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Trip Report Solo in Sicily - April 2013

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Hi Fodorites! I'm back and am already missing fresh squeezed blood orange juice with breakfast, blue skies, and church bells. I'm working on the trip report and the first installment will be posted soon.

Flights went well even if they were unbearably long and boring, driving was a breeze, and I had no problems at all. I did have to buy a new camera in Agrigento which lead to a parking structure adventure!

Sicily was beautiful, the people were lovely and the food was great.

I'll try to hurry the trip report because I know Alison and some others are leaving soon.

Dayle

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    After 2 connections and 30 LONG hours of travel, I’m home and reporting on my trip to Sicily. This will be detailed for the benefit of all those planning for Sicily, and those who have trips coming up right away!

    I bought my ticket on Delta 9 months ago and booked it live with a Skymiles agent so I could choose my connection cities and layover times. When you use the website you only get options for the minimum legal connection times, which we all know are rarely humanly possible. I upgraded to the so-called Economy Comfort for the longer flights which was a new experience for me. I thought the seats were roomier in addition to being further apart, but that is not the case. I have short legs, so the “extra” leg room was not a major improvement for me. Taller people would probably feel it worth the extra cost.

    Salt Lake City only has one non-stop flight to Europe (Delta overnight to CDG) and it isn’t scheduled every day. I worked most of the day Friday and went straight to the airport for the 5pm departure. We left about 30 minutes late, but as usual when traveling east we made up the time. The plane Delta uses for this flight is an outdated old dog of a plane. No individual screens and the Economy Comfort seats were anything but. We felt like we were sitting on a plank for 10 hours. Other than that, I and my bag arrived on time so it was a successful flight!


    Because I was arriving in the evening, I had a private driver to take me to Erice, my first stop. Francesco Pisciotta was recommended to me by Hotel Torre Bennistra in Scopello. He was absolutely delightful, enthusiastic, professional, and proud to be a lifetime resident of Castellamare del Gulfo. Francesco’s company is Bugia Bianca Transfer (the name of his racing catamaran). E Mail is: bugiabianca52@hotmail.it. Airport to Erice was 90E. Highly recommend Francesco and any of his services! He also charters his catamaran for trips along the coast and Lo Zingaro. When I asked for references and driver ID (traveling solo), he kindly agreed to pick me up himself to assure no problems.

    My lodging in Erice was Erice Pietre Antiche apartments. Managed by Massimo, who asked that I call him upon arrival in Erice. He met us at the city gate and drove me to the apartments in the ancient town. Good thing - because Erice was the only town that defeated my normally excellent sense of direction! Massimo acquainted me with everything in the apartment, provided a city map and pointed out a couple of restaurants. The apartment was very spacious with a large bedroom and closet, living area with mini kitchen, breakfast supplies and a small dining table, and a large bathroom. Very charming little courtyard on the entry level of the apartments (4) and a lovely terrace with rooftop views upstairs outside my apt. Church bells ring, but were muted enough for this light sleeper.

    Arrived Saturday evening and had planned nothing much for Sunday other than exploring Erice. I didn’t set the alarm, but woke to pouring rain. Ah, a good day to sleep late! After many hours of sleepless travel, I slept until 2pm! It was wonderful….then I went in search of dinner while the heavy rain continued. It was unseasonably cold and windy and the rough cobblestones streets were running rivers. The Erice cobblestones were the roughest I’ve encountered in Italy, very slippery with the rain, and I was very glad I had taken tennis shoes for hiking in the nature preserves. I ended up wearing them for the first 4 days of my trip.

    Dinner was at Ristorante Caffe San Rocco on the main piazza and I was their only diner that evening. My waiter was not thrilled to stay and serve me, but dinner was good – couscous and grilled mixed seafood plus a glass of the house roso 28,80E.

    Monday morning I was due to pick up my rental car in downtown Trapani. I took the bus down to the city, picked up the car and bought some sunglasses across the street before taking off. I had reserved an Economy car, but as I anticipated, I actually got a Compact Class Fiat Punto. Great little car. This was my first of many experiences with absolutely no English being spoken. I had expected Sicily to have less English spoken, but I was surprised that many of the hotel and restaurant industry people I encountered had no English. Thankfully my limited Italian was sufficient for most situations.

    During trip prep, I had not had any success with the Garmin Europe GPS maps being able to locate ANY of my destinations. Not even most of the major tourist sites in Sicily. So, after demanding and receiving a refund from them, I bought a Tom Tom. Since it had a woman’s voice, I started thinking of it as “Tomasina”. She worked very well nearly everywhere!
    I jumped right in to the Sicilian driving in downtown Trapani and off I went.

    I went out to the salt pans west of town to find the windmills! Tomasina failed here, but I couldn’t blame her. She got me close to the salt museum, but couldn’t find the exact way to drive across the dikes. Not sure dikes qualify as roads. I noticed an older man moving a little herd of goats and sheep to graze on the marsh grasses. When he saw me consulting my map, he came over and gestured for me to follow him. He spoke no English, but made it clear he would show me the way to the museum. He had one of those great weathered faces, full of character, reflecting a lifetime of work outdoors. Off we went, across the dikes toward the windmills. The museum was just the old home and salt works. Some antique furniture, old pictures and a little family history. Cobwebs and some old salt equipment. There are a few explanatory signs and lots of great photo ops, an opportunity to climb a steep and narrow staircase to the top of the main windmill which has been nicely restored. The museum keeper was also anxious for me to see the Sicilian donkeys and Arabian horses in the old stone stable.

    Next was Segesta. It really is in a beautiful location and it was finally a mostly sunny day. Big, puffy grey and white clouds against the blue sky enhanced the photos. Beautiful temple and very scenic theater. Very easy to drive and park. Lots of visitors, but not too crowded. Pay parking nearer the entrance, free parking just a bit further away with a short walk.

    Unfortunately at Segesta I encountered one of two very negative things about the culture of Sicily, extreme neglect of animals. There was a mother dog who obviously had a litter of pups somewhere nearby. This poor dog was just days from death by starvation. She was going quietly from person to person at the picnic area, gently wagging her tail hoping for food. She was nursing her puppies, but not getting enough food to sustain her little family. I asked the site employees if there wasn’t a rescue society that could be called to help. They kindly found someone who spoke English to address my concern and he explained that there was no problem with the dog, she had beautiful puppies and he pointed to the stone hut where they were. He didn’t recognize that the entire family would soon be dead. It was heartbreaking to see all the stray dogs foraging for food everywhere in western Sicily. Some looked healthier than others, but most obviously had diseases, eye infections, skin problems, fleas….I realize it’s a cultural thing, but that doesn’t make it any less sad. Too bad there isn’t a rescue society to educate and neuter. I didn’t see dogs as pets on leashes until I reached eastern Sicily.

    I drove back up to Erice on the steep and twisty road, but it was fun to be driving a stick again on those hairpin turns! Public parking was available in a small lot just outside the town gate at Porta Trapani where the funiculare (cable car) upper terminus is located. Parking is paid between 9am – 8pm and free overnight until 9am again. The bus to Trapani also leaves from here.

    I really liked Erice. Charming little town with a great castle at one end and nice public gardens just next to the castello. Great views! Lots of nice shops, very much on the tourist radar, but not overrun. Very few people actually stay in the town which means the morning and evenings are quiet and great for wandering. I visited Maria Grammatica’s and bought several pastries to sample. The almond pastries were fantastic. Definitely the best of the entire trip! Don’t miss her shop.

    Tuesday morning Massimo drove me down to my car and I went on to Scopello. Tomasina took me via the scenic route (longer), but it was a very pretty drive with lots of wildflowers. I encountered a small traffic jam and an ambulance passed me going the opposite direction. Evidently a cyclist had been hit and the other 3 were walking the bikes back along the road. They were obviously visitors. I think people who are willing to ride on these roads are nuts. Just my opinion.

    Scopello was pretty, but very quiet pre-season. Hotel Torre Bennistra was big, nearly empty and rather faded. It’s a family-run property and operated and lived in more like a B&B – at least off season when I stayed. My room was clean, comfortable and had nice views. Bathroom and shower were both big enough to be comfortable. Breakfast was good the next morning, but I went to La Terrazza for both lunch and dinner. They have a wonderful terrace overlooking the sea and I had one of my best meals at this very authentic, traditional Sicilian restaurant. Scallops stuffed with bread crumbs, raisins, ham, herbs, and I don’t remember what else, were delicious!

