at 8:30. Emanuela refused to make us earlier reservations because, she said, we'd be eating all alone! Sicilians eat late. Sure enough even then we were among the first diners at this picturesque restaurant where the stone walls are covered with art and the wooden tables have red-and-white-checked runners.

    We absolutely loved our meal. We were glad we had reservations because they were full for the night. Our starters were fabulous, a hefty serving of spring onions wrapped in bacon and a sizzling pan of melted cheese fondue (reminiscent of Greek saganaki). Next we shared the pasta with anchovies, which turned out to be a tasty, mild anchovy sauce atop our first taste of Sicily's lovely chewy pasta. We also shared a firm white fish with a tasty tomato sauce studded with olives. Nice house wine. We felt too full for dessert until we heard a type of carrot cake was available. It looked just like a Whoopie pie with cream in the middle. We didn't think it was really an improvement on the traditional carrot cake, but it was fun to try. When we left, the bar next door was overflowing with twenty- and thirty-somethings, all dressed in black, swarming the street front.


    Day 4 Saturday PALERMO SECOND DAY

    We got our usual late morning start. Chris blamed the super-comfortable beds. Emanuela called the Norman Palace for us to see about today's hours, but no one answered the phone. So we just started the long hike back there. Naturally, the ticket taker said the Palatine Chapel, which is the must-see, was closed til 1:30 for a wedding. Emanuela had told us brides reserve sometimes two years in advance to get married there. So we wandered around the rest of the Norman Palace, including the room where the legislature meets, with drawings of Hercules and his many adventures all over the walls. Then we hung out at the gate to the area for the chapel, and realized a Bankomat ATM was right there. So Chris tried his card and it worked, but mine didn't. It hadn't worked yesterday either. Uh oh.

    Meanwhile the bride and groom, a middle-aged couple, emerged, along with all their guests, most of whom wore black; fun to see. The chapel was worth the wait. Every inch was covered in gold and colored mosaics. The Arab influence was obvious, but it all worked together beautifully. Stories of the Bible were illustrated everywhere, from Adam to Noah to the New Testament. It was fabulous. We were grateful to the reader who posted in Tripadvisor that once he'd seen the Chapel, he didn't feel he would have needed that trip to Monreale. We decided to skip it too in favor of more exploring of Palermo.

    After that we walked back down Via Roma to La Rinascente, a department store that has a roof top bar. It provided a great view over the city and out to sea and the mountains. We ordered drinks and split a salmon sandwich and lounged around enjoying the sunny day and the view, especially of the San Domenico church and plaza from on high.

    Then we walked down to the waterfront park, where lots of people were strolling and biking and flying kites in the weekend sunshine. We hung out on the benches, watching the passing parade. A big ferry came in, the Grimaldi line, returning from Tunisia. Seemed exotic to us! Everyone watched it. You could see all the way to the Italian mainland.

    We walked back to BB22 to rest before our night at Gagini, our "fancy" Palermo restaurant. It was really a treat. The restaurant, just a couple of streets from BB22, is a blend of ancient stone walls and modern Italian design. Lots of candlelight, including tiny candles wedged into the stone walls. Just beautiful. It was a little chilly so we sat inside. Later in our trip we would hear about the Renaissance sculptor Antonello Gagini, and one website said this restaurant is located on the former site of his studio.

    We opted for the tasting menu paired with wines, choosing the three-wine option. We each chose two dishes on a sharing basis. The meal started with a tiny amuse-bouche of a delicious soup, then we shared the fried fish with citrus ice. This turned out to be small pieces of various kinds of seafood in a kind of tempura artfully arranged like a sculpture. We also had the Maltagliata pasta with roasted octopus and Nebrodi raw ham, the Nebrodi baby pork with smoked potatoes, and the duck breast with licorice-flavored salt of Trapani and brûlée cream. All were delicious and beautifully presented. We asked the waiter to choose the pairing wines and explain them to us, which he did. So we had our first taste of white Cattaratta, a lovely rose, and a red made of Nero D'Avola and Perricone grapes. We enjoyed learning about Sicilian wines and grapes during this trip. We soon learned to look for Nero D'Avola, which we loved! We ended the meal with ginger and rhubarb cheesecake with honey ice cream, which may have been our favorite dessert of the entire journey. (The only reason I can report all this is that I took pictures of the menu.)

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    Thank you! I hope this provides the kind of help that this forum provided to me! It really is work to produce these reports so I do thank everyone who takes the time to do it.

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    Day 5 Sunday SEGESTA TO ERICE

    Daylight savings time was last night so we got a welcome extra hour of sleep but we weren't looking forward to sunlight ending an hour early; it would end up putting a bit of a cramp on our sightseeing. We had breakfast and Emanuela gave us a bit of insight into life in Sicily. She said she was 6 months pregnant, she just got married last year and her husband has been a policeman in Liguria. They don't let you be a cop on your hometown for the first five or six years. So they are hoping his permanent transfer back home goes thru. Today, Sunday, they will have lunch at her mother-in-law's house and dinner at her mothers. Every Sunday. On her honeymoon to Miami and then Mexico she almost did not survive the giant watery American coffees. Every morning they went to Starbucks for a croissant and strong cappuccino.

    We packed up and, because we wanted a walk, rolled our little suitcases the 3/4 mile to the airport bus stop in the more modern, elegant part of town. The stop is next to Prada. The bus arrives every half hour on the quarter hour, $12.60 for two. 45 minutes later we were at the airport. (Much better than spending $60 for a cab a few days ago in the dark! We should have taken the bus from the airport to this stop, then a cab to the hotel.) The info lady told us to go downstairs to arrivals and out the door for the shuttle to the rental car companies, or at least to Auto Europe. It came quickly. We got our four-door Fiat 500 which looked pretty big now that we had been in Sicily a couple of days, but I think it was their second smallest rental! It was easy to get on the Autostrada toward Trapani. As soon as you exit the Palermo district, rolling green farms begin. Quite a change!

    At Segesta it was free to park right by the site. We bought a ticket and quickly wandered uphill to the famous Doric temple, walls quite complete with a bit of scaffolding up. The best view really tho is from away on high, because it's striking to see it alone in a field. We walked back down and realized you need tickets for the shuttle bus to take you 1 1/2 km UP the road to the town ruins and the theater. The very nice bus driver was supposed to leave but waited for us to come back with our tix. The view of the temple on the road up is beautiful. On the way back I took a picture out the window and the driver stopped to let me out for better pics. So nice! At the top, the theater is in good shape but everything else is simply a well-arranged pile of rocks. Views of the countryside are gorgeous. We stopped for a snack at the visitors center cafe, where we had a wonderful pistachio cookie that we would soon find was in the Erice style.

    As the trip went on, we would see more elaborate ruins. These were our first as we were going from Palermo to Catania. If we were going the other way, from Catania to Palermo, would we have appreciated this as much after seeing Agrigento? Maybe not, and time is always limited for travelers. Still, as we found openings and closings somewhat unpredictable in Sicily (we were forced to miss the ruins in Siracusa), it might be wise to see what you can when you can.

    We were quickly back on the Autostrada for Erice, which is 2500 feet up at the top of a mountain overlooking the bigger town of Trapani and the sea. We were there by about 4:30, up an extremely twisty 6-mile road. Don't do it in the dark, and dark was happening much more quickly now. We had no clue where our hotel was and the whole town is made of ancient white stone, with some tiny streets just a bit wider than a car. When I dialed the hotel I got a recording in Italian -- clearly I was doing something wrong! In spite of cell towers in great evidence in this high mountain town (kind of a funny contrast with its ancient nature), it took a while for my gps to work as we drove the narrow streets, backing up to make some turns. How big the Fiat 500 seemed! Finally we came upon the central piazza and my gps kicked in. The hotel seemed to be straight down a street off the piazza but it was filled with visitors. On foot, I found Hotel Elimo and the kind staffer Stefan, who came with me back to the square, drove with us back to the hotel, unloaded the luggage and drove with Chris to the parking spaces. Now that it was so late in the season we could park where residents park. Otherwise, it's the main lot at the bottom of town, which isn't at all far from the hotel, as it turned out.

    The hotel is eclectic, quite a few floors (a nice lift too) with the first floor full of cozy furniture and antiques. It was dark by now. We headed out to explore. The hotel's restaurant was closed and they recommended The Rusticella in the square. We wandered in and out of the ancient streets, with few people in the dark. It was foggy and cool, and very atmospheric with the lights glowing off the walls. Saw little wine bars and lots of pastry shops tucked into the walls like caves. The Rusticella told us to come back after 7 -- it was 6:15 and they weren't even open yet and here we were worried they would close early on Sunday!

    We ended up in the San Domenica Plaza for a drink outside, my first Campari spritz, which turned out to be Campari and prosecco. Not sweet, very good. At dinner at 7:15 we opted for the upstairs dining room because it was chilly. At this early hour we were the only ones there. By 8, people started to arrive, even with children. We had grilled sardine rolls with rice, nice and mild. I had risotto al funghi, not as creamy as I'm used to but very good. Chris had mixed grill. We had the house wine carafe, but others had bottles. We soon learned the wine in Sicilian restaurants is moderately priced -- a bottle is a much better deal than a glass or two.

    Day 6 Monday EXPLORING ERICE

    We were determined to get up early but we were at breakfast at 9:50! Buffet for 8 euro, not included in room. It was a lovely buffet with the best pastries that Erice is known for, hard-boiled eggs, ham and cheese and croissants, etc. It was a bit hazy for the remarkable panoramic view out to the sea from the breakfast room.

