I'm sorry this trip report is so late (we got back three months ago). We've had too much else going on. Our thanks to all the Fodorite's who helped us plan this trip.
As usual for my trip reports, it's probably over-long. It appears in several installments below - I'll put them up as I do the final editing, italicising, and so on.
Table of Contents
An experiment: in this report, I list, in this "table of contents", the names of places mentioned in the text. If you see one of interest, you can search on it to find it in the text. In most browsers, <Ctrl-f> will pop up a search box (the "f" is for Find). The Table of Contents doesn't contain every town and restaurant mentioned, but only the ones I say something significant about. The Italian names are used (for example, "Siracusa", and not "Syracuse"), and the lists are alphabetized.
Let me know if this Table of Contents is helpful.
Cities and Towns
Siracusa (Ortigia section)
Castelvetrano: Baffo's Castle
Erice: La Prima Dea
Modica: A putia ro vinu
Monreale: Dietro L'Angolo
Noto: Café Arté
Palermo: Casa del Brodo
Palermo: Ferro di Cavallo
Palermo: Ristorante À Vucciria
Palermo: Trattoria Il Maestro del Brodo
Palermo: Trattoria Torremuzza
Ragusa Ibla: A Rusticana
Ragusa Ibla: Antares
Ragusa Ibla: Il Barocco
Ragusa Ibla: Ristorante La Bettola
San Leone: Al Porticciolo
Siracusa: Dietro le Quinte
Siracusa: La Rambla
Siracusa: Le Vin de l'Assassin
Siracusa: Osteria Mariano
Siracusa: Taberna Sveva
Taormina: Osteria Nero D'Avola
Taormina: Ristorante Malvasia
Taormina: Trattoria Don Ciccio
Taormina: Le Quattro Fontane
Trapani: Osteria La Bettolaccia
Trapani: Tentazioni di Gusto
Ai Cartari (Palermo)
Aretusa Vacanze (Siracusa)
Fattoria Mosè (Agrigento)
L'Orto sul Tetto (Ragusa Ibla)
Residence la Gancia (Trapani)
Taodomus hotel (Taormina)
Erice: Grammatico Maria (pastry shop)
Erice: Toti Taormina (ceramics and terracotta)
Modica: Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto (chocolate shop)
This report covers a trip to Sicily taken between September 25 and October 13, 2012. The travelers are Larry and Margie, almost 70 (on the average). We both post under the screen name "justretired", although Larry actually retired in 2003. Margie usually does most of the trip planning, and Larry wrote this report.
After a past trip report, a Fodorite suggested that readers are interested in knowing the prices of meals, to help decide whether to visit a restaurant, for instance. Thus, I've included them where available. During this trip, the Euro was worth between $1.35 - $1.40. Sorry, I haven't taken the time to dig up the hotel prices. This report is late enough already.
Separate from this report, I've been writing my memoirs over the past year. I'm writing in the form of a blog, in the sense that I add one entry each week, and it's on the web. Although I don't write much in the blog about travel (I save that for Fodor's), a few entries I've posted since my return seemed relevant to this report, so you'll find a link to them in what follows. Let me assure Fodor's that my blog is entirely non-commercial - it contains mainly my memoirs, and I'm writing it primarily for my family.
We brought along and used a Garmin Nüvi 1370T GPS unit, and I'll report on some of our experiences with it in this thread. But I've also posted another Fodor's thread with more detail on our experience with our latest Garmin unit. It can be found at:
An expanded version, with some other thoughts on use of a GPS in general, can be found on my blog, in an entry called "Recalculating!". It can be found at:
Margie and I generally travel to Europe once a year, usually in the Fall, mostly alternating between France and Italy (I speak French, Italian, and Spanish).
Caution: I recorded what we did each evening in my Samsung Galaxy S III smart phone (turning the screen sideways and using a Bluetooth keyboard to type). While that preserves a lot of memories, it also means the Trip Report can get wordy. And it has gotten wordy indeed. Written out in Word in a 10-point font, this report is 17 pages long. Feel free to skim or skip, and perhaps the Table of Contents (above) can help you find things quickly.
Tuesday, 9/25/12: We flew to Italy on Alitalia. When we arrived at Logan airport in Boston, we found that they had changed our seats. We talked to them about having called Alitalia three times to get our seat assignments and check on them. The woman (at the Alitalia desk) said that the airport seating system was different from the one used by Alitalia's phone representatives, and she had no record whatsoever of having our earlier seat assignment. She seemed to think this was a valid reason for Alitalia having essentially lied to us about having a seat assignment that would really mean something.
We thus ended up way in the back of the plane, in row forty-something. But the seats weren't bad, although they were in the center (4 across) and not the side as we had previously been assigned. But we had an empty seat between us, which gave us a lot of elbow room. Margie took the aisle, and I took the middle. I sat next to a young woman from Bulgaria, who was returning to Sofia after having worked the summer on Martha's Vineyard. She was quite personable, and eager to chat.