    Although it was raining, this was my only day to visit Lo Zingaro nature preserve, so I hiked about a mile in the light rain. The wildflowers were gorgeous and the aloe plants had stalks over 6 feet tall. Amazing! The gentleman at the nature center building was happy to have a visitor and enjoyed showing me the pictures and exhibits. Lo Zingaro has many varieties of orchids, something I did not know prior to my visit. Due to the rain, the ocean was not the beautiful turquoise you see in pictures, but still pretty. After just a mile, my shoes were caked with 2 inches of sticky red mud so I headed back.

    As I left the next morning, I drove past a lovely agritourismo just outside of the tiny village of Scopello, so I turned around and went in to check it out. I wish I had found this place on the internet and stayed there instead. If you are looking for a nice place with restaurant and pool, consider Tenute Plaia. E mail: info@plaiavini.com. Phone: 39 0924 541476. Web: www.agriturismotenuteplaia.it.

    My next stop was Selinute and La Foresteria Planeta Estate in Menfi. I was concerned about even having a room once I arrived because I had never been able to contact them directly. I tried many times over several months, but their web site just would not work. I finally booked on booking.com and did receive a confirmation. Later I tried again to contact them for an additional night and directions, since they are out in the countryside and I had no idea how I would actually find them! Luckily, Tomasina directed me right into the driveway and I did have a room. In fact, they had e mailed me and confirmed the second night, but because I never received that e mail, I was now double-booked for a night and could not cancel my next destination! They were very kind to cancel the second night and adjusted the rate to a double for single use. When I booked, the web site kept defaulting to 2 persons and I finally just gave up and booked it that way….

    La Foresteria was just heaven! I cannot recommend it enough. I wish I had been able to communicate with them and had known the 2nd night was available. They explained that they had had a couple of weeks with internet problems and that their phones also ran on the internet. Unfortunately, that didn’t explain why I could never reach them over a period of 6 months……My room was quiet, roomy, and very nicely furnished. I was on the garden level with views across the vineyard all the way to the sea and a lovely herb garden right in front of my room. The lavender was blooming – my favorite! I was able to sit and enjoy the view with a glass of wine - just soaking it all in for about 2 hours. Aaahhh.

    Hors d’ouvres was served upstairs at 8pm and dinner was in the dining room at ground level at 8:30. Everyone sits together at a very long, beautifully set table. Dinner was 3 courses with optional wine pairing. They poured 2 whites and 1 Syrah. The Syrah was very, very good. The whites were OK, but not memorable. All the whites I had in Sicily were disappointing, but I had some very good Nero d’Avola as both house wine and bottles I bought. The group at the table included Germans, New Yorkers, Brits, French, and me. We had a fantastic meal and lots of laughter – dinner went until midnight!

    This inn is very, very nice with high end toiletries and linens, very professional staff. It was definitely the nicest (and most expensive) out of all my choices. Highly recommend!

    Selinute was another beautiful site and very impressive just for the sheer size of the city. Sad to know that the temples were pulled down during war. I walked to the nearest temples, and then drove out to the further acropolis to walk that area. They also have handy golf cart rides for about 12E if I remember correctly. I think I spent about 2 ½ hours here. I also managed to walk off and leave my Michelin Sicily guidebook. I wasn’t able to replace it until Ortygia.

    On Thursday I headed off to Agrigento. It took about 2 ½ hours on the SS115. Again Tomasina took me straight to my B&B, Camera con Vista, which is handily located across the street from the lower parking lot for the Valle dei Templi. Antonello is a guide for the site and a very nice man. His breakfast was delicious and he let me leave my luggage while I visited the museum the next morning.

    However, I unfortunately cannot recommend this B&B. I am definitely not an overly fussy person. I will only say it was NOT clean and I won’t go into the details. While I walked the temples, my camera broke! Ugh. Thankfully I was able to get the rest on my phone.

    This lead to the very interesting experience of visiting a Sicilian mall parking structure – on a holiday, April 25! I think the entire population of Agrigento was at the mall. If you think about the biggest mall where you live, during the week before Christmas, then multiply the traffic and aggression by 10x, then you have an idea of what this parking structure was like. I can proudly say both the car and I emerged unscathed and I even managed to park! I went in to their version of Best Buy and purchased a new camera. So now I have a charger plug that will require an adapter for the US!

    This was my series of 1 night stays. I had chosen not to backtrack, just move on for 4 nights in a row. I'm a light packer.

    Next stop was Piazza Armerina for the Villa Romana mosaics! Here Tomasina failed me completely. She wanted me to take the windy scenic route and I knew I wanted to drive to Gela and then inland on the main highway, longer in distance, but much faster in drive time. I started out OK, yet somewhere along the way Tomasina took me back to HER route and I ended up driving some country roads that were quite narrow and rough. It ended up taking me about 3 hours, but the scenery and wildflowers were gorgeous.

    When I got to Piazza Armerina, I knew the villa was on the outskirts of the hill town, but it seemed there was no way to get there without navigating up, up, up and through the tiny streets. Tomasina actually sent me up the wrong way on a one-way street before I realized it! The street was so steep my car stalled in first gear and I had to restart quickly. Thankfully I didn’t meet anyone coming down! Obviously the street was one way going down due to the steepness……also thankfully this was the worst of my driving adventures. Everything else was a breeze.

    It was now late enough that I went on to Agritourismo Gigliotto. This was my one lodging choice that I had debated about a great deal. I had wanted to stay here after reading Bob’s trip report from several years ago. Recent Trip Advisor reviews were mixed. I ended up very glad I stayed here. The property is an old monastery with incredible views and a lovely, large stone paved courtyard. The restaurant is on one side of the yard and the guest rooms on the other. Beautiful gardens, a pool with a killer view. They do lots of weddings and one was taking place the next day.

    I bought a bottle of their Nero d’Avola and enjoyed a glass in my room before dinner. Here dinner was served in their large restaurant building which evidently had been some sort of farm structure. It was one of those where they bring course after course after course and dinner took over 2 hours. First antipasti, then 2 pastas (delicious!), two meats (boiled beef, not delicious, and lamb), then salad, then fruit and cheese, and plenty of wine. The young woman who was the concierge/manager was very nice, helpful. Again, I left my luggage while I visited Villa Romana the next morning. Again, another war of wills with Tomasina trying to get there – I won!
    Week 2 coming up...

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    Dayle, I SO appreciate you doing this so quickly. I signed on to Fodors to see if your TR was up and here it is. And great so far. Can't wait to hear the rest.....
    I'll keep checking til we leave in a few days. Also, i may have some questions! So glad you had a good trip.

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    We had no GPS and got lost everywhere in Sicily. Your mall story might even pale in comparison to the Saturday night traffic into Agrigento. One of the worst nights of my driving life. I guess there's not too much else happening down there! The mall and the centro must be the big deals for those looking for adventure.

    We did not have time for Selinunte--decided on Segesta instead, as we were driving down to Agrigento from Palermo. How would you compare the two? Did you prefer Selinunte?

    Looking forward to reading more of your impressions of Sicily.

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    Alison, I'll try to have it done for you this week!

    Leely2, I liked both temple sites. I think Segesta is in the most beautiful setting, although Selinute is quite beautiful too! Right next to the sea. Segesta doesn't take long to see and there is a lot more to see at Selinute. You get a sense of the entire city a Selinute, walls, temples, homes, etc. even if they are just ruins.

    I need to thank those who wrote trip reports that inspired me to visit Sicily and answered my many questions during years of on again off again planing - bobthenavigator, thursdaysd, Leely2, Kja and several others! Grazie mille!

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    So glad you got to see the views at Erice. Do you have a link for the apartment?

    Kudos on driving! No way I'm going to do that if (hope it's when) I go back.

    I found the Nero d'Avola-Shiraz blend better than straight Nero d'Avola. I was able to get one of the wine stores in the US to special order it for me.

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    Hey Dayle,
    I am still in Sicily but have been on the lookout for your report. I am so glad things went mostly right. It's always a challenge to do it like you do. You are inspiring me to do a report as well. In the meanwhile, keep it coming!

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    Excellent report so far. Scopello, Segesta, Selinunte, Villa Romana...all such wonderful places. Nice to have the details on the places you stayed. We had lunch at Torre Benistra in Scopello a few years ago and quite enjoyed it. Thought the rooms looked nice (though we, like you, had prebooked at our next place so couldn't alter our plans and stay there). But it sounds like the agriturismo nearby is a great find. Will definitely check it out next time we're in Sicily.

    Looking forward to the rest of your report.

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    The story continues....