    We spent the day exploring the ancient town with its endless churches, taking advantage of the one-price-for-all-churches ticket. Just gorgeous. Very few people around. Met a couple from Brittany (and their little girl) and we all marveled at how little English is spoken in Sicily. Makes it hard for them too, although they said they can often make out signs in Italian. They were surprised we came here just to go to Sicily. Apparently Europeans still think Americans are fans of the "if it's Tuesday it must be Belgium" style of travel. We told them Brittany is on our bucket list, and some minutes after we left them, they tracked us down to give us their email address in case we come! They said they liked practicing their English on us.

    About 3:30 we headed down to the tourist bureau, which is also a wine tasting center for the region. We tasted 6 wines -- three whites and three reds plus a dry Marsala -- for almost two hours. A great introduction to the wines of the area. We liked the white Insolia and the red Nero D'Avola best. Included was a delicious plate of tiny hors d'oeuvres and olives. It was only 5 euros apiece. The fog rolled in on our way out, very romantic.

    We asked the winery director for a dinner recommendation, and she suggested La Prima Dea for seafood, as well as another for more general traditional Sicilian. La Prima was on our street and it was getting quite windy, so we stopped there. The upper floor was the dining room, and as soon as we sat down we could see a long table of folks near us was celebrating something, a birthday perhaps. It looked like a father, his adult children and his brother. Suddenly, a man with a guitar came in and sat down with them and with much laughing they began to sing. They sang for the entire rest of the time they were there. They were songs they all clearly knew but we'd never heard. A few more people joined their party. Finally a big cake came out but they never sang happy birthday. When they left, we noticed the fellow in charge had the same kind of Walkie-talkie on his belt that we had seen men wearing who were making a movie in town. So maybe they weren't a family but a bunch of folks working on the movie.

    I had been feeling queasy ever since my funghi risotto. So I had busiati pasta, the lovely chewy twisted pasta of the region, with a pomadoro pesto. Chris had eggplant rolls and then a stunning mixed fish grill that we were amazed was only 14 euros. Five different kinds of grilled fish, including a whole fish like a sea bream, a cuttlefish, octopus, two large shrimp and a small piece of swordfish. We walked home in the fog; it was cool and damp and I was glad I had a sweater.

    Our room, 106, faced the street and I think would be quite noisy in season. You could hear everything on the street with the windows closed. You could also hear your neighbors a bit. Even tho the hotel was not full, we were not upgraded. The hotel had lots of indoor and outdoor alcoves. In good weather the terraces must be amazing. Hot water is great, and everything inside was very modern in this old building. Kind of amazing to see glossy red room doors and shiny white floors in a building that's probably been around since before Columbus sailed to America. Wifi was good.

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    Day 7 Tuesday SALT FLATS AND MARSALA

    The polished stone streets of Erice were slick this morning with rain. The breakfast room was completely fogged in. But as we made our way down the mountain road, it grew warmer and brighter into a nice day. Not at all cold like Erice! We drove into Trapani, but we didn't see much that seemed interesting, so we moved on to the Museum of Salt.

    One guidebook fortunately told us to follow the signs to the airport, which put us on the coast road, not the autostrada. We saw no signs for the museum, and when we got to the airport, we realized we must have missed it. Then I re-read the address: It was in Nubia, a town we passed a few miles back. After the turnoff there, we finally saw a sign.

    The museum guide was excellent, switching between English and Italian and describing the back-breaking work of drying and then shoveling the salt into piles. The museum has a restored windmill tho it is not connected to mill stones to grind the salt. It's now done by more modern means. The salt is harvested in June, July and August when it's hot enough for water to evaporate. Now they're starting to put clay tiles on the big salt mounds to protect them from winter weather. We bought a bag of salt from the mill.

    We followed the tiny road along the waterfront, looking for signs for the ferry to the Phoenician island of Mozia. The ferry turned out to be in the middle of salt flats with a few nice old windmills that you can get much closer to than those by the museum. A salt store was in one of the windmill buildings by the dock where picturesque boats were lined up. A trattoria was open, with visitors sitting in the sun. Piles of salt were everywhere. Very pretty. We hung out for a bit, then followed the coastline into Marsala. We love having enough time to not take the Autostrada. We would never have found this scene otherwise!

    We had made reservations that morning at Hotel Carmine (105 euros) in Marsala's old city; this was the only hotel we hadn't reserved before we left, to have some flexibility. We found it just within the ancient walls. Pretty restored old building with a lovely bar and common area. Our room on the second floor overlooked the old convent and bell tower, now the archives. In our room were two glasses of sweet Marsala wine to welcome us. We dropped our bags and went out to walk in the old town as it was now about 4. In the center is the Chiesa Madre, a huge old church with a beautiful facade and a fairly empty interior. We walked more, then settled into an outdoor cafe for a glass of wine to people watch. Briefcases, we noticed, are still popular in Sicily. And fancy footwear on the ladies, in spite of cobblestones. High-wedged sneakers, lots of sparkles. Not a very touristic town, it seemed.

    We went back to the hotel around 6:30, and had the obligatory rest til 8, when people start to eat in Sicily. The hotel staffer recommended Luna Rossi down the street when we asked for a suggestion for a pizzeria. Quite a few people were dining inside and the menu was extensive. We each had a great thin wood-grilled pizza, me margherita and Chris Diavolo. I wish my stomach felt better!

    We walked around in the balmy night, enjoying the full super moon and the beautiful stone architecture of the old city. Quite a lot of restaurants were open with not a lot of diners on a Tuesday night. But parking spaces in front of the hotel were full, and the lady at reception helpfully said she would move our car from a space that wasn't quite legal when spaces start to open up later.

    Day 8 Wednesday MARSALA TO AGRIGENTO

    Hotel Carmine provided an awesome breakfast in an elegant room, second on this trip only to what we'd find later in Taormina. Much to our surprise, the buffet offered the loti, or persimmon, and we got to find out just how sweet and delicious it is. The pastries and cakes were abundant as well as fruits, meats and cheeses.

    We packed up and were off to take the 11am English language tour at the famous Florio
    Vineyards at the edge of town, but off-season struck again: no tour until 5 pm. So we decided to try also-famous Donna Fugata vineyards, only a couple of blocks away. Their English language tour was also at 5 now, but the staffer suggested we take it anyway; he'd give us a brochure that has most of the info. So a lovely young woman took us all through the wine-making process, showed us rooms full of beautiful wooden barrels and steel tanks, and then we got to the tasting room. We didn't need to speak Italian to taste. But the guest sitting next to me said she could translate anything we'd need to know. The table was set for 8, with 4 glasses at each place and little plates of olives, cheeses, sausages, and a sesame cookie. We tasted four absolutely exquisite wines, including a Ben Rye dessert wine (24 euros), which we ended up buying in the shop. I believe the tasting was 20 or 30 euros; we felt like we'd had lunch even tho we hadn't had much food.

    We continued to follow a small coast road whenever we could. We ran into plenty of interesting beach neighborhoods, colorful boats, even a lighthouse. A great fun drive. Soon we were into rolling hills with vineyards everywhere; a couple of carbinieri waved us over because we were probably speeding down these country roads and they had set up a little checkpoint, but they let us go when they realized (with some disappointment) that we were tourists. They pointed us in the direction of an entrance to the Autostrada because it was getting late now and we knew the olive farm where we were staying that night was not easy to find in the dark.

    We hopped on, stopped for a quick refuel and a cappuccino at an Esso with a view of the sea one side and a mountaintop town on another, and we were off. At Agrigento, the road was being worked on and we ended up detoured and caught in the city traffic, which took a bit of gps to get out of. As we did, we realized we could see beautiful temples on high from the highway. We would see those closeup tomorrow.

    It was a short drive from there to just past the town of Palma di Montechiaro where some excellent email instructions and a battery of signs helped us find our olive farm, Azienda Agricola Mandranova (book thru booking.com) where we would spend the next two nights. We were greeted at the gate by Valentina, who showed us to our room in the main building. Our room was spacious and modern (especially the bathroom) and comfortable, tho a bit dark with the only window being up a set of stairs to a tiny desk area. But we weren't planning on spending much time there with a whole farm at our disposal.

    With short days, it was now dark, but we wandered where we could. The only guaranteed spot for wifi to work was on a large covered terrace, equipped with lots of comfy furniture for guests to lounge around on. We met Judith and Henri there, from Manhattan, who were really fun to talk with over the next couple of days. They were with her sister and husband, Susan and John, from San Francisco, and this was their last stop before heading home.

    Then it was time for dinner in the two big dining rooms of the farmhouse. Off-season, the farm was not full, so each room had their own table, but in-season some guests would appear to dine together at a couple of the large tables. Which I like! The food, meanwhile, was exquisite. So glad my stomach had recovered. We began with a salad of oranges and onions and green olives and fennel. Tangy! I love orange and onion salad but had never thought of adding olives. Second course was tiny shell pasta and cauliflower and pine nuts and some kind of wheat berry. Tangy again. Wine is offered at very reasonable prices. We had a Castello Svevo Bianco local wine from Campibello, a blend of isolati and catterati. Only 11.5 euros. Third course was sea bass with a chunky tomato dressing, a narrow pepper stuffed with potato, and very thin eggplant slices in dressing. For dessert, a sweet cake. Delightful. After email on the terrace, we were off to bed.