The seats also had a lot of legroom, very much more than typical on previous flights we have taken on, for example, British Air. We arrived on time, and had an easy connection in Rome, although with a rail shuttle and a lot of walking. But our baggage was checked through.
Wednesday, 9/26/12: Our rental car in Catania, arranged through Kemwel, was with Hertz. We had no trouble picking it up, once we located the office (not well marked).
The drive to Taormina, about an hour and a quarter, was uneventful. Following excellent instructions from the hotel, we arrived at the designated multi-story parking garage, and drove (very carefully) up the rather narrow spiral entrance ramp (we had to go to the fourth floor to find parking). We then rolled our baggage to the elevator, and took it to the seventh floor. And then we rolled our suitcases a bit more, uphill, to the hotel Taodomus.
Once in the hotel, we found that we had to carry our luggage (with help from the staff) up one flight of stairs. From there, we could take an elevator three more flights up to our floor. In other words, the hotel had an elevator that didn't go all the way down to the bottom floor!
After checking in to the Hotel, which had arranged for us to go into our rooms early, we went off to a handy nearby restaurant, Le Quattro Fontane, for a simple pasta lunch. I just had an octopus antipasto, which was quite sufficient. The meal for two, with a glass of wine each, came to 48€.
We then explored the town by walking up and down the main drag, the Corso Umberto I. The town is always crowded with tourists. We returned to the hotel and took a one hour nap, setting an alarm.
We had dinner at the Ristorante Malvasia. Margie had fish. The meal for two, with wine, came to 41€. We chatted with another tourist couple at an adjacent table, a common occurrence. After the end of the meal, the chef, a woman, came out of the kitchen and started demonstrating how to roll maccheroni, rolling out the dough right on our tablecloth (with a wire in the center to make the hole).
You can see a couple of pictures of the above episode on my blog entry entitled "The Italians". It also has some other stories, and thoughts about Italy and the Italians. You can find it at http://ljkrakauer.com/LJK/00s/italians.htm .
Thursday, 9/27/12: The Taodamus hotel serves a fantastic breakfast buffet, with pretty much everything you might want, including eggs cooked to order. It's served on a rooftop balcony with a fantastic view.
We then walked across town, not too far, to visit the amphitheater (originally Greek, taken over by the Romans). This was a mob scene, to the point that it was sometimes hard to walk around. Most of the people seemed to be in tour groups. The theater was very interesting, though, a "must-see". Afterwards, we toured the nearby gardens.
Lunch was at the Trattoria Don Ciccio, around the corner from our hotel. It was a very nice restaurant, and the staff was particularly pleasant and helpful. I had a salad of tomatoes and onions (pomodoro e cipolla), a seafood risotto (risotto mare), and a beer. Margie had an insalata caprese, a maccheroni Norma (a typical Sicilian dish), and a diet coke. With our usual bottle of water, it came to 52€.
Why do I say "our usual bottle of water"? Well, it was HOT, only a bit under 30 degrees C (88 degrees F). This became a constant for our stay, unusual for the end of September according to many Italians we spoke to (but at least one said this is par for the course, even at the end of September).
For our last afternoon, we just walked across the town and back again, stopping at various shops. I needed to get some euros, and the bank BNL Parabas works with the Bank of America back home, so I can use their ATM machines without a fee or currency conversion charge. However, the only BNL bank in Taormina was at the far side of the town from our hotel, so it was a long walk. On the other hand, we were able to take a look at the cable car down to the beach, although we didn't ride it. The town had plenty of other banks, so I could have gotten cash from them, typically with a 5 euro fee and sometimes a few percent conversion charge.
We had dinner at the Osteria Nero D'Avola, where we had nice fish dishes. But the restaurant was short-staffed (a waitress had called in sick), and towards the end of the meal, the service slowed to a crawl. Other tables were having even more difficulty - a man at an adjacent table, at the end of his party's meal, was trying to cancel a grilled lamb dish that had never been delivered, when it suddenly was brought over by another waiter.
Friday, 9/28/12: We wheeled our luggage back down to the garage, and paid for our parking by feeding cash into an automated teller (27€). Using our GPS, augmented by instructions we'd printed from Via Michelin before our departure, we drove to Siracusa.
We drove in to the street the hotel is accessed from, as we thought we had been instructed, just to drop off the luggage (it's normally mostly a pedestrian street). But we couldn't find the hotel, and were forced to exit the area by other traffic. We tried to make a short loop around, but that didn't work. When I questioned a policeman, he told me I had to circle all around Ortigia (it's not that big).
We parked in the Largo Aretusa, and phoned the hotel Aretusa Vacanze for instructions. Antonio came out from the hotel, accompanied us with the car to a spot a bit closer, and helped us bring our luggage to the hotel for check-in. He then gave us directions to find the parking garage arranged for us (at no extra charge). Although he volunteered to accompany me to the garage, he was alone at the front desk, and I figured I could handle it on my own. Antonio, who's pretty computer-savvy, pulled up Google Street-View on his computer, and showed me on the screen exactly how to recognize the entrance to the garage.