    I knew Tomasina would not get me through Piazza Armerina and to the Villa Romana, so I ignored her. I watched for the small signs and followed along – until I missed one. You know how small they are and when you are watching traffic, it’s easy to do. I stopped and asked directions at a car repair place. The gentlemen waiting let me go ahead with my question while they paused in their discussion of car repairs. I was told it was “direct” and hopped back in the car. This time I saw the one little sign I had missed and the turn required my car to do a 180 degree turn with no turning radius. I managed a typical Sicilian move – I made my turn and made everyone one else wait for me!

    This was the highlight of my trip! I can’t even begin to put into words how amazing these mosaics are. It’s one of those sights that no picture can do justice. It’s something you have to see for yourself. I think I spent about 2 hours here and just marveled.

    An Italian family of tourists who had stayed at Gigliotto too were there viewing the mosaics. They had 2 older kids and one baby who looked to be about 6 months. Dad was carrying him, slipped on the steel stairway and went down the entire flight of steel stairs on his behind – never dropped the baby! The Mom was hysterical and in tears. Everyone was very concerned, but both Dad and baby were OK!

    I went back to Gigliotto, picked up my luggage and continued on to Caltagirone for some ceramics shopping. Caltagirone was easy to navigate and I saw two parking signs right away. The first one seemed a bit far away and a long hike up to the Centro, so I drove on to the second one – Santo Stefano. This is a brand new multi-level parking structure straight down from the main street, the famous stairway up to Chiesa Santa Maria (if I remember the name correctly), and the museum. It is paid parking, but it’s also monitored, so I felt better about leaving my car with luggage there. I bought a few small ceramic pieces for gifts and wished I had more time. There are definitely the artistic shops and the mass production souvenir shops. Caltagirone seemed like a very nice hilltown. Steep, clean, and nice views.

    This was Saturday and I was driving on to Scicli in the late afternoon. As I expected, Tomasina could not cope with the tiny, ancient streets so I managed to get in the general area of my hotel, park, and walk to find it. I found Hotel Novecento right away and was told I could actually drive into the Zona Limitato because I was staying at the hotel, except their limited parking was already full. So back I went to get my luggage. Fortunately, I only had to go a short distance with it.

    Hotel Novecento is very nice and very modern in an old building next to the river channel that runs through the middle of the town. Excellent staff, but limited English if that is important to you. My room was very nicely done. Modern furnishings and a great bathroom, although both room and bath were very small. They had upgraded me from their single deluxe room to a double deluxe room – 75E per night. Great value, probably because Scicli is off the tourist radar. Excellent breakfast. I was here for 2 nights. The man serving breakfast brought me a sample of some special honey from the carob tree. Evidently they were unable to harvest any this year because the trees did not flower due to drought so this honey was precious - left from the previous year. It was so delicious! Really the best I’ve ever had with a very unique flavor.

    Scicli was larger than I expected. The local residents told me it was a “small town” of just 20,000. Driving into it on an early Saturday evening when everyone was coming into the Centro was quite the experience. I really got a kick out of the man who rode his horse down the street. He was an excellent equestrian and his horse was beautiful. I could tell he had dressage training. It made a good picture! If I had known what Scicli was like, I think I would have skipped it and spent more time at La Foresteria in Menfi. However, there were several good reasons to enjoy this town.

    First, there were really no tourists! I saw one British couple staying at my hotel and a group of 4 Italian ladies traveling together. That was it. I really didn’t see any other visitors at all so I got to experience a true Sicilian weekend in a rather fashionable town. Great people watching at the passegiatta (and no, I can never spell that word). I really enjoyed walking around the town on Sunday afternoon. I was wearing long cotton pants and a white tee shirt. Two Nonas came out of Mass in their black suits, black stockings and black, low heeled shoes. They smiled at me and asked if I was hot, because I was in my “camisa”. They observed that I was not Sicilian…..we laughed and I explained that yes I was hot and I was Americana….the evening stroll here was just simply the most classic I’ve seen on my visits to Italy. Older gentlemen in suits strolling together up and down the main street (multiple times) with their hands clasped behind their backs. Faces so full of character! I could not resist taking a few clandestine pictures behind their backs. These are some of my favorite pictures.

    There was also the Costume Museum. I found this little museum on-line when I was debating which Baroque town to visit. It’s right by the Hotel Novecento and they had some beautiful evening gowns and dresses from the early 1800’s thru 1900’s, plus a few men’s items. It was a nice stop.

    I had been eating mostly seafood since arrival and it was time for a great pizza at La Grotta (recommended by Luigi at the hotel). This was a traditional Sicilian place, but in a cave! Evidently some of the first residents of Scicli were cave dwellers. The next evening I went to another of their recommendations, Osteria dei Tre Colli, and had an excellent mixed seafood pasta.

    I had originally thought I might visit Modica or Ragusa Ilba from Scicli, but I decided to just stay put and enjoy where I was. I had been driving quite a bit and honestly didn’t have any great desire to visit another Baroque town.

    Monday I headed to Siracusa and Ortygia with a stop at Vendicari Nature Preserve to see the flamingos!

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    Tdudette and aprilliacs,

    I honestly enjoyed the driving in Sicily and thought it was really very easy. The highways and A29 have very little traffic and even in the towns and cities, it just kind of flows...I never had anyone pull a move that caused heart palpitations. No other drivers even merited a swear word :-). Only twice did I see kamakazi passing techniques. I even passed a couple people myself!

    Qualifier - I learned to drive in a stick shift on the southern California freeways!

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    Dayle, we leave tomorrow, so great intel! So glad you loved the mosaics since we are taking a day trip from Modica to visit Catalgirone and PA. Thanks for the tip about the parking in Catalgirone. Hope your installment on Siracusa comes soon as our time there is relatively open. You were at Planeta in Menfi, but assume did not visit their Ulmo Winery at Sambuco di Sicilia? We hope to do that as an excursion from Selinunte.
    Also, can't tell whether you thought the salt museum and driving the coast from Erice (rather than the highway) to go south was worth it. We'd like to go that way and also see Mozia, but will have luggage in the trunk. Guess we'll have to see how we feel that day.
    Who knows? We have the one night in Scopello and may skip Erice if we are enjoying Zingaro. We've seen beautiful hill towns. We do like ceramics -- how did the ceramics shopping compare in Erice and Catalgirone? (obviously much more in Caltagirone, but i understand it's a different style in Erice. Do you see the Erice style in Caltagirone?)
    Looking forward to your next installment and so appreciate your report.

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    Hi Alison,

    I didn't drive from Erice to the salt pans. I drove there from Trapani. It was not a scenic drive and the museum is at the salt pans just south of Trapani. I would guess that the salt pans further south along the coast would be more picturesque. Since my first day was a Sunday and it was pouring rain all day and night, I didn't make it to Mozia. I was OK with that because it was kind of an optional site for me.

    The ceramics in Erice were beautiful, but I didn't notice a specific style or pattern that was different from what I saw in Caltagirone. There was one ceramic artist in Erice, a woman, who did her own beautiful pattern, lots of fine lines. She did a demonstration for me when I exclaimed about her work. I wanted to buy one of her vases, but the shipping cost was prohibitive.

    The shopping in Erice is much more varied than in Caltagirone. Caltagirone is all ceramics.

    I really enjoyed Ortygia! Very beautiful little town with much of interest. Be sure to visit the duomo and the piazza in front is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable I've seen in Italy. The fort is very interesting as is the puppet museum. More good opportunities for the delicious almond pastries in Ortygia! I stayed 3 nights and was very happy I did. Be sure to try granite too - it comes in many flavors and really hits the spot on a hot day.

    Be sure to go downstairs in the archeological museum to see the coin collection. I'm not in to coins at all, but this was a highlight! Works of art, plus some ancient gold jewelery. Skip the archeological park because the theater is 90% covered with modern wooden benches for their Greek drama series that runs thru June. Huge disappointment! If you can get a ticket to see one of the performances - now that would be a different story.

    Buon viaggio!

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    Dayle, thanks so much. Where did you stay in Ortigia and were you happy with it?
    thanks for the heads up about the coins....and also to give the theatre in Siracusa a "miss."

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    An excellent Trip Report. Now I am enthusiastic about returning to Sicily and getting to some of the places that you described and we had missed. We loved our several trip there, too.
    Gracie for the TR.

