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Trip Report Trip Report - Sicily in 30 days 2016

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Our Sicily trip has been a long time in the planning and executing. Planning commenced several years ago with other events intervening so that the trip was put off time and time again. However we kept up the research and kept in touch with other travellers to refine our intinerary. 5 April finally saw us up up and awaying!

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    Etihad Airlines:
    For us this was one of the worst premium airlines we had the bad luck to travel with. The B777-300 has extremely narrow and close seats making it uncomfortable for even short people let alone tall ones.
    The aisles are so narrow that even the crew have difficulty getting their trolleys down them. Passengers walking down the aisle constantly knock the seated passengers because there is no way they can fit down the aisle unless they crab-crawled down them (and I am not talking about large passengers). This is a nuisance at night.
    The food ran out after just five rows in the economy section with the stewardesses asking each other what they had left and passing laden trays over the passengers heads! Then two rows later, they ran out of trays. When they returned with the trays they forgot to add the bread roll and offer a beverage. The tray was just shoved at you and off they went. The food generally looked unappetising and very much presented as cafeteria food. The trays are unbalanced on the hinged trays and both tray and drinks head towards to your lap. Premium economy was microscopically better, but not for the money and you still use the economy toilets.
    Terminal 1 is uninteresting and dull. Although there are electronic device charging machines, you would need a very long cord or be prepared to sit on the floor while holding your device.
    No, Abu Dhabi and Etihad, you are not an alternative to Dubai and Emirates or Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways.

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    The flight from Abu Dhabi to Rome was a shared code with Alitalia and what a difference. All the stories of Alitalia using old planes and having bad service were put to rest. The plane was indeed an older model, but it had been refurbished and the crew could not have been more different from Etihad. Pleasant, accommodating and talkative. A comfortable flight indeed.

    We had a lay over in Rome where we purchased TIM for Visitors sim cards for our phones. A short wait in the very crowded transit lounge and we were up up and away again, with Alitalia.

    Palermo Airport
    The flight to Palermo from Rome was uninteresting – just over the Sea. We did not get to see the Napoli coastline or the Aeolian islands. The entry to the airport is along the Palermo coastline with massive rocky outcrops surrounded by low lying land densely built on.
    The airport is small and uninteresting for arrivals. The baggage collection is divided into two area. One is for domestic and through rear doors is the area for international where your luggage is screened. We waited at the domestic (being none the wiser) and were alarmed when our luggage did not appear. As we were headed with a sense of foreboding (the stories of Alitalia losing luggage were eventuating) to the Lost and Found, an aircrew member approached us and asked us if we had lost luggage and when we said yes, she said it was probably at the international section through the rear door. And it was!

    The information desk cannot provide any brochures in English, only German, French and Arabic. On we went to find our Onbus to Trapani. Past the shuttle to the car park and rental car companies, past the charming and bubbly lady who wanted to sell us a taxi or shared taxi (5 – 6 people and some luggage) E10 until we found the bus stands. One for a bus to Palermo itself, E6 and the others. Our Segesta bus (Onbus) was to arrive at 12.30 and it did. It costs E10 to purchase tickets on the bus or E8 if you do it on line before and print out the ticket. The other buses go to Agrigento (three per day) and Gallo buses to Menfi and Siacca (2 per day). Waiting would be either very cold or very hot as there is very limited bus shelter if you are there in high or low season.
    On the journey from the airport, we passed many older houses which had been abandoned or construction unfinished. The autostrada is lined with gum and wattle trees making us feel quite at home. The fields were vines, olive orchards and solar panels. A 55 min relaxing drive to Trapani.

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    Day 1 - Trapani 6 April 2016

    Trapani:

    Trapani is both a old town and a modern one. As you drive through off the autostrada from Palermo you are reminded that Trapani once had some wonderful buildings with wrought iron balconies and arched windows. These have been replaced by modern concrete high rises complete with clothes hanging outside.

    However old Trapani is another story. This is where people enjoy their city. The old buildings are often in disrepair but some are being restored and hopefully this will continue so that the heritage is not lost. The streets are not cobbled vicoli but they are 2 cars wide paved in large stone flagstones which to the visitor spells pedestrian but in fact they are normal streets used by vehicular traffic, so you had better have your wits about you and don’t amble down the streets or you could be the ornament on a motor scooter or car! There are virtually no footpaths so you will be walking on the street itself within the town. There are footpaths of sorts on the main outer streets.

    There are parks that will definitely be the scene of the evening passagiata. Every street or corner has a church or a building with a religious history. A wonderful old building that used to be a hospital XiV C is in disrepair and boarded up. Hopefully it will be restored into some wonderful apartments.

    Cattedrale San Lorenzo unfortunately has not been maintained and this once glorious building is a sorry sight. The porphyry columns, two massive organs and the bronze gates hint at its glory. The plaster is peeling and the paintings need urgent restoration to bring out the obvious beauty and colours. The ceiling is covered in circular frescoes but many of them are water damaged and have already been lost. It would be wonderful if some Italian bank or business (as has been done in Rome with the Trevi and Spanish Steps) could put their hands in their pockets and provide for the restoration.

    Although some restaurants are open early for the tourist trade they are identified by the tables outside, well dressed waiters and spruikers ready to offer you the deal of the day!

    The people are friendly from the bus driver who drove us from Palermo aeroporto to Trapani, the travel agent who directed us to our hotel, the lovely ladies who run the Marina Bay B & B to the citizens who gave us directions and the friendly staff who ran the Pane shop 9 Pane amore e fantasia at Corso Vittorio Emanuele 84/86) and the Paniforcio where we bought our Pane, Torte di Mela, Pomodoro Pizza and Arancini Ragu for our first night’s dinner.

    A walk early in the morning at 7.00am along Viale Regina Elena sees the city still asleep with only the early workers and the port awakening. Viale Regina Elena is lined by trees and beautiful lights. These have been converted to solar and they are a testament to the past glory. The Viale looks glorious at night when these lights are turned on.

    The Fish market is not as busy as we expected with the catch being mainly sardines. However it was interesting to watch the bargaining for the catch. Individual fishermen with their nets could be seen out in the harbour.

    Viale delle Sirene has views of the old walls, the Lungomare and Erice. This would be a beautiful area if the flower beds were replanted and the weeds removed. Some houses overlooking this area could be converted into B & Bs which would draw deep pocketed tourists for the beautiful views.

    There is a supermarket – Maxisconto at 11 Via Carolina that sells locally made cheeses including a rather lovely pecarino. Everywhere there are small restaurants. Many without signs so you have to be in the know or wait until evening when they open their doors and your realise what was behind that scruffy old door you saw earlier!

    Via Corallai has some outdoor restaurants with outdoor covered seating. One also has an open fire during winter.

    Many of the churches are closed eg San Francesco di Assisi. This is undergoing a major restoration which is likely to see it closed for at least another year. Along Via San Franceso we peeped into an open window (for want of a better word) to see a man mending fishing nets. He very kindly allowed us to photograph him and wished us a good journey. The San Francesco area is the old area for sailors and fishermen and they continue to live and work here.

    Upper level households do not have garbage bins to be collected by garbos but hang their garbage in a bag on a string to be collected. So watch where you walk or you will get hit on the head by a garbage bag!

    Old Trapani is a walkable town and you do not need a car here. You can get to Segesta and Erice by bus and to San Vito Lo Capo by a shared bus that the hotel can arrange for you www.sanvitolocapobus.com.

    If you want to walk along the beach you have to go to the modern part of Trapani where there are beaches. Around the old town there are only ballast blocks covered with a variety of seaweed.

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    Rasputin, you amaze me.. 2 long haul flights, an internal flight, and a bus trip..... you really have stamina.
    We are taking the new (from Adelaide) Qatar route to Milan in July, the internal fit out a bit better than Emirates and Etihad with 1 less seat per row. Fingers crossed it's comfortable.

