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Trip Report Glorious -- 18 days in Sicily

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We just arrived home last night after a 20+ hour trip from Palermo to small town Illinois. Up at 3:30 am, what better way to while away the jet lagged hours than to start my trip report. :-)

In mid-August, my husband and I (he is 75 and in good health, I am 65 and in good health) bit the bullet and decided to visit Sicily in October. We had the time, we've wanted to go for years, and the pieces all seemed to fall together. The forum was a HUGE part of this trip's success. Here's a link to my pre-trip agonizing and planning, in case that helps you see how it all came together. http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/15-days-in-sicily-first-crack-at-itinerary.cfm Your help was amazing, and I can't thank everyone here enough for their patience and their opinions.

I will probably follow the style of the reports I relied on so much and provide a day by day summary with recommendations, high and low points, etc. But I also wanted to start with some general comments and observations. Helps me to gather my thoughts as I sit here still kind of bedazzled by the glory of it all.

WEATHER: October is a terrific month to travel to Sicily. Our experience may be unusual but we had nothing but warm sunny days. We had one few hour rain segment (the skies opened while we were in the archaeological museum in Palermo and then the sun came out -- we had seen the weather report and planned our day to be inside for the rain) and some misty/foggy hours of our Erice trip. The temps were warm, and I am so glad I threw in a pair of shorts and my Chaco sandals -- I didn't put my shoes on till the trip home. I would estimate daily highs in the low 80s, night temps in the mid-high 60s. I'm glad we traveled before the time change, because losing that extra hour of daylight would have been a pain for us.

CROWDS: By far the busiest place we stayed was Taormina. There was one big cruise ship in the harbor each of the days we were there. But they tended to congregate along the long Corso with all the shops, so we easily avoided them since we are not shoppers. Restaurants were sometimes busy, but we never had a reservation in any place we went. After Taormina, I would say we saw a few bus tours usually at the main sites, and a fair number of obvious foreigners like us in most of the towns both day and night, but nothing even bordering on crowded.

CAR RENTAL: We booked through AutoEurope and I am very glad we had the full coverage option. When we picked the car up in Siracusa, it was double parked on the main drag of town, cars honking, lots of chaos, so we just took the car and left. Big mistake. We should have inspected it as we usually do because it turns out we had a few problems when returning it to Palermo. There were scraped on the right front, which I am sure I did not do, and a big bubble in one of the tires, which I have no idea about. But I am very glad we had no blowout or anything else. My total coverage will take care of the damage, with the exception of an "administration fee" and some taxes on the repairs. The woman in Palermo's EuropCar office told me that the usual fee is 90 euros, but AutoEurope must have a deal with them because we would only be charged 50 euros plus whatever those taxes turn out to be. All in all, we feel very lucky with the way it all turned out. We got a good price and had no problems with the car, so we consider that fee our "Sicily surcharge.".

I have rented (and owned) cars in Spain and Portugal and have never had an International Drivers Permit, those folders issued by AAA. Based on reports on the forum, I decided it was such a trivial expense, I would just go ahead an buy it to be more secure. No one ever asked me for it. I asked the guy in Siracusa about it and he said that an official US drivers license is all they require. I'm not saying that people shouldn't buy one, it did give peace of mind, and I would probably go ahead and buy one again for another driving trip in Italy.

DRIVING: Thanks to you guys, our driving experience worked beautifully. We arrived in Catania and had a driver waiting for us. That was the first time I've ever exited the airport and looked for my name on a piece of paper, so it was a new experience. 75 euros, quick and easy ride to Taormina. We took the bus from there to Siracusa, and picked up the rental car at the end of our days there. Then drove counterclockwise till we got to Palermo, where we dropped off the car and took the bus into town. Getting back to the airport (gosh, was that just yesterday), we had an 8 am flight to Rome and had the hotel arrange a driver -- 50 euros well worth it for the few extra minutes sleep it provided!

We had a GPS with Italy maps, but also had bought a good old style folded road map. We had a few "challenges," and an occasional twenty minutes spent following our GPS voice as she took us around and around through small alleyways and impossible to navigate one way streets, but those moments were few. I was very careful to plan our hotels/B&Bs in places that were not located in (but very close to) the historic centers, so this made for a very stress-free arrival. I think that it is important to have a hard copy map as well as the GPS. There are many different ways to go from Point A to Point B and the GPS doesn't always take you on the main roads. There were several times that we ignored the voice and went on what looked like the more major road on the map. A couple we met in Piazza Armerina found that their "Sat Nav" (I'm assuming that European-speak for a GPS??) took them off onto dirt roads, frequently leaving them befuddled about where they were going. They also wound up with a flat tire at one point as their GPS took them on a lonely dirt road, but they had tires that allowed them to keep driving till they got somewhere for a change. That is one hassle I'm glad we avoided.

I had no problem on the Autovia, just stay to the right, they drive fast and don't give you a lot of room as they pass you, but I never felt anxious. On the smaller highways, the trick was getting in and out of smaller places. There are rarely "roundabout" routes through the small towns off the autovia, so you wind up getting the scenic "central city" view whether you want it or not. We actually found it very interesting and enjoyable to be stuck in traffic in a small city and watch the ebb and flow of life. In large part, that was because our itinerary was very undemanding and un-programmed, so we never felt rushed to get to our destination. If we didn't arrive in time to visit the main site we were headed for, we always had the option of visiting it the next morning.

I would be careful not to drive at night -- the one time we did it, coming back to Noto from Modica, it was dark so we didn't want to veer from our GPS instructions. For whatever reason, the GPS did not take us to the we SS 117 (?) or 115(?) and we wound up driving through the very deserted countryside. At one point we stopped at a well lit farmhouse, and just asked the person who opened the door if we were in fact on our way back to Noto. Turns out we were, but after that, we made a point of being out of the car by dark, which came around 6:30.

LUGGAGE IN THE CAR: I read all the many reports here, and for peace of mind, decided to structure our trip so that our first stop on a travel day was always our hotel (with one exception for a lovely little Greek theater/catacombs outside Noto, but I'll describe that later). We would then drop off the luggage with our hosts and take off for the rest of the day. But all of the car parks we used, either visiting towns, natural preserves, or archaeological sites, seemed perfectly safe and heavily enough traveled that I would be surprised to hear about break-ins. But I know it can happen anywhere. In hindsight, this plan may have been overkill, but it didn't hinder our touring at all. The only place it removed from the itinerary was Caltagirone. We're not shoppers; I thought it was too far from Noto for a day trip; and we only had one night in Piazza Armerina, so we didn't go.

TRAVELING LIGHT: I walk in Spain every summer with a small backpack and one change of clothes plus essentials, so I decided to introduce my husband to the joys of really traveling light. We each had a small carryon and everything was quick drying -- two pairs of paints, one pair of shorts, two long sleeved shirts, one short sleeved shirt, one fleece, one rain jacket and the basics. I brought along a bar of my favorite Spanish Lagarto soap and washed stuff out every night, hung it up, and it was always dry by morning. Having a carryon only made our travel extremely easy, and we even were able to put 2L of olive oil in each suitcase and check them for the trip hone. I can't recommend this approach highly enough, though I know many of my friends think I'm crazy. If you try it, you may be convinced, though.

PERSONAL SAFETY: We never felt threatened, uneasy, or on edge. Despite hearing lots about pickpocketing, we found that our normal precautions (leave passport in hotel, carry credit card and money in zipped pocket, carry small shoulder bag over shoulder and in front) were perfectly adequate. Never saw anything remotely resembling the situations I've found myself in in Barcelona or Madrid, but we didn't go to Catania, which may be the exception. And things may be calmer in the off-season.

THE PEOPLE: Here I simply cannot say enough to thank the people of Sicily for their warmth and help. Standing looking at a map in Palermo, we could count on having someone stop within a minute or two to ask if we needed help. Flagged down a motorcycle after taking the wrong turn going from Piazza Armerina to Agrigento, somewhere off in the dry hills of interior Sicily, and the man drew us a map. After taking a wrong turn to visit the Cave di Cusa (the quarry used to build Selinunte), we wound up driving through a very sad migrant workers camp. It was olive harvest time and we saw hundreds of immigrant men milling around near poor quality shanty huts, some playing soccer in the streets, many more just standing around, probably waiting to be picked up for their day's work. We never felt threatened, but we did flag down the only other car we saw driving our way, and the man very kindly took us directly to the entrance for Cave di Cusa.

THE LANGUAGE: I am embarrassed to say that my Italian is non-existent. I speak excellent Spanish, but that did not really help in conversations except that I frequently could get the gist of directions, basic questions, etc. We used our dictionary a lot, lots of hand signals, and also found that people were happy to try their English out on us. When we would stop people to ask questions, we always started with our attempt at "I don't speak Italian, do you speak English?", used the basic thank you, hello, goodbye, etc., but we found that English is widely spoken and with hand gestures and a good understanding of some Romance language, you will be fine.

FOOD: I thought the Portuguese liked sweets, but Sicily tops that by a long shot. Breakfasts inevitably had tons of sweet options, but very few in the way of fruit and multigrains. We usually could get yoghurt, sometimes could get eggs, but anyone on a low sugar diet would have a challenge here. I'm not a big breakfast person, so it didn't really matter, and I am NOT complaining about the gelato and street sweets we frequently indulged in, but I was surprised by the heavy focus on sweets.

We usually got sandwiches for lunch -- who can resist pane cunzato or any of the grilled paninis you can find just about anywhere? We also would stop in small salumerias and just ask the shopkeeper for sandwiches and were never disappointed. Lunch would either be in a cafe, a picnic in a park, in the ruins, or on the beach.

Dinner was either pizza, pasta, or fish. We are not foodies, so we weren't looking for the ultimate culinary experience, but we ate well and in recommended places. A couple of times, we bought food to bring back to the hotel/B&B for a meal on our balcony, out in a courtyard, etc, and always found that our hosts would happily cork the bottle of wine, give us plates, and set us up at a table. Never had a bad meal.

Well, I am starting to worry that I may lose all this text, so I will post now and start next with the day by day. Thanks to all you wonderful Fodorites, this trip just would not have been as marvelous without all of your advice.

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    So, I'm not sure how much more time I'll have to devote to this, but I will at least lay out the itinerary.

    Taormina (2 nights) -- Villa Schuler -- 200 euros per night. That's a bit higher than we usually spend, but it was a wonderful place, well located, great views, nice people, lovely breakfast. We went for a room with a sea view balcony and enjoyed many moments out there. In fact, we liked being out there so much we bought food for a picnic lunch on the balcony one of the days!

    Ortygia (3 nights) -- L'Approdo delle Sirene. 120 euros. Another room with a balcony overlooking the harbor. Breakfast up on their rooftop terrace with more views. GREAT location for us. It was about a ten minute walk from the bus station when we arrived, and less than that from the hotel to the car rental place on departure day. Also it made the walk to the ruins a very easy 2 kms. Not being centrally located on the island did not matter for our touring during the days we spent there, since it's small and we were going to walk all over the place no matter where our hotel was located.

    Noto (2 nights) -- Villa Ambra, 65 euros. About a 10 minute walk (down and up, though) to the historic center. The B&B has a gated car park, is on the outskirts of the historical center with easy in and out of town (both for going to Modica/Ragusa and for our drive up to Piazza Armerina). The second generation of this family owned place told us they were the very first private lodging option in Noto. Nothing fancy, perfectly clean, extremely nice people.

    Piazza Armerina (1 night) -- Villa Clementine. 90 euros. Very nice old family home, pretty grounds, right off the main route to the ruins. We did drive into town one early evening to check out the vibe and buy some groceries, but we could have avoided it entirely. It's not a stunningly beautiful place, but it was lively and people were as always friendly and helpful as we looked for a grocery store. Rita, who runs the B&B is a great hostess, I very highly recommend this stop. If you have more things you want to see in the area, stay two nights, you won't regret it. We had our three hours at the Villa Romana and that was really all we wanted to see there.

    Agrigento (2 nights) -- Villa Lumia. 80 euros. Another very well located place. Nice family owners. The entire complex is gated off. It is located on the way driving up towards town from the "lower parking lot". It is off on the right after the turnoff to the left for the church/archaeological museum and before the turnoff to the right for the "higher parking lot.". Sign on the right will indicate a short driveway down to the gate. Lovely breakfast patio with a view of several of the temples. How cool is that?!