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    Great report! I loved Sicily, and on our visit we did not have time to see Erice and Marsala, so I'm taking notes for a return.

    However, I must respectfully disagree with the poster on TA; the Palatine Chapel is gorgeous but Monreale is spectacular. There is indeed a lot to see in Palermo, though, so I understand just choosing to hang out and see the sights in town.

    Looking forward to more of your impressions.

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    Day 9 Thursday VALLEY OF TEMPLES AND COOKING CLASS

    Woke up to sprinkling rain. A breakfast buffet was laid out on a big farm table in the dining room. Four cheeses, sausage with green peppercorns, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, Loti, bread. Bottomless coffee, serve yourself, so I could pour in as much milk as I pleased. The wifi worked in our bathroom this morning!

    Then we headed the 25 km back to Agrigento to see the Valley of the Temples in the rain, aargh. We couldn't even use the Disneyworld excuse that the rain will keep the crowds down, because there are no crowds at this time of year. We found a parking lot at Gate 5 that we hoped was the right one. Some taxi drivers in the parking lot tried to explain to us that for 3 euro a person they would drive us up to the Temple of Juno which is 2 km away and we could walk the valley back to our car. This is a perfectly sensible plan but we didn't understand their Italian or their German, so we didn't know what they were talking about. The deal is that you can walk past all the ruins down to the last temple, and then walk the same route back again. Or you can let the taxi drivers drive you to the entrance by the last temple, and you only have to walk one way. When it's hot, this would be the way to go! There's not a lot of shade there.

    So we started off on the path which would take us past numerous temples. We saw ruins everywhere, columns tumbled down and piled up. This is not a valley; this is the top of a hill, and the temples are high over the sea. It's a dramatic site. It was only sprinkling, but suddenly it began sprinkling pretty hard, and we ducked under some olive and twisted evergreen trees and waited it out with everybody else. There were a few small tour groups, but mostly individual tourists.

    When it let up, we started down the path to the temple of Zeus which had not too many walls of columns but was incredibly gigantic. The rain had stopped. By the time we got to Temple Della Concordia it was looking so perfect it seemed like a movie set. Turns out this barely needed to be restored: there's soft clay under the hard rock it sits on so it survived every earthquake for centuries intact. We stopped at the Doric cafe for a cappuccino, a coke and an arancini. The staffer let me taste some cactus fruit gelato, not sweet at all. I didn't even know they ate cactus fruit, much less made gelato out of it.

    The sun was shining on the Temple of Juno at the end, quite dramatically perched on high, with easy viewing for sailors coming home to Sicily. Beautiful views of Agrigento sprawled out in the hills above the temples, with farms below on the hilly countryside. Signs for a shuttle bus (3 euro a person) were everywhere but apparently it was out of season (maybe that's why the taxi drivers were offering?) so we walked the two easy downhill kilometers back. This would be brutal in hot weather tho. On our way back, we noted it seemed crazy to be able to look up from the main highway around Agrigento and see these ancient temples.

    We had to put the pedal to the metal at this point, arriving back at Mandranova with just 10 minutes to spare before Sylvia's cooking class. Five of us were in the class, including John, Judith's brother-in-law who loves to cook, and a young couple from Sacramento. I had emailed in advance to ask if we could attend a cooking class while we were there, and Sylvia responded with the day and time. Sylvia says she does the classes "very frequently."

    Sylvia speaks great English and is a model of efficient cooking. We would be making the whole dinner for all the guests tonight. We began by starting a flourless chocolate cake, which would be my favorite part of the meal. We separated the eggs and chopped up the chocolate blocks. Sylvia provided useful tips all along the way. She had asked us what we'd like to make for a main course, and we'd chosen beef rollups. Chris got his hands greasy kneading the ground beef, which we separated into chunks and shaped into rectangles. We sprinkled on thinly sliced carrots and carmelized onions. One of Sylvia's best tips is that she boils sliced onions, then carmelizes them in some water and olive oil, then stores them in olive oil in the fridge and uses them in everything. We rolled up the rectangles and wrapped them in parchment paper to bake. We also made eggplant tapenade and eggplant croquettes. For pasta, we made a sauce of almonds and cheese. The pasta was rigatoni, which looks a lot like penne but Sylvia feels is completely different. That was my second favorite dish.

    Along the way, at our prompting, Sylvia told us her story. The farm has been in Giuseppe's family for five generations. In 1987 his father died and he and Sylvia took it over. They lived in Palermo where Giuseppe was a banker. They came to the farm, where the main crop was grapes, every weekend, which was a little hard with kids. Eventually they switched over from grapes to olive trees because they thought they'd be easier to take care of without living there full time. But in 2005 they moved here and started to take in guests just as the agrotourism business was being born. Now they are open March 15 to November 15. It is hard, she said, because it is seven days a week.

    Of course everyone loved the dinner and was totally amazed that we had made it!

    Day 10 Friday OLIVE MILL TOUR and RAINY ROUTE TO MODICA

    We started out with sunshine for a change. I took an early morning walk up to the pool for the views. Lovely cactus landscaping. Had breakfast al fresco. Giuseppe gave us a tour of the olive oil operation, with the bright green olives moving up a ladder into a de-stoning machine and coming out in olive mush. We were lucky to see it because olive picking ended two days ago and this was their last day of pressing. He is retired from banking now and does this "on the side" tho Silvia pointed out they work seven days a week from March 15 to Nov 15 just with the hotel. Bought some olive oil and hope to find out where in the U.S. we can get it.

    We took off for the inland town Piazza Armerina to see the unusually well preserved mosaics at Villa Casale. But when we took a wrong road and came to an unexpectedly gorgeous spot to turn around, I realized I'd left my big camera at the farm. We would have to go back for it. It had taken 90 minutes to get this far, north of Gela, but we found a truck route through some stunning, dry Sicilian mountainside that avoided the Gela traffic, so we made it back in 1 hour. The Mediterranean Sea was a stunning turquoise blue here; we never saw this light color when we were sailing it on the Turkish coast years ago.

    We found another way, up Route 626, that we hoped would cut off more coast traffic, and it was a beautiful journey through the mountainous countryside, especially with lots of sunshine and gigantic puffy clouds heaped up like whipped cream. Some parts look like Colorado, wide open and grassy and golden. Near Barrafranca we ended up on a tiny potholed road and we could see a rainbow in the distance. Was it raining ahead? Yes, just as we got to the Villa Casale. But not much. We toured the ancient hunting lodge, a virtual art gallery of Roman mosaics that had been buried for centuries under a mud slide. Interesting to see the story line of going to Africa to get wild animals for the Roman circus. And the bikini girls, who are really athletes. Must have been incredible in its heyday with floors covered in tiled pictures and frescoes on all the walls.

    We grabbed a pistachio gelato and an apricot pastry and were on the road at 4:30, very late. We noted that while a sign said the villa closed at 4 or 430 at this point in the season, people continued to straggle in as we we walking down the hill, and nobody seemed to be turning them away. We had to drive through the town of Piazza Armerina to get to the highway, and it is quite a funky Sicilian town. Some narrow streets were a tight squeeze and this was the main tourist road! Might have been worth a night there but we had already paid for a room in Modica. I called ahead and said we were going to be late (the desk supposedly is not manned all the time) and they said no worries, they would be there.

    Now it was really raining. We had a white-knuckle 2-hour drive over the mountains in the dark and pouring rain. Chris was a great driver as usual. We tucked in behind a big truck because we could barely see any lines in the roads, some of which didn't drain well. We were grateful for the iPhone gps. We finally arrived at the Modica Center exit and we hadn't really focused on the directions about where to park at Casa Talia, our inn. Ended up on its impossibly narrow street with the inn staff out on the street calling to us to stop. We had passed the little car park, oops. Chris did an heroic job of tight backing up. In the dark, Casa Talia looked Baroquely amazing, all white stone and balconies on a hill overlooking the town. www.casatalia.it (I booked it through www.charmingsicily.com)


    The staffer suggested a nearby (only down a zillion stone stairs through a maze of tiny streets to the main thoroughfare) restaurant called Osteria del Sapori Perduti. I felt like we'd need to leave a trail of bread crumbs to find our way back but Chris has a great sense of direction. Without him I probably would have eaten a chocolate bar in the room!

    The restaurant had a menu book with all its dishes photographed and then described in four languages (English represented by the British flag, Americans are scarce) tho everybody in there was speaking Italian, or Sicilian. We had a lovely bottle of white insolia and cattaratta. We shared a salad of oranges, onions and sliced fennel. Chris had the mixed roast meat and I had a bowl of small pastas with pork and sausage tomato sauce with fabulous meat flavor. Dessert was not good, that kind of gelatinous stuff. We had a long climb back to the inn -- at least we found it! -- and fell into bed. Oh, and my ATM card hadn't worked AGAIN on Main Street. Just said declined. Chris's did work.

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    I love your trip report. My husband has family on Sicily and I am reading your report to him as we discuss going to see them again this summer. Sicily is truly beautiful.

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    Just read thru your report SO far. A million thanks for taking the time! We are going to be in Sicily from April 20 to May 11 and also renting a car. Palermo is our last stop and we will drop it off at the airport beforehand.

    Our first stop is Taormina......2nd is Ortigia........just may not pick up the rental until we are ready to leave Siricusa.

    I'm type A......so i will need to read your advice a gazillion times about BEING LAID BACK....and be ready for disappointments. Actually, travel is about THE PEOPLE you meet.........NOT the sites you see.