    Trapani looks interesting, keep going with the details. I love reading Sicily TR's, everyone seems so enthusiastic about their time there.

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    Agreed TD - it's not as if they don't know how many they are going to cater for.

    We too will be going to Sicily but in September for only 10 days so we will be sticking to the eastern side of the island - so I will be very interested to read about the laces we won't have time to visit.

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    Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments. Thursdaysd - will talk about Erice soon. Adelaidean interested to know what Qatar is like. While Emirates can be indifferent, it is the agonising 6 hour lay over between Dubai and Milan that put us off. We have done that twice. Once was interesting, the second a bore and a third would be agony. Qantas unfortunately puts themselves out by being overpriced.

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    Day 2

    Segesta:
    If you are not into tours or do not have deep pockets for a private guide and car, the easiest way to get to Segesta is by bus. Our visit to Segesta this morning had all the right ticks. The weather was not hot and it was not raining. Although we have had overcast weather for the last few days here in April 2016, it has been pleasant to walk around in.
    We took the Tarantola bus from the bus terminus "Bar Autostazione" Piazza G.G.C. Montalto near the train station. Tickets (E6.50 return) are purchased in the café/bar and patrons can wait in the café area until the bus arrives. We took the 10am bus and there were only five passengers all the way to Segesta. A very pleasant ride, with the bus travelling at a speed that allowed viewing of the green country side with the vines coming into new growth. We felt at home with the gum and wattle trees lining much of the highway. Wild flowers (aka weeds) including thistles and poppies brought colour to the green patchwork fields. Interspersed were olive orchards (some with old, knurled trunks showing their age) and fields of solar panels. Several unfinished or abandoned houses had us wondering why? Was it the economy or some other issue.
    The journey took around one hour with the bus driver pointing out the fermata for the return journey at 1.10pm. Check the return times as they change.
    Arriving at the site ticket office, we were told that the amphitheatre was closed indefinitely for restoration and only the temple was open for viewing. Luckily the ticket had been reduced to E3 instead of E6. Perhaps reason for the lack of passengers on the bus was that they had prior knowledge into this closure.
    Nevertheless we intended to enjoy the site as best we could and climbed the wide stairs to the tempio, which dominates the whole landscape. The steps are stony rubble and not for anyone with heart or knee issues. The un-kept area is filled with spring flowers including borrage, thistles, forget me nots of the most vivid blue, yellow and orange flowers. The inevitable prickly pear jostled for attention with the agaves.

    One can just get a view of the corner of the amphitheatre from the temple site. Across the valley was a much photographed wine estate and restaurant – the Agora di Segesta - very grand indeed. If you have a car and deep pockets, this is the place to stay for at least one day and you will have a magnificent view of the Tempio lit up at night.

    The historic legend of the site is that the ancient capital of the Elymians was founded by exiles from Troy. Segesta was constantly at war with the nearby Selinunte and there were frequent skirmishes. The majestic 5th C Doric temple has survived the wars. The city of Segesta was built above the temple. Besides the amphitheatre there are the ruins of a mosque and other ruined buildings but it is the temple and amphitheatre that draw the sightseers.

    The temple is without any ornamentation so often seen on Greek temples, This seems to support the theory that the temple was in fact never completed due to the wars. The building dominates the hill and would be a wonderful sight to see from the amphitheatre. Look for the starlings who build their nests into the small crevices and holes in the masonry.

    There is no shelter or shade at the temple so it would be very hot during the summer. There are two benches in the sun facing the temple.

    The gift shop filled with tacky souvenirs, does have some good books on Sicily, although the number of English copies appear to be limited in comparison to the other languages. A multi-language brochure can be purchased for E2 at the stalls before the gate and an E7 book can be purchased in Trapani wherever postcards and souvenirs are sold.

    You can also purchase some expensive food eg 4inch square of eggplant lasagne for E8 as well as drinks and some gelato at the cafe. This can be eaten on the tables outside.

    There are reasonably clean toilets but bring your own toilet paper and don't expect the soap containers to be filled.

    If you drive up, there is free car parking before the entry gate. The little man at the gate is not selling tickets but spruiking for a restaurant somewhere in town.
    As soon as the sun breaks through it gets very warm, so a hat and sunglasses are a must.

    Enjoy the site even if the temple is the only building open. When restoration of the amphitheatre is complete it will be used for summer classical theatre programs (July and August).

    Because there was only one site open this left a lot of wasted time waiting for the return bus and no where to sit. The restaurant was quite clear that the tables were meant for patrons (even though there none at the time). We clearly understood this and would have moved if a large crowd had arrived and needed more seats. So it was sitting on rocks or standing around waiting. Two other travellers on the bus ended up sitting on the side of the road. The bus was on time and away we went back to Trapani - being dropped off at the bus station once again.

    A walk back took us to the Gelataria I mention in my report on the B & B and this time the chocolate was on - was it worth waiting for? - indeed.

    A walk around the streets at night sees the beautiful street lights that you would have observed during the day on every wall, lit up. Restaurants come alive and there is a wine bar (Tenute Adragna) opposite the Al Lumi hotel/restaurant (Via San Lorenzo) that only opens in the evenings. They have several barrels of wine that you can taste and buy. It serves as a meeting place for the younger generation, who can be seen here standing in the street chatting and drinking wine. None get drunk – this is just a convivial pastime. For E4 you can try four red or white wines and food is provided in the form of inch squares of very nice pizza and panne and olive oil. You had better like young, rough wines but it was nevertheless an experience we were happy to have. We actually found that the tasting was supposed to be free. The use of the glass was E2 for several glasses of wine and he charged us E8 for two glasses of wine! This is the first time we have been overcharged by taking advantage of the newcomers!

    Thursdays sees the local market near the port area. It is a vast market selling clothes and all manner of household items. There are vans selling cheeses, meats and other eatables, including, if you are up for it – bags of pigs’ blood. We had no trouble with pickpockets. Although some shops have cost signs, you can bargain a little. I found the best technique was to ask the price, and if it seemed a tourist price, smile and start to walk away. The stall holder will generally drop the price by one or even two Euro. The stall holders continue with the market circuit in the area attending different towns on different market days.

    Surprisingly after reading about Sicilian drivers, we can say that they are polite in Trapani, observing every zebra crossing and waiting until we crossed. This also extends to crossings where there are no zebra crossings.

    Marina Bay B & B

    This was a wonderful find for us. After checking out the location of a number of accommodations and contacting the owners, we plumbed for the Marina Bay and could not have been happier. The correspondence with the owners Stefania and Ninni Pipitone was responsive and helpful. The B & B is exactly two years old and is in a street just behind Piazza Garibaldi opposite the Porto. The large and secure entrance door hides the renovated small hotel. Stefania and Christina (Romanian) welcomed us and gave us a map and sent us off to our room as we had been travelling for more than 30 hours and been awake for even longer from the start of our journey in Melbourne. They promised to fill us in on the points of interest after we had rested.

    The apartment is on the second floor and there is a tiny lift (one person and a bag at a time). The room is very secure (even from yourself if you don’t learn to use the key properly). It is light and airy with high ceilings. A small entry area with hooks to hang your coats opens into a bedroom that is well lit. It has a small TV and an air-conditioner (both heating and cooling as Trapani can obviously be cold in winter). Although we were here in April, it was cool and people were dressed in coats. Although the day was a lovely 19C it was cooler in the evenings.

    The small cupboard has sufficient hanging space with real hangers and spare pillows. The bed is made up with clean linen and a warm cosy red quilt cover. The lighting is both overhead and individually directional side lamps. The entry leads into the large tiled bathroom with bidet, toilet and tiny shower. I do mean tiny. It is very clean and well lit. The large square basin on a wooden shelf has a mirrored cabinet above it. A hair dryer is provided as well as complimentary shampoo and soap. The shower has a wonderful shower head and the water is hot and there is plenty of it. However, if you are a large or very tall person you will have difficulty in moving in the shower and without knocking your elbows on the walls or door. There are only two hooks behind the door and a stool on which to place your clothes. You will need to unpack your toiletries and place them in the mirrored cupboard as there is no other shelfing.