    Selinunte (2 nights) -- Villa Sogno. 80 euros. Lovely. Extremely well located for visiting the ruins. Wonderful hosts.

    Scopello (2 nights) -- Tenute Plaia Agriturismo. 55 euros. I had originally made a three night booking on booking.com, but when I arrived I explained to the woman that we had been doing a lot of reading about Palermo and had decided we would really prefer to spend an extra night in Palermo. My booking.com price was 62 euros per night. She told us to cancel the whole reservation and that even though the website would say that there was a cancellation fee, those cancellation fees are charged directly by the establishment and not by booking.com. She said she wouldn't charge us the cancellation fee and would book us for two nights at 55 euros rather than the 62 booking price. I explained that I was more than happy to pay the 62 euro price but she insisted. Another good location outside but easily walkable to the village, good secure parking, no hassle with driving in the ZTL (zona trafico limitado). The accommodations were low on charm, but were perfectly fine and clean. The view over the water outside on the terrace at breakfast was fabulous.

    Palermo (4 nights) -- Hotel Garibaldi -- 80 euros. I can't remember if it was kja or yestravel or some other kind soul who gently pushed for four nights in Palermo. This is absolutely spot on advice. We had one half day (driving in from Scopello, filling up the car, dropping it off at the airport, dealing with the damage report, and then taking the bus into the city got us into our hotel about 1:30). And then three full days. Just barely enough, we did manage to see everything we wanted to but could have easily spent another day wandering around, and popping our heads into yet another nondescript church facade waiting to be blown away by what we saw inside (and this is said by someone who isn't a huge Baroque fan), sitting in yet another charming piazza, etc etc. We had originally booked in Palazzo Pantaleo, but there was no availability for the fourth night, so we cancelled and I googled around to find another place in the same general area. For me the key was finding someplace that is easily walkable to the center, but well located to the airport bus stop so we wouldn't have too much schlepping. This hotel fit the bill perfectly, about a block and a half from the airport bus stop, an old hotel renovated to a "sleek modern" look, totally functional with no charm, very helpful staff, good location for restaurants, just on the edge of the old town.

    Palermo is just amazing, don't shortchange it if you go. New things opening all the time. My husband is a fan of the Sicilian painter Guttuso and we saw two of his pieces in the modern art museum. But then he asked about whether there were other pieces exhibited anywhere in Palermo (there is a museum dedicated to him but it's off in his birthplace town, and we didn't get there), and the woman told us that his painting of the Vucciria Market, probably his most famous painting, is actually in the university rector's office, the Chiaramonte palace, near Piazza Marina. We went there one afternoon to find that yes indeed we could view the painting, and we could also visit the "inquisition museum" if we wanted to. Turns out that when the university was renovating the palace for their offices, they discovered the old cells where prisoners had been kept during the Spanish Inquisition and there was graffiti -- drawings, prayers, maps, excerpts from literature -- all over the walls. We went through cell after cell and it was quite vivid. The tour guide pointed out so many interesting features -- the map of Sicily with a little game going on, one little square box for each prisoner who had been in each little town; quotes from Dante's Inferno (showing you this was one highly educated cohort stuck in these confines), some writings in English, Hebrew, drawings mocking the inquisitors, etc etc. Why is this in no guide book? We had Michelin's 2016 Sicily edition and there is no mention of either the painting (which is STUNNING) or the prison cells, or for that matter no mention of the Arabic pottery ovens and work tables they have uncovered and preserved. We went here on our last afternoon in Palermo and were pretty blown away by it all. And of course the location is great for a stroll around the harbor/Cala, a drink in a cafe near Piazza Marina, just another entirely enjoyable few hours. Sorry, I will leave all the details to later day by day accounts, but just wanted to make the point that if you are planning a trip to Sicily, IMO, you should give Sicily at least four nights. Just my opinion, but it is a vibrant, beautiful, somewhat chaotic, highly animated city. A great way to end our trip.

    Ok, next up will be a day by day report, but now that it's nearly 6 am, I can get going with a normal day and turn to the much less interesting details involved with returning from a trip out of town for almost three weeks.

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    oh dear, lreynold1, you have been to Sicily and come back and started your TR, when i haven't even finished mine. oh the guilt!

    anyway, a great start, and I'm so pleased that you had such a good trip.

    looking forward to reading more. much more.

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    Please continue!!! Palermo is my second favorite city on the planet coming right after Paris. Maybe guide books don't cover much about Palermo, because most do a fast trip from a cruise ship and miss Palermo's splendor and squalor.

    The link below will get you to more information on the Palazzo Steri where you saw the Guttuso and from there to the net magazine The Best of Sicily.

    http://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art369.htm

    I await your next report

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    L
    What a really great TR! Cant wait for the rest. So glad you had great weather and enjoyed Sicily. Also thanks for the info in Tenute Plaia. I think you are the first to report back on it.

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    But all of the car parks we used, either visiting towns, natural preserves, or archaeological sites, seemed perfectly safe and heavily enough traveled that I would be surprised to hear about break-ins. But I know it can happen anywhere. In hindsight, this plan may have been overkill, but it didn't hinder our touring at all. The only place it removed from the itinerary was Caltagirone. We're not shoppers; I thought it was too far from Noto for a day trip; and we only had one night in Piazza Armerina, so we didn't go>>

    lreynolds, that was it experience too. we started off very wary of leaving the luggage in our car, but we soon realised that our worries were groundless, [though we never chanced it in Catania]. such a shame that you missed Caltagirone - by the time we got there we were quite blasé. It's one of the places that we didn't stay in that I'd most like to go back to as I can't get enough of presepe and we never did make it to the presepe museum. But those steps!

    and I'm glad that we didn't try to squeeze Palermo into our trip - it really needs more time than we had for it as your trip demonstrates.

    Now I might have a go at doing my TR!

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    Ok, let's get started with the day to day.

    Day 0 -- long travel day, but nothing that everyone else hasn't experienced. We had to change airlines in Rome, from AA to Alitalia, and they are not partners. When I checked in at home, my agent could not give me boarding passes for the Alitalia segment to Catania. She did print out a ticket receipt that comes out printed on a boarding pass with all the relevant information on flights (both ways), ticket numbers, etc. This turned out to be very helpful, since we had to go through security in Rome without having gotten a boarding pass for the flight out of Rome. With this ticket receipt there was no problem at all -- I'm sure we would have been fine without it, but having the receipt just made it all very easy. It also made it easy for the Alitalia agent to find our information.

    Day 1 -- from Rome to Catania to Taormina
    I had read on the forum about someone who experienced extreme turbulence on a flight into Catania, due to activity on Mt. Etna. We must have been lucky because our flight could not have been smoother. We took that as a harbinger of things to come. Our driver was waiting right outside the door from arrivals, and by 1 we were checked into Villa Schuler. We walked around a bit to get our bearings had lunch at Tirami-su, which was fine but nothing special IMO.

    My husband deals with jet lag with a short nap on arrival day, but I just power through, so while he slept I walked over to the bus station to get the schedule for buses to Siracusa. I had originally planned to take the train, but someone here suggested that bus could be easier. When I saw how close the bus station was to downtown and saw the schedule of fairly frequent buses, I didn't even bother to head down the hill to look at train options.

    Our afternoon walk around town gave us our first exposure to the throngs you had all told me about. It wasn't crushing, but there were a lot of people walking up and down the Corso Umberto. We joined the promenade, stopped for a coffee, sat in a square listening to music, went to the supermarket for fruit, water, etc. and just generally had a low key day. We walked around looking at several of the restaurants whose names I had written down and wound up at Pizzeria Zuccaro. It is off the main drag, with a terrace that adjoins a pretty (and quiet) piazza. It was about 8 and there was a decent crowd, but no reservations were needed. We found this to be the case every night in every town.

    A relatively low key, early to bed day for us -- what a treat to sit outside on a balcony at night with the lights of the boats and the town twinkling all around us -- not something I get to do in Illinois on a regular basis!

    Day 2 -- in Taormina

    By far the best breakfasts of our trip were the ones we ate in Taormina. And not just because of the lovely views. Many choices, lots of freshly made baked goods, delicious local cheeses, good yoghurt, exceptional coffee, etc. On a rather relaxed plan, we made our way to the Greek theater by about 10 or 10:30 and found that though we were not alone, there were no crowds. There may be more spectacular Greek ruins in Sicily, but the framing of Mt. Etna behind the stage was something else. We enjoyed a long visit, walking up and down to seize every possible view of the surrounding natural beauty. After that, and a walk through the public gardens for yet more views, we decided to make sandwiches and eat lunch on our balcony, just so we could continue the theme of spectacular views that the morning had already provided. That was a great idea and very relaxing.

    In the afternoon, we hunted down what looked to me on the Taormina map like a pedestrian path up to Castelmola. Sure enough, if you cross the Circumvalazione and go up Via Crucis, you will find a pathway up through trees (and frequently shaded) to the church of the Madonna in the Cave. The sweet little church was open, and you could see the Theater from the lookout. The adjacent castle was locked, not sure if it was because of the time of day or whether it is closed to visitors. From there, you do have to walk on the side of the street for a short while (Leonardo da Vinci), but a well marked pedestrian turn-off through a residential area takes you out of traffic and up to the Piazza of Castelmola. Not much to see in the town, but a big bottle of acqua frizzante sure tasted good in the cafe. I may have already said this, but I was so happy to find that Sicilian fizzy water is not salty and very tasty. I liked every brand we were served, and that is not the case in Spain or Portugal, where it is often way too salty for my taste. My husband decided to take the bus down to the hotel, and he had a very hard time explaining to the driver that yes indeed he did have to pay a fare to go down because he had walked and not ridden up. It seems that most people buy a 3 euro RT ticket and then no ticket is collected on the way down. Finally, we were able to convince the driver to let him pay 2 euros for a one way ride back down. I walked, and it was dusk by the time I arrived, adding a nice calm gloss to the whole thing. This is not a hard walk, I don't think it took us more than an hour to get there, and that's going at my husband's pace, and with a leisurely stop at the church and for the views. Definitely a fun thing to do.

    Our dinner that evening was at a place recommended by the hotel, the Giardineira. It is not far from the public gardens. We were slightly disappointed to see there was no outside seating (probably our only indoor restaurant meal the whole trip) but decided to stay since the hotel had recommended it. We both had good fish, mine was a name I can't remember (capuno ??? or capano ???) while my husband had something more standard like swordfish. A couple near us had ordered a whole fish covered in about a 3" hard salt crust. Has anyone ever had fish prepared that way? The crust was cut off of course, and the waiter took care of the bones and the skin with very expert strokes. After many years of going to Lisbon I am finally able to deal with a whole fish without embarrassing myself but I will never be that good at it. After dinner we walked the streets some more -- what a difference a few hours makes. All was quiet and crowd-free.

    I know that there is a lot of variety of opinion about whether it's "worth it" to go to Taormina or not. I am quite glad we went. It was a great, low key relaxing place to start a trip, especially after an overnight flight. It is true that even though it was off season, there were crowds (pretty big crowds) walking up and down the Corso Umberto, and it is also true that most of the establishments on that street sell variations of the same tourist junk you will see near every attraction on Sicily. But still... the views, the theater, the walk up to Castelmola, all were very enjoyable.

    Day 3 -- from Taormina to Siracusa/Ortygia

    There are relatively frequent buses to Siracusa, so we didn't rush, and I think our bus left at around 11. We had to change buses in Catania but that was painless. The bus stops in town before going to the airport, so most of the people on the bus had to weave all the way through the city before heading to the airport. It turns out that the bus station in Catania is actually a big enclosed parking lot type space with benches around the perimeter and some covering from the sun. When we got off our Taormina bus, we first thought that the building we could see across the street was the bus station, but it was the train station. The "bus station" is actually on the other side of the wall where the bus drops you off. There is also no bathroom, but the cafe right across the street is perfectly happy to let you use their services. Just buy a coffee or a water in exchange.

    I had seen the location of the bus station in Siracusa, and had a general idea of how to get to Ortygia. I am pretty seriously directionally challenged, but even I could figure out that if we kept walking to the bridge and walked over it, we would be in Ortygia. Our B&B was a perfect location and extremely easy to get to from the bus stop. Cross the bridge and turn right and you'll see it. Once again our rooms were ready, and it was getting late for lunch so we hurried out to see what we could find at the market. Fratelli Burgo was still going strong and we looked around to see what people were eating. We then pointed to a board of meats, cheese, and some pickled veggies and were soon eating the same thing. Nice variety, great tastes.