    But your descriptions are wonderful and feelings sincere. Can't wait to read about Taormina AND Rome.

    We will be flying Palermo to Rome(5 nights) and then off to Chania,Crete to stay w/friends.

    I, too, will rent from autoeurope. I'm looking at the compact category....not the economy.....but YOU just may make me change my mind.

    Safe travels.

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    Great report! We visited all these places and your report brings back good memories.
    As for the salt pans ... we were there in June and we could see the back-breaking work of drying and then shoveling the salt into piles. We were astonished that this is still the way to go ... working in the salt in the heat of summer. We're in the 21st century after all.
    Here's a pic I took.
    http://s20.postimg.org/uosygi72l/DSC06852.jpg

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    Thank you so much for this great report! It has so much helpful information. We're heading to sicily this summer for our third visit and are visiting some of the same areas for the first time. I may come back with some questions later when I reread to take some notes. I was so happy to find your report!
    Thanks again,
    Dina

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    MyriamC -- that is a great salt pan picture. Thanks for that! Morewierd -- ask the car company if the smallest car has a place to completely cover your luggage. That was the thing we were concerned with. We had no thievery problems and left the car with luggage in it at both Segesta and the Allied Landings Museum with no trouble. The museum was a spot that one writer had a car robbery, so we did take a backpack in with our passports, iPad, etc. That parking lot is quite open and busy and even has a roving ticket-taker, so it's surprising that it could happen like that. But if it happened to one of us it could happen to anyone, so I felt better taking some precautions. I never felt unsafe, tho, anywhere in Sicily.

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    Day 11 Saturday EXPLORING MODICA

    More sunshine and clouds, in the high 60s and low 70s. The city looked like a fairy tale from our little urban stone inn. They say people started out here living in caves and much of this city feels like it's carved out of the mountain. We had breakfast in the inn's garden overlooking the city. Plain white stylish dishes are a lovely contrast to the Baroque here. Yogurt, small custard croissants, bread, pineapple juice and coffee. We had a hard time getting going because it's just so wonderful to sit on our room's terrace and admire the town. This is the side of town to be on, because the view from this side includes all the picturesque churches on the other. Main Street is at the bottom, in the middle of the two hills.

    We finally headed out into the city at noon. No must-sees on our list here, so we did a relaxed walk around, first admiring the big church in the center, beautifully blue in the interior and dotted with life-size statues of the apostles on the outside. Beautiful at night especially. We went to Casa del Formaggio, the first cheese shop we've seen. Had tastes of several local cheeses and salamis, bought them all. They even had donkey sausage, kinda freaky. Tiny store is packed with Sicilian food that you can take home.

    As we wandered down another street, we saw a little green "train" that takes tourists all around these dauntingly steep streets. For 5 euros per person, we would get a 45-minute tour, without climbing. What's not to like? We hopped aboard and were soon cruising down the narrow lanes. At the church highest on the hill it occurred to us that we could get off and walk back down. Just then the driver suggested the same thing. So that's what we did. At the big church in the middle of town, San Giorgio, a funeral was taking place in part of it. We went outside and hung out at the bottom of the huge, bougainvillea-lined staircases and watched the deceased's friends struggle up the steps to bid farewell.

    Back at the center, we stopped at a cafe for what I thought was hot chocolate, but turned out to be literally that: a cup of melted chocolate, sprinkled with pistachios. It was the best chocolate I've ever had, but I could only eat less than 10 spoonfuls. So rich. By then Chris was already at a cafe having a birra al spina, or beer from the tap, so I joined him. This town is known for its chocolate, and we tried to stop in at Dolceria Bonajuto, an old-world chocolate maker that supposedly offers the best chocolate in Italy, but the small shop (lots of tastings offered) was so crowded with Italian tourists that we decided to come back later.

    After we climbed those many many steps back to Casa Talia, we took a rest then headed back down (so much easier!) for our reservation at Accursio, an acclaimed restaurant that the chef opened and named after himself after gaining quite a reputation elsewhere. It didn't disappoint. The space had the same architect as Casa Talia, and it's a clean white cave, spare and striking. The dishes were thoughtful and unusual twists on Sicilian ingredients. My favorite was an antipasto, an onion stuffed with Fiore Sicano (an old traditional cow's milk cheese) and served with bread, beetroot, mulberries and spices. The beetroot and mulberry made for an unusual taste sensation that was absolutely addictive.

    We had the linguine with anchovy, roe, spring onion and fennel and the carob pasta with spicy rabbit. Both excellent. We shared the roasted pork with crusted pine nuts and vegetables. The pork was tasty but we were really blown away by the leafy greens cooked like a spinach that came with it. I made a note of what it was but I can't find it! We chose the dessert because of its name: "It seems like an egg." It turned out to be an actual eggshell, inside of which was an almond blancmange that looked just like an egg. It was tasty enough, but a lot of Italian desserts with this pudding stuff do not appeal to me. www.accursioristorante.it


    Day 12 Sunday THRU NOTO TO SYRACUSE

    We woke up to a little rain, so breakfast was in the "cave" room inside next to the garden. I was still so full from dinner I could barely eat. The day started to clear. At breakfast, I read on one web site about the two design-oriented folks from Milan who bought 12 little stone properties one by one and turned them into Casa Talia.

    I checked out the online reviews of CT and found them quite mixed. Some people wrongly expect it to be a traditional hotel with 24-hour staff and a pool. Not so. And imagine my surprise when I realized I was staying in what is apparently considered (according to some reviews) one of the "worst" rooms in the place! The smallish room, named Cedro, seemed perfectly fine to us. And it gets you in at a reasonable price point. Its downside perhaps is that it has a shared terrace but it is 3 feet away from the inn's public terrace with two lounge chairs, benches and other chairs where you can hang out as long as you want. Wifi is available in the public areas.

    We took off for Syracuse via the small Route 17 rather than the main highway, and it was a beautiful country road through what looked like gentleman farms full of endless stone walls, white wild flowers and olive and lime orchards. We stopped in Noto to have a look at this small Baroque city called by some the most beautiful town in Italy. It was a little too Hollywood movie set for our taste; Modica seemed more like a real town while Noto's main purpose seemed to be to cater to tourists. We stopped at the Chiesa de Santa Delmonico and saw an interesting video on the 1996 collapse and restoration of the main dome of the town cathedral. Unfortunately the cathedral was closed when we passed by. Everything to see is conveniently located up and down the Main Street which is a pedestrian zone. On Sunday at noon in November most shops were closed. It looked like rain and we were hungry so we popped into a restaurant on a side street.

    It was Pizzeria Al Terrazzo, which had a marvelous looking set of tables running down the stone stairs to the next street, surrounded by pretty greenery. But it was raining, and the inside was quite cozy with lots of locals having Sunday lunch. We had a squid salad and a hot gooey four-cheese pizza with tasty crust. Perfect. We had to laugh when we saw a "French fry pizza" on the menu. Sure enough, one table had ordered it, literally pizza with a topping of French fries. It was still raining when we were done so we skipped the place on the main drag that supposedly had world's best ice cream and dashed for the car.

    Instead of taking the autostrada to Syracuse, we wound our way down the old "main" road, 115, to the coast road. It had apparently been a stormy night, and we were rewarded with views of wild waves bashing the rocky coastline. We had to work at getting a look though, following the map into tiny beachfront neighborhoods to streets dead-ending on the beach, because most of the coast is built up. It must have been an unusual sight because locals were driving down to see the waves too.

    We followed the coast road right into Syracuse and onto the ancient island of Ortygia, where I used the gps to help us figure out the route once we'd missed the first turn after the bridge. Our hotel was Approdo Della Sirene, on the waterfront, and the room (I'd paid extra for a water view) had a window with a tiny balcony that looked out on the side of the harbor where two tugboats and another working boat were bobbing around in the unsettled water. The hotel's young staffer, who spoke good English, had showed us where to park safely (for free) re the cops even tho no-parking signs were everywhere, helped us take our bags up the lift, and explained what we needed to know about the hotel. He said someone would be at the desk until 8, then we were on our own until breakfast at 8 tomorrow.

    We headed out to look for a bite to eat. The stone streets were wet and shiny under the golden streetlights, and every nook and cranny of this stylish town seemed to reveal something beautiful. The ruins of the Temple of Apollo, smack dab in the middle of town, were well lit, and in this small section of ruins I felt more life than in any ruins I'd seen so far this trip. Perhaps because it was in the middle of town, I could imagine how residents BC could have used it. Fantastic. Oddly for Sunday night, some fashion stores were open, and window shopping was truly enjoyable anyway. One store had a mannequin with a dress made entirely of black and white balloons! Others just seemed more stylish and interesting than anyplace I'd seen yet.

    Quite a few restaurants and cafes were open, and lots of people were dining inside as it had just been raining. We wanted something light, so we decided upon the Retro Wine Bar, where we had seen a luscious platter of salamis and cheeses. We went inside, but decided we'd really rather eat outside on the small tables with burgundy tablecloths that wound down the side street. The owner cheerfully agreed and brought out two chairs. We had a beer al spina and an Insolia white wine, and then a platter heaped with salami, prosciutto, cheeses and olives arrived. Thank goodness we didn't also order a salad! We got a kick out of the Disco music emanating from the restaurant and the staffer singing along to it.

    Meanwhile thunder continued to rumble and lightning to flash. But no rain. After dinner we strolled around again, discovering a huge main square with stunning stone churches and a couple of gelato cafes. After tasting some amazing flavors we settled on a go cup of pistachio and orange and honey. Very complex taste. We made our way to the hotel just as rain started again.