    The whole apartment is floored in white flagstone tiles. From the bedroom a sliding door leads to the kitchen/dining area. A sturdy table and three chairs, an oven, 2-burner gas cooker, fridge, sink and a washing machine complete the room. The cupboard above the sink (like many Italian homes) serves as dish storer and drainer. Cutlery and tea-towel are provided. However you will need to provide your own dishwashing liquid and brush. This in my mind is a problem as previous users would not have been able to thoroughly wash the dishes and cutlery. I could only thoroughly re-rinse them before use.

    An over the balcony clothes airer is provided but directions on how to use the front loader washer would be helpful. Bring your own soap powder for a front loader. The room, like the bedroom, is well lit both by lights and natural light. Double glazed French doors in both rooms lead to a miniscule balcony (standing room only) and they have shutters to keep either the heat or cold out.

    The area around, despite being spitting distance to the porto, is surprisingly quiet at night. Exhausted from our journey we finally succumbed and went to bed early expecting that we would be woken by other guests and the lift which was right next door. However this did not happen and there was no noise from the front or rear streets.

    Ninni also acts as airport pickup and tour guide. An all in one service.

    We followed Stefania’s advice on our walk to the Thursday market and stopped at the Artisanal Gelateria Meno tredlci Via Amm Staiti 61, for thick, creamy and cheap E1.50 cone of Pistachio and Hazelnut gelato. The chocolate was not ready yet – oh well that will be another trip later in the day – it can’t be helped! The dark chocolate was worth waiting for.

    The B & B also provide a supermarket service from the Simpatico Crai supermarket on Via San Pietro 30. You can choose and pay for your groceries at the supermarket, letting them know that you are staying at the Marina Bay B & B. Your purchases will be delivered, free of charge, to the B & B and placed in your room by the reception staff. So you don’t have to make a trip there and back but can continue on to wherever you were headed knowing that your purchases will be taken care of. Remember if you are purchasing fruit or vegetables, to weigh them on the weigh machine provided, print out the sticky price label and seal your bag with the label before taking it to the check out.

    The wifi signal at Marina Bay is strong and without the echo that one sometimes get on Skype.

    Once you know how to operate the washing machine and the air conditioner, you are set.

    You do have to take your garbage down to the recycle bins in Piazza Garibaldi outside the port area.

    Marina Bay also provide guests with free antipasto and wine at a restaurant 321 Gramisci during the visit. Unfortunately we never got to take up this offer as we were always too tired and went to bed early.

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    Day 3:

    Marsala

    We felt a bit like Dr Gloster on our trip to Marsala. We left Trapani in the drizzle and walked into to a puddle up to our middle in Marsala. Walking around Marsala in pouring rain is no fun.

    The train journey was via a small one carriage train that stopped at three stations including Mozya where we got a glimpse of the salt flats, museum and windmills. There are a few hotels and B & Bs in Mozya if you have a car and want to stay longer to enjoy the sunset and evening windmill scenes you often see on postcards.

    Arriving at the Marsala train station there were no directions in which to travel to the centre of the town. Using the map we had the forethought to copy from somewhere, we made our way down Via Crispi to Via Mazzini. This is an uninteresting street for the most part. It does however have three supermarkets cheek by jowl to each other. The Sais Supermercato at Via Manzzini 139 has a delicatessen section that will cut your purchased panne roll and make up it up with whatever cold meat or cheese filling you want. It has a reasonable range of wines and all other products. Each supermarket has its resident panhandler who will appreciate a E0.20 as you leave. They often keep a watch on patrons’ cars. We remember one in Genoa who kept up a convivial chatter with the regular shoppers, kept an eye on the trolleys for the supermarket and was on good terms with the manager.

    Our first attraction was the Old market which was both a fish and vegetable market. It is quite small but has a good trattoria where you can purchase fresh fish straight from the market.

    On to Porta Garibaldi – the entrance to the town that Garibaldi and his 1000 men used when they landed from Genoa to overthrown the Bourbon government. This is built to mimic a Roman triumphal arch with the Spanish royal emblem on top. The small church next to the Porta is a real gem. Very small, with a beautifully decorated cupola and two exquisitely decorated altars. The church would hold no more than 50 people at a squeeze but it is well maintained and is well worth a visit even over the Chiesa Madre which is at the other end of the street. The church did not appear in any guidebook I had read so I cannot tell you the name, only give the location near the Porta.

    Walking along Via Garibaldi to Piazza Repubblica we saw a beautiful fountain through an open doorway. We were invited in by the caretaker to find the fountain under four intertwined ficus trees forming a canopy over it. The circular arena and buildings were once the Spanish military barracks. It is now the Municipio. Worth a minute of your time.

    By the time we got to Chiesa Madre dedicated to St Thomas a’Beckett (patron saint of the town) we were thoroughly drenched and were beginning to dislike the town, mainly because there was no where to get out of the rain except to go into an unnecessary cafe. We merely peeked into the church before leaving to walk down to Porta Nuovo, another well kept gate with a garden before it. Piazza Vittorio Emmanuel led through to the Lido Boeo and the warehouses. However we decided that we would not see anything in the pouring rain and made our way back to the centre of town and to the train station where we waited 4+ hours for the train back to Trapani. The train station is cold and draughty and swarming with mosquitos.

    We were too wet and cold to have a good impression of Marsala and would not recommend it to anyone. Unless you have a car and can drive to the various wineries or you need to stock up on picnic supplies, you can really give the town a miss.

    we had to put on the heater to dry out and thaw out when we got back to our room.

    Too tired to go out to dinner (we were supposed to be celebrating out 39th anniversary) we plumbed (on our host's recommendation) for a pizza from Calvino Salvatore via Nunzio Nasi 71. Calvino is a very old family name from Trapani. The restaurant is a rabbit warren (fire hazard?) and you cannot see it from the take away entrance. However you can observe the very very busy kitchen with the pizzas (long ones) being made up and stored on long wooden pallets that are taken and put into the wood oven. There is quite a wait with pizzas being made for both the restaurant patrons and take aways. One man is hired only to cut up the pizzas! It is a constant job. Funnily enough I had a picture of the owner on my Pinterest board! Our Pruciotto pizza had plenty of everything on it. A cheap bottle of wine from the Supermarket and that it was it for the night.

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    I skipped Marsala because I couldn't figure out how to visit wineries by public transport, plus I found plenty to do in Trapani. Settled for just drinking Marsala with dinner (at Ai Lumi). Sounds like it was the right call.

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    Interesting post. Thanks for all the detail about public transport (filing for future reference).

    Re: flights... we were definitely over Malaysia Airlines and the 16 hour layover, after we were bumped from a flight (new vocabulary for me 'involuntarily denied boarding' LOL) and had another unexpected 24 hrs to pass.
    As if the long haul from Australia is not agony enough.

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    Yes Thursdayd I agree with you. Although Marsala does have a few interesting things to see, you can more impressive versions in Trapani and elsewhere. You will not be able to visit any of the wineries without a car or without taking an expensive tour.

    Adelaidean -later in the year there is a Salt Bus that runs between Trapani and Marsala stopping at Mozia. I have the details and can give them to you if you want. It is a sort of hop on hop off bus but I think there are only two buses each way morning and evening so you will need to be well aware of your times.

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    DAY 4 - Sunday 11 April Erice

    As Erice had been socked in since we arrived, we decided rain or no rain we would visit on Sunday.

    Walked to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele to catch bus nos 21 or 23 to the Funiva. As there was no information on the bus notice, Peter checked with the bar at the corner. The bar attendant said that there were no buses on Sunday and offered to get a taxi for us. We declined and started to walk back to our accommodation when we heard a someone speaking loudly behind us. Turning we found a well dressed old man speaking at the rate of knots who was obviously trying to tell us something. Finally understood that the bus left from the bus station at the train station and off we went to Piazza Molato to find the bus just about leave. On to the bus for E9.60 and the bus driver said that the funiva was not running (high wind) and the return bus was not until 5.30pm! So be it.