    After lunch, we meandered all around the island, visited the Cathedral and saw the Caravaggio painting of the burial of St. Lucia in the church nearby (it was displayed in the church and not in the museum as our guidebook had said). That is one heck of an amazing painting, kind of reminds me of some of the figures in Velazquez's Vulcan's Forge the way the light highlighted the muscular arms of the grave diggers and the faces of the grief-stricken were hidden and slightly blurred in the shadows.

    As we did most nights, we took a little walking tour to check out the restaurants on my list. We wound up at Sicilia in Tavola, quite good. And then a walk for a gelato to end the day. I didn't think they did a great job of illuminating the Apollo Temple ruins, but still it's not every night you get to stroll around ancient Greek ruins, so I am not complaining. Ah, Sicily, by Day 3 we were totally smitten!

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    Nice to hear that you enjoyed your time in Sicily -- it is glorious, isn't it?

    I definitely pushed for you to consider more time in Palermo -- and not necessarily gently! From your interests, I felt confident that you would enjoy that city. So glad you did! And I'm also glad that the location of L'Approdo delle Sirene worked for you. I loved that place -- particularly its breakfast and the rooftop. :-)

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    Day 4 -- In Siracusa

    Another breakfast with a view!!! This was one place where there were small cannoli at breakfast, and I couldn't resist (yes, I know, I'm the one who complained about all the sweets at breakfast). There was a very good fruit selection also, along with the standard pastry fare, some good cheeses, meats, etc.. And the rooftop terrace was so pleasant. What a treat to be able to have excellent coffee, sitting outside on a mild sunny morning, with a view of the water! I am sure my coffee intake doubled while I was there, but how can you resist the enjoyment that comes from an extra cup or two in that environment?!

    We walked from our B&B to the ruins, about a mile by google maps' calculation. I always enjoy walking through the "real" parts of cities and this was no exception. It's not a stunning promenade, but it goes on busy thoroughfares where people are conducting their daily lives and the wheels of commerce are churning. Upon arriving at the theaters, once again, we found that we were not the only visitors, but there were certainly not any large crowds. We probably saw a total of four or five bus groups during our visit to both the Greek and Roman theaters. I have very little experience with Greek and Roman ruins so I had frequent "wow" moments and enjoyed climbing up and down and taking it all in from all vantage points. We were there for probably about an hour and a half, maybe a little more, and then we took the short walk across to the Archaeological museum. I loved the coin exhibit and enjoyed many of the displays, but frankly after my 300th priceless Greek urn or the 20th case filled with votive statues of Demeter, my eyes did glaze over a bit. There were some beautiful sarcophagi (if that's the plural) and a headless Venus statue whose beauty even an untrained person like me could appreciate. My husband has far more interest in museum collections than I, and thankfully after a couple of hours, his stomach was calling him away to eat.

    We wanted to go to the Catacombs of S. Giovanni and St. Marcian's crypt, both at the church of S. Giovanni, so we found a little outdoor cafe in between the museum and the church. Once again, we just pointed to a good looking meal being eaten nearby -- in this case, a spinach calzone, and we soon had the same thing sitting in front of us. Though I had no interest in seeing the catacombs, I had read a bit about the crypt of S. Marcian, with its amazing 6th century capitals and marking the spot where Saint Paul preached in the year 60, and also the spot where St. Lucy, patron saint of Siracusa, was martyred. The entire thing was very interesting, even the catacombs, I was surprised. The tour provided just the right amount of information, I thought, not an overload but enough so you could really appreciate the places.

    From there, we walked by but did not enter the modern church with the big pointy spire. I wanted to take a different route back to the hotel, so this was one way to do it. I make a point of not looking at a map unless absolutely necessary and though we did not take the direct route by any means, we made it back to the bridge over to Ortygia after a walk that went through some more parts of modern Siracusa. Nothing spectacular, but always enjoyable for me.

    Another cruise for restaurants after a shower, and this night we ended up in A Putia. Another great choice, I thought.

    Day 5 -- in Ortygia

    This was our day to explore the island, and our first stop was back to the market to see things in action. It's a lovely market, complete with fishmongers yelling across the square. We saw the sandwich production beginning at Caseificio Borderi and decided we would probably return for a second day of lunch at the market.

    Next we headed to the Papyrus museum (right across from where I think you stayed, annhig). Who visits the papyrus museum? Well, go figure, it was actually very interesting, did you know Siracusa had papyrus production as early as 300 BC? There were actual pieces of equipment along with some videos, so you could really get an idea of how the paper was made. And there were several papyrus rafts that looked like they came right off the set of Cleopatra. Truth is, I like going to these kind of oddball museums quite a bit -- for one thing, it gives you a destination as you make your way walking around the place, and for another, you always wind up learning things you had no idea about.

    We are suckers for walks on water promenades so we did that for a while and by 2 found ourselves back at Caseificio Borderi. It took a while, but we figured out how it worked. On the outside, the grandpa makes sandwiches, he seems to basically make whatever strikes his fancy, in between he cuts up smoked mozzarella and passes it around to the people in line, all the while engaging in a steady stream of dialogue that must be very entertaining if you understand Italian. On the inside, the husband makes sandwiches to order. If you want a grandpa sandwich, get on the line outside. If you want inside sandwiches, go inside and get a number from the little machine. The daughter/wife spends her time moving back and forth between the two, helping out, answering questions, and also passing out delicious mozzarella. There is a woman sitting at the cash register, which is located between the two different sandwich making stations, and she takes everyone's money. I'm not sure if she's the grandma or not, but she was quite subdued in comparison to the other three. It is not an efficient operation, but it is quite an enjoyable experience! And the sandwiches are great.

    The highlight of our afternoon was a trip to the mikvah. Apparently when the hotel Giudecca was doing renovations, they found ancient Jewish baths several stories underground. They are oh so interesting, and the little tour in English was quite good.

    Ortygia is a very beautiful place, sitting in the Duomo square at night is just as magical as all the trip reports here have described. Our day on the island flew by and we were sorry that the next day we were going to have to move on.

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    I remember your planning thread. I also LOVED Palermo, what a city, so much to do.

    I don't like driving in the countryside at night either. I always (always!) seem to get lost. Glad to read you didn't get too turned about.

    Ortygia is a very beautiful place, sitting in the Duomo square at night is just as magical as all the trip reports here have described.

    And now yours too. Wonderful, and looking forward to reading the rest!

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    I'm delighted you were impressed with the coin exhibit at the Arch Museum. I was amazed by it and I'm not even into coins!

    I really thought the piazza in front of the duomo is one of the most beautiful I've seen. Especially at night.

    I envy your visit to the Papyrus Museum. I just didn't have time, even with a 3 nt visit.....

    Your TR is bringing back wonderful memories. Grazie mille!

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    I don't have a sweet tooth, but I love cannoli. I figure since it's made with cheese it doesn't count as sweet....

    Sounds like they have moved the Papyrus Museum - it was next to the Archaeological Museum.

    So glad you enjoyed Sicily, and thanks for the TR, you are making me even more sure I need to go back.

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    Once again, jet lag has me up and about at 4:30 am -- might as well use this time productively!

    Day 6 -- To Noto

    We were once again not in a hurry, so we were able to enjoy breakfast sitting up on the terrace adjacent to the little breakfast buffet table. After a few days of cappuccino, I was ready to start drinking more coffee and less milk, so I began to ask for cafe americano, maybe after having a first cappucino. Since they brought it with hot steamed milk, I enjoyed being able to decide the proportions between coffee and milk. I found I liked the less milky version better, especially since the coffee was so good.

    Today was our first car day, so the routine was about to change. After one last walk down to the duomo and a fizzy water in the square, we bit the bullet and rolled our little bags the 5 minutes over the bridge to EuropCar's office on the main drag. It was quick and efficient, maybe in hindsight too much so. As I said earlier, the agent did not take us round the car with an inspection to point out existing damage, so we got hit with some in Palermo that I am sure was not my doing. But oh well, I guess I was a little blasé because I knew I was totally covered with Auto Europe.

    We had brought a Garmin GPS that has Italian maps and used it regularly. In hindsight, I might have been better off with a SIM card in my smartphone and google maps. The thing about the GPS is that it seems incapable of distinguishing main roads from back roads and on many occasions directed us to secondary (or tertiary, or even less) highways. And with the "recalculating" going on every time we took a different turn, we were sometimes not sure we were actually going right.

    For instance, on our way from Piazza Armerina to Agrigento, the hard copy map suggested that we would be better off going straight south to Gela on the coast (looked like the straightest shot and the best roads) or going through Caltanissetta and then wind down through the hills coming into Agrigento more or less from the north. We wanted to try going through the hills -- and boy did we get our wish -- we wound up on back roads through small places like Mazzaria, but ultimately made it to our destination. Compounding the GPS's inability to favor major roads, there was a fair amount of construction and detours in the countryside that also sent us in new and unknown directions. But when I look back at the total time it took, I see that we really were not spending hours driving around in circles. Our GPS always got us there, even when we confounded it by refusing to take the unmarked dirt road on the left.

    The places where it really helped the most was driving through small towns on our way from one place to another. On those occasions, it worked like a charm, but again we sometimes had to override its directions that we turn down an alley way barely wide enough for the two of us to walk. But I did appreciate that as I was winding my way through a little, but very busy town, I was able to enjoy the activity knowing that in the end I was going to get to the other side and plunked down on the SS or SP road I wanted. Sorry for that tangent, but I hope it will reassure others about driving in Sicily. Not an easy task all the time, but if you relax and know that the GPS is ultimately going to get you there you can enjoy the places you see.

    Anyway, our drive from Siracusa to Noto was an easy straight shot once we got on the road, and the GPS took us straight to our little B&B, the Villa Ambra. Like most of our B&B selections, this place was clean, functional, nothing fancy, with very helpful family members pitching in to make our stay as enjoyable as possible. We got there in plenty of time to check in, park the car, and head down/up to town to enjoy lunch and the afternoon there.

    I thought Noto was a perfect "base" for visiting the Baroque towns. It is small, easy to navigate and very pretty. So we spent our arrival afternoon/evening in Noto, and the next day after breakfast driving to visit Modica and Ragusa. Then back to Noto for the night. I've already mentioned that the Villa Ambra is located about a 10-15 minute walk from the main pedestrian drag. I know an in-town charming place would have had its advantages but for me, the considerations were -- easy to drive into and leave the car without worrying about the ZTL; and within walking distance to historic center. I very much like having to walk to and from restaurants to add some postprandial exercise and movement to the routine, so this is one way to force us to do it!

    We had lunch in a little place on the main street in town, an absolutely excellent sandwich that we once again got by pointing. I would say the sandwiches were almost as high on my food list as the pizzas and pastas. Crunchy bread, great cheeses, fresh tomatoes, and every now and then we let a little of that highly fat laden cured meat creep into our diet. They are ridiculously cheap and usually big enough for two normal appetites. By now we were well into the "sit outside and enjoy the life around you" routine. My husband likes an espresso after lunch, so that always gives us a chance to pick out a different place after lunch and continue the street viewing from a different vantage point. This time, we chose a cafe right in front of the cathedral, and also added a gelato to the coffee routine.

    We spent the afternoon enjoying the architecture, mainly from the outside. The inside of the duomo didn't really do much for me -- it was far more spectacular to climb the two church bell towers (one on either side of the duomo, on the opposite side of the street) and enjoy the views of the square and the buildings from the top. And the palazzo whose name I can't remember, off on a side street, had equally pretty exterior features.

    By about 6 pm, we were ready to head back to the B&B, shower and come up with a list of possible eating places. We usually used the 6-8 pm slot for shower, clothes washing, chilling. This was not a conscious decision on our part but just became our normal routine. Since we were not rushing from place to place or town to town, we found it gave us the opportunity to recharge and regroup, and we were never exhausted or drained.

    Our first evening in Noto, we ate at Trattoria a Fontana d'Ercole, located very close to the main drag down a little street. At the recommendation of our B&B guy, I had the pasta fino al pistachio, which was a great choice. My husband had some very good fish dish. After dinner, the duomo cafe beckoned again, so we had another opportunity to enjoy the architecture basking in the night lights. It was later than we had expected by the time we got back to the B&B, but our modest plans for the next day meant we could sleep in without being worried about having to rush around in the morning.

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    Loving your report!