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    We are at Via Della Guidecca, too. I started to get concerned because so many people say how difficult it is to find and park. I know you returned your car in Siracusa, but we will have it for at least a day there (arriving on Sunday and rental car agencies closed). I guess Guiseppe can help us if we can't find a parking place. Glad to hear you liked it. We are in a top floor room and there had been some complaints about bathroom odor and water pressure on TA; hope those have been fixed. Also, the 4 flights of stairs! Hope we made right decision.

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    Grazie Marnie! Here's the next part in Ortygia and Siracusa.


    I arrived mid-morning at Vendicari and parked in the lot. There was a guy there collecting a parking fee of 3E, but he was so casual about it and looked so unofficial that I wondered if I was just giving money to some scammer. Oh well, you never know. I did have my luggage in the trunk, but was not worried about it. There were only a few cars when I arrived, but by the time I left many more people had come out to the beach.

    I got to see the flamingos very well with the binoculars, but the flock was small. These birds were very pale pink but still pretty. There were lots of other birds and the iridescent green lizards I had seen everywhere in Sicily. The beaches were fairly sandy and the turquoise sea was beautiful this day. A few people were out on the sand working on their early season tans. For some reason all of the visitor’s buildings were closed, including the restrooms. Part of the economic problems? I walked for a ways, but the nature preserve is many kilometers long and would be a wonderful full day visit for those who have time in their vacations for a long walk. As I left I met a group of cyclists on a tour with a company out of Vermont. They had been having a good time, but looked very hot. Evidently one of their directionally challenged guys had taken a wrong turn and they hadn’t found him yet! Their local guide was a bit frustrated.

    I drove into Siracusa with no problems and although there was a lot of traffic it was very easy. Tomasina took me right to the Avis rental car office on Ortygia which was closed (of course) for the siesta and had handwritten signs all over the door. I read the signs written in Italian and gathered that the location had changed and the office moved. I called Autoeurope and they confirmed that I was at the correct location so I left the car parked and walked to find my own lunch! I came back, dropped the keys in the drop box and gathered my luggage. I found a taxi and had it take me to B&B La Via della Guidecca.

    Roberta was there to greet me and the B&B was gorgeous. Very beautiful main floor and adjoining room where breakfast is served. The B&B is on a tiny piazza complete with church and small bar. My room was on the first floor and was actually a huge apartment type space just without a kitchen. Murano glass chandeliers, a writing desk, book cases, TV, sofa, huge bedroom with armoire and chair, lots of full length doors with shutters that could be opened for air and lots of light, French balconies. Large, modern bathroom with huge walk in shower. The location of the B&B on the tiny, narrow streets and with the piazza in front contributed to some street noise, but through most of the night it was quiet enough. All the sounds and conversations reverberate off the building walls so all of Ortygia is probably pretty much the same. The trash truck does come through around 1am though! My room was 80E for the first 2 nights, then 90E for the May 1 holiday. Breakfast was excellent, staff was outstanding. Roberta was extremely helpful. I would highly recommend B&B La Via della Guidecca for an Ortygia visit.

    I did really enjoy Ortygia. It’s just a beautiful town, clean streets, lots of interesting historical churches, palaces, and buildings. You can really see the layers of history in the architecture. I especially liked the duomo with its Roman columns built right into the church. The piazza in front is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Italy. A real gathering place with restaurants and lots of activity. Ortygia does get lots of visitors, but it never seemed too overwhelming. I enjoyed a granite one afternoon at Café Minerva and stopped back another day for a gelato. They are on a main side street from the duomo, good location and they stay very busy. It’s popular for a good reason.

    I visited the fort which was very impressive and quite interesting. I also took a boat excursion May 1 that went out to the caves and around the island. It was a fun day with lots and lots of locals enjoying the holiday and perfect weather. Many boats of all types and sizes were out on the water with families and friends picnicking and some even swimming. All the restaurants were jammed and the piazza was humming. As I strolled, I went in to a few shops. At one, a Frenchwoman artist made hand painted silk scarves. I liked her designs enough that I bought 2, one for me and one for my best friend. Great gift to take back! They weigh nothing and take no space in the suitcase :-). Helene Moreau, via Roma 27. Silkinortigia.wordpress.com.

    While in Ortygia I also had some of the very best meals! Dinner one night at O’Scina, Trattoria Cucina Siciliana. Excellent food and service, very nice atmosphere. The owner did not speak any English,but he brought me a sweet Sicilian wine with my desert. It was fabulous! O’Scina was recommended by Roberta at Guidecca and I think there is a business relationship there as the restaurant owner was at the B&B the following morning. Perhaps he owns both.

    The next night I went to Trattoria Kalliope on the next street over from O’Scina. It was warm enough to dine outside, the meal and service were excellent. I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly what I ordered. I’m not enough of a foodie that I take notes or pictures. I had seafood almost every night and usually another course. I could never eat it all, but I really wanted to try lots of different dishes. Most of my meals were 25-35E, including house wine and aqua minerale. I did find the house wine quality varied considerably. If it was a red, it was always Nero d’Avola. Some were great, others not so much.

    One morning as I wandered the tiny streets, someone was whistling a tune. The sound was echoing off the buildings and I couldn’t see where it was coming from, but the whistler was really talented! As I turned at the dead end and walked back, I saw the whistler up on his balcony. I waved and smiled, told him I enjoyed his concert. He waved back and started another tune. One of those memorable moments.

    Another special memory was the wedding party staying in the B&B for 2 nights prior to the wedding on May 1. The groom and his family, brothers, aunts, uncles, everyone was there. It got a little loud, but the excitement was contagious. Seeing the older relatives come in a taxi and all the hugging and exclaiming was so fun! The morning of the wedding the groom was having pictures taken in the piazza on the church steps and he looked great in his suit. One of the ladies was dashing around the B&B looking for a misplaced purse. She found it in her room….

    The day I had planned to visit the Archeological Park turned out to be the good, the bad, and the ugly. The park was first and even though it was early, there were hoards of tour groups, individual visitors, and school field trips. It was crazy. I bought my ticket and went in, visiting the Ear of Dionysus and the gardens, then the theater. As I already mentioned in response to Alison, the theater was a major disappointment. They were preparing for their Greek drama season which starts May 5 and runs through the end of June. 90% of the theatre was covered with new temporary wooden benches and the stage area was built with temporary backdrops. This is great if you are attending a performance, but unfortunately for me the plays didn’t start until May 5. I would recommend skipping the arch park if you visit during this time and are going to see the theater. I enjoyed the other theaters I saw much more and with fewer crowds – Segesta and Taormina.

    Escaping from the Archeological Park and the tour bus plaza kitsch central across the street (nuts), I walked down toward the museum. Since the park had had NO working restrooms, I stopped into a little coffee bar on the street. I had a granite to cool off after the craziness of the park. Ummmm delicious. The young guy behind the counter gave me a free corneto – the best one I had the entire trip!

    At the museum I discovered too late (I had lost my guidebook at Selinute) that I should have bought a combination ticket at the park and saved a little money. Too late once at the museum…the prehistoric section of the museum was not of great interest to me so I breezed through quickly. One thing though that was very interesting was the skeletons of the pygmy elephants that once lived in Sicily. Who knew? They were about 3 feet tall. I liked the sculptures the best, both large and small. The work was really amazing. Such detail and skill.

    Then I noticed signs to go downstairs and I was so happy I did. Behind a bank vault door is the coin collection! I’m not in to coins really, but these were amazing and beautiful. Works of art, some cleaned and shining, and a few left as they were found. It was interesting to see how our coins in the US even today are so similar! They also had some ancient gold jewelry that was gorgeous. I would wear it today…..the coin collection was hosted by a nice woman who had good English skills and lots of enthusiasm. She explained everything to us and was very knowledgeable. I have to assume she was the curator.

    The next morning I was off by train to Taormina!

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    Alison,

    I had no problems during my 3 nights with bathroom odors or water pressure. There is no elevator, but my room was on the first floor. Roberta actually carried my heavy suitcase up for me and I took the smaller overnight bag.

    If you will have a car, park in the parking lot before you cross the bridge and take a taxi. It was worth it. I don't think the B&B is hard to find at all.

    If you try to drive there: cross the bridge and go thru the main piazza where the Temple of Apollo is. At the rotary stay to the left (a one way street) go down a couple of blocks, and watch for Via della Guidecca sign on the corner of the building on your right. Turn right and continue straight and you come to the tiny piazza, church and B&B.

    I don't think there is much parking anywhere near the B&B, but I did see some further down the street near another church. You might also try and park at the rental office....

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    There's a big parking deck on the north side of Ortigia, just after the northern bridge, except the bridge is one way the wrong way. It's marked on the Google map.