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    Day 13 Monday SYRACUSE

    The harbor was hopping this Monday morning, with various working boats doing their thing. We loved watching all the action off our little balcony but we finally dragged ourselves away for breakfast. The smallish breakfast room at the top of the hotel had a panoramic view of the sea, particularly the marina with sail and power boats. A small rooftop terrace also had tables and chairs that were available for relaxing all day. The buffet was lavish with especially good pastries (the owner Fiora gives cooking classes).

    We walked around Ortygia a bit, heading for a museum that I think was called the Museo de Syracuse that had a traveling Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit on principles of movement, which interested Chris. They also had an exhibit on Archimedes, who was actually from Syracuse. Quite well done, plenty of hands-on. We took in the museum's movie on the history of Syracuse which we found wonderfully helpful and would be a good set-up for a visit to the Greek ruins.

    Back at the hotel, we got instructions from Daniele at the desk about where to get the public bus (a couple of blocks away) to take us the mile and a quarter to the big ruins in Syracuse. We strolled over the bridge, noting all the kiosks selling boat trips in season (underwater cave!), but not now. When we got on the bus, the driver told us in Italian and hand gestures that the ruins were closed today. That seemed wrong, but we got off and rechecked our guidebook. Supposed to be open. We called Fiora at the hotel. She said she'd also heard that they had closed them today because of rain.

    Hmmm. The rain the day before? We thought this seemed unlikely and perhaps they would open in the afternoon. So we took the mostly not-that-interesting stroll through Syracuse, fueled by gelato, and sure enough, the ruins were locked up tight. We walked a short way away to the Catacombs, and they were also closed. We ended up checking out a huge modern church that looked like a spaceship straight out of the Jetsons. Very cool. But by the time we walked back over the bridge to Ortygia, we needed a rest, so we headed for the main piazza for a cocktail and some people-watching, at the same cafe where we had our gelato the night before.

    Afterwards, we paid to go into the wonderful Duomo, the cathedral, which was a 5th century Greek temple turned into a church; the ancient columns are part of the walls! One little chapel is devoted to St Lucia, who always seems to be portrayed with a dagger sticking out of her neck, which was apparently how she died. Who could resist a woman like this? In shops all over town were little silver statues of varying sizes of St Lucia complete with the dagger-in-neck. Kinda sorry I didn't buy one but am trying not to clutter. We found out that the church next door which has the Caravaggio painting of St Lucia was of course closed today. Or right now. Or whatever. (Prepare for disappointment!)

    We ran into Fiora on our way back to the hotel and she suggested we have Daniele make us reservations at Dioniso, which she loves and is not far from the hotel. Thru the magic of off-season Daniele was able to make us reservations at 8:15. (When we got there the restaurant filled up; reservations even made at 5 are a good idea.) It turned out to be a small, elegant
    reasonably priced restaurant that felt almost tucked away down an ancient side street not too far from the harbor. The charming proprietor looks after his guests with careful attention and recommendations. It was one of the best dining experiences of our trip.

    We shared a cheese flan (I think they called it a fondue) that was wonderfully flavorful in a sauce. The owner is quite knowledgeable about wine and happy to chat about our progress in learning about Sicily's wines. We ended up with a Gurrieri wine from the Etna region, a white Donna Grazia, which I believe is a more unusual wine from Frappato grapes. Delicious. It disappeared way too quickly! I had a fresh delicate fish dish with some lovely greens, and Chris had a tasty veal dish. We shared a dessert chosen because the owner's grandmother used to make it for him. It was a cut above the usual Italian soft-glop, but nothing I couldn't have lived without. I did enjoy the dessert wine proposed by the English-speaking couple near us.

    Day 14 Tuesday ON THE ROAD TO TAORMINA

    We got up and went to breakfast with good intentions of making an early start. But we started talking to an amusing pair of Brits who had recently sold a house they'd owned for 16 years in Umbria and had all kinds of insightful info to impart. When we told them the ruins had been closed because of the rain, they said forget the idea that they'd been closed because there was water in the ruins from the day before. They handle rain so badly here that if the weatherman predicts storms, then schools, public offices, tourists destinations all shut down, they said. Whether it actually rains or not. These two were hilarious. They also said not to feel bad for any Italians who are baby boomers and talking as tho they are poor. They all own seven houses that they've inherited and would never sell in a million years, they said. Their own son-in-law actually forgot he owned one property!

    So by the time we left it was our usual late hour and despite my using up enormous sums of data thru my phone gps, we could not for sure locate the Allied Cemetery just outside Syracuse. We found what could have been it, but if so, not even a sign. And the one maintenance guy who spoke no English conveyed to us that we couldn't go down the usual entrance because of construction. Go 20 meters he says, where of course there didn't seem to be an entrance or parking. It was clearly a cemetery but whether it was the Allied one or not we'll never know.

    Never fear, the Museum of the Allied Landings in Catania would revive our spirits. We headed up the autostrada, got off at the airport exit and found it pretty easily. Unfortunately after we parked we found out it was closed. Because of the rain. ARE YOU KIDDING? But no. Prepare for disappointment. Come back domani, he said, it will be free.

    So we headed up thru Catania, onto the A18. In Taormina the roads were confusing, and I tried to use the phone gps to find the Hotel Villa Belvedere www.villabelvedere.it but we still had troubles. We finally went down some tiny street packed with pedestrians, sure it must be wrong but it was right if you follow the gps. Didn't want to do that again tho! The hotel clerk showed us on a map how you have to go around the entire town to get to the hotels on our street because the roads are one way. Looked complicated.

    We settled into our room at this lovely hotel, checked out all the cozy public areas on the different levels. We asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation. She I suggested the Ristorante Viccolo Stretto in the heart of the old town up a tiny street (Stretto) so narrow that tourists pose in the entrance to it off the main drag. It was a lovely white-tablecloth place but there was hardly anybody else there all night except us. Felt way off-season! We shared some artfully presented yummy stuffed sardines. Chris had some heritage roast pork, quite tasty, and I had mussels which were in a sauce that was nowhere as satisfying as the New England version, kind of bland. It was a fun walk back down the main drag to the hotel.

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    Sorry to hear you encountered so many closed sites. I visited in spring and the only closing I encountered were the caves in Scicli. No loss, I met some charming kids along the walk and we talked for a while. Only one really spoke English (of course it was the kid with the glasses :-). They were a lot of fun!

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    Yes Leely2, all the back roads we wandered around on were beautiful. It's a joy of having a car in Sicily and a little bit of a loose schedule. The closings were mostly based on predicted rain, for some mysterious reason. It was very bizarre. I was ready for the usual closing at various times in the afternoon related to lunch or siesta or whatever, but the rain thing seemed inexplicable even to Sicilians, who just gave it the shrug. They had some really terrible rains and maybe even a tornado touchdown the week before we got there -- other travelers told us they were stuck on highway for hours because of flooding on the Catania side of the island. So maybe officials were just unusually freaked out about rain. And it did become funny after a while (tho that museum thing was annoying).

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    Day 15 Wednesday: MT ETNA AND WINERY

    Wow! Breakfast at this hotel is an incredible spread, including real scrambled eggs and bacon. The buffet covers one huge table and several small ones. Even Prosecco! Had local honey from the coast, yum. Lots of cheeses. And it started early, at 7:30. We were on our way early because it was beautiful outside and this was our Etna day.

    We decided to go the north route up Etna. The hotel staff told us that the cable cars on the southern route were shut down because there's too much snow now. So we wouldn't be able to get near the craters anyway. The north road leads to the Piano P ski area base. And I was interested in visiting a winery, and I knew a big one was up there that was likely to be open.

    The drive to Linguaglossa town was beautiful, with great views of the water and of Etna. Doesn't take long; even Linguaglossa was pretty. But we pressed on and took the extremely hair-pinned road up until all of a sudden lava fields were everywhere. We stopped near the top, where there were lots of evergreens and a coating of fragrant pine needles, to clamber up into the lava and marvel at what exploded from that mountain. The actual top was only half a mile away, so we parked up there. Everything looked brand new, like the chair lift and other infrastructure, and perhaps some had to be rebuilt because of a lava flow in the past decade.

    We walked up a trail through the lava fields for a bit. They were littered with denuded trees like driftwood. Amazing how much lava there was and how wide. Meanwhile, Etna was smoking in the clear blue sky (it erupted a few weeks later). One myth said Zeus had imprisoned a 100-headed monster under there who keeps spitting fire. I understand how they could believe that. Bought a lava fridge magnet at one of the few wooden-hut souvenirs stands that was open.

    The volcano soil makes for great agriculture, especially for wine and fruit. We had read about small wineries scattered around the area, but we decided to head for Gambino, the "big" one by Etna standards, because we weren't sure what was open or closed at this point.

    The conundrum here is that Gambino (www.vinigambino.it) is located up a long very twisty road. Not the place you'd want to taste wine and drive! But the views over the vineyards all the way to the sea were gorgeous. The winery has recently built a new big tasting facility and we arrived just as two buses from the pretty Windstar cruise ship we had seen anchored in the Taormina harbor were leaving. Thankfully we missed the loud Italian singer who apparently was brought in for them and was just wrapping up. We were seated at a lovely table inside where huge glass windows framed the views. They said the tasting would be 20 Euros, and they agreed to give Chris a discount of 5 because he could not drink thanks to having to drive. He would just taste a little of mine.