    We have found that sometimes our sat nav takes us down non-major routes if we have it programmed to 'shortest route' rather than 'fastest route' because it will look at the mileage rather than the speed limits on the roads and will divert us down some strange non-major routes! Maybe something to check?

    Can't wait for more!

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    Day 7 -- Visiting Modica and Ragusa

    At home I never sleep in till 8 or 8:30, but this seemed to become our usual wake up time. With a breakfast spent enjoying a couple of cups of great coffee and pouring over the guidebooks to get a good sense of our day's plan, we usually were on the road by 10. Our first stop was Modica, and the GPS worked like a charm. Unfortunately I had no real destination in Modica to search for, so when the GPS took us to the ZTL sign (a white circle with a red border, signifying that the area is off limits to folks like us), we then just stopped the car and asked someone where we might park. Again, our luck and the incredible friendliness of the Sicilians combined to put us in a free parking lot on the Via Tirella right before the traffic circle at the start of Corso Umberto (I reconstructed this by looking at google maps from my iPad). It was a perfect place, adjacent to all the sites and no problems with parking meters, etc. Though Google maps tells me it was a 45 minute drive, it took us almost an hour and fifteen minutes to get ourselves located in the parking lot.

    We then decided not to concentrate on the insides of churches here, having not seen much that jumped out at us in our three trusty guidebooks. So with our map from the centrally located tourist office in hand, we meandered our way up to the duomo, took a few minutes to stop and rest and enjoy the view from outside, and then carried on up to the Belvedere for the view. We knew it was up, so we put away our maps and just wandered. Enjoyable walking, lots of narrow streets, balconies with flowers and laundry, and great views from the top. After some water and some of an obligatory chocolate bar we had bought down below, we wove our way back down to the cathedral and from there back down to the street where the tourist office is located. We had a sandwich lunch in a cafe on the street, not sure what its name is but it was perfectly fine and relaxing.

    After lunch we went back to the car and with the GPS found we were in a great spot for continuing on to Ragusa. That was an easy drive, short, direct through the hills, on some incredibly engineered highways that cut across valleys (though they made our driving easier, they did not exactly have a great impact on the views). The parking lot others have described at the bottom of Ragusa magically appears as you get near the town. Since it was off season, the lot was not crowded, and the bar was up so that there was no charge. Looking up from the parking lot, we knew our next few hours would consist of more walking up and down, and so we just chose one road up, not really sure of the layout of the land. Turns out we had chosen to go up first to the "new" old Ragusa.

    We got to the church of Santa Maria delle Escale and there were able to get our bearings. Sitting on the square, eating the rest of our chocolate bar and drinking water gave us the pep we needed to keep on trekking. There were some spectacular clouds with bursts of sun and the views out over Ragusa Ibla kept changing dramatically. We must have stayed on the little lookout for a half hour or more. Just amazing views. We then took another route back down towards the parking lot, crossed over to Ragusa Ibla and did more of the same (this time with the tourist office map in hand -- the tourist office magically appeared as we crossed over to Ragusa Ibla) -- walking through little streets, turning around for the views, watching the children who were out of school, etc. The cathedral was locked up tight, but we had a water on the square and a nice chat with our English speaking waiter who was eager to practice.

    It was probably way too late for us to start out for home, but this was the day we learned that lesson the hard way. It was dark before we got back to Modica and rush hour to boot. In Modica, our GPS just kept taking us up and down and around. Helpful Sicilian to the rescue, and after about a half hour we were on our way out of town. That was the good news, the bad news was that we never made it back to the main road between Modica and Noto. I have no idea where we went or how we got back to Noto, but the GPS was quite confident we were on the right road. At one point, out in the middle of nowhere and after 10 or 15 minutes seeing no signs of human habitation, we saw the lights of a country home (kind of a villa/farmhouse structure) and brazenly pulled into the driveway. My husband went up and tentatively knocked, and after the woman peered through the window and decided we looked harmless, she opened up and confirmed that yes indeed we should just keep straight on the way back to Noto. We made it back to our B&B by around 8:00 or even a bit later, which means that we had had a pretty total fiasco driving from Ragusa. :-). It was a bit stressful, I admit, but the GPS ultimately came through. As I'm the driver and my husband the navigator, it was always up to him to keep telling me, look, we're in Italy, not on the moon, we are going to wind up somewhere we can find on the map and from there we'll just make our way back to Noto. Once again, husband knows best.

    It's amazing how a shower and a few minutes sitting and relaxing can help change the trajectory of the day and your mood. Around 9 pm, we were back on the road, this time walking into Noto, headed for the Pizzeria Al Terrazo, excellent, relaxing outdoor terrace. So that meant another late day for us, but once again that was fine, since we knew we were not rushed the next day. Our modest goal for the next day was to make it to Piazza Armerina and if there was time, to visit the Roman villa. If we got there too late, so be it, we could visit the villa the next day. I am so glad that we gave ourselves all of this wiggle room, because it really does take the stress off what would otherwise have been an even more frustrating night drive on unfamiliar roads.

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    Thanks for that tip, Jamikins, definitely something to look into. We really just need to get more familiar with using the GPS here at home. It was a new device for us, with about a month of "practice" before heading to Italy and the learning curve was pretty high. We are going to take the GPS with us back to Portugal next spring, so it is something to keep working with and playing with. And we are very familiar with Portugal, so we will have a backdrop of self-confidence that we just didn't have in Sicily. I had read comments about how frustrating and how hard driving in Sicily is, so I was sort of prepared (I think Dayle is the only one whose report I've read on the forum who breezed through without an issue). Bottom line for me is that it is definitely more challenging than driving in Spain or Porrtugal, where I've driven many thousands of kms, but it is not the horror story I feared.

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    I see that I am very chatty and rambling in these posts, but that's what jet lag does to you. I hope that some of these comments will be of help to others, though, and I am finding that this recounting helps me to remember and "re-live" this wonderful trip.

    Day 8 -- To Piazza Armerina and the Villa Romana deal Casale

    Today we had nothing on the "must do" list except driving to Piazza Armerina. Since that's about 120 km, I figured it was a reasonable goal. Our B&B gave us a good map showing the easy way out of Noto (avoiding all of the in-town, once again) to get on the route to Piazza Armerina. We had seen mention in the guides of a theater and some ruins in the environs of Palazzolo Acreide (Akrai), so we decided to stop there since it was right on the way. The GPS took us straight there, restoring my confidence in my little friend, and this was one place where we just left our car in the little parking lot with luggage in the trunk. There were about three other cars there, not exactly a big tourist draw, but it seemed totally safe.

    We loved this, the small scale, the group of Polish archaeology college students working enthusiastically washing chards, drawing maps, documenting who knows what. The Christians seemed to have taken to this place with a vengeance, carving out cavern after cavern of catacombs all around the theater itself. This is a low-key stop I would highly recommend, if you like walking around, poking in and out of catacombs without a tour guide on your back, and just sitting and enjoying the theater and thinking about life thousands of years ago.

    From there it was a straightforward drive to Piazza Armerina (way to go once again, GPS!). We had put in the street address of our B&B and it turns out it is right off the road that goes from the town out to the ruins. When we got to the turnoff for the street, though, and crept down the dirt road, we were not sure we were on the right path. So we backtracked and tried to find someone to help us out. That took us about another 20 minutes when we should have just continued a little further down the dirt road, because in fact the B&B was right there. On these dirt roads, the GPS frequently tells you you are at your destination before you actually are, so it pays to forge ahead. But that was a minor distraction.

    The Villa Clementine is a lovely place, has a pool that must be great in the hot summer and lots of green space. It's down below town right off the road that goes directly to the Villa Romana. We were surprised that we had arrived in such good time, so we decided to just drop off our stuff and head out to see the mosaics that afternoon. We had hours of daylight, no crowds to speak of, it was perfect.

    We hadn't eaten, but I had made note of progol's suggestion for La Ruota. We continued on to that place from our B&B, but it was closed for the season apparently, so we backtracked about a km to a pretty nondescript hotel with cafe. Google maps suggests its name was Hotel Mosaici. Overpriced, not outstanding food, but oh well, we were eager to get to the Villa Romana.

    There is a huge parking lot, but it was virtually empty the afternoon we were there. I think we had to share the site with two, at most three tour buses, which arrived, burst on the scene, whizzed their way through, and then left us alone. The temps were also quite moderate, so we didn't have to deal with the heat that somehave experienced while walking under all those coverings. I have to say I found this site to be breathtaking. Our Michelin guide does a great job of explaining the layout and the themes of the mosaics in each room. There are also informational panels in English that add historic and artistic detail. We must have been there for more than three hours, virtually till closing time. We fell in with a young Italian couple and they were very interested in hearing all about the circus that our presidential election has become. Since they have experience with a president who shares some of the characteristics of one of our candidates, they did not display the same level of incredulity that we got from other Europeans we met along the way, but they were very interested to hear our take on things. Our guidebooks say these are the best Roman mosaics anywhere in the world, and though I have no basis for comparison, I can't imagine that it could get much better. Thank goodness for 7 or 8 centuries of mud!

    We decided that since our surroundings at Villa Clementine were so nice, we would just drive into town and buy some groceries for a meal. Getting into the center on a Saturday evening meant withstanding lots of traffic, and we did violate our own self-imposed rule about not driving after dark, but we were only a few kms from "home" and had a pretty good sense of how to get in and out. Just follow the signs to the Roman ruins. As we were stopped at a traffic light, we just asked a woman with grocery bags where we should go, and she directed us to a very adequate supermercado. I sat in the car while my husband did the shopping and enjoyed the vibrancy of this place -- a pretty tiny, pretty nondescript place with a lot of life and a lot of human warmth. Oh, these Italians have really got a much better balance between life in the public spaces vs. life inside the home, IMO. My husband got some good recommendations on wine, cold cuts, etc from some local women who seemed to think it was their patriotic duty to make sure we had a high quality experience. Back at the B&B, Rita brought us a table cloth, plates, cutlery, and a corkscrew, all we needed for a dinner out on the little patio. WONDERFUL!!! I had not had any wine since our arrival, but a decent bottle of something from the area was tempting, so I went ahead and partook. After all, my husband couldn't drink a whole bottle himself!!

    I hope I am not waxing too enthusiastically, and I realize that my ravings may make you think that either I'm a loon or I'm embellishing. But for us there's no doubt that this was the most magical trip we've taken probably in our 38 years of marriage, and it was proof positive that careful planning without setting up a rigid schedule provides immeasurable rewards. We just sat there that night marveling at our good luck, thinking back over what we had done so far, and realizing that the most spectacular Greek theaters were still in our future!

    and a p.s. of thanks -- there is no way this could have all come together without the input of so many of you.

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    " hope I am not waxing too enthusiastically, and I realize that my ravings may make you think that either I'm a loon or I'm embellishing. "

    Sicily is magical, not the least because the people are just so friendly and kind. We've been twice but I'm ready to go back after reading your report, and we were just there in May!

    We had bus load after bus load of school kids viewing the mosaics at Villa Romana, and we had to kind of rush through, getting glimpses of the floors in between heads, but we loved it anyway. Looks like your timing was much better than ours. I think we arrived around 2 pm.

    I'm glad the bus from Taormina to Syracuse worked out well for you. The kind people at Villa Schuler recommended it to us.

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    Thanks for that, sundriedtopepo, I was thinking this morning that surely there must be more negative things I should say just to preserve some balance. And I did think of something-- The landscape in the interior was dry and brown, not beautiful and green like it would be in the spring. That did make some of the the drives much less scenic and the landscape was rather barren and severe. But I think that's a small price to pay for the other huge advantages that come from traveling in the fall.

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    L

    Oh ,no! I had a few misdirections from my Tom tom too. It sent me the scenic route between Agrigento and Piazza Armerina. I knew to stay on the main highway until Gela and did for most of the way. Somewhere along the route it gave me a turn that had me off into the mountains on little deserted roads, but no dirt. Thankfully the scenery was fantastic and I stopped several times for some great pictures.

    Then I went round and round Piazza Armerina trying to get to the Villa Romana. I knew it was just outside town and even which side, but Tommasina just didnt get me on the right street! She even sent me up the wrong way on a one way street. A street so steep my stick shift car stalled in first! That was interesting..... Once I got up to the top, I could easily understand why it was a one way going down only!

    In Scicli, she tried to direct me down a street blocked with concrete barriers at the point where the street became a stairway......didnt fall for that one!