    Dayle - does the Guidecca no longer show the Jewish ritual bath under the main building? It matters a lot which room you get there.

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    Thursdaysd, I think the Jewish ritual bath is under Alla Guidecca, a different hotel.
    Dayle, thanks for the tips! Your trip sounds like it was wonderful.
    And I have really enjoyed reading your TR. Thanks so much for getting it posted. You'll be able to read mine in a few weeks. Thanks to everyone who's helped with planning - i know many of you are reading this TR. C4N!

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    thursdaysd,

    Yes, there are two places with very similar names. I actually looked into staying at the Alla Guidecca , but their website didn't show any pictures of their rooms, so I passed.

    I was super happy at B&B La Via della Guidecca!

    The next part coming will be Taormina and the Aeolian Islands. Heavenly.

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    I lived in Taormina and will be there in July for a month so if you need any info let me know. Do you have any experience with Sorrento area? I will be with husband&12yo boy so I want to take them to Pompei, Ischia and a coastal tour. Wondering if its cheaper to rent a car and drive to Naples from there since train fare will be x's 3) from Sicily-Giardini to Naples, then use the circumvesuviana&buses(I saw someone mentioned a pass which will cover buses&local train). Also advice on whether to stay in Ischia, Naples or Sorrento. I will be with husband&12yo boy so I want to take them to Pompei, Ischia and a coastal tour. Any ideas Thanks

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    Hi almondjoyce,

    For your questions, I would post a topic addressing them specifically. You will get better and more advice that way.

    I have been to the Amalfi Coast area twice, but I did not rent a car either time. I definitely would not rent a car in July. Traffic and parking problems would just not be worth it! Besides, if you rent a car in Taormina, you would have to pay a ferry charge. I have no idea what that would cost, but you can check the SNAV and Siremare websites.

    Happy planning!

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    I am still enjoying your report, Dayle. We skipped the archaeological park in Syracusa, but did spend quite awhile in the museum. I'm a museum-person, so we also visited Palazzo Bellomo on Ortygia. I'd love to return to Ortygia for a few more days.

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    Hi Leely2,

    Yes, I would love to visit Ortygia again too! Didn't you love the sculptures, large and small, in the museum? Ortygia is so beautiful and very charming, even with all the visitors.

    I'm editing my photos for my slide show at work tomorrow. When I went on this vacation, everyone looked at me like I was crazy when I told them I was going to Sicily for 3 weeks. Sicily??? When they see the pictures, they will understand!

    The rest will be posted tomorrow, I promise!

    I'm glad those of you reading are enjoying. Again, Grazie Mille to those whose trip reports inspired my own trip. This is what it's all about.

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    I took the train from Siracusa to Taormina Giardino (name of station) for 14,60E. It didn’t get a full crowd until south of Catania. At that point a nice man sitting across from me helped put my big suitcase in the overhead rack. I have to confess I took a larger than normal (for me normal is my 21”) suitcase since this was a longer trip and I only had to deal with 2 trains the entire time. We got talking and it turns out he has an old friend in Newport Beach, a short way from where I grew up - small world. The only good picture I got of Mt. Etna was out the train window. When I was in Taormina the summit was cloudy the whole time.

    I took a taxi up to my hotel, Hotel Taodomus. Great location, nice clean room, great staff, awesome roof-top breakfast terrace. The rooms were very small and the bathroom even smaller. It was so small that the shower enclosure jutted out into the middle of the tiny room and I tripped over it, falling into the shower. Luckily, I was ok. There was some noise from the pizzeria behind the hotel, but since it was an absolutely great place, I have no complaints! Nice outdoor dining and excellent pizza.

    Taormina was very pretty and just as touristy as expected. Lots of tour groups following umbrellas and listening to headphones. The main street was jam packed. I had lunch (caprese salad) at a place recommended by the hotel, Rosso DiVino a wine bar - very good. The theater was beautiful, although filled with visitors and the view on the day of my short visit was cloudy. Not the best pictures, but still nice. I got a kick out of the huge yachts in the harbor below, one with its own helicopter. I stopped into a church and found it was being used for music school practice. A young man was playing a recorder accompanied by a young woman on a harpsichord! This was a real treat. I’ve never heard a harpsichord played live before and they were very good! I enjoyed a little window shopping and looked up at Castlemola – way up high. If I had been in town longer, I would have liked to stay at Villa Sonia in Castlemola.

    Since I had to leave very early in the morning, the staff sent breakfast to my room at 6:30am. Very nice! I had booked a driver with Newlifeservices. (I need to check the company name) to take me to Milazzo. This was a splurge (90E), but worth it to me under the circumstances. The winter hydrofoil schedule would have had me arriving in Lipari in the late afternoon if I had not taken the early departure at 9:30 am. Christian was very quick to answer my e mails and then confirm the day before pickup. Marcello was waiting in the lobby right at 7am as promised. Very nice man and a safe driver. We talked skiing and he told me he also runs marathons and had been in the NY marathon twice, so far.

    The hydrofoil ride on USTICA line cost 14,70E and stopped at Vulcano briefly before going on to Lipari. At Vulcano the paramedics loaded on an Italian man on a stretcher! He didn’t look very injured, but had a small bandage on his temple. It was a full boat from Milazzo and many island residents had evidently been to the early market. They were taking rose bushes and other plants and flowers home. Nice smooth ride for my second time on a hydrofoil, a definite improvement over my first experience.

    Once on Lipari I called my apartment contact to let her know I was on my way. This part of my trip was the VACATION part. I had been longing to visit the Aeolian Islands for many years, and especially after reading Aprilliacs’ wonderful trip report! I definitely wanted unhurried time here and a relaxing, private place to stay. I debated back and forth about booking Diana Brown’s B&B, but in the end I went for a Homeaway property listing and it was exactly perfect. Everything I had wanted. I didn’t know it at the time, but this home at Quatrocchi Belvedere has the best view in the islands! It’s the family home of a German woman who married a native Liparian many years ago. Her two daughters have the ground floor of the large home split in to 2 apartments for their families and Mom still lives upstairs. A very nice and interesting woman. I had my own private 2 BD, 1 BA, huge kitchen (with dishwasher!), private terrace with views of the Lipari faragolini and Vulcano steaming away! Flowers, vines, and trees. Gorgeous. They also have a pool, but it was not ready to use this early in the season.

    The only inconvenience was going up and down by bus on the spring schedule. It wasn’t quite frequent enough to be truly convenient. The daughter and I traded e mails and voice mails. The usual policy is to wire the money to her in Germany, but when I discovered the – expected - cost to do so, she agreed to let me just pay cash to her mother once I arrived.

    I took the bus back down, explored Lipari a bit. It’s a beautiful and charming little town with some great churches and an archeological museum at the top of the fort. I had one of my best meals here at Il Galeone on the main street. A simple tagliatelle with grilled veggies and a little fresh mozzarella. Yum!!! www.galeonelipari.it on Via Vittorio Emanuele n.220. I walked further down picked up a few items at the market, then stopped into a wine shop. The woman there recommended a white and a red for me and both were excellent. I spent my evening with a fresh caprese salad and a glass of wine enjoying the view. It was perfectly warm enough to sit out on the terrace. Heaven.

    While on Lipari I did a boat tour with Da Massimo Dolce Vita to Panarea and Stromboli to see the eruptions at night. This didn’t turn out as expected. We left at noon and were scheduled to return about 10:30pm. We went to Panarea for 1.5 hour stop during which I grabbed a quick lunch. Panarea was pretty, but sadly deserted in early May. I can see it would be a hopping place during July and August, but it was just kind of depressing pre-season. I was surprised at the trash around town, but at least there were lots of flowers to go with the pretty white and blue houses.

    Back on the boat we headed to Stromboli. Most of the 30 or so people on the trip were going to climb the crater. Unfortunately, Dolce Vita had not made the trip itinerary clear. It turned out that it was really planned around the hikers. The rest of us had to sit on Stromboli for 6.5 hours! It had been explained to me that we would be on Stromboli for 4 hours and I thought that would be fine. Do a little strolling and sightseeing, shop a little, have dinner. Turns out there is not much to do or see on Stromboli and the only shopping available is in tiny tourist schlock shops with volcano tee shirts, etc.