    We thought this was expensive for a tasting until we realized how much food they gave us with it! First we had a plate of several interesting cheeses, from pistachio Sherpa cheese to baked ricotta to Parmesan, and dried tomatoes and mushrooms and olives. We were eating that with the white wine they gave us at the door. Then they brought out a red wine (fruity) and bowls of hot chickpeas and lentils. Then with the next red (Cantari, our favorite) they brought three kinds of salami! Next thing you know, we had a plate of two big cooked sausages with the Altacari (grapes grown on Cabernet vines from France). Unbelievable. Our chipper server was knowledgeable about the wines.

    Afterwards a young fellow gave us a tour of the new wine-making facility in the bottom level of the tasting center. The wooden barrel room was warm and smelled great. He explained how low in sulfite these wines are compared to Napa. A tall older gentleman in a woolen blazer came in and our guide (probably the grandson) introduced him as the founder of the vineyard. He didn't say anything but was very pleasant. We bought a tshirt and a bottle of Cantari. Then we left to beat it back to the hotel before dark. Hate this 5:30 sunset business!

    After yet again a confusing time getting through town to our hotel, we finally succeeded in finding the route to Via Roma but we mostly stumbled into it. Even the gps has a hard time in this town. Chris scraped the fender of the car trying to wedge it into a space in front of the hotel; we should have given to the valets as we're paying $15 a day for parking. We de-stressed with our email for a bit then went to the hotel bar (always open!) for a beer (Messina, from Sicily) and a Campari with soda and an orange slice. First time I've had it with club soda, and I loved it.

    This hotel is so gracious. We took our drinks and bar snacks to a little alcove with a sofa tucked into it, and looked up the things we'd wondered about during the day. Mostly facts about Mussolini's later days and about Etna eruptions. The hotel has beautiful public spaces, lovely fresh flower arrangements, shelves of books to borrow (not much English selection). You do hear some road noise in your room when you leave the window open. Again ran into a retired teacher from Boston who is here with her husband and two others. She said they hired a driver for the first time on a vacation, and they went to Syracuse that day -- she said she thought of us with the ruins having been closed because of rain! Driver seems like a good reasonably priced idea when you're with a group.

    Rallied after 8 and took a stroll through town, which was really quiet. We went all the way through the town gate on the far end, where we'd not been before. Lots of shops and a beautiful tiny stone church that looks handmade. By this time we finally were getting hungry so we stopped at a very pedestrian-looking, actual-red-and-white-checked tablecloth place that had a couple of tables of diners at 9:30. Many restaurants were empty or just had an occupied table or two. We split a tomato salad, spaghetti with ragu sauce, a half-liter of house wine and had a beer and water. Still $35! It was good tho. We finally noticed a sign on the corner that directed drivers down a tiny road to Via Roma -- it was the direct long route to Villa Belvedere that the hotel staff keeps telling us to find.

    On the way back we climbed up a level to peek into what apparently used to be a church but is now lit up as some group's center. Couldn't figure it out. But we stumbled into the "art and food" restaurant Glilo. Beautiful setting in 1400-year-old walls or ramparts or whatever, lots of candlelight. It was closing time, and the very nice proprietor gave us complimentary drinks of red Etna wine and ginger ale, surprisingly tasty and not sweet. Then as I was talking to (I think) his dad, the chefs made us each a zucchini flower stuffed with tuna and covered in tempura. So light! May actually have been the tastiest most interesting thing we've had in Sicily so far. And free!

    Day 16 Thursday: SAVOCA AND THE GODFATHER

    Went to breakfast and then were off to the Greek amphitheater, the famous ruin here. My one regret on this trip is that we were just a few days too late to enjoy any performances at the arena. Built by Greeks, rebuilt by the Romans, it offers amazing views on high of the entire coast, including Etna. Enjoyed the sculptures in the garden, quite whimsical. Etna was much less clear than yesterday, but not at all hazed in. Yet.

    Headed back down from the theater, I stopped in a ceramics store and bought a red and orange patterned plate with a dipping bowl. And had a granita with three flavors. Tiny and nice.

    Back at the hotel, I asked the clerk for ice for my ice bag to tame my bout of hip bursitis, and she proceeded to get me not only ice but an entire real ice bag filled with it. We speculated that numerous tourists must trip over the town's cobblestones and down stone stairs of various crumbling natures. Probably a great call for ice!

    Close to noon we headed out for Savoca, where they filmed scenes from The Godfather. The gps gave us two choices: the local highway plus some local roads up the hill to the town, or a route on the A18 autostrada that goes way past the town and then doubles back to the local 19. We chose the local highway option, since it's usually more interesting. Big mistake. We got within a couple of miles of Savoca and a sign said the road was shut down. We decided to ignore that sign and give the road a chance. It got smaller and narrower the higher up the mountain it went. Finally when it looked like an asphalted cow path, we could see up a turn ahead where the road had half collapsed from the rain, with not even enough room for a car to get all four tires on the ground. We had to back up and go back down to the beach and start over. Ugh. The print map wasn't detailed enough to be useful. So we had to pick a point to ask the gps to send us a different way to Savoca. Unfortunately Apple maps sent us 14 miles to Messina, when the entrance to the autostrada was actually only a mile or so the other way. Then 14 miles back. This time it sent us up the A19, which was fine all the way up.

    Savoca is now a popular visitors spot: Even in November we had to park down the road and walk into the tiny town. The views from the road are exquisite of the mountainous countryside, little houses hanging off the sides and out in the distance to the turquoise Mediterranean. Bar Vitelli, where young Michael Corleone and his bodyguards had talked to the proprietor about Michael meeting his daughter, looked the same as in the movie, tho we don't remember whether there was a grape arbor shading the tables as there was now. In the movie, the actors were seated out front at a table to the left; the furniture is nicer now. Three or four tables were full of folks having a coffee and shooting pictures of themselves in the doorway holding replicas of the bodyguards' shotguns. Inside on the walls are some old framed pictures from the filming. And some Godfather stuff is available for sale, like Godfather grappa and tshirts. We posed, had a coffee, and of course discussed the scene. What looked brand new was a public terrace across the street with a mirrored sculpture of a movie camera man. Good views out to sea.

    Then we proceeded right out of the cafe and up the steep hill (a sign says a taxi will take you up there for 5 Euro a person) to the church where Michael and Appolonia got married. It was closed, but an article we read said they had gotten married in the doorway. Maybe because the light was better? Then the couple had walked down the steep street with the movie makers careful to film from only one side because on the couple's other side was the Mediterranean, and the town of Corleone was supposed to be in the middle of the island nowhere near the sea. The real Corleone town had been too modernized to serve Coppolla's purposes. Savoca looks like it's been spiffed up a bit too, with some new houses.

    As we were walking back down we started talking with two English-speaking fellows, one of whom turned out to be Alfred Zappala from Boston who does YouTube videos online called something like You Me and Sicily. He had been hired by a Newport Beach CA visitor to guide him around. Apparently Al has done a lot of genealogy work and the visitor was interested in finding out about his family too. Al knew a lot about the Godfather filming. He said three scenes, including the explosion that killed Appolonia, had been filmed at the estate of some baron he knows near Giardia (just south of Taormina) as well as (I think) the ending scene in Godfather 3 where Michael's daughter is shot. Anyway, it might have been fun to be on a Godfather tour because the guides undoubtedly know a lot of background. We saw a few people with guides and drivers in Savoca. Al seemed like a fun and knowledgeable guide for any purpose. The other town nearby where a church scene was filmed is Forza d'Agro quite nearby on the coast but Al said it isn't anywhere as picturesque as Savoca.

    Alfred M zappala www.alfredzappala.com
    alfredzappala1950@gmail.com
    Usa 978-204-6574

    We drove back on the A19 to the beach road and the minor highway (not the autostrada) without incident. This time we found that little corner near last night's dinner where the sign said to turn down to Via Roma. Victory!

    We hung out a bit in our room, and then sometime after 7 we asked the hotel staff to make us 8:15 reservations for Andrea's, one of two restaurants down the street they had highly recommended. Turns out this one was #8 in popularity on Tripadvisor where reviews said it was Sicilian food with a twist and the chef was Austrian.

    Waiter was super nice and chatty, especially since we Americans were of course the first to be seated for dinner. The waiter asked our wine preferences, then recommended the moderately priced Benanti Nerello Cappucio, a wine made with a grape variety that apparently thrives in Mt Etna's mineral soil. It was delicious. Amuse-bouche was perhaps the best we'd been served in Sicily: a fabulous piece black pork liver, with carmelized onion and apple jam. That was Chris's. Mine was a lovely couple of salty red shrimp and a piece of fried sardine. Chris ordered the tasting menu while I just ordered fish soup. We shared his first course, carpaccio of boiled brisket with fresh tomato salsa and basil pesto and Parmesan slices. Quite tasty. Chris's pasta dish was wild vegetables wrapped in pasta in a clear broth. Very light and earthy. My seafood soup was chock full of seafood in a nice broth tho perhaps not as flavorful as some seafood soups. Chris's rich veal cheeks (I think this was called) with a side of red cabbage really brought out the Austrian in the chef! Dessert was chocolate cake with ice cream and sauce. I was hoping to have a glass of Austrian dessert wine, as 3 were listed on the menu, but they were out of all of them. End of season. The chef came out and chatted at the end, super nice guy.

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    WOW.............what an adventure!