    Fortunately Tommasina got me straight to La Foresteria Planeta Estate in the Menfi countryside, when I had absolutely no clue where it was. I had been unable to reach them for directions due to internet and e mails problems on their end. Just breezed in the driveway after a nice countyside drive.

    None of these things bothered me. Like your husband, I dont worry about getting lost. I know Ill get there even if it takes a little figuring out. I also think that after you have driven a couple of times with a GPS in a strange place, you kind of know went to ignore it.....and trust hour own instincts and sense of direction. Plus I always take a detailed paper map. Although I hardly used it in Sicily.

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    like you, lreynolds, we loved Sicily and I am really keen to go back though I think that DH may have ideas about other places to go first. and there is the rest of Italy of course.

    The food is one of the things that IMO sets it aside from many other places [it's hard to have a bad meal and most are very good] and I noticed that you spotted this:

    <<A couple near us had ordered a whole fish covered in about a 3" hard salt crust. Has anyone ever had fish prepared that way? The crust was cut off of course, and the waiter took care of the bones and the skin with very expert strokes. >>

    It's dead easy to do, so long as you have enough salt. you need a whole fish, a big enough dish [I use a roasting pan that fits straight onto the oven runners] some flavourings, and you are good to go. oil the tin, place the fish on it [a flat whole fish works best like brill, turbot or halibut] stuff the cavity with herbs, and then cover the whole lot in a deep layer of salt.

    Bake in the oven for 20 -30 mins or so depending on the size of the fish. take it out, and the skin should lift off with the salt, then you can take the fillets off the top side; lift out the bones [they should all come out together with the backbone] and then you are left with the fillets underneath.

    after that small culinary diversion, our problem with the roads was not so much the GPS [where it seemed to be going mad we ignored it and used the map] but the roads themselves. These were mainlythough not entirely self-inflicted problems caused by my choice of accommodation at the top of places instead of at the bottom. Getting to the hotel in Castelmola almost finished us off, but I don't think we'd have got there at all had we not served our apprenticeship in Ragusa, where we had to drive all the way up through Ibla to get there. But even in the countryside we ran into problems - one road between [i think] Palazzolo Acriede and Ragusa had been so badly affected by weather/erosion/subsidence that actually getting to the other end required nerves of steel on DH's point and a huge amount of self-restraint on mine! [he was driving, I was spotting the potholes]. Then being faced with driving up into Ragusa Ibla, finding our B&B and then getting to the parking up at the top by the dome of the Duomo tested both our endurance. As did steeling ourselves to drive down the next day, knowing that we'd have to drive all the way back up there again at the end of the day. I suppose if you live there it gets easier!

    anyway you are inspiring me to go back to my own TR though whether it will be as entertaining as your remains to be seen!

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    Day 9 -- Piazza Armerina to Agrigento

    The Villa Clementine is very nice. Rooms are very comfortable, the grounds are spacious and very private (pool for the summer), Rita is a doting hostess, and the breakfast rivaled the Villa Schuler in Taomorina. If you could find more things to do in the area, I would definitely encourage another night there. For example, the ruins of the nearby ancient city of Morgantina, from 11th century BC are, I believe, undergoing extensive work, but nothing really jumped out at me when I was planning.

    The drive to Agrigento was another one of those where the GPS took us off major roads and through the little village of Mazzaria. We had wanted to try the roads through the hills rather than the obviously more direct route south to Gela on the coast and then west. There was construction and some detours, so that didn't help things. On one remote road, we flagged down a motorcyclist coming in the opposite direction and he very helpfully stopped and drew us a little map of where we were and how to get to Agrigento. Even the little town of Mazzaria was abuzz on a Sunday morning and the drive up to the top and out the other side was interesting and involved a lot of quick turns onto narrow streets.

    But without too much ado we made our way into Agrigento. The main road from the west takes you right to the one of two parking lots for the temples. This is the "lower" one, and we found that it was easy to get to our B&B with that entrance into town. Just keep following signs to Agrigento, going up the hill. After the turnoff to the left for the Archaeological museum (at the San Nicola church), but before the turnoff to the right for the "upper" parking lot of the Valley of the Temples, the Villa Lumia has a sign on the right. Not terribly obvious, but visible if you are looking for it. Great location, another nice family run place, with breakfast outside with a view of the temples! Rooms were pretty typical for our trip -- perfectly clean, bathroom worked well, not much in the way of charm or historic trappings. The B&B is on the grounds of the family home and the accommodations are either newly built or heavily remodeled. Another "enclosed compound" where you needed a key to get in the gate.

    After checking in and dropping off our stuff, we walked towards the temples' upper parking lot. It seemed to me that this was definitely the "secondary" entrance, that most of the hoopla was at the entrance we had seen at our entrance to Agrigento. From our B&B, it was probably about a 15-20 minute walk to the entrance. On the way we passed a few roadside cafe/restaurants and had a light lunch. That left us with many hours to tour the temples. Again, we lucked out -- though it was a Sunday afternoon, and there were lots but not hoards of Italian families visiting, we saw only one or two bus loads and were able to enjoy ourselves without feeling pressed or crowded at all. I was surprised looking at our pictures to see how few people were in them! Not all of the on-site cafes were open, but we did have some acqua frizzante at one.

    Since my husband is a good 10 years older than I, he took the tourist train back up to our starting point (3 euros) and waited there for me. I then walked back to our B&B and got the car to come pick him up, to save those kms for him. We had passed a nice looking restaurant on the side of the road, Il Re di Girgenti. Turns out we had dinner there both nights, sitting outside with a view of several of the temples lit up. Though there is a fair amount of road traffic very nearby, the views cancelled out that minor irritation. We both had good fish, some good risotto and pasta, so we decided to return the next night.

    Day 10 -- In Agrigento

    We had two choices for today. We knew that we wanted to visit the Archaeological Museum (you can buy a "combined ticket" for both sites to save a few euros), but that would leave a lot of the day. As between a car trip, to Scala di Turchhi and one or two other things I had jotted down in my notes, and just a "stay put" day in town, we opted for the latter. It was the right choice for us.

    First, the museum is quite nice, has one of the original Atlantes from the Temple of Zeus and a reconstruction of how it looked in all its glory. Lots of nice artifacts, and less draining for the non-expert than some of the other museums we had visited. It was much smaller, seemed more intimate, and easier to roam around in.

    From the museum, we found our way up to the modern town. Some of the walk was less than inspiring, but I really do enjoy seeing the non-touristy parts of the places I go, and this walk up was surely that. A bit chaotic, car mechanics next to pharmacies, not exactly scenic but interesting. Once up there, we got on the Via Atenas and used it as the spine of our visit. All of our day was spent either on or near it. We would take little detours up to churches or just to wander around through the narrow streets. We had another good lunch in a little cafe somewhere on an old narrow street. Sitting outside, another good antipasto plate. No doubt many would say that Agrigento is not high on charm nor on attractions to visit, and on some level I would have to agree. But it was another one of those places where you would happen upon an open church door, find a nun sitting there taking donations, and go into another beautiful baroque stucco church. Lots of winding old streets with houses close together and clothes hanging on the balcony. One of my favorite pictures is of six prayer mats hanging out to dry next to a big satellite dish. Not too touristy, and the pretty low key Via Atenas was the closest it comes, I think, to "trendy" and "upscale" in Agrigento. But we enjoyed it. And we topped it off with a visit to probably the best gelato place we experienced -- Crispini on the Via Della Vittoria.

    Another good fish dinner, and with our breakfast on check-out morning, we ate a total of four meals sitting with unobstructed views of the temples. Not bad.

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    Loving this report, please keep "rambling"!

    Ann, for our Taormina accommodations, we did the reverse of your solution to the crowds and found a lovely B&B down by the water in Giardina Naxos. The bus system was fantastic and readily available when we needed to go in one direction or another. Probably because it is used by both the late night and early morning commuters who live by the water but work on the hill. BTW, we needed nerves of steel just to ride to Castelmolo...I can't even imagine finding the courage to drive. L, I am jeolous that you found the trail to walk up to Piazza Castelmolo. From our periodic glimpses, it really did look like a beautiful track.

    Looking forward to reading both of your reports in their entireties".��

    -Annie

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    Ann, for our Taormina accommodations, we did the reverse of your solution to the crowds and found a lovely B&B down by the water in Giardina Naxos.>>

    sounds like a good choice, Annie. On our trip to Etna we met a family [mum and two grown-up daughters] who were in an apartment in that area and they loved it. Frankly I have no idea how we got up to the hotel either - and the SatNav was s..all use as it couldn't "read" the road. We certainly weren't up for doing it again, and we left the car in the vertiginous car park all the time we were there. Whilst I would consider returning to Ragusa, despite the hills, I won't be rushing back to Castelmola again.

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    I had fish prepared that way in Ravello this summer. I was surprised that I finished it all myself--underneath the salt and sans bones it wasn't that big. Now maybe thanks to annhig I'l try to cook it at home.

    I wish I had stayed at your b & b in Agrigento. We stayed out in the countryside and that is when I determined that I will never again stay in the countryside unless they serve dinner onsite! Too dark, too curvy driving at night for me.

    Looking forward to your next stop.

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    Now maybe thanks to annhig I'l try to cook it at home.>>

    oh the responsibility!

    <<I wish I had stayed at your b & b in Agrigento. We stayed out in the countryside and that is when I determined that I will never again stay in the countryside unless they serve dinner onsite! Too dark, too curvy driving at night for me. >>

    that's why we always stay in a town, Leely - that and our wanting to be able to have the odd glass of wine or three without worrying about who's driving. AS you will discover if ever get round to finishing my TR, we thought that we'd made a bad mistake in the place we stayed at in Piazza Armerina, because though it wasn't exactly in the countryside, you needed the car to get into town, and the road to get back to the pensione was vertiginous in places. EXCEPT we discovered that if you ignored the directions they gave you, and the signs that they had put up, by turning right earlier than they said, instead of driving round the side of a small cliff, you drove along a perfectly normal road past other houses.

    Once we discovered our new route we were perfectly happy as the drive back from the town only took about 5 minutes and it was lit up all the way, so long as you went the right [ie our] way and not theirs. Weird or what?

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    Enjoying your TR! It should be very helpful for future visitors to Sicily. I remember your planning thread. Glad you liked Palmero. I thought it was a much underrated city. I'm glad you thought it would have been ok to leave luggage in a car. as I have said, we did it throughout Sicily and never felt particularly worried given the locations and number of people around.

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    Day 11 -- To Selinunte and Villa Sogno

    Another "travel day," though our travel days this trip tended to be very low key and non-stressful. We got around to leaving the B&B around 10:30 or 11, knowing/hoping we had only about 90 minutes -2 hours to Villa Sogno. We had been having such a good time with our routine of "drive straight to the hotel and then head to the main attraction for the day" that we decided to forego a quick detour to Scala di Turchi. Maybe that was a mistake, but we had heard and read so much about Selinunte and wanted to make sure to have as much time as we wanted there.

    So by the time we checked in, dropped bags, and drove into town to a little salumeria for another great sandwich and fresh fruit for our upcoming picnic, it was about 2 pm when we arrived at the ruins. We parked in the "near lot" and left the car there for the rest of the day. That meant a lot of walking, but we are both used to a fairly high level of activity, and two hours sitting in the car just adds to the urge to get out and go. There is another "combined ticket" option, allowing access the next day to the Cave di Cusa, the nearby quarry site where all the stone was prepared for the temples.

    I can't add much to what others have said about Selinunte. Another spectacular site, totally unrestricted access to the temples (except for the Acropolis on the location closer to the water, which is gated off to visitors), good guidebook descriptions, beautiful water locations and excellent picnicking opportunities. I might slightly disagree with remarks that it is not really "worth it" to walk across the ancient river (now stream) to the third and most remote site, Temple M (Malophorus ???). Our guidebook explained how it was the most ancient part of the entire complex and that they had discovered many hundreds of votive statues to Demeter at the site. For ancient history buffs, this is probably an essential stop. For the ignoranti like us who just like to walk a lot and conjure up the past with our basic understandings, it was also fun. Excavations are ongoing and we knew that a lot of the findings from Selinunte were on display in Palermo, so we wanted to have a good mental image of the whole thing for our later visit there. Our long haul back to the car started with an overpriced but refreshing lemon granita. As the only guy in town selling anything to eat or drink, he was pretty much able to choose his prices, showing once again that it's fun to be a monopolist.