    The bus ride was interesting to say the least with music blaring (just like India) and the driver talking to passengers while negotiating the narrow roads and the winding up hill road, gesticulating all the while – ie hands off the wheel! It must be difficult being Italian and having to drive with passengers, when you really need your hands to talk!! There were quite a few moments where the driver did not have his hands on the wheel and was also looking in the mirror at the passengers he was keeping up a loud conversation with over the loud music.

    Erice was cold and windy. For a walking tour with pictures see rediscovering-sicily.com. First stop the Chiesa Matrice di Erice and belltower (1314 by Frederick of Aragon built with stones from the temple of Venus). The portico was added in 1426 and when the church collapsed in 1853, it was reconstructed in neo gothic style but preserved the original floor plan and walls.

    Peter decided he only wanted to visit the church so he paid E2 for the privilege while I bought the passport for E5 for 6 churches. Good value. The climb up the belltower was reasonably quick (narrow steps and low overhead) and the view over Trapani fantastic. Peter decided he would actually climb the tower and paid another E2 for this. The church has been renovated and the colours of muted cream are just perfect. There is a display of paintings and other church articles including a number of intricate silver articles.

    The ceilings are beautifully carved and every little column is also filled with design and topped by cherubs. Visual bombardment. Unfortunately no protective glass covers have been placed over the heraldic gravestones many of which are already indecipherable.

    Walked up main street lined with expensive hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. Lots of coral jewellery shops and ceramic shops. Discovered a tiny shop on Via Vitt Emanuele, where the owner tatts or makes lace earrings and other trinkets – extremely intricate and fine work. The first stop on the passport was St Salvadore. This is a largish complex of ruined laboratories, bakeries, crypts etc. I was all alone in this and one of the metal doors on the cells creaked – you can be sure I was out of there like greased lightning.

    Erice’s streets are akin to spaghetti – up and down, round abound and under and over, all cobbled in differing patterned marble, hard on the shoes and ankles. We stared in amazement at some young women in extremely high heels negotiating the streets. The stones are slippery and will be even more so when it is cold and raining. As the buildings are built of old stone it is generally a grey town. More tomorrow.

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    adelaidean = I have never heard of a flight from Australia bumping its passengers. This is a new one for me. We would have been extremely ropeable if that had happened to us. I am sure that your plans would have been curtailed by this action. Where along your route were you bumped off? Some sheik and his entourage wanted your seats? Hope you received lots of compensation.

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    We were bumped the Kuala Lumpur to Adelaide leg, coming from Frankfurt (13.5 hours) there's already a 16 hour layover, so being bumped was very frustrating. Airlines have varying policies on compensation, we had a nice room, meal vouchers and some local currency to help pass the extra day. Apparently all airlines overbook, and there is sophisticated software to calculate how many 'no shows' to expect.

    Erice and Trapani are definitely on my to do list..... those spaghetti streets sound fascinating, Adelaide is very orderly and square :)

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    Rasputin,

    I certainly agree with you about the spaghetti streets and evil cobblestones in Erice! My first day in Sicily was in Erice in a pouring rainstorm and I certainly was glad I had sneakers along for hiking.

    Loved the city and didn't find lots of other visitors in most-April either.

    Are you there now?

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    Yes Dayle. We are in Caltagirone at this minute. Peter has done all the horrendous driving. If he was not already grey he would be. Even as a passenger and part time navigator it was stressful. Agrigento was a nightmare. Caltinassetta was as bad. We managed Enna by parking at the cemetery and walking right up to the Castle - all in all about 4 km. Then another dreadful drive to Piazza Armerina. I was hoping to avoid the town altogether but the road signs were so hopeless that we did not take the road to B Franca and it was only as I looked over the edge of the motorway that I saw the second sign well after the turn off that showed that the same road would have taken us to Pizza Armerina's Roman Casale. I think we circumnavigated each of these hill towns several times before we actually got where we wanted to go and so much time and diesel was wasted. We arrived at our lovely accommodation in Caltagirone only to receive the sad news that Peter's brother had died the previous day. It was to be expected but it is still a shock none the less.

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    oh dear, Rasputin. Condolences on the death of Peter's brother. WE had a similar experience in Berlin when DH's sister died - again it was not unexpected but being away from home somehow made it worse, I don't know why.

    You are visiting some of the places we are hoping to get to and I'm wondering why the driving is so bad - it is the traffic or the signage? or something else?

    I hope that the accommodation went some way to make up for it!

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    Let me add my condolences about the death in your family; it's always a shock no matter how prepared you think you may be. I hope you can continue to enjoy your trip.

    Like Annhig, I'm interested to learn about the "horrendous driving" experiences. We will be driving many of the same roads next month and I'm most concerned to avoid difficult driving. Can you expand on where you had dreadful driving , i.e. which roads and what made them so difficult?

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    So sorry to hear about the death. However expected it must be a real shock and downer. Like shellio I hope you can still enjoy Sicily.

    The driving sounds worse than some other reports, but i continue to be glad I didn't try it!

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    Thank you all for your kind thoughts. Yes, even though expected it is still a jolt to the system. Not being there to support the family is difficult.
    Will haveto get ack t this. Thkeyoard is lyin u

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    Don't know what happened yesterday but I believe the issue was on the Fodor's site because we did not have any keyboard issues on any other site.

    Autostrada A29 all the way Trapani to Castelvetrano (when you can find the right A29 – there are three!). Speed limits varied between 80 and 100 and even though we kept to those, other drivers were leaving us well behind.

    Reasonable signage all the way even in Castelvetrano to Selinunte. Luckily for us our accommodation (B & B il Tempio di Hera) was right opposite the Archeological park and we had no trouble finding it. Also lucky to have Rita upgrade us to a Deluxe room on the first floor with a view of the temple. Usually it is a great view but as it was spring all the bushes were in full bloom and obscured all but the top quarter of the temple. Also it was not illuminated at night as my research had led me to believe. Perhaps only in high season.

    Having visited Segesta, we would both agree that if you have the opportunity to visit that site especially if the amphitheatre is open, then don’t come to Selinunte. The site is vast and mostly rubble. Finger shaking at Hannibal for the senseless destruction. Even in April and 20degrees, we soon found it oppressive and draining. The site is not as well kept as Segesta but understand that it is 20 times larger and much more difficult to maintain because of the rubble. Nor is it as accessible for the same reason. The electric buggies/trains are a good idea if you want to escape the long walks. Suggest that one walks off the cobbled path on the flat open area/driveways for the electric buggies – better on your feet, ankles and knees.

    Wild weeds everywhere interspersed with a few red poppies. Green lizards scurry across the paths and off rocks where they have been sunning themselves to get out of your way. However the long grass could also harbour snakes and scorpions. Although logically I know that the lizards are neither slimy or dangerous, their quickness reminds me of the Asian geckos and I am on the lookout for them in case they illogically climb up my trousers! The long grass also has nettles so if you don’t want to be stung, wear long trousers.

    Many people clamber up the rubble for photo opportunities – a dangerous pastime if you are alone and injure yourself. The rocks are covered with lichen which can be slippery.

    We opted to drive our car to the acropolis site car park. There is still a long uphill rubble walk along the walls of the acropolis. We saw one young couple dragging their child’s pram up the slope and wondered how they were going to manage it once they were at the top over all the boulders. Wonderful views of the beach and bay of Marinella Selinunte and probably to Fontella too. The sea is beautiful shades of aqua.

    We decided to just view the main Temples A B & C and not continue over to the Malophorus across the Medione or to Torre Manuzza, though we did see some diehards tramping on to them. This is one area where the electric buggies are worthwhile as they take you right up to the top where you can then scramble at will over the rocks. In autumn when the grass has all died down you probably have greater access to the ruins. On balance however, you will have to cope with extreme heat and no shade.