    Now I'm hungry and it is only 3:30 PM on a snowy Monday afternoon in Boulder,CO.

    And I WILL ask about putting our 2 pcs. of luggage in a trunk out of view on the economy car.

    Where to next?

    I am spending more hours than I care to looking for an ap't in Rome.

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    Day 17 Friday FROM ALLIES MUSEUM TO ROME

    Checked out of Villa Belvedere at 10. In retrospect, I would have seriously considered springing for a terrace or balcony at a Taormina hotel. The best would be to have a view of Etna AND the sea, but as Etna is almost 10000 feet and is a steaming volcano, it often attracts clouds or seems cloudy. So I guess the sea is the thing. The VB has that! You do need to book the sea view, which is more expensive than the basic. I paid for a sea view and in room 30 that is a gorgeous sea view with a teeny balcony you can just step onto. Etna can be viewed from the pool terrace. The receptionist said rooms with an Etna view are available on the top floor; she said next time I should contact them ahead of time and request one.


    It took a little over an hour to get to the Museum of the Allied Landings, which is not in any of our guide books tho it has been open since 2002; it's even difficult to look up online and the best info we found was on Tripadvisor. It is a few miles north of the airport on the coast road through the city. We did the whole thing in an hour and 20 minutes. Admission is 4 euros; it's 5 euros to park with attendant for the parking lot.

    It starts out a guided tour in English. You're in a typical piazza of the time, then you go into the bomb shelter and close the door; it shakes and quakes as bombs go off all above it. When you come out you see what the piazza looks like post-bomb. Very cool. Then the guide sent us upstairs on our own. After the first floor there's not too much in English but you could get the gist. Helps if you've read the Wikipedia account of the landings before you go in. Never knew what Mussolini or the King looked like; had wax representations of the leaders of both sides in various scenes. Nice last moment at the museum with names of dead being read out loud as you leave.
    (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187888-d2369876-Reviews-Museo_Storico_dello_Sbarco_in_Sicilia_1943-Catania_Province_of_Catania_Sicily.html)

    We hopped back in the car and were at the gate at the airport at about 2:15 for the 3:10 flight on Vueling after a bit of a wait to check in and a long security line (it was a Friday). At 3:10 they were still boarding, but somehow we still got to Rome on time.

    From the airport, we took a train into the city center which I think was 14 euros apiece. It was confusing; we had to keep asking people how to buy tickets and where to get the train. The person at the cigar place who sold us the train tickets told us to take the metro from the station in Rome. She said the Spanish Steps stop was 3 up the line. Finding the right metro line was confusing again. But sure enough the metro exit was right onto the piazza by the Steps. Unfortunately the Steps recently closed for repair and our hotel, the Intercontinental De La Ville, was at the top of them. We called the hotel and asked whether there was an elevator anywhere but the person I spoke with was clueless. (Later I did read somewhere that there's an elevator in the Metro station to the street above the steps but I can't confirm that myself.) In any case, we had to take a cab from there to the hotel so we might as well have taken it from the station!

    We checked into the Intercontinental, which we had booked with a combo of points and cash, for the next three nights. We took one look at the wall our room looked out on and asked the front desk for something more interesting. There was no mention of my husband's Platinum IHG status and no indication that he'd been upgraded, as is usually noted. The front desk person said only the suites had views, but he didn't offer an upgrade. Instead he offered a room on the fourth floor (450) which had a lovely terrace overlooking the restaurant in the courtyard. It was prettier than it sounds, a vast improvement. That was the first time in all my travels I've ever complained about a room and it was worth it!

    The hotel is extremely well-located within walking distance of so much. The rooms are nice but small. It's an historic building with gracious public rooms. It boasts a rooftop restaurant and bar with a wide view of Rome that people generally rave about. The restaurant is expensive but it's worth it just to have a drink if you'd like a view.

    We however were looking for something more normally priced, and the concierge recommended the nearby Trattoria Tritone on Via dei Maroniti. It was a fun walk over there, stopping for a beer ( when Chris said large they gave him a litre handle) and people-watching in a big modern city after antique Sicily. At this point in the vacation, we were alternating between not being hungry anymore ever and being excited each time about what we might have! We ordered some house wine. As we perused the menu, we saw one staff member making a very fresh looking type of....salad? We asked and they said it was puntarelli, which was the white parts of baby chicory with anchovies. Not even on the menu. So we ordered some and it was delicious. Chris's choice of chicken casserole was finito even tho it was only about 9 o'clock so he ordered the veal meatballs in cream sauce. These turned out to be about 30 small meatballs. Delicious, but 30 and nothing else? No pasta? We were chuckling pretty hard. I had spaghetti with mint and sheep's cheese and it was great. The whole thing was 57 euros.

    Day 18 Saturday: TRASTEVERE

    We decided to do the Hop on Hop off Bus for an overview of the city. Since we'd been there before and we were kind of into ruin fatigue by now, we were perfectly happy just to drive by the Coliseum etc. We got off at Teatro Marcello to walk through the Trastevere neighborhood, the old Jewish quarter, which is now somewhat stylish. I was also looking for a restaurant I'd read about in the NYT, which turned out to be a super crowded hole-in-the-wall and we preferred somewhere to sit down outside. We happened into St Cecelia Church tho during a magical moment: a chorus of nuns was singing in soprano angel voices. We took a seat and enjoyed. I thought it was great; Chris looked at those nuns through the wary eyes of someone who'd been to Catholic schools and been whacked by tough angels.


    We finally found a pleasant sidewalk cafe called Ristorante La Scala and settled into lunch next to an Australian/English couple eating gorgeous calamari rings. We had a good time chatting with them. We realized that tho the food on this trip was all Italian it was so varied that we'd hardly had any pasta. So I had orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta I don't see in the US too much, with wild mushrooms, bacon and pecorino (12 euros, lunch is so reasonable). Chris had a "morsel" of chicken breast with sweet bell peppers and cream (12 euros) -- and it was 30 (delicious) pieces of chicken. Like last night! We laughed so hard.

    The couple next to us recommended doing the walk up the nearby hill for the view, so we did that, just lovely as the sun was lowering. Big statue of Garibaldi up there; we finally figured out he was a general instrumental in the unification of Italy. Statues of him are everywhere. Then we headed back to the hop-on bus stop near Teatro Marcello. The old Teatro was the model for the Coliseum, and it was still there but apartments had been built into the top of it, and the lights were on in both the old and new sections. The most interesting thing about Rome to me was that it's a world-class modern city that incorporates its ruins into everyday life. Doesn't cordon them off so much. You just sort of live with them.

    At 8:30 we were off to dinner at Tullis, which had been recommended to us in Savoca by Alfred Zappalla the guide. When we had asked the concierge to make us reservations there, she had gasped and her eyes widened. "You have chosen one of our best restaurants," she said. It was a classic almost throwback restaurant, tables tight together, waiters running around like mad. We were so close together we ended up chatting with a Singapore couple. (My favorite: I asked her how her mint tea was and she said "not fresh"). They were to meet up with a bunch of friends for a tour for the next so many days. The Italian couple on the other side of us were chatty too, tho their English was not quite as proficient. Home and to bed!

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    Morewierd, my only advice on Rome accommodations is get something cheap. You will NEVER be in that room or apartment without your head being on a pillow. Just too much to go and see! Not nearly as much lolling around time as Sicily (not that we lolled too much there either).

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    phtomas - just found this and enjoying it very much, especially as Sicily is well up towards the top of my "must do list".

    a well paced trip, if I may say so, but was anywhere that you wish you'd spend less/more time?

    BTW, I loved a sentence from the opening :

    "We ended up with a veal spleen sandwich"

    how many times can you write that?

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    I'm still savoring EVERY word. I'm trying SO hard to lose weight before our trip, so we can gain it back while traveling. I'm NOT succeeding.(sigh).

    We are SPLURGING in Taormina.......staying at the Villa Ducale w/a balcony and view. This usually isn't our style of travel.

    As for taking the cheapest ap't.......I just may take your advice. We are meeting a young family from Hamburg in Rome...with their 2 children....and if we aren't galavanting we'll probably be in THEIR ap't.

    Thank you for all the time you are putting in to this. MUCH appreciation.

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    Yes, I too am still avidly reading--and enjoying. Takes me back to my own trip to Sicily (followed by a little under a week in Rome). But you have seen much more, and it all intrigues me.

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    Annhig, do I remember your name from the New Zealand forum, on which I spent much time last year? (Or was it Norway?)

    Less time or more time anywhere: I actually think this itinerary worked out pretty well for the time of year we were there. If it had been a bit warmer, I would have included some islands (the ones up north?). I so enjoyed the olive farm, I might have tried to stay on another farm -- or at least on a vineyard in The Etna area, which is so gorgeous. We also didn't have much time for hiking, although we felt like we walked out feet off! I was intrigued by a hike thru a national park in the Erice area. And we did not do much inland, and the bit that we did driving up to Villa Casale was absolutely stunning in those hills.

    Always something more to do, right? I tried hard to spend two nights in each destination, which was great. I wouldn't have spent any less time anywhere or skipped anything. Except I probably could have lived without that veal spleen sandwich! (Tho I was just in a Peruvian restaurant in Palm Beach of all places, and the first three entree choices were beef heart, tripe and gizzards. Fortunately there was also whole roast chicken and mixed fried seafood!)