    At the top of town there is a piazza where all the hikers meet their guides (required) and gear up. Hard hats are required since Stromboli spits rocks. Unfortunately for the climbers, it started to rain hard and they hiked for over 6 hours to see exactly nothing but grey clouds. To make it worse, their decent was slowed by the rain and slippery footing. All this time the few who were not hiking sat and waited…waited…waited….after walking around town, I sat in the Bar Ingrid which at least had good views and had a glass of wine. When the restaurant finally opened for dinner, I ordered and dawdled. Finally I walked down to the pier and sat some more in a bar while the rain continued. I had a hot chocolate…..I waited. Unfortunately, I didn’t even have a book to read. A couple from the boat tour came in and we talked a bit while we waited. We all agreed on our disappointment in how little Stromboli had to offer and on our extreme boredom. Finally we walked to the pier at the designated time only to be told that the hikers were not down yet and to come back in an hour. So, by now the bar had closed. They kindly let us back in to wait inside rather than out in the rain….I would have enjoyed wine during the long wait, but didn’t dare drink for 6 hours, fearing sea sickness!

    Finally around 10pm the hikers returned and we all piled on the boat. We did luck out and the clouds lifted so we got to watch the eruptions for about 45 minutes. Stromboli made 7 huge explosions and the rocks and lava tumbled all the way down to the sea. Thankfully, this saved the trip. Even so, I would NOT recommend this trip unless you plan to climb. It was a wasted and boring day for the most part. It was capped off with a 2 hour boat ride back to Lipari with a boat full of exhausted and somewhat fragrant hikers.

    Another day I went over to Salina, rented a car (60,00E) and drove all over the island. Salina is quite different from Lipari. Greener, black sand and rock beaches. I had lunch in the little town of Malfa which looked like a place I would enjoy staying. I wasn’t terribly impressed with Rinella at the end of the road. Pollara – was fantastic! What a dramatic place. I wonder what it’s like in the winter during a storm? I had to snap a picture of a wooden sign with a hand-painted “Mare”. All you could see in back of the sign was the sea. 

    I also rented a car for the afternoon (40,00E, from Da Luigi right at the marina) and drove around Lipari. Note: there is a small luggage check office at the marina. There are a lot of vineyards on the island and Aquacalda was a fairly good sized town. Having seen the entire island, I was even more happy with my choice NOT to stay in town. I liked the quiet and privacy of the villa with the views. It was exactly what I came to Lipari for.

    I had another wonderfully lazy day just sleeping in and reading on the terrace in the shade, the day after the late night to Stromboli. By this time, I had a terrific farmer’s tan going and my feet looked like a self-tanning experiment gone terribly wrong. Even after a week back from the trip, I still have to explain what happens when you wear the same sandals in Sicily for 2 1/2 weeks!

    Next was Palermo, the big finish to a fantastic trip.

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    I must admit I never did a Sicily report. I am about five trips behind on reports at this point, though in my own defense I have answered Sicily questions in detail, so it probably works out to a trip report. :) I relied heavily on bon_voyage's TR when planning my own trip.

    Palazzo Bellomo is an old fortress/palace, half 13th c, half 15th c. It houses mostly Sicilian art; there are other Italian regions represented as well. Sculpture, silver, and paintings. There is a terrific Messina Annunciation (tho damaged). It's a small gallery but if you are interested in Italian painting it is worthwhile. The palace itself is worth seeing.

    For me Ortygia was the vacation part of my vacation: wandering, gelato eating, wine drinking, gallery hopping, luggage shopping (yup), etc., all figured heavily.

    Eager to read what you thought of Palermo. Seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it place. I loved it.

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    The morning I was to leave Lipari, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the terrace then went in to get ready. Oops. No water and no electricity! I reached the homeowner and she quickly put things right. Evidently, it had been a dry winter on the islands and the well serving my part of the house ran dry. The gardener had to quickly transfer water from the main wells to my well using a good old garden hose. A quick solution!

    Back to Milazzo via aliscafo, then bus to the train station and train to Palermo. Fortunately the train I boarded was a nice new, regional train (10,40E). Although it made many stops on the way, it was a nice ride. I got to enjoy some of the scenery and saw a couple of very interesting looking towns. I also enjoyed a limited conversation with a couple across from me who really spoke almost no English, but we had a good time describing where we lived and what our work was.

    Arriving in Palermo, I was surprised to see stray dogs sleeping in the station. I guess at this point this should not have been surprising and it was kind of funny how everyone just walked around them.

    Hotel Ambasciatore had arranged for a taxi driver to meet me at the station even though it was just a short walk to the hotel right down Via Roma. I didn’t want to go that far with my luggage given the things I had heard about Palermo street crime. The staff at Hotel Ambasciatore was very helpful and professional. My room was on the first floor and I took my luggage up in the little old elevator. The hotel has the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th (roof) floors of the building. (90E per night). Reception is on the 5th floor and it was a bit inconvenient to go up and down to reception and breakfast from the 1st floor, especially in the morning when the elevator was busy with regular residents starting their day. However – the roof top terrace is the main reason for staying at Hotel Ambasciatore! What a view! Really nice spot to finish a day of sightseeing with a glass of wine (or two) with your fellow travelers. Breakfast is also served here and all 4 mornings it was perfect warm weather in Palermo. You squeeze your own orange juice and breakfast is OK, but not great. No fresh fruit. By the 4th morning the granola cereal had run out and was not replaced. Other than that the hotel really was very nice. Rooms and bathrooms are large, beds comfy and quiet. Double paned windows keep out the street noise. I felt it was a good value for the money.

    Palermo – I’m conflicted about Palermo, but maybe that’s a perfect feeling to have about this city of conflicts! I love Rome, really liked Naples and was all set to love Palermo. I didn’t. I enjoyed the sights and the markets. I didn’t like walking around the city that much due to the huge heaps of trash and litter and cigarette butts thick on the streets in the historical part of the city. Graffiti was everywhere on every type of surface, marble, whatever. I just didn’t find anything that really grabbed me and made me like the city. No charm. I think part of it was that the cafes and bars were a little hard to find. Not right out on the main streets, more tucked away.

    The first morning I had arranged a historical walking tour with Jacqueline Alio. This was wonderful! Jackie met me at the hotel as agreed and we started off in the Ballaro market. The market was great, fish, produce, all beautiful, even the gigantic blue fin tuna that was being cut up right there. Vendors shouting for your attention. We headed to the Norman castle to see the Cappella Palentina which was really wonderful. I can never get over the detail of the mosaics and the amount of labor put into these churches. We also visited the Cattedrale and the Martorana, the Quatro Canti, and the Fountain of Shame, the history of which I found very amusing. We walked past the St. John of the Hermits church that Jackie suggested I visit on my own later. Jackie’s explanations were excellent and a fun change from reading a guide book. We were able to see a lot in just 4 hours because we were both fast walkers, and we did stop in the churches long enough for lots of pictures and time to appreciate.

    We finished our morning tour with Jackie walking to the newer part of town with me and recommending a nice café for lunch. Spinata was great and had umbrella covered tables down the middle of the tree lined ped only street. Lots of shops on this street and lots of local business people having lunch in the shade. Very good food and great service, especially for such a popular place! I believe it was on either Via Principe di Belmonte or Via Principe di Granatelli, north of Via Roma.

    I would highly recommend Jackie for her various tours of Palermo and other areas. Super nice young lady with excellent English – did I mention she was born in southern California, as I was! Her family moved back to Palermo when she was still in high school. aliojacqueline@yahoo.com. Licensed Palermo guide.

    I’ll finish tomorrow with my 2 independent days in Palermo.

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    Following lunch, I took a tour of the opera house, Thetro Massimo. It was interesting and fun to see the opulent interior. If I remember correctly there were 5 stories of seating. We were shown the royal box and "lounge". The woodwork in the lounge was amazing. I was surprised to see trash piled up even inside the halls of the opera house! It just seems strange that the people working at the opera house would not pick up trash at their workplace. Perhaps there is a union rule against this? Only trash workers are allowed to handle trash in any way? The Teatro was celebrating the anniversary of Verdi's birthday with a special exhibit of opera costumes from the 1800's thru the 1900's. It included stage dressing sketches and other costume sketches.

    On Friday, my trip was quickly ending and the main objective today was Monreale. The hotel had recommended taking the AST bus for 3E which leaves right in front of the train station. Perfect! Uncrowded, clean and no pickpocketing problems. It stops in Monreale just about 2 blocks from the cathedral. The trips took about 40 minutes mainly due to traffic.

    The main street of Monreale was very charming. Clean and lined with cafes, shops and produce stands. The cathedral itself is, of course, huge. Very similar to Cappella Palentina and Martorana, just much bigger. I would not recommend paying to go up on the roof to see an overhead view of the cloisters, not really worth the 2E. The cloisters were gorgeous! So impressive that each pair of columns has a unique story-telling caving on the capital. It's a very lovely photo op.