    Back in the car, we went into the little town nearby Marinela di Selinunte. We walked around looking for someplace inspiring for diner, but decided that tonight would be another picnic supper out on the terrace in the B&B's beautifully landscaped backyard, so more fixings were needed. Since it was a Monday night, the restaurant at the nearby and highly touted Agriturismo Carbona was closed. We considered the fish extravaganza at Boomerang but had read conflicting reviews and decided to stick to basics back at the B&B with another excellent bottle of wine,some fresh vegetable (SORELY lacking in my Sicilian restaurant diet), and the standard meats, cheeses, bread, etc.

    Day 12 -- To Segesta

    I had several options for the day in my notes. One was to head to Scala di Turchi, the Eraclea Minoa site, and then poke around there. Another was Mazara del Vallo to see the Satyr, then visit the salt flats plus Mozia. A third was a drive up to Caltabellota and around for the scenery. With the weather forecast predicting rain near Scopello, and with our incipient idea about cutting a day off what was planned as three nights in Scopello in order to add a day to Palermo, we opted to "jump ahead" a day. We decided that after our visit to the Cave di Cusi we would then drive to Segesta (knowing that we would cover essentially that same bit the following day when we moved to Scopello, so it wasn't really that efficient). But our B&B host Lorenzo told us the forecast looked much better for Segesta and the north than the few kms south in the Selinunte area, so we went with that plan. I'm sure we would have enjoyed the other options, but hey you can't do it all.

    Driving to Cava di Cusi we took a wrong turn and suddenly found ourselves as the only car in a sea of men hanging around in groups on the side of the road. Some were batting a ball around, most were just milling though. The backdrop cabins/shanties from which they must have emerged were depressing to say the least. We later learned that it was immigrant labor for the olive harvest, and the men were probably waiting for their pick up rides. Not sure where we had taken the wrong turn, we flagged down the only other car we saw coming our way, and the driver promptly turned around and took us to the entrance, only a few kms away, but if you don't know how to get there, being near won't help you.

    The Cave di Cusi is probably not a "must see" stop on anyone's list, but it was evocative and interesting. I had always assumed that the round columns standing in all these temples were carved out of big blocks of quarried stone. Not so -- round columns were actually chipped right out of the quarry itself, and there were several excellent examples of half-done columns still standing with a little ring of space most of the way around them. The site is fairly extensive and not heavily touristed. It is surrounded by olive groves, too, which makes for nice scenery.

    Segesta was just as described, but even if you are expecting it, it kind of knocks your socks off. The five star attraction is the highly intact temple, amazing. Back down at the main visitor site (cafe, tickets, etc), there is a km or so path up to the top where the theater is located. The options are a couple of euros for a bus (which my husband took) or an off-road path that takes you through the excavations of the defensive walls and some recently discovered remains of housing units. The setting of the theater is maybe not as dramatic as Taormina with Mt. Etna in the background, but the gulf of the ocean is visible and the theater is in very good shape. There was even a row of seats that had curved stone backs, so someone must have paid a premium not to sit with lower back pain and watch the show. I convinced my husband to walk down, and the views of the temple as you get lower are pretty awesome.

    We got back to Selinunte to a hard rain, the only rain that fell on us (our car actually) during the trip. We had hoped to take an hour or so walk in the nature preserve, but it was raining, so we headed slowly back to town and by the time we got there and had had a coffee, it had stopped. We opted for a walk along the beach from our cafe and enjoyed walking in the warm water with the waves coming in. There is an incredible amount of refuse on the beach, so it wasn't exactly pristine, but when you get out toward the point you can see the Acropolis poking up at you, so it was not a bad way to end the day.

    That night we had dinner at Agriturismo Carbona, known for its meat according to our B&B . Even though we aren't much in the way of meat eaters (but were of course making almost daily exceptions for cured meats and hams while here), my husband is always happy to chow down on a big chunk of beef, especially since it was raised on their farm. He said it was quite good, but found that "medium rare" meant something more cooked than he had expected. Since that was the only meat we had while in Sicily, I'm not sure if that's a general issue or whether this was an exception. He did have a similar experience asking for rare tuna, though. We had some excellent antipasto before the piece de resistance, and I was happy with my vegetarian pasta. I would recommend that option for dinner, and it is a very short drive from the Villa Sogno. They also sell home made olive oil, and if you can resist buying a few bottles, since they are in the most beautifully decorated olive oil bottle I've ever seen, you have more self-restraint than I. We had had the olive oil at our dinner, so can confirm that it's more than just a pretty face.

    Villa Sogno is a very good stop, finally some charm in the accommodation! And Lorenzo and Cinzia are enthusiastic, helpful and very kind. I would highly recommend it. We're glad we had two nights and could have found lots of ways to fill several more days if time were not an issue. Though we have probably seen many or most of the "must see" places in Sicily, there are undoubtedly tons more waiting for us to explore.

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    Day 13 -- To Scopello

    Today we kind of hustled a bit, knowing that the weather report was now glorious for the Scopello area (with thunderstorms threatened for evening) and wanting to spend as much of the day as possible walking the path along the coast in the Zingaro Preserve, Sicily's first protected natural area. So we left a bit early for our Sicily habits, must have been before 10. The route was familiar, since we had gone from our B&B to Segesta the day before, and it was an easy drive on the autovia.

    One quick note I forgot to add about driving on the autovia in Sicily. The stretch between Taormina/Messina and at least as far as Catania has tolls. We saw them when being transported from the Catania airport to Taormina. There are both transponder lanes, and cash lanes. From Siracusa to Noto, we were on the autovia for a while, and saw what looked like overhead transponder-sensitive toll points, but no cash lanes. We followed up on it because we were afraid that, like in Portugal, we would have to make payment within a few days since we had no transponder in our car. Our B&B hosts in Villa Ambra, however, told us that the toll collections were not yet functional on this is part of the autovia. So my sense is that the only place to worry about tolls is on the autovia on the east side, because we saw no toll booths or overhead transponder points driving on the A29 between Mazaro and Palermo.

    When we got to Castellamare del Golfo, we decided not to take a little detour through town to see the port, the castle, etc, again with our Zingaro destination in mind. We did pull off at the overlook on the way up after going through town to enjoy expansive views down towards town and beyond for many kms.

    Arriving in Scopello was easy for us. Straight up towards the "lower" entrance to town, and about 500 m before the parking lot, we saw our destination on the right. It's very identifiable, kind of a white three sided building, a ring of rooms put together, with an open courtyard in the middle. It was very early, but our room was ready and the woman at the desk was very accommodating. I have described our decision to change from 3 nights in Scopello to 2 nights, even though our booking.com reservation had us down for three. In hindsight, and especially because we had already visited Segesta, this was exactly the right amount of time for us.

    Walking gear, water bottles, backpack for lunch, and off we went. On the way to the preserve, there is a little market, which has a great deli section. It was in fact the first one we had found with a lot of prepared salads (cous cous vegetables, many different eggplant options including caponata of course). So we did a double shop, buying lunch fixings and dinner fixings at the same time. By now, I had pretty much had my fill of eating in restaurants. No matter how good the food, I found myself longing for my own green salads more than anything. At least here we could get some carrots, peppers, crunchy raw vegetables, what a delight! Even with a 20 euro bottle of wine, the bill was around 35 euros. And we had gotten several recommended cheeses to boot and at least one cured meat.

    So by very early afternoon, we were at the parking lot at the southern end of the trail. This is very close to Scopello. Before reaching it, though, we had parked the car in a little signed parking lot to take a quick stroll to see the rocky formations close to the coast as well as the now abandoned tuna factory. Turns out this was not the only abandoned tuna factory we would see, there is another one on the way from San Vito el Capo to the northern end of the preserve. I have read that you can visit the tonnara, but the sign we saw said "private property" and since we were eager to start walking, we didn't pursue it any further. But it may have been a very interesting little side trip.

    A km or so further on, you come to a fair sized parking lot, free parking, totally out in the open. Charge for entering the preserve was in the 5-8 euro range, and oh was it worth the ticket price. We wound up there almost till dark. When you enter, you will receive a map that shows you how the paths criss cross and descend to a variety of coves. Even in mid October, there were people swimming there. There were many options for combining my desire to walk more and my husband's desire to walk less. Sometimes I would go up and down to a cove while he would wait up top. Sometimes he would stay seated in the shade or visit some of the little establishments along the way (a manna museum, for instance) while I walked out and back, making a circle by using the trail map. So it's a place to walk where it's easy to accommodate different levels of walking. Who can object to sitting and waiting in a protected cove with turquoise water and many rock formations?! This is an absolutely glorious place to walk, beautiful coastlines, beautiful coves, great views extending in both directions. I cannot recommend it highly enough for those who like being active outdoors. The path is good, ups and downs all manageable. I always hike with poles, but hadn't brought them and didn't really miss them.

    That evening after showering we decided to walk up to the town and see what was going on. Scopello has a few shops, a few cafes, a great bread store with legendary pane cunzatos, a pension with very high ratings. There are, I believe, parking lots on either side of town, but driving through town is prohibited. I didn't really figure out the details though because we just walked from our place. As we were walking back down to enjoy our homemade dinner, which we hoped to enjoy sitting outside, the heavens opened up and it poured. We made it back, drenched and soggy, but luckily those quick drying clothes served their purpose and were dry by morning. It did dash our dream of an outdoor dinner gazing out over the twinkling lights of Castellamare and beyond, but we were happy that the rain had held off for the day because those coastal paths would have been very different in the rain.

    Day 14 -- To Erice

    This was the only day with something that bordered on bad weather. Breakfast outdoors on the terrace was sunny and very pleasant temperatures. The breakfast here fit well within our median Sicilian breakfast -- a ton of sweets, some fruit, good coffee. And great views.

    Driving up to Erice was sunny and clear, walking through the gates, to the duomo, and starting up the main road, things were a bit cloudy, and then from the main square onward, we alternated among cloudy and foggy and drizzly. No strong rain, but no beautiful views from then on. I readily admit that our opinion of Erice is highly influenced by the fog - it made it chilly and less than pleasant. The castle itself pushed in and out of the fog, the drizzles put a damper on things. But even accounting for the weather, I have to say I was surprised that the Michelin guide gives Erice 3 stars. True, the gates are ancient, there are some old towers and a few baroque churches, some winding narrow alleyways with laundry hanging on small balconies. But in comparison to other walled medieval cities I've visited, it really wouldn't make my "must see" list. I don't mean this to sound arrogant or dismissive, because it does have some interesting features and attractive squares, gardens, etc. We did have some good food (drizzle and fog are great motivators to go inside and chow down) and I wouldn't say it was an awful stop. But all in all, if I had to have one day of bad weather, this would be the day I would pick, for the perhaps weird reason that it put a damper on what wasn't going to be a spectacular day anyway.

    Driving back down the hill, we debated whether to go to Trapani/salt flats/Mozia or San Vito el Capo and the other end of the Zingaro preserve. Btw, I don't think the roads up and down to and from Erice are horrible, they do wind around but the pavement is in good condition, the curves are manageable. Maybe in high summer if you have to compete with tour buses it gets a bit more hairy, but for us in a car with very little traffic it wasn't a big issue at all.

    The Zingaro preserve option won out, so we drove first to San Vito, a little beach town with not a whole lot of charm in my book. There was a cafe with excellent coffee, however! (admittedly that is not hard to find in Sicily). After a stroll around, we got back in the car and drove to the northern end of the preserve we had walked through the day before. The weather was somewhat cloudy, but visibility was good and we walked almost to the spot where we had turned back the previous day, coming in from the south. Having seen both ends of the preserve, I would say that the south end near Scopello has better access (it's a good 8 km or more from San Vito to the parking lot and entrance). Both have views of the same ocean, both have little coves that are great for swimming, and I suppose that for most people the entrance point depends on where you are coming from.

    Back at Tenute Plaia, we got ready to head up to Scopello for dinner but as we started up, it started to rain. So we decided to eat in their restaurant, rather than chance another downpour on the way back. This was the only meal all trip that was a letdown. Uninteresting, overpriced (at least in comparison to the other meals we were eating in Sicily), but the service was friendly and the food was hot! Bad meals are not that big a deal for me, so having some decent wine and a nice table on which to plan out some of our upcoming Palermo time made it an ok way to end the day.

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    I'm sorry you didn't get to see the views at Erice, because they are the whole reason to go there, and I think your opinion would have been different on a sunny day. I loved the place....