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    Day 19 Sunday: CENTRAL ROME AND A SCAM

    It was the last day of the trip. I slept till after 8. Chris slept til almost 10:30. We aren't big on relaxing on trips and it was catching up with us! Checked the mini fridge and a Coke was 10 Euros. Water: 9.5. Dumb! Chris said if he had a mini nosh today in a couple hours he could be done with eating.

    Close to noon we finally rolled out for a self-guided walking tour of the center city. Shortly after we started toward the Via Veneto, a businessman in a car called us over and asked if we knew where the Spanish Steps were. Well yes, because we were just coming from our hotel there. So Chris told him how to go while I took pictures. Then Chris called me over and said this man works for Dior. The man said he's a sales manager and it's so great to meet helpful people. He said he just got turned away twice at gas stations who wouldn't take his American Express. We sympathized; we said we got rid of our AE card for that reason. Then he showed me -- talking three-quarters in Italian -- a purse that he said is from next season's line. He had me touch the leather. It didn't feel like anything special, but I politely admired it. And I thought he told me he's going to give it to me because we're so nice. I was thinking, I don't want that purse, it's too big. But I couldn't quite tell what he was saying. Then he said to Chris, just give me a few dollars for petrol. Because he couldn't use his card. Chris gave him 40 euros and he said 10 more. Now we were really confused. Then he said do you have a daughter and wanted to "give" us a purse for her. He realized the light was starting to dawn for us, so he said Ciao and off he went.

    We wondered how could we be that dumb, and then we wondered how did he get that good at the scam? Everything rang true until he started asking for money but by then we were totally in sync with this guy. We figure the bags were knock-offs. Doesn't say Dior (of course what would I know) and it was stuffed with newspapers. Not very Dior-like. Oh well, wish the pic I'd taken of Chris talking to him next to his car had been on my phone camera because then I could give it to the cops; it showed his license plate. It was on my Nikon.

    So moving on, we strolled down the Via Veneto, which doesn't look that different from other streets except it's wider. It has a Hard Rock Cafe and a couple of really fancy hotels. One is called the Regina I think because it's where the queen stayed when she waited to have the Palazzo Margherita built for her. Coincidentally, that's part of the compound that makes up the American Embassy which was quite close. We circled around that. Its iron elaborately patterned gates are like a fortress.

    On to the best part of the day: freaky catacombs in the Santa Maria Capuchin Church. Thousands of Capuchin friars' bones were dug up and delivered to this church where they made artistic catacombs of them. Flowers made of pelvises. Skulls in arched patterns. Skeletons dressed in robes and standing up like they're walking. Just weird, but fascinating. (The best thing is that the gift shop sells tshirts with a bunch of skulls on them.) They don't allow photos and I didn't try to sneak any; just doing anything out of the ordinary in this place seems disrespectful. The catacombs are preceded by a museum which explains how the capuchins came to be; all their artwork has at least one skull in them. One of the paintings is a Caravaggio.

    After that we wandered down to the Trevi Fountain which was open again after having been closed for renovations. The crowd was the biggest we'd seen in Rome or Sicily so far. Fountain of course is Roman over-the-top. From there we went to the Pantheon where we've never been, and it's extremely cool. It has a hole in the top where the rain comes down in perfect sheets. Wow. Who thinks of that? Raphael is buried here as is King Victor Emanuel who unified Italy. Don't know if it's just because it's Sunday but there were tons of people sightseeing and parading around, and many street performers. One guy was such a realistic
    statue I was taking a photo of him before I realized he was alive! Had to throw a coin in his bucket.

    Our last stop would be Piazza Navona but we were starving. So we found a pizza spot where we could sit outside and people watch. Habana Cafe. Jammed up against a Dutch young adult and his mom, chatted with them. Sausage pizza, thin crust, pretty good, but felt taken advantage of when the waiter indicated he didn't have a single glass of wine but could bring me a small amount. Turned out to be a 12 euro half bottle. Aargh. Never order without seeing the price.

    Piazza Navona is huge and beautiful. Lots of people enjoying Sunday afternoon. Tons of vendors selling the kind of mass-produced art we bought when we were 24. The beautiful Baroque church in back of the fantastic fountain of four rivers was St Agnes and the Agones; my mom's name was Agnes so course we had to go in. She was a 12-year-old girl who was murdered after she refused some big guy's advances because she was devoted to the church. Her skull is in the church. The Agones sounds like agonies but it actually had to do with foot races that were held in this giant plaza. By now it was getting dark, so we headed back to the hotel: another 14,000 step day and my bursitis felt it! Ice bag required.

    After a rest we headed at 8 down the street to a restaurant called La Botte Antica that had a fabulous display of artichokes outside. Chris had pasta aglio olio, which was chewy pasta with some spice. I had artichokes. Their desserts looked good (tortes) but after continuous disappointment with the taste of Italian desserts we moved right on to the gelato store. It's no wonder gelato is so popular in Italy! Then packed and got ready for the plane tomorrow.

    Day 20: ROME TO THE AIRPORT

    The hotel had the taxi ready for us, a flat rate to the airport. The driver, a Sicilian grandfather, delighted us with the Chopin piano music he played the entire way there. A fitting end to a classic Italian trip!

    Thanks everyone for reading all this way!

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    We wondered how could we be that dumb, and then we wondered how did he get that good at the scam?>>

    practice, practice, practice, pthomas. We nearly fell for a similar scam in Tunisia, a long time ago, [the old "my father's car's broken down, can you take me to my uncle's house to get help, oh btw he runs a carpet shop" trick] and another one last month in Havana, where the waitress tried to con us into paying $45 for a meal costing $25 by claiming that she couldn't bring us a written bill.

    Yes, that would have been me on the NZ forum [though actually, there is only an Australasia form, within which you can search for NZ threads] but not Norway.

    BTW, the Trevi was the site of another scam relating to the money which is thrown into it, which for years was collected every day by the same man. it was only when he failed to turn up one day [it turned out that the was ill] that it was realised that contrary to what everyone had thought, he was not official in any way, but had been indulging in a bit of private enterprise.

    Thanks for taking the trouble to post your TR, it's been very helpful and informative, not to say entertaining.

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    pthomas, guess what?

    This morning DH asked me if I'd like to go to Sicily for my birthday trip in September! I have a "big birthday" this year so it would be a special trip. We can fly direct from Bristol to Catania, so we will probably do 10 nights [they fly Mondays and Fridays] basing ourselves in the east of the island.

    The big question is - where to stay???

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    I think if I only had 10 days, including getting there and leaving, and I was flying into Catania, I would stick to the east side of the island. Maybe go south from Catania, through Syracuse and the Baroque towns, to Agrigento, back up through Villa Casale to Taormina/Etna. Taormina is only about an hour from the Catania airport.

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    Hi, pthomas156. Thanks again for your report. I had missed the very end of the Rome section--annoying about the scam.

    As it turns out, since I started reading this I made plans to revisit Italy this summer. Unfortunately I won't be able to revisit Sicily. Next time!

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    I think if I only had 10 days, including getting there and leaving, and I was flying into Catania, I would stick to the east side of the island. Maybe go south from Catania, through Syracuse and the Baroque towns, to Agrigento, back up through Villa Casale to Taormina/Etna. Taormina is only about an hour from the Catania airport.>>

    amazing, pthomas - that's EXACTLY what we've decided to do - not, I might say, without a good deal of help from my fellow fodorites:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/10-days-in-eastern-sicily-itinerary-help-needed.cfm

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    Annhig, I just read your thread and that has to be one of the most entertaining advice threads I've ever read! LOL.

    As I went in late October/early November I didn't have to deal with crowds anywhere, but I did miss some stuff too. We didn't do anything boat-y, and Ortygia appeared to offer a lot of boat trips that sounded fun and involved swimming. It sounds like you and hubby like that, especially if it's hot. The kiosks were all closed when we were there.

    The hotel you found in Syracuse actually looks super cool! However, I have to agree with the others that Ortygia is the place to stay. It's really a beautiful wandering town, especially at night because of how it's lit. And having paraded a mile or so thru Syracuse on foot to the ruins only to find them closed because of predicted rain (!), I'll say that walk wasn't particularly interesting.

    And do check out whether there is an evening performance in the Greek Theater in Taormina while you are there. That could be the ultimate romantic Sicily experience!

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    pthomas - well the thread was not without controversy but I'm glad you found it entertaining, though it might have been shorter had you found it sooner!

    thanks for all the tips about Ortygia - I'd spotted that there are some boat trips which as you say may be good if it's very hot. We have in fact decided against that amazing looking hotel in Syracuse - we felt that walking through Syracuse every day to get to Ortygia where we would most probably want to be most of the time was a bit of a waste of energy, and some of the reviews were a bit luke warm to say the least. So we're staying at the Livingstone in Ortygia itself - a bit of a splurge but after some of the places we stayed at in Cuba we wanted a bit of luxury to start the trip.

    I have already looked at the schedule for the theatre in Taormina but unfortunately the season ends in June/July. I'll have another look later in the year in case the situation has changed but I'm not expecting it to as I've read elsewhere that the plays are only on at the start of the summer.

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    Annhig,

    Yes, do check back about fall performances at the Greek theater, and not just plays. We were there is early November and missed a concert by a few days, so maybe the schedule starts up again in fall when it cools down.

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    I just found your report, as I am planning a trip to Sicily. Thanks for all the wonderful, detailed information. I am thinking we will not rent a car, but will have a go at it by public transportation, although this is subject to change. Again, thanks for taking the time to post this TR, as well as your TR that covered Japan.

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