    I headed straight back to Palermo because I wanted to visit the Botanical Gardens. I stopped into a cafe across from the gardens for a quick panino and was clearly the only non-local in there! The sandwich was good and cheap, the service fast.
    Unfortunately the Botanical Gardens were a disappointment. Overall just very neglected. I did see a couple of people working while I was there, but only about 6 other visitors. Most of the plants and trees looked like they hadn't been watering in months, broken up sidewalks, weeds. Not the little oasis I had expected.

    Recommend skipping this and going straight on to Villa Julia right next door. Free and well tended, more formal park/garden. It's a bit out of the way for most of the major sites in Palermo so probably not worth making a special walk on its own.

    I don't have any dinner restaurant recommendations for Palermo. I was advised by my hotel not to walk around at night by myself. I had not really expected to receive this advice. I thought reports about Palermo street crime (pickpocketing and purse snatching) were exaggerated like driving problems.

    During my walking tour with Jackie, I asked her advice and she recommended only walking on the main streets and not carrying anything "important" with me. Leave the passport, credit cards, expensive camera, jewelry in the hotel. Take only a few euros that you need in your pocket, best to wear your purse crossbody (which I did see all the local resident women doing). I had been wearing crossbody anyway for comfort and my replacement camera was not expensive, so I was not really concerned.

    I asked the hotel to make an early dinner reservation for me on Friday night, and the first two choices were unavailable. They did get me a table at Maestro di Brodo, a short walk from the hotel. I took my euros in my pocket and nothing else. Trying to find the restaurant by the hotel's map, I did wander down some narrow vicoli. The steets were being hosed down and sort of cleaned up afte the day's market. It was the area of the Mercato Vucciria. I found it using my own sense of direction....

    This was a disappointing last dinner experience. The food was very good, but the service rushed and rude. As a solo diner, I was given the worst table in the restaurant. The other tables were reserved for their regular customers (which I can understand). I sat next to the entrance and the cash register counter. My chair backed to the refrigerator so I got hit every time they opened it to get a cold drink out. I ordered the house antipasti which was great - a huge display of about 20 different dishes and you helped yourself. I couldn't tell what some of them were, but picked some of the mystery selections to try out. The best was the marinated octopus, tender and flavorful! The entre was swordfish kabobs, also very good. The waiter grabbed my antipasti off the table before I was even finished. I've never had that experience anywhere in Italy before. I was shocked. At least I got to finish my entre.....before I was swiftly presented with the bill and not asked if I wanted desert or coffee. Again, I've never had an experience like this before. Obviously I would NOT recommend Maestro di Brodo.

    For my last day in Palermo, I thought I would see the "new city". I took the bus to Teatro Politeama and walked up Via della Liberta a few blocks, window shopping along the way! The new city has wide, straight streets, little trash, and obviously more money. A completely different world post WWII. As I headed back toward the old city, I stopped in at a little place in the Michelin green guide for a snack. This was an unexpected pleasure! I Cuochini - Via Ruggero Settimo, 68 - specialized in traditional street snacks, fresh, hot and delicious! I tried 4 varieties (appetizer size) and didn't need lunch after that. Seek out this little place for an authentic experience.

    I had 3 more churches I wanted to visit and I walked all the way back to San Giovanni degli Eremiti. I was so glad I didn't miss this wonderful ancient church. So unique! The cloisters area is tiny and beautiful. Graceful columns and pointed arches, trees with red blossoms. The church had very few visitors and those that were there were doing some serious photography! This was a highlight for me.

    Outside, I was ready for a rest and lunch (afterall) and found Spillo, La Birroteca, tucked just around the corner under the church - Cortile S. Giovanni degli Eremiti. They had some tables set up outside and I ordered a caprese salad and a glass of Pino Grigio. Both were excellent, the tomatoes so ripe they were sweet. Be sure to stop in here if your visit is near mealtime. The rest of the bar/restaurant is in the vaulted underground of the church. Very modern decor in ancient architecture. One of the things I love most about Italy!

    At this point my feet were protesting, it was 4pm and I headed back to the hotel. Along the way I stopped into a wine store and bought a very nice bottle of Donnafugata Nero d'Avola 2006 to share with the other Americans on the roof top terrance. Had a rest, soaked my feet in the bidet :-) and packed for departure EARLY Sunday. :-(

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    A few more words about the Hotel Ambasciatore. The staff were wonderful and even granted a special request I had made. The roof top terrace is wonderful with really beautiful views of the city, the church domes and the mountains surrounding Palermo.

    The location is great for sightseeing, but as a solo traveler receiving advice not to walk at night alone, the location was not the best. I had dinner at the hotel 3 out of 4 nights and their menu is limited and unchanging. Their best options were their pasta dishes and tempura fried vegetables. Also the little bar on the roof terrace has a very limited and inferior wine selection. Nice views, poor wine.

    My conflicted feelings about Palermo - several really beautiful sights to see and I found some nice spots that I enjoyed. Overall, the city just didn't really capture my heart or imagination. I was able to see the highlights and that was enough. I probably would not return to the city if I were able to visit Sicily again.

    Driving - after reading all the comments about driving in Sicily, I thought I could handle it but was prepared for more aggresive drivers, poor roads and difficulty finding places. I was very surprised at how easy it was, even in the cities (Trapani Agrigento and Siracusa). I did drive on some narrow country roads, but those had little to no traffic and were very scenic drives. I only saw crazy passing twice. The traffic just flows and I had no stress about it at all.

    I had expected Sicily to be frenetic, chaotic, loud and dramatic. It was completely the opposite! My trip was relaxing, quiet, easy. The people I met and delt with were absolutely lovely, kind, helpful, very proud of their country and its history and eager for visitors to enjoy it.

    I was surprised that several people brought up the topic of the Mafia. Both of these people were very much against the Mafia and said how it is still a very, very big problem for Sicily. They expressed frustration that 1,000 Mafia control 16 million Sicilians. They did point out that their last two Presidents are now in jail for Mafia activities and that there is a large, vocal anti-Mafia movement now in Sicily that is making progress.

    I also learned that Sicily is an autonomous state in Italy. They have their own President, Parliment and make all their own laws. Something I didn't know. The other 3 autonomous states are 2 near the Austrian and German borders (which makes sense since they were part of those countries before WWII) and the 3rd I don't remember!

    I had expected less English to be spoken, but I was surprised at how little. Usually people who work with tourists in hotels and restaurants have tourist English, but I had many places where there was no English at all. My limited Italian and both parties' willingness made it a non-issue.

    I was also a little surprised about the food. I had expected many more exotic dishes and a wide variety. I was only able to get couscous once, in Erice and most of the restaurants where I dined had very similar menus. Maybe I'm not enough of a foodie to have searched out the highly recommended places. I thought almost all of my meals were very good and I had seafood dishes for most meals. Loved the swordfish, the fresh mozarella and the almond pastries!

    I am so glad I visited when I did! Much thanks to thursdaysd and bobthenavigator for their spring time recommendations. I love the wildflowers and wanted to see Sicily all green and bright. It was gorgeous! Aside from the first 4 days with rain and then Scirocco winds, I had very good weather and it was plenty warm enough for my liking since I cannot tolerate humidity. (I live in a desert climate.)

    I loved Sicily and would return if I could. The only thing I would change about my itinerary would be to skip the night in Agrigento so I could have spent 1 or 2 more nights at La Foresteria in Menfi. That was due mainly to the lodging choices! La Foresteria was heaven and the B&B in Agrigento was not.

    From what I saw the tourists in Sicily were, in order - Italians, Germans, French, Brits, Americans, Dutch. And of course we can't forget all those school field trips!

    Thanks for reading this long and detailed report. I hope it will inspire others to visit this part of Italy! If you have questions, I'll try my best to answer.

    Ciao,
    Dayle

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    Dayle, thanks so much for your report. It was wonderful to revisit Sicily with you. I often think about a return trip, so, about the Aeolians as an overall experience, what's your bottom line? magical/don't miss or not so much? Also, I recalled reading that it wasn't possible to go to the beach at Pollara--were you actually able to go onto the beach?

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    Thanks for the report, Dayle, I'm so glad you finally made it to Sicily and enjoyed it.

    I liked Palermo more than you did, but I was staying in a B&B n a nice village-type street a little out of the center. And I would certainly spend time in Ortigia or Trapani in preference to Palermo. I didn't make it to the Aeolian Islands, but they are on the list for a hoped-for return trip.