    If you really want in-depth information without taking a tour guide E12. You can get it from Wikipedia.org/wiki/Selinunte or the Michelin Green Guide or any other guide book in some form or another.

    There is a cafe/bar and several souvenir shops at the lower car park near the ticket office. Across the road from the park are a number of enoteca/bars and pizzeria if you are hungry.

    If you want, there is a small supermercato in Via Icaro, almost behind the post office which is in Via Antigone. It closes for lunch. If you walk up Via Icaro you will come to Via Pindaro. Stop and have a look at this strange road with a wide ‘platform’ and benches in the centre. Looks just a like a train platform does it not? And it is. Once upon a time, 40+ years ago there was a train line from Castelvetrano that went right past the temples (a wonderful view indeed) into the Selinunte train station. The embankment for the train line with the underpasses can be clearly seen from inside the park. Walk into the area bound by Via Persefone and Via degli Argonauti and you will see the preserved remains of the two rail lines, the water tank and filler for the steam engine and the platform and ticket office. The latter also served as Valentino’s cafe some time ago but is now just derelict. The train yard has been turned into a car park for the overflow from the archaeological park.

    Selinunte is very small so unless you want to stay on the beach there is nothing other than the park.

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    annhig and shellio - driving is difficult for a number of reasons. In Australia we are used to wide roads and road rules. We have sufficient insurance to cover all eventualities. Most cars are automatic whereas here in Italy that is not so. Most cars are stick/gear shift - five on the floor. Not having driven a non automatic car for some 30+ years and having so many digital controls made it difficult to know that you are in control of the car. Peter often turned on the windscreen wipers when he wanted the indicator or the lights (going through long unlit tunnels).

    You often have to start the car on a slope with cars close behind you. When you are not completely in control of the car, this is an enormous stress.

    As I said the streets are narrow. People double park and leave their car there and vanish, so that you are thrown into the oncoming traffic. This traffic is fast and cars are driven by people who obviously have not seen you and are not interested - they are smoking or talking on their phones and probably driving with one hand at well above the speed that would be safe for those roads, ie 5km an hour.

    Signs are non existent or tiny on brown backgrounds. The main blue signs are few and far between and will send you in a direction and there will not be any further signage. When you do find some or get some directions if you are able to stop and ask someone (not an easy task), you will be sent back to where you came from and round and round you go. For instance, when we were coming into Piazza Armerina there was reasonable signage for the Roman Casale and we wanted to avoid having to go into PA itself. We came to a divide in the autostrada which read Brarra Franco to the right, so we presumed PA Roman Casale was straight ahead. The Barra Franco road went under the autostrada we were on. I looked over the edge as we passed and there further on the Barra Franco road was the sign to Roman Casale!!! This meant that we were automatically thrown into Piazza Armerina with no signage and the locals extremely unhelpful, some did not even know where RC was. Parking is impossible after 8.00am

    The autostradas out of towns are good. Travelling west to east meant that all the heavy traffic eg trucks were travelling in the opposite direction and we only needed to overtake one or two. No one pays any attention to the speed limit. If the speed limit is 50 and we are travelling at 69+ or 99 there are cars that are obviously travelling at a rate much more than that and are passing us and leaving us in the dust. Imagine if you were in a collision or had to try to avoid a collision that was occurring in front of you - no hope at all.

    Travelling in the hill towns are worse as the roads are narrow and the locals drive as if they were on the autostradas have no patience with anyone who is stalled or obviously unsure of where to go.

    As for the insurance. We booked through Avis in Melbourne and they assured us that we were covered for CWD and theft and our documents indicated this. However, when we went to collect our vehicle, the AVIS office insisted that that clause was invalid and we needed to pay another E55+ per day to cover damage and theft. On top of that there was a E10,000 excess. We refused and said that we would take the vehicle without paying the extra. They were very annoyed and were thoroughly rude and when we asked about the spare wheel (Italian cars are so small that they often do not have a spare wheel) they grudglingly showed us the wheel and when we asked where and how the car was filled, they did not know where the petrol tank cover release was. So all in all it was a poor start to our rental and a stressful situation knowing that theft of cars is big in Sicily as well as theft of your goods. We made sure that there was nothing visible in the car (hence our need of a larger car to fit two cases in) and used a cable cord to thread through the handles of the cases with a digital lock making it difficult for anyone to lift the cases out of the boot if they indeed went that far. There are also cases where the little man (unofficial) will try to collect money from you where you park the car. If you refuse you are likely to return to find your car keyed or mirrors or windows smashed. In Ragusa we decided to pay for parking in a multi storied car park and that was a good decision. Our car was safe and four hours only cost us E3! We walked all the way to the Torre in Ragusa Ibla and took the bus back from there right to our car park (Bus 1) for just E1.20 each. Driving out of Ragusa Superiore was also reasonably easy (as against driving in) with the assistance of the helpful staff at the information office office the Duomo in Ragusa Superiore.

    We had looked at purchasing Italian maps for our Tom Tom but it would have cost us more than $100 for the 6 - 7 day usage. We downloaded My Maps but that was too clumsy to use.

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    Definitely glad I chose not to drive! But the rental place may have been right about the insurance. I know that US credit card insurance is not valid in Italy. Or maybe they thought you were American.

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    Rasputin1, every thing you said about driving in an unfamiliar car is so true. Not just in Italy but every where! Your TR is very thorough and interesting.

    Oh, DH and I decided there is a plan to driving in Sicily: your goal is not to stop. Just go around those pesky pedestrians and folks driving the speed limit. :-d

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    For instance, when we were coming into Piazza Armerina there was reasonable signage for the Roman Casale and we wanted to avoid having to go into PA itself. We came to a divide in the autostrada which read Brarra Franco to the right, so we presumed PA Roman Casale was straight ahead. The Barra Franco road went under the autostrada we were on. I looked over the edge as we passed and there further on the Barra Franco road was the sign to Roman Casale!!!>>

    excellent tip - we'll look out for that. Fortunately, though the controls will be the wrong way round for us, as they were for you, we are both used to driving a manual car, and to driving in Europe so that aspect shouldn't' be to bad. As for getting used to the controls, a couple of years ago in Germany it took us the entire week we had it to get used to the VW we had hired - I couldn't even get it to start for the first 10 minutes. but it's a good point about the CDW - I will make sure that's covered.

    Still enjoying your TR, BTW - keep it coming.

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    Rasputin1 first of all, sorry to hear about your husband's brother. Even thhough expected, it's not a nice thing to deal with while on vacation.

    But I'm glad you're carrying on. I think I liked Selinunte the most of the 3 Greek temples sites, I just found it very evocative, that lonely windswept hilltop setting with the remnants of temples scattered about.
    I didn't realize at the time that there are poisonous snakes in Italy, though. Yikes!

    Although the views from Enna are pretty awesome, we didn't like driving into that city. At the time, we had Co-Pilot app, which I found very clumsy to use as well, but now we get a data Sim card and use google maps, it's never failed us yet.

    Hopefully, it will work well in May for us.

    >> If you refuse you are likely to return to find your car keyed or mirrors or windows smashed.<<

    We never had a problem with that. I'm wondering where you got that information...I certainly wouldn't want my car keyed.

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    Thanks much for your clarification of the driving difficulties. I absolutely get the issue of driving on the unfamiliar side of the road using a manual transmission. The last time we drove in England I thought my marriage might not survive the stress! You can't keep screaming "look out!" at your spouse and call it a romantic drive.

    I gather though that your primary issues were more the drivers' speed and lack of attention and the signage. Although not looking forward to that, I feel reassured that my particular phobia won't be tested too far.

    My major fear of driving in Sicily is finding myself on a narrow road with a sheer drop on one side and a cliff on the other. Driving through the Pyrenees south of Bilbao nearly killed me, physically and emotionally. I'm a wuss.