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    L

    Thanks for reporting back on Tenuta Plaia. I thought the location looked great and the rooms the usual basic, but you cant tell about a restaurant unless you try it!

    Sorry you had bad weather at Erice. I loved it even in the pouring rain. Lots of atmosphere. But since I had 3 nts there, I did get to see it with the gorgeous views too. I was the one trying to hike Lo Zingaro in the rain. Not a lot of fun and that mud gets very sticky......still beautiful, but I would love to see it in the sun!

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    I'll jump on the Erice bandwagon. We liked it so much we went on both trips to Sicily. It was a touch crowded during the mid day, but the early am and evening and nights were delightful.

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    lreynold1, a fantastic report! Amazed that you would post such a wonderfully detailed account of your trip so soon after your return.

    We've never been to Sicily. Your report not only motivates us to go, but actually provides a detailed travel guide. Thanks so much!

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    What a great trip report, lreynold1! Such wonderful details. We went to Sicily for nine nights last year, and just loved it--Palermo, Agrigento, Nicosia, Piazza Armerina, Siracusa and Taormina.

    Unlike you, our least favorite part was our two nights in Palermo--colored I am sure by our wiggy private tour guide and our two so-so dinners (despite recommendations from said tour guide and the Palazzo Pantaleo.) We never did get to the waterfront...perhaps that's why? Can't wait to read why you loved it so.

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    If I don't write up these details soon after returning home, I will forget them. :-)

    And it was a combination of terrible jet lag and the fact that I have just recently retired that opened up big blocks of time for me. I hope it will be of use to others.

    And btw, today I received a mailing from the alumni association of the university I just retired from, and guess what trip they're offering in May 2017? 10 days (really 8, since they count the two international travel days) for about $3000 not including airfare. Hotels, breakfasts, four lunches and four dinners included along with standard tour stuff.

    The brochure describes a visit to Catania's "Historic Museum of the Landing in Sicily" in 1943. Has anyone been to that museum?

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    I do have a vague memory of visiting it right after it opened. Since it is only a vague memory I conclude that it wasn't that interesting, but it was a few years back and it may have improved.

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    Last installment -- Palermo for four nights

    Day 15 -- Scopello to Palermo

    We had changed our reservations to cut out a night in Scopello and add a night to Palermo. That was thanks to the encouragement I got here. I had no idea what to expect in Palermo and we were wowed.

    The drive from Scopello is short and sweet, and there are several gas stations in the town of Cinisi, very close to the airport. Palermo has a new terminal, I believe, and EuropCar's drop off has been moved to be near the other companies' locations. The signs had not yet indicated that so it was kind of confusing. There is a EuropCar lot beyond the terminal, and there were customers there when we arrived, but maybe it's just for pickup and not drop off. The agent told us to circle back to the arrivals section. The parking structure is on the left, and there are two gates. Both require you to take a ticket. One takes you into the parking structure, and the other, to the left, opens the gate to the car rental area. We got a very systematic inspection on returning our car, and I was glad we had the total coverage option. The agent found some problems. A good reminder to make sure to check out the car for damage on pick-up, which we didn't do. Things were just a bit too crazy at the pick-up place in Siracusa, but it was careless to forego the detailed walk-around. I am sure that the scrapes on the side did not happen on my watch, unless someone scraped us while the car was parked and we were gone. And there was a bubble on the tire that we got charge for, and I have no idea how those things happen. But it all became immaterial since we had the total coverage. We will have to pay an "administration fee" of 50 euros and some taxes. The woman at the desk in EuropCar told me that AutoEurope must have a special arrangement with EuropCar because usually the administration fee is 90 euros. I rent a car in Portugal every year for a few days and have never used AutoEurope, but I think I'm a convert now.

    The airport bus into town is efficient, has about 7 stops, and one drops you at the Teatro Politeama. Palazzolo Pantaleo is very close, and that's where we had intended to stay. But they couldn't accommodate our change to a four night stay. So thanks to google maps, I just looked around near the bus stop and found the Hotel Garibaldi. It was about three minutes from the stop, right on the same road. 81 euros, modern/minimalist, good bathrooms/showers, no charm, great staff, decent breakfast, no complaints.

    We spent the first afternoon getting our bearings, and found that Palermo is a great city and an easy city for walking. There is a controversial ZTL plan (zone with no cars) for the historical center, which was in full force on the weekend, and which provoked a fairly large and organized street protest on our last morning in Palermo.

    At our light lunch stop at the nearby Cafe Spinnato, we studied the map and chose a few sites for the afternoon. We decided to visit the cathedral and the Palatina Chapel in conjunction with our introductory walk-around. Again we found minimal crowds, and lots of time to explore at leisure. Since it was a Saturday, the streets were lively, lots "street food" being consumed, lots of people strolling, there's no way not to get pulled into the very vibrant atmosphere.

    Dinner at Vino y Pomadoro, probably the best pizza of our trip and that is saying something. We wound up back there another night. Other dinners in Palermo were at Mercede and one other place on the same street as Vino y Pomadoro. It was a bit further down, a bit more "upscale" (if cloth tablecloths are a sign of that), perfectly fine.

    Day 16 -- in Palermo

    It was a Sunday morning so we knew we had limited visiting opportunities. Since rain was in the morning forecast (and boy did it come down), we went first to the Archaeological Museum. Currently undergoing a major renovation, only one of three stories is open, but the slick glossy paper descriptive brochure shows that all of the remaining work is planned and collections chosen. We were happy to see that the floor that was open consisted of two major parts -- one was some statuary in niches along the side of the cloister. But for us the main attraction were the rooms devoted to Selinunte - some panels from the friezes of two of the temples are there, there are lots of artifacts (most interesting to me were the many pieces of inscribed metal showing "voodoo"-like practices. As I understood it, people would write up their reasons for disliking, mistrusting, envying, etc. a neighbor/acquaintance. They were then left at the temple for divine intervention. The museum has very nice displays and spacing. No sense of crowding and the friezes in particular have a lot of room and a nice model showing where they were located back at the site we had visited a few days earlier.

    Since it was Sunday, we knew that a lot of places would be closed in the afternoon, so we chose to follow one of the Michelin guide's four walking tours of Palermo. We wound up walking them all, and I would highly recommend it, you can of course tailor things to suit your own interests. This one started over in La Kalsa and took us around Piazza Marina, and some nice squares there. To get to La Kalsa we took a route not in the book and found ourselves walking through a decidedly Chinese neighborhood. The walk started near Piazza Armerina and took us through some parts of town we would probably not have seen otherwise. I wanted to visit La Magione, a small Romanesque church with a tiny cloister with a few capitals remaining. It is a perfect reflection of a chunk of Palermo's history -- the well in the middle of the cloister had inscriptions in Hebrew, and a column in a window in the chapel had the Arabaic words praising Allah. Interesting outside features as well.

    I can't remember the exact sequence, but at some point we found ourselves at the square of San Francesco (we had not heard of the crazily busy Focacceria San Francesco, http://www.afsf.it/it/, but we were apparently the last ones in town to learn about it). We circled back later on when things had died down for some lunch. Lots of choices, definitely as they say on their website "Sicilian Comfort food." Nearby is the San Lorenzo oratory (one of several of these prayer spots in Palermo). The ones we saw were awash with stucco statuary, portraying scenes of the life of the Saint, other saints, Angels,and holy scenes). In the afternoon as we walked by we saw that the Contemporary Art Museum was open. Not only did that give us the chance to see two paintings by Guttuso (my husband was the catalyst for this, he likes his work very much), but we also saw a special exhibit with photos by Steve McCurry. Though his AFghan Girl picture is his most famous, there were many other equally haunting portraits, and we were glad to have stumbled onto the exhibit.

    Walking back to the Bellini fountain, where we spent time every day, watching the people, enjoying the different ways the sunlight changed things from one time of day to the other, we also saw that the church of San Cataldo was open. I had heard from kja to be on the lookout for Romanesque, and this was classic. Loved the simplicity, lack of adornment, it is a great place for quiet reflection. And even though it was a rather hustling Sunday afternoon in Palermo, there were only a few people inside as it was close to closing time.

    Day 17 -- Another day in Palermo

    We decided to start at the market. Though La Vucchiera is the best known one, it no longer has much going on. We heard that the Mafia had been involved, and that the center of activity had moved from La Vucchiera to Ballaro, which we decided to visit later in the day. From there to the Puppet Museum (would not have been on my list, but my husband has never met a museum he didn't want to visit), but I love to walk, so I was happy to get another chance to head back near Piazza Marina for this stop. After that visit, it was time to feed my love of old churches, so we visited San Giovanni, another perfectly simple 12th century Norman church. This involved crossing from one end of the historic center to the other, but walking in Palermo, especially its historic center, is always a pleasure. In addition to the interior of the church, unadorned with brick domes and beautiful arches, there is a small cloister that just exudes calm and serenity. We found we could climb the bell tower next door, which gave a nice view down on the little monastic complex.

    Looking at the map, we determined that the Ballaro market was nearby, so even though it was too late for peak market hours, we went to see what was happening and found there was still lots going on and plenty of places to sit down and have a good fresh sandwich. This neighborhood fit well with the mental image I had of what a market in Palermo would look like. A bit gritty, lots of noise and movement, narrow streets, a good place to sit and watch.

    After lunch, we kept on meandering, basically in the direction of 4 Canti (the intersection with statues dedicated to the Spanish kings). We decided to enter a church whose door was open, and we entered the most baroque of the baroque churches we had seen. It was the Jesuits' first church in Palermo and I guess they wanted to make a statement. Lots of marble, not an undecorated spot in the whole enormous church. Riotous is how I would describe it. Jumping back a few centuries, we went from there to La Martorana, another mosaic laden small church near the Piazza Bellini.

    Our days in Palermo were full but never exhausting. The tourist visits were always interspersed with stops -- mainly for coffee or gelato, depending on time of day, and we were never disappointed!

    Day 18 -- last day in Palermo

    We had saved Monreale for last. After breakfast, and an extra coffee in a nice cafe near the Teatro Massimo, we made our way to Piazza Indipendenza, which meant we had another chance to enjoy 4 Canti, the Cathedral, the gate dedicated to Charles V with those huge stone guys guarding the entrance. Have I said that walking in Palermo is a feast for the eyes?

    The bus up was not crowded, and was probably about half tourists. We had heard that there are lots of pickpockets on this route (389 is the number I think) but we saw nothing suspicious and I assume it had to do with the fact that low season means low crowds and fewer prime pickpocketing opportunities.

    I took a picture of the bus schedule. It was dated "as of 20/09/2014," so I guess the summer and winter schedules are the same.
    Weekdays and holidays, same schedule.
    From Palermo to Monreale: 7:30, 8:45, 11:15, 12:30, 13:50, 16:15, 17:30, 18:50, 20:10
    From Monreale to Palermo: &:00, 8:10, 9:25, 10:40, 11:55, 13.15, 14.30, 15:40, 1;6:55, 18:15, 19:35.

    We got the 11:15 bus and were in the cathedral around noon. That gave us 45 minutes to enjoy the mosaics. I guess I liked the more human scale of the Palatina better, but these were wow-zeroes, no doubt about it. There are a lot of the same Old Testament scenes, Noah's Ark, creation, Jacob's ladder, Cain and Able, really beautifully done. Some New Testament scenes as well, and the one that caught my eye the most was Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple.

    We had thought that the cloister closed as well for a lunch break, and that we would have lunch and then take an after lunch visit, but we learned that the cloister remains open throughout the day. So we had a little coffee break and read up on what we were about to see. 288 Romanesque capitals! I know I have an unusual affinity for Romanesque, so I will contain my enthusiasm, but this is a stunning example. The Michelin guide has very detailed indications of where to find which scene on which capital, so we spent a LONG time here. I think this may be the largest in tact Romanesque cloister I've visited, and though it doesn't have the intimacy and human scale of the typically smaller places, it is an amazing piece of architecture. Some of the columns themselves are incredible, with mosaics, twisting and turning up the column or other intricate designs. All in all it was for me a must see stop.

    Monreale is used to lots of tourists so we had no problem finding a nearby outdoor eating venue for a quick lunch. Nothing outstanding, probably a little overpriced, but it filled our caloric needs and gave us a break before heading back down. It was a little before 2, so the crowds were gone, we got served quickly, and we timed our arrival at the bus stop with about 20 seconds to spare. Had we not had the Palazzo Chiaramonte on our list as the last attraction we wanted to see, we may have stayed up in Monreale for a later bus. As it was we didn't wander much around the town (though we did make a point of getting to the back of the cathedral to see the amazing apses from the outside), but the tourist shops in the main part were really of no interest, so we decided to head down.

