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Trip Report In Search of Montalbano - the ups and downs of 10 days in Eastern Sicily

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First of all, a confession. When asked, I have been saying that this is my first trip to Sicily but in the interests of being complete honest [when am I anything else?] I have to let you into a secret - I have been once before. About 40 years ago on an educational cruise, along with 1000 or so other 16-18 year olds, I flew to Venice and then spent no more than a day in half a dozen places, including Taormina, on the west coast of Sicily. However my memory of what I saw is so hazy that saying I had never been before was closer to the truth, which is why I have been somewhat economical with the truth. Sorry!

My vague memories of Sicily were good ones however, so you might well be asking, why take so long to go back? After all I have been back to Venice many times since that first visit, and even managed to work another of our stops, Carthage and Tunis, into a holiday many years ago, but somehow Sicily had never called to me, until I started, along with lots of other people, to fall in love with the hill towns which form the backdrop to the “Inspector Montalbano” detective series. For those who haven’t seen it, the good [and extremely good looking] Commissario Salvatore Montalbano, played by Luca Zingaretti, lives and works in the far south-east corner of Sicily, working in the fictional town of Vitaga, [in fact an amalgam of several different towns] and living on the coast in “Marinella” which in reality is Punto Secco, a nearby coastal town. The opening credits are in effect a bird’s eye view of the tiny streets and superb baroque buildings of the settings of the series, and like many, I fell in love with the idea of going to visit them. Nevertheless it took me several years to get there, but finally, this September, I made it, the trip being a present to me from my lovely [and long-suffering!] DH for my 60th birthday - so tons of thanks to him for his patience both before the trip, and during it!

The baroque towns were not the only places we wanted to see though - originally I had wanted to work the Greek Temples at Agrigento into our itinerary, as well as the Roman villa Casale near Piazza Armerina, Siracuse [which everyone here and in guide books too raved about] and of course Taormina, but with only 10 days, in the end something had to give, and regrettably, because it would have required at least one if not two one-night stands, we jettisoned it. In retrospect, the place which should have gone was Taormina, but to find out why, you’ll have to keep reading!

That then is the why. Now onto the how.

Living in Cornwall in the far southwest of England is both a blessing, because of the lovely scenery and equable climate, and a curse, because it takes us about 3 hours to get to our first major international airport at Bristol. But once there you have access to the vast majority of European airports, including direct flights to Catania, on Sicily's eastern coast. With only 10 days we weren’t going to be able to make it to Palermo anyway, so round trip flights were the obvious choice the only drawback being the early starts - leaving Bristol at 5.50am would mean an overnight near the airport and a return flight of 10.40am would probably involve an early wake up call at the other end too, but those were minor considerations, compared with the advantages of having the rest of the day to spend either on holiday, or getting home in good time. That at least was the theory.

Once there, we would hire a car - despite some of the horror stories I was reading, I was confident that we would manage this with few difficulties, both of us having many times driven on what my dad used to call “the continent”, including in Italy. Deciding which car hire firm to choose was a far harder task, as the reviews for all the car hire companies in Catania were all pretty dire, so we went with the one which offered the best deal, which for us was Firefly, because they included a free extra driver in the price. A potential snag was that they were located off the airport and I agonised about this for quite a long time, but none of the reviews mentioned that as a problem, so in the end we stuck with them.

Last but never least, as part of this introduction thanks must go to the kind [and patient!] fodorites who helped with the planning, particularly [and apologies if I leave anyone out] toledodd, kja, marija, thursdaysd, mimar, bon_voyage, BritishCaicos,gertie, Dayle, sundriedtopepo, EYWandBTV, julie, jamikins, TDudette, Mimar, julia_t, willit, immimi, progol, palatino, huggy, LucyV, sylvester; you were all very kind in giving me the benefit of your experiences, both good and bad - I hope here to return the favour.

So pack your bags, grab your passports, and fasten your seatbelts...we're off!

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