    Thanks for the info on Selinunte. We are planning to visit there after Agrigento and before Segesta but we might take the opportunity to spend a day at the beach rather than hike the site.

    I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.

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    I'm just reading this now and am so sorry to hear about the loss in your family. As annhig said, even though it was expected, it's still a loss -- and not to be there is hard. Glad to hear though that you are continuing on and hope that the trip is enjoyable for you both.

    I've also been interested in reading about the details of your experiences with driving. DH is the designated driver and I'll be giving him fair warning as to what to expect. At least he is used to the RH driving, so that won't be adding to the stress. I do appreciate your comments about the challenges of getting out in the hill towns. I also will confirm that our credit card covers the CDW.

    One more thing.....did I miss something about poisonous snakes. I do see reference to snakes, but not poisonous ones in the post on Selinunte:

    <<Wild weeds everywhere interspersed with a few red poppies. Green lizards scurry across the paths and off rocks where they have been sunning themselves to get out of your way. However the long grass could also harbour snakes and scorpions. >>

    Then sundried wrote:

    <<But I'm glad you're carrying on. I think I liked Selinunte the most of the 3 Greek temples sites, I just found it very evocative, that lonely windswept hilltop setting with the remnants of temples scattered about.
    I didn't realize at the time that there are poisonous snakes in Italy, though. Yikes!>>

    Did I miss another reference? Just want to be prepared!

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    A little checking on the web turns up the info that there are poisonous vipers in Italy (presumably that includes Sicily, but it is an island). They will not attack unless disturbed. There are even vipers in England, as I recall, but bites are extremely rare.

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    Thanks for your encouragement. I will reply to your enquiries asap.
    In Syracuse now, having returned the car but finding that AVIS Trapani had sneakily added a charge for
    Young drivers - we are both over 65! and also a charge for a counter purchase which we knew nothing about and had not agreed to. The first charge was obviously a crock and AVIS Syracuse took it off, but would not take off the second as we had signed the Italian documents (even though we had been told in Melbourne and the Italian documents said that we would be given an English translation). There was no indication on the document of any other charge, only on their online document! So we will be complaining about that. Neither office had an English translation of the conditions, only in German or Spanish!

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    Rasputin, I hope you are enjoying your trip despite your loss.
    I was interested in your experiences with car rental/ driving... I expect we'll be on the bus, it all sounds too stressful to me.

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    Young drivers - we are both over 65! and also a charge for a counter purchase which we knew nothing about and had not agreed to. >>

    lol - is their definition of a young driver being under 65???

    seriously, what was the "counter purchase"?

    I don't think we'll be renting through AVIS.

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    The counter purchase turned out to be roadside assistance but we had not been told about it, so even if we had needed it we would not have claimed as we knew nothing about it!
    We did have a good laugh with the Syracuse staff re the young driver charge. We would not have known what the charge was for if we had not demanded a receipt in English. Yes AVIS although were good in Australia with their quotation and help were not good in Sicily. The Syracuse office does have an English woman who now lives in Sicily, so she was able to explain a few things to us.

    annhig - I firmly believe that driving in Europe is nothing like driving in Sicily. We too have driven in Europe and had no problems. We also met a young Lithuanian couple who also commented on how difficult and hair-raising driving was in Sicily. The constant need to change gears in tricky situations is nerve racking.

    Someone mentioned driving around pesky pedestrians. Given that I am one of the pedestrians I take umbrage at that comment. While Trapani drivers were careful and courteous, here in the south they are the opposite. They don't stop, not even when you are on the zebra crossing. We have often watched the elderly cross and wonder how they manage not to get hit. Other pedestrians must have a death wish. They walk out between parked cars without looking or looking in the opposite direction and then stroll across as if it is a pedestrianized zone!

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    thursdayd - they could not have mistaken us for Americans. Our passports clearly indicate Australian and we make sure we indicate that we are from Australia. Our Australian credit cards to not have car insurance attached to them and our booking in Australia with AVIS clearly indicated that CDW and theft were covered. Either one is covered or one is not. Trapani first said that the clause was not valid and when we said that we would be complaining to AVIS head office, they then indicated that the it only covered the basic - how basic is theft or collision? We have read reports that the Italian vehicle rental companies will try to add on costs not required. AVIS Trapani certainly did. They were really very annoyed when we would not pay the extra E55+ per day. They certainly added three costs we had no idea about, the young drivers (ha ha) road tax (perhaps that is valid) and the counter charge which we knew nothing about.

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    I bet they were annoyed that you wouldn't pay the €55 per day - it must have put a serious hole in their personal profits! And i can't see how the road tax is valid either - surely AVIS had already paid the road tax on their hire car?

    Thank you for posting this, Rasputin - I'm certainly going to be very careful when the time comes for us to pick up our car in Syracuse.

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    Day 6
    Selinunte to Agrigento
    Drove off excited to be visiting Sciacca (Pr SHAAKA). Met with a mess of roads. No signage in Sciacca. One could obviously not drive into the old town - some beautiful churches. However no parking to be had anywhere and the traffic and narrow streets were a forecast of what was to come. After following the signs to centro and driving around in circles three times, Peter agreed to ask directions for leaving Sciacca from a petrol station attendant. Needless to say the exit road from Sciacca to Agrigento was not signed - only a blue arrow that could have led to anywhere! Siacca is said to get few visitors. They don't want them!

    Porto Empedocle - Inspector Montalbano territory looked just as bad as Sciacca, so we just continued on to Agrigento. Agrigento is spread across a ridge and is quite a magnificent sight. However, it should also be a warning. Again poor signs and heavy traffic. We were headed in all sorts of directions and clearly going out of the main area of town. By some fluke and some assistance of an old man who took me over to the balcony while Peter double parked (he was learning to drive like an Italian!) and showed me where the Piazza Mazzini was and gave directions in broad Sicilian (I cant even understand Italian, let alone Sicilian). Off we went, rechecking with a traffic warden and entered what could only be described as a right angled pedestrian underpass just big enough for our car. By this time I was highly agitated and made Peter stop and take the address of the hotel with him to a bar/tabacci and get directions. He also called the hotel who said we were in the right street to just drive up to the Piazza. As we negotiated another car driven by a blond who had been driving up and down the same street several times while I waited, I saw the name of the hotel on a wall and yelled at Peter to do a hard left into the hole in the wall which emerged into a car park right on the railway line. The car park attendant was helpful, gave us our entry ticket and told us to park and take our luggage around the train!! We did as we were told and lo and behold there was the hotel on the platform! It is a brand new aparthotel, beautifully appointed in modern minimal décor with movement lighting, lighting your way along the corridor. The hotel is not manned and the staff come from somewhere else when you call them on your phone. We immediately unpacked and set out for the Archeological Park.

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    "Someone mentioned driving around pesky pedestrians. Given that I am one of the pedestrians I take umbrage at that comment." I wrote that and am sorry that you tripped over the intended tongue in cheek aspect of it. We actually saw a police car, lights blazing, come to a complete stop at a cross walk whilst elderly farmer, wife and goat slowly crossed the highway.

    But for sure, despite pedestrians having the right of way, one ignores the laws of physics at his/her peril when stepping too abruptly in front of a speeding car or motocicletta.

    Looking forward to reading about the aparthotel in Agrigento. DH and I took the bus there from Palermo for our visit. While waiting to return, we walked to the top of the hill and enjoyed the 'regular' town very much.