    I've already written about the surprises awaiting us at Chiaramonte (also referred to as the Steri Palace). The University rectorate undertook massive renovations of this building back in the early 2000s (this was a rich family's home built back in the 13th century) and made the decision to preserve lots of what they found along the way. It is now open for tourism (though they get very little, we were told). Our hook was the possibility to view Guttuso's painting of the Vuccheria market (Google it if you haven't seen it, it is a huge canvas full of live). There is a self-portrait in the painting, maybe even two (one as an old Guttuso and one as a young man), the wife (dressed in black as an older woman) and the mistress (apparently two or three of the women in the painting represent her from different angles, and she is portrayed as as young and beautiful woman, even though, the tour guide said, the mistress and the wife were the same age). After that the surprises started coming. There are at least five rooms where prisoners were kept during the 15th century Spanish inquisition (and Spain happened to be the ruler du jour in Sicily at that time). I don't know how, but they discovered wall after wall of graffiti painted by prisoners at the time. The tour is fascinating, and the guide points out all sorts of specific aspects of the graffiti, the painting. I cannot understand why the recently printed (2016) Michelin guide has no mention of this place. ON the way out, and almost as an afterthought, we visited some excavated ruins of what used to be a Moorish pottery operation -- ovens, spaces where pots were thrown, etc. So many layers.

    The timing of the tours is kind of random. We arrived a little after 4 and were told that there would be no English tour till 6 pm. Then we were told to come back at 5 and maybe we could join the Italian tour if we didn't mind not understanding. And then when we came back, after having walked around the nearby harbor and resisted the urge to go into yet another church, we heard that there was a change in plans. The English language tour guide was ready to take the two of us around. I imagine that some of this flexibility will end if the numbers increase, but as it was, we had a nearly one hour tour that was just outstanding. On the way back to our hotel, we found yet another nice little piazza with a church and some outdoor seating, this one off the Via Roma, so we had our one last cafe experience. Dinner was back to Vino e Pomadoro, for our last Sicilian pizza.

    Day 19 -- We had an 8 am flight, so at about 6 am, a taxi showed up (the hotel had called the night before for us) and we got to the airport around 6:30. 50 euros. The bus starts running at 4:15, I believe, but we just felt more comfortable taking the easy option. We got to the checkin only to find there was a huge group of local parishioners going to Rome with their priests and a number of them had messed up tickets. It was pretty chaotic, with additional agents coming to help out, which provoked a lot of line jumping and people getting angry at each other. There was a Latin American guy there who got really angry at a couple of the more brazen folks from the end of the line, and I could understand his half of the conversation, so I knew it was getting heated. But in the end, everyone got on the plane, it left only a few minutes late, and we easily made our connection in Rome on the American Airlines flight to Chicago. No additional security, though we did go through a passport check if I remember right. And icing on the cake -- our bags arrived with us, notwithstanding having to move from one airline alliance to another.

    So, that's that. I have enjoyed going back and recounting things and remembering things. I am also very happy to answer questions and give opinions. There is a wealth of Sicily knowledge on this forum, and I know you will get lots of help if you want to get yourself over to Sicily.

    Dayle.... I am sorely tempted, a GTG in Sicily would be amazing!

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    GREAT report. Sicily is on my list and this report will save me a lot of homework for future planning.

    Years ago, you had contributed all kinds of valuable info for a trip we took to Portugal. We even followed your Lisbon 'walking tour', and passed it along to others.

    I look forward to using this info for a future trip to Sicily!

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    Thanks for sharing all that with us, lreynolds; I particularly liked your description of Palermo and Monreale which we haven't been there yet - they are definitely on the list. Re the mafia in Palermo, in my Italian lesson we were reading about a Gambian man who was innocently caught up in a turf war between local and immigrant gangs and was shot by some would be mafiosi. The local mayor was quoted as saying that his city wasn't european any more, but resembled somewhere in Arabia. Did you see any sign of any of this?

    regarding hire cars, we did check our car over when we picked it up [the off airport pick up about which I had worried so much proved ideal as there was plenty of room to look at the car, take out time, and it was a very easy exit onto the autostrada, for which we were extremely grateful!] and when we dropped it off, we had our paper signed off as no extra damage, other than the two small marks we started off with which were clearly marked on the hire docs. So i'm hoping that we will not be stung for extra charges 6 months down the line, but who knows?

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    Great report, I also found Palermo quite an enjoyable city and need to return as I didn't have time to see all that I wanted. And I agree the Michelin Green Guide's Palermo walks are very helpful.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this up! Glad you had a good trip.

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    Thanks for the great report! Definitely reinforcing my feeling I should get back to Sicily next year.

    Interesting that you saw the Steve McCurry exhibition in Palermo. I saw it in Turin last year. Just amazing photos. I had been to some of the places, and my photos are just snapshots in comparison.

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    I'm glad you enjoyed San Cataldo. And it sounds like you enjoyed quite a lot of other Romanesque architecture in Palermo and elsewhere, including the Cathedral of Palermo and ooh!, the glorious Cathedral of Monreale!

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    Thanks for sharing your trip! A very enjoyable way to thank those who answered questions during your planning stage as aswell as to inspire others to visit!!

    So glad you and your husband had a wonderful time.

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    Wonderful final chapter, lreynolds1. We, too, loved San Cataldo, the Martorana, the Palatina Chapel and especially Monreale. We were lucky enough to see artisans restoring some of those gorgeous capitals in the cloister--painstaking and fascinating. We are happy we visited Palermo, and your report reminds me of its treasures. Call me shallow, but I guess we vote with our stomachs, and enjoyed the Sicilian cooking so much more elsewhere on our trip. (Plus--weird tour guide.)

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    This is really a wonderful trip report with so many helpful details! I really want to visit Sicily and would like opinions from you and anyone else about whether or not I can do it.

    My husband is 75 and not very active. He does not enjoy walking or standing. But, we did an independent trip to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in July and he survived! I am 71 and walking is no problem for me. We do not rent cars on trips, so we would depend on public transportation. I noticed that your report mentioned that your husband didn't always do as much walking as you did. My husband always looks for a place to rest. So, my fear is that sightseeing in Sicily would require a lot of steps up and down. We have traveled all over Europe already and Sicily seems so interesting. How tough is it? Thanks for any help!

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    Marsh

    Your question got me thinking. At first I thought No it would be too hard if you cant do a lot of steps, but then I realized there are many places that are flat or can be enjoyed by other than walking.

    The places I visited

    Scopello, main part of tiny village is flat. The nature preserve, Lo Zingaro can be visited by boat if that option interests you. This would be enjoying the beautiful coastline and coves. Anything else would involve hiking.

    Erice, not an option. Mostly steep streets.

    Segesta, short uphill to temple, but its right there! Shuttle bus up to the theatre site.

    Selinute, they have golf cart tours if you want to pay and not walk. Otherwise, lots of walking at the large site.

    Agrigento, I dont know how you could visit these temples without a long walk. If you take a taxi up to the top, the walk is all downhill, but its a long way for someone with limited walking ability.

    Baroque towns, I stayed in Scicli and their main streets are flat! Very enjoyable town and very untouristed. Did not visit the other Baroque towns.

    Ortigia, the oldest part of Siracusa, is basically flat. The archeological park would be out,but the museum is excellent.

    Taormina mainstreet is flat but crowded. Unfortunately the theater, which is one of two main reasons to visit would be difficult. Steep climb up.

    You could actually visit the beautiful town of Lipari in the Aeolians Islands, its mostly flat and very charming. You could also enjoy boat tours of the islands which are very beautiful from the sea.

    Palermo, lots of flat walking. Maybe hire a guide, or private tour by car?

    My thoughts for what they are worth. Hope you get to go. sicily is amazing.

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    Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

    Marsh, I think Dayle has given great advice, here are a few more comments to supplement --

    Agrigento -- when we were there, there was one of those "tourist trains" that ran the length of the temples. I don't know if you could hop on and off. But if you enter the temples from the "upper" entrance/parking lot, the walk would be all downhill.

    In Taormina, I think you could get a cab to the entrance to the theater and from there the walk isn't bad.

    Noto, one of the Baroque towns, has a very nice and very flat main street. The ups and downs come in when you take detours, but most of the main sights are right on that street, and I assume (but do not know) that there are accommodation options nearby in the historic center.

    And I totally echo her final thought -- Sicily is amazing!

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    L

    Tell me if Im not remembering the Taormina theater correctly. I think if people didnt want to climb up to the top of the rows of seats, they could just look around and up from the stage. Not sure if you would see the view of Etna from that perspective. I remember going down a lot of stairs from the stage area back to the main street in Taormina. Did you do that?

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    Thanks so much for the great information! I will keep working on plans for a trip. I really believe traveling on our own is better so that we may travel at our own pace. To me it seems that the escorted trips are too short and move at a fast rate.

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    A confession Dayle - we got to the gates of the amphitheatre in Taormina, saw the cost [€12 each], saw the crowds [lots of groups even in the middle of September] and decided that the theatres we'd seen in Syracuse and elsewhere would have to do.

    I'm very happy with that decision.

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    Hi, Dayle and annhig,
    I have to confess my memory on the details of leaving the theater are fuzzy, but I THINK we didn't have stairs, just a sidewalk. On the other question, I also think it´s probably right that you don't get that great view with Mr. Etna as a backdrop to the stage unless you are higher up, at least that´s what my photos suggest.

    annhig, your comment suggests there is a huge difference in crowds between Sept. and October. We were there on a Sunday, got there probably around 11. I don´t think we had to compete with any groups. It was our first Greek temple, so we were kind of blown away and sat there for quite a while and then walked around to see things from every angle. I bet we were there more than an hour and I don't remember any groups. This was early October -- around the 8th. There was a cruise ship parked in the harbor every day we were there, and the main drag was crowded, but there must be a very big drop in traffic in October.

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    Timing has so much to do with our impressions of places and sights.

    I had a good view of Etna from the train from Siracusa to Taormina. Later that afternoon when I went up to the Taormina theater, a cloudy haze had moved in and Etna was completely obscured! There were several tour groups there with me in early May.

    When visiting the Siracusa theater, again my timing was off. I was there just two days before the Greek productions began. So unfortunately I saw the huge theater with newly made temporary wooden benches and modern stage dressings where there should have been none. It was rather disappointing. I would have loved to attend one of the performances though! I studied some of the Greek classics in high school.

    My timing was perfect for the Segesta temple and theater. After a day of very heavy rain and cold, the skies were filled with beautiful puffy clouds. Blue skies and wildflowers. My favorite picture from the trip were taken at Segesta!

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    You are so right, Dayle. That reminds me of a quote by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, which just tells me I should start planning another trip to Sicily. My husband just told some friends that it was the best trip of our 38 year marriage, and he is not one who is prone to hyperbole!

    "The end of one journey is simply the start of another. You have to see what you missed the first time, see again what you already saw, see in springtime what you saw in summer, in daylight what you saw at night, see the sun shining where you saw the rain falling, see crops growing, the fruit ripen, the stone which has moved, the shadow that was not there before. You have to go back to the footsteps already taken, to go over them again or add fresh ones alongside them. You have to start the journey anew. Always" Jose Saramago, A Journey to Portugal

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    nice quote, lreynold. I think that we would both be up for another trip to sicily, and soon.

    Perhaps we weren't too bothered about a view of Etna as one of the things that our hotel perched high up in Castelmola was the view - we just had to open our curtains in the morning and there it was. the hotel wasn't stellar but the view made up for quite a lot.

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    lreynold - we did. Rather than using the motorway to drive from Piazza Armerina to Taormina, we chose to drive the road that goes round the northern slopes of Etna, and though it was quite hard-going in places, it was very interesting and led to one of our best lunches.

    we also spent a day on Etna on a walking/wine tour - this turned out to involve more wine and food than walking which suited me, but we got to go up to the site of the "recent" eruption [10 or so years ago] and to see the upper slopes.

    The whole of the Etna area is very interesting, and I'd really like to go back [as I would to the rest of Sicily!]

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    Such a fabulous trip report and so very helpful for our spring trip to Sicily!! Currently, I am just very confused, but will sort out my thoughts and return with questions!! Your trip sounds amazing and your detailed and thorough report makes me very excited to get there!!

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