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    Hi bon_voyage,

    The Aeolians had been the first thing that caught my interest in Sicily and I planned my trip mostly around my time there. I stayed 5 days and really enjoyed it. I'm very glad I stayed at a villa rather than in town, only because I had aleady had enough time in other towns on this trip. My island time was the relaxing time! Lipari itself was a very nice town, but I imagine it would be much busier in summer.

    If I went back to the Aeloians, I would go in maybe June, stay in a villa and do lots of time relaxing and doing boat trips. Pretty much what I did but with warmer weather for swimming.

    I might try the little town of Malfa on Salina. It looked very appealing, next to where I stayed on this trip. The vrbo property I chose was perfect for me!

    At Pollara, there was a very long pathway/stairs down and I didn't go the whole way due to a bad knee I was babying. Some other people went all the way. I don't think it went to the beach, but rather to some little caves/homes/boat houses in the bottom of the cliff. I'm not sure what they were. Just a guess. I do think it would be really spectacular to hike all the way down!

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    Great TR, Dayle. DH and I saw what you saw on your first day on Palermo and then saw Monreale and took the bus to Mondello on another. We loved the Deco beach house there.

    I never saw anything more exquisite than the Cappella Palentina and Monreale mosaics. Even the ones we saw in Ravenna (admittedly not all of them) weren't as astounding to me.

    I'm so annoyed on your behalf about that dinner where you got such terrible service. DH and I were too early and not allowed in one place so the staff could eat but your treatment was horrid.

    Where to next?

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    Holly, bon_voyage and TDudette,

    Thanks for your comments! I've actually waited before at a restaurant when I was too early and did it in Scicli on this trip too. I don't mind that at all. Restaurant staff work hard and need to get something before handling all the guests!
    But, yes, that place was just too rude.

    What's next? I think New Zealand. I want to go do all the crazy stuff before I get too old!

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    Welcome home, Dayle, and thanks for your wonderful trip report!

    We leave two weeks from today -- I can hardly wait! We will be staying in Taormina, Siracusa, Vittoria (near Ragusa at the COS winery, and Panarea. Hopefully, Panarea will be a little nicer than when you visited -- by then, it will be late June.

    I'm glad you loved Villa Romana. It is a little out of our way, but we are going to try to make it there to see the mosaics.

    I'm wondering how you went about doing a boat trip on Ortigia. That sounded wonderful! Did you go with a company, and do you think it's possible to rent your own boat?

    I loved reading about your adventures. Thanks again!

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    Hi dina4,

    I'm excited for you! I think you will enjoy Sicily. Just be prepared for crowds at the major sites and in the resorty towns. It will be hot and humid so pack accordingly.

    The little boat excursions around Ortygia are pretty much available on a walk up basis at the marina,although you might want to look into advance reservations since you are traveling during peak season. It's obviously on the harbor side of the island and several companies are available. My excursion was not a huge deal, but a nice way to spend a little time on the water on a warm day! I believe it was 30E per person and was about 1.5 hours. I do think there are boat available for charter, but I didn't investigate as I was traveling solo and am not very familiar with boating.

    Have a wonderful time and eat LOTS of seafood, fresh veggies and fruit - delicious!

    Buon viaggio,
    Dayle

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    I second the granite -- one of my favorite things about Italy.

    Dayle -- wonderful report, with lots of great information. So interesting to hear your experiences and get your perspective. I admire your poise and intrepidness.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the Aeolian Islands and were inspired to visit based on my trip report. As you know, I think they are fantastic. I recommend giving Panarea another chance--a visit of a couple of hours doesn't do it justice (though that's how I was introduced to it as well, followed by a couple weeklong stays).

    What a shame about the Stromboli portion of the trip. No way should you have been made to wait for the climbers. Do you think it was poor communication on Da Massimo's part, or did you just misunderstand? We've taken the Da Massimo Panarea/Stromboli trip, and waiting for patrons to climb the mountain was definitely not part of the deal. A good warning to others to double check and be sure what they are getting into.

    We stayed a couple of times on Salina--a week based in Malfa and a week based in Pollara. Both were nice, but Pollara was magical. (Very isolated--not for everyone.) The steps down to the water actually aren't too onerous. They lead to a pebbly beach (as well as the carved-out caves that are used to store old boats, etc.). The cliff views are spectacular. There's no sand, but you can sunbathe on the rocks and swim in the somewhat protected cove. You should also scramble over the rocks to see a magnificent huge arch carved out by the waves. Put it on your list for next time, for sure! (Pollara is the location of Pablo Neruda's cottage in Il Postino--a wonderful film.)

    Anyway, thanks again, Dayle, for your informative report. Happy travels in the future!

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    Buongiorno aprilliacs,

    Thanks for your comments! I did remember you had stayed in Malfa, but forgot about Pollara. I did love Il Postino!

    Unfortunately, I don't think I will have another chance to visit Sicily. I don't get to do "big" trips like this as often as some Fodorites! That's why I went for a long trip - one time shot.

    When I booked with Dolce Vita, Elena was very prompt in answering my e mails and explained that I would need to stop in to their office on my arrival day to confirm and pay for my tickets (after the initial small deposit by cc). So I did that and Massimo explained the trip itinerary. He said we would be on Panarea for 1.5 hours (less than I had read on their web site) and on Stomboli for 4 hours. Fine. I thought a leisurely visit to Stomboli with some wandering and a long dinner would be just right. There was never any mention made that we would be waiting for the hikers. I think what happened was they didn't have enough people to do a non-hiking boat and just combined the trips without telling anyone. Not fair and not a way to get a good review. We sat on Stromboli for 6.5 hours with nothing to do!

    I was supposed to take the Lipari/Salina trip with them a couple days later, but cancelled because I was afraid of getting stuck again!

    If you are returning to the Aeolians, let me know if you want the listing for the vacation apartment I rented. It was great!

    Ciao,
    Dayle

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    Dayle, really enjoyed your report. I am working on mine since I got back two days ago. You and I had the exact same impression of surprise at how calm Sicily was. We, too, expected it to be chaotic and frenetic and didn't find it that way at all. Sorry to hear about your Palermo experience. It validated that we made the right decision to stay in Politeama area where I felt completely safe, even when I was wandering alone. Your TR was great and a joy to read.

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    Oh, and we really liked the same ceramicist in Erice that you describe and had the same experience there, too. Wanted to buy one of the vases but the shipping cost was just too high. and thanks again for the heads up about the coin and jewelry collection in the Siracusa museum.

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    Alison,

    I thought you would be back by now. I can't wait to read your report and all your impressions/experiences! I hope you had good weather. It seems the weather further north has been extremely rainy!

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    Enjoyed your report very much. Brought back some great memories.
    Glad you enjoyed Hotel Taodomus in Taormina. We paid a tad more for an upgraded room which has a bigger shower, FYI for anyone else who interested.

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    theatrelover,

    I'm glad you found it helpful! That is why we all do this after all. I really, really look forward to your trip report and hearing all about your adventures and impressions.

    sundried,
    I didn't need a bigger shower, just a bigger bathroom! The awkward arrangement of the tiny bathroom had the square base of the shower sticking out into the middle of the room. I took a step back from the sink, tripped on the base of the shower stall and fell into the shower! Luckily I didn't hit my head or have an injury. Felt like a klutz, and I'm not usually!

    Thankfully the bed was comfy and the room quiet later at night. The breakfast room views are fantastic!

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    OMG, I can't believe I missed this report! Thanks for posting, Dayle, and thanks for the kind words.

    I'm glad you enjoyed (most) of your time in Sicily, and found it fascinating to read of the ways in which some of your experiences were like, or not like, mine.

    I didn't experience the problems with uncleared trash that you did, but I do remember reading someone else's trip report that included a comment that was something like: "If Sicillians were as good at removing trash as we are, they probably wouldn't still have the magnificent ruins of Segesta, Selinuta, etc." Hmm... didn't know I'd ever find a reason to tolerate uncleared trash, but that one gave me pause!

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    kja,

    Glad you saw it! I really did love Sicily and the people. Thanks again for all your valuable input in the planning stage.

    Yes, I was really surprised myself that I didn't love Palermo because I was expecting to. I didn't hate it, but it just didn't capture me like Rome and Naples did.

    There was very little I would have changed about my trip. I probably would have stayed 2 nights at Planeta in Menfi just because it was SO nice, and taken that one night from Scicli. One night would have been enough there, as it's small and not all that much to see.

    Wish I was there right now!

    Ciao,
    Dayle

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