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    Agregento Home is within the train station complex. It is a brand new aparthotel built into disused railway buildings. It is very modern and clean. Even though the trains are arriving and departing under your window you don’t really hear them. The annoying things are a constantly ringing bell once a train arrives and the railway staff talking in loud voices under your window. The windows are double glazed. There is a small lift which takes you to the first floor. All rooms are in a corridor with almost fairylike lights along the floor and in alcoves along the way. The lights come on as you walk down the corridor. Look back to see a darkened corridor and uplighting – very nice. The room is small but compact and great for a one or two night stay. Only minimum cutlery and plates for two. Glassware includes wine glasses but no bottle opener. When we rang them to find out where the bottle opener was Erica was annoyed. She said it was down in the cafe and to get it from there. She was also annoyed the next day when we rang early in the morning to get out of the car park – the tokens they had given us did not work. A simple sign in the kitchen regarding the bottle opener would have prevented a call to her as would have an explanation of how to use the tokens in the first place. We are comfortable with unmanned hotels as long as sufficient information is provided. Again as there is no washing up material provided the cleanliness of the cutlery and plates can be questionable. Thoroughly recommend this aparthotel for its location. just a elevator ride away from the bus stop to the Park an a short walk to the Bancomat and Via Athena for shops and passaggiata.

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    Thanks annhig for pointing out the possibility of not having to pay the road tax. We will follow that up too.>>

    Having followed your experiences with interest, I was looking into our car hire options in Sicily, and looked up the AVIS terms and conditions:

    https://www.arguscarhire.com/book/?c=gb%7C%7Cen-gb&clientID=424084&elID=0418231449263150904&countryID=IT&pickupID=129&returnID=129&pickupName=Catania%20-%20Airport%20-%20Fontanarossa&returnName=Catania%20-%20Airport%20-%20Fontanarossa&pickupDateTime=2016-04-29T10:00:00&returnDateTime=2016-04-30T10:00:00&age=30&curr=GBP&carGroupID=0&residenceID=GB&CT=MP&referrer=0:#/vehicles

    under "excess and liability" it says this:

    COMPLETE COVER PACKAGE: This cost €28.50 per day with a maximum of €329.40 per month EXCLUDING VAT. This will reduce your excess liability amount to Zero.

    so the max you should have been asked for was £28.50 a day, [about €35] not a whopping €77.

    and there is nothing here about paying road tax.

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    Wow Rasputin,

    I'm sorry to hear your driving experiences are impacting you visit so much. I did buy a Tom Tom and loaded it with the Western European maps, then added detailed Michelin map of Sicily and directions for my lodging along the way. I ended up looking at the map a few times for overall orientation and never did use the printed directions. I have been able to loan the Tom Tom several times to family and friends for their trips so I feel it was a very worthwhile investment.

    I had real difficulty finding the right road to Villa Romana too and went round a few times before I saw the little brown and white sign.....seems everyone misses this one!

    Other than that, I thought driving in Sicily was very easy and enjoyable, but I learned to drive in Southern California so not much ruffles me. I can certainly understand the extra challenge of driving on the wrong side of the road. I haven't attempted that yet!! If you ever visit California, take a tour. The CA traffic and Afro drivers are about the same as your impression of the Sicilians. ��

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    For the iPad:

    Settings - General - Keyboard - Auto-Correction

    I leave Check Spelling on, it highlights words the software doesn't like, but doesn't alter them.

    If it's not an iPad, you should be able to find how to do it by doing a search online.

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    I am so sorry about the loss of a family member. Even though expected it must be hard to be so far away during a sad time like that.

    Your description of driving sounds awful. We did have a similar experience driving in Thailand with the driving on the other side of the road for us. My husband kept turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals. I found it amusing, he found it frustrating. I couldn't imagine driving in Sicily with a manual transmission when used to an automatic & on the "wrong" side of the road. That would be awful. I hope your driving horrors don't impact your feelings about Sicily too much.

    For those on their way to Sicily, our driving experiences were very different, but we are Americans and we drive a manual transmission so those aspects were eliminated. We also live in a big city so used to traffic and pedestrians. We used the gps on our ipad and had a Michelin map. In gneral raods were fine and not a lot of traffic. We did drive on some narrow, curvy mountain roads, but it was fine. Towns could be a challenge with their narrow, one way streets. We tried to avoid going into the center of a town and happily parked on the outskirts when we could. And we did get lost, we always get lost and don't really mind -- part of the adventure. We actually find that we sometimes have too much direction info - and that the good ole days with just a paper map was sometimes easier. We loved sicily and driving was not a problem for us. Hope that is the case for those of you headed to Sicily.

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    Peter was happy to ditch the car in Syracusa and we have continued our journey (as planned) by public transport. The eastern side has better public transport.

    We have driven in California, Arizona and Utah without any problems

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    Yestravel our driving experience was similar to yours. Had a few stories to tell at the end of it but generally didn't mind the driving at all. I purposely rented an automatic just to have one less hassle.

    It should be even easier this trip with a SIM card and Google maps.

    We haven't had to deal with driving on the opposite side of the road though. I'm not sure I will ever be up for that.

    Rasputin I hope you love Siracusa without the car to worry about.

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    Agrigento - Enna - Piazza Armerina - Caltagirone

    We did not want to deal with the spaghetti roads of these towns so decided to see them all in one day. Our itinery would have been better had we not got diverted into Caltanissetta and we wasted 1.5 hours trying to get out of there and on to Enna.
    We decided not to try to negotiate Enna and parked at the cemetario. Plenty of people around and no characters lurking who might be potential thieves. Also it is just next door and down hill from the local Carabinari. Left our car there for several hours - free of charge. Walked up through the narrow streets (Via V Emanuele, past the church of San Cataldo)looking at all the stone houses while eating a gelati.

    San Cataldo and Chiesa San Francesco are sadly closed indefinitely.

    Luckily spotted a sign for an information office tucked behind a laneway in Piazza Garibaldi. They were extremely helpful and showed us the small museum they have underneath - lots of old world items and some of the period costumes worn at a particular festival. Best of all they allowed us to use the toilets - no toilet paper ofcourse.
    Onwards to see the panorama from the small garden and Via Panoramica Casina Bianca. As Peter was viewing the panorama I decided to take a photograph of the popup cafe Fontana when the senora came out to invite me in. I declined but admired the popup cafe and asked if I could take a photograph of it. When I asked her to be in the photograph she was delighted and posed at the entrance. Then she insisted that I cross the road with her to see the real Fontana restaurant. Something out of this world. It was old world with beautiful timber work and stained glass windows and lights. The menu was exciting but we could not stop for lunch. She again posed happily for photographs and these are on our Facebook page and on TA.
    Continue up Via Roma to the Duomo (rebuilt several times since 1307) at Piazza Mazzini. The plain exterior belies the ornamentation inside. And then a laborious climb up Via Lombardia to the Castello di Lombardia. Peter was pretty tired by this stage, so I left him in the info office which also had a video of Enna going. I went to view the Castello and came across a guide who offered free tours. Unfortunately a German couple got in before me and as I could not wait, I climbed (puff puff) the internal stairs of the tower for a wonderful view of the surrounding area. As I returned the guide asked me to wait and he would give me a free tour and explanation, but I had to explain that while I would have loved to hear the history, I had Peter waiting and had to get back otherwise he might get grizzly.
    A walk back to Piazza Umberto for an aranchini each at Panetteria Pasticceria Campisi di Campisi Davide. Lunch on the go. Walked through several side streets to discover small local markets (Mercato San Antonio) and more closed churches. A long and hot walk back to the car which was safe and sound. Guided Peter up Via Emanuele and past San Cataldo again to Via Roma, past the Torre di Federico II and on to Piazza Armerina. We could not stop at the red lake because of the time wasted in Caltanissetta. The countryside was pretty uninteresting, but was green. The road was good and again the heavy truck traffic was going in the opposite direction and the traffic on our side was not too heavy. They overtook us anyway even though we were breaking the speed limit!

    I have already written about our experience in Piazza Armerina so wont repeat it here.

    We finally got to Roman Casale and easily parked the car. There is a charge for the car park which you pay when you leave. Take your ticket with you so that you can pay at the ticket office on your way out of the Villa and then you can drive straight out.

    There are several souvenir shops in the middle of the car park all selling the same kitsch. We tried for over 65 tickets but no luck.