By then it was around 2:30 pm, getting late for lunch in Italy. We went right next door to the Osteria Mariano, which was ending their lunch service. But when we mentioned we were at the hotel, they said OK, and a waiter stayed on a bit while we had a quick lunch.
We chatted a long time with the desk staff at the hotel - Antonio and his boss Ettore. Ettore is a member of the family that owns the hotel, and Antonio, who has worked for them for years, is sort of an "adopted" family member). We then walked around, and saw a wedding in the Palazzo Arcivescovile in the Piazza Duomo.
Dinner was at the Taberna Sveva, recommended by the hotel: swordfish (good, but a tad overcooked) and a very interesting fish in a "potato crust", which looked sort of like a potato pancake. With a salad, one dessert, a 6€ carafe of wine, and a bottle of water, it came to 47€.
Saturday, 9/29/12: We walked to a local market, not very large, and mostly food. The fish laid out on ice were very varied, and rather interesting. We took cab to the museum, which has an extensive collection of local antiquities. We then walked back, trying to find la navetta (the free shuttle) all the way, without success.
We stopped on the way for lunch at La Rambla, a couple of simple pasta dishes for 36€. We then continued our walk back to the hotel, and visited a local museum, the Galleria Regionale di Palazzo Belomo, mostly containing a lot of religious art.
Dinner was at Dietro le Quinte, near the theater (the name means "behind the sets"). We had their well-known fish antipasto, although they modified the dishes due to Margie's shelfish allergy. Since they didn't seem to want to serve me different items, I think I missed out on some of the usual shellfish (although they did add a shrimp dish for me alone, carefully kept separate).
We then happened across a striking art show at another gallery, the Galleria Civica d'Arte Contemporanea Montevergini. The show, by the artist Andrea Chisesi, was called Fuochi e Vortici Siciliani (Sicilian Fires and Vortices). We were shown around by a representative of the gallery, and introduced to the artist, who was there with his family and, apparently, his dog.
Sunday, 9/30/12: We got up early, so we could get to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis before the highest heat of the day. We splurged on a taxicab ride, partly to get there faster, and partly because our legs and feet were sore from all the walking of the previous day (when we had walked the identical trip in the opposite direction). We toured the amphitheater and L'Orecchio di Dionisio (the "Ear of Dionysius", a tall, narrow cave with interesting acoustics). We took a taxi back to the Piazza Duomo.
Arriving at the Piazza Duomo, I found that the only cash I had left was a 50€ note, and the cab driver was not able to change it. I looked around for a nearby ATM, but couldn't find one. But the driver waited patiently as I went into a few stores, and found someone who was willing to break the bill. He didn't seem to be particularly concerned that I might run off without paying.
Heading back to the hotel, we stopped to visit to a famous Carravagio painting, the Burial of St. Lucy, in the Church of Santa Lucìa alla Badìa. Back in our room, Margie took a nap, and I wrote up the day's activities.
We then took a short walk to look at some of the restaurants that had been recommended by the hotel staff. We settled on none of them, but rather made a 7:30 reservation at Le Vin de l'Assassin, a French/Sicilian restaurant.
We then walked around along the sea, admired some luxury yachts, and the "Stad Amsterdam", a square-rigger that can be rented out for conferences and special events.
At dinner, I had a hot camembert with a salad (a huge piece of cheese), and a duck confit (probably more fat than I usually have in a week). Margie had eggrolls with goat cheese, and duck with honey.
A waitress described Margie's duck dish while we were asking a few questions about the menu. Her English was not too strong, and since I was speaking to her in Italian, she was mostly answering in Italian, although with some English and gestures thrown in for Margie's benefit. She described the part of the duck used in the dish as the breast. While saying this, she gestured with her hands as Italians do, putting one hand over each of her breasts for emphasis. Although I found this rather amusing, I tried not to smile.
But remembering the event afterward, I decided that she and I had been thinking differently, in a way that indicates how speaking in different languages can sometimes affect our thinking. In fact, the word she had used in Italian was "petto", meaning "chest", and she had merely intended to indicate her chest in general. But as an English speaker, the word that sprung to my mind, given the context, was the word used for that part of a duck (or chicken or any other poultry) in a culinary sense, which is in fact "breast".
As an Italian speaker, I think that she didn't have any such association. "Petto" is the word for the breast of a chicken or duck, while "seno" is the word for a human breast, so she wouldn't connect the two at all.
With two glasses of wine, 56€. Margie had initially been attracted to the crème brulée, but we were much too full for dessert.
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I'm sorry this trip report is so late (we got back three months ago). We've had too much else going on. Our thanks to all the Fodorite's who helped us plan this trip.