    We were herded along with several French and German tour groups as well as French and Italian school groups. You can no longer walk along the edge of the mosaics which is bad for photographers but great for preservation of the mosaics. You now walk along catwalks but there is a lot of glare.

    Although the mosaics are being preserved, there are many areas where you are walking right over them. There is a lot of restoring going on but the grounds are overgrown. There are benches along the paths down to the main site so you can sit and contemplate or wait until the crowd has passed while you view some Roman ruins. I waited on such benches while Peter muddled around somewhere, much to the amusement of the tour groups!

    Tiring of the constant jostling and cacophony of languages, we left. The idea is if you are doing this on your own, then definitely come when it first opens, you might be lucky to avoid at least one tour group. If you are game, stay in Piazza Armerina (it looks an interesting little town) or in Caltagirone.
    The road from Roman Casale led back to PA and we were marking time that we would be thrown back into the town, but we managed to note the signs and went via a lovely, though winding road towards Grammichele. Little traffic (thank goodness because of the very winding roads and blind corners) and nice views over the countryside. We saw 'orchards' of prickly pear - they were being farmed in neat orderly lines. The towns were small and uninteresting and then we hit Caltagirone. Oh no, round and round asking people for the public gardens which we knew were near our B & B. We knew our hosts did not speak any English.
    When we finally stopped we tried to ring them again and managed to get someone who spoke some English. We were just around the corner!!
    I have reviewed Casa Alba on TA but am happy to give my comments (all good) on this particular place if anyone wants. A lovely stay here.

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    Let me second your recommendation to get to Villa Romana del Casale early. We were staying nearby and got there close to there a bit before 10. It opens at 9. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. Within an hour we started seeing tour groups arriving, but they were far back from us. This was in early May last year. Also as a point of info - we saw LOTS of school groups all over Sicily when we were there. We were told that April/May is when the school groups tour, so be prepared.

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    Rasputin/Yestravel - at the moment, our itinerary has us spending two nights in Agrigento [after 2 nights in Ragusa] and when we leave Agrigento, travelling to Taormina via Villa Romana.

    Based on what you are both saying, that's beginning to look like a bad idea.

    I'm toying with 2 alternatives - Plan A is to spend just one night in Agrigento, and after touring the Temples, drive to somewhere near the Villa to spend the night then get to the Villa as early as possible. Plan B is to cut Agrigento out completely, add a night to Ragusa, and then drive slowly to PA, stopping somewhere near the Villa over night as with Plan A. After the Villa we have a look at Enna and then proceed to Taormina.

    What say you?

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    I would not cut out Agrigento -- it's one of the highlights of Sicily. I'd go with option A "spend just one night in Agrigento, and after touring the Temples, drive to somewhere near the Villa to spend the night then get to the Villa as early as possible."

    No problem going to Enna from there and then heading to Taormina. It's ~30-40 minutes to Enna from Romana del Casale as I recall. I've been to Enna twice now and wasn't impressed either time. It does have a nice view.

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    Thanks for this. Brings back lots of memories.

    I'll third the idea of getting to the Villa early as our experience--having driven up from Agrigento the same day-- was similar to Rasputin's.

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    ok - Agrigento stays in [for now!] but we find somewhere to stay near the Villa so we can go there first thing in the morning.

    Next question - if not Enna en route to Taormina after the Villa, where?

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    Where you stop depends upon how much time you have after you see the mosaics and how much you enjoy driving. And of course, what you like to do.
    We're big on wandering and exploring without really knowing what we might find. We also enjoy driving so keep that in mind-- Two ideas might be:

    We liked wandering around Caltagirone on a Sunday afternoon. The "famous" steps wee a touch disappointing -- they looked better in the photos we saw. We like ceramic alot, but there were also some interesting buildings and apparently public gardens per this TR. We had a nice Sunday lunch in a small restaurant the owner of the ceramic shop where we bought a bowl took us. Caltagirone is under an hour from the ruins and Taormina probably under 4 hours from there.

    A longer day would be to go see Mt. Etna. We drove up some crazy roads around Etna and then drove up to the top---bbrrr, but fascinating. We also had maybe the best meal of our trip at Ristorante al Buongustaio, Nicolsi. We just ran across it and still talk about it--wonderful family run small place.

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    thanks, yes travel. I think that one of the most difficult things to work out till you get to a place is how much is doable in a day so our experiences are most valuable.

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    Annhig,

    I chose to stay at a wine estate in between Piazza Armerina and Caltagirone for similar reasons. It was Il Gigliotto. I understand it gets mixed reviews, but I was very happy there for my one night. Beautiful property and stunning views, especiaaly when I was there in late April. You can see why they do lots of weddings. Their wine was pretty good and the long multicourse dinner so, so.

    They kept my luggage while I went to Villa Romana and i retuned to pick it up after. Drove on to Caltagirone for a shortened visit, just not enough time! Then continued on to Scicli

    Agree with the major school field trip time being in April and May. Wow! Lots of kids groups in Agrigento, siracusa Arch park, and Villa Romana.

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    PS,

    There is another place that some people really like, but I dont think its quite as well located, not exactly between the two towns, but you moght check put Villa Clementine.

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    Annhig not sure where you are starting your trip from, but your initial idea seemed to be too much back and forthing.
    I would visit Agrigento for the following reasons 1. That you are really interested and have studied Greek/Roman history (otherwise it is just an old pile of stones).
    2. That you like walking in the heat (it was hot in early April - I can't imagine what it would be like even a month later let alone in high season). You can drive to one or other of the gates but one way or the other you will either have a long walk down or up or have to take a taxi E6 from one gate to your car or vice versa. The path is unrelenting and there is only one café along the route. Toilets (pay and own toilet paper).
    3. You are sure that your interest is a true one and not just to say that you have been there, done that.

    That said the two main temples are truly worth seeing even if you have visited Segesta and Selinunte.

    If there was some way to cut the walk short and just visit those two then it would be worth the stop.

    We Australians do not have the luxury of cheap and short flights so our trips have to be maximised and itinerised to the nth degree. We can't afford to wander and hope to pick up accommodation along the way at a price that 4 to five weeks of travel will allow.

    We were glad we visited Enna. Other posters including Vagabonda on TA questioned why we wanted to visit. It seemed to us, a shame to drive to Caltanissetta and then cut across to PA without the short trip to Enna. Like all Italian towns, a heap of money is needed to bring them up to their former glory.

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    Caltagirone

    As we had wasted time in getting out of the other towns, we did not have the few hours we had planned on in Caltigirone on the day we arrived. Peter was pretty worn out with the driving and we were late getting out and getting something to eat. We wandered the main street looking for the piazza shop the hosts had recommended to us, but in the dark missed it altogether, looking at other things. In the end we bought a bottle of wine and some pizza from a shop near the steps and brought it back to the B & B.
    The next morning, before breakfast I legged it to the steps. Yes they are better in photographs. Many of them are dirty and damaged and there are weeds growing among them.
    Early morning runners passed me on the steps. I took my time, photographing the tiles as I went up. Even though there are 147 steps you have to take two steps on each one, so double that. Lots of ceramic shops and restaurants along the way and some B & Bs. One had a particular fetching balcony on the corner overlooking the steps. What a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by.
    Several steps along the way and looking down the many vicoli to see what I was missing. The view back to the church where were staying and beyond was wonderful with the starlings still flying madly around.

    The churches including the Duomo were ofcourse closed at that early hour so they were just photographed from the outside. Interesting to see the town wake up and the children being taken to school. Groups of men outside the bars having their morning grappa and coffee.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my early morning walk. This is something we planned to do and only ended doing this in Trapani because Peter was so tired during driving. We hope to catch up with this activity which we normally do in any city/town we are.

    Delightful breakfast and meeting other guests from Milan.

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    Villa Clementine is 15 minutes from the Villa Romana del Casale, and 5 minutes from the center of Piazza Armerina. I will be happy to report our impressions of the place after our stay in May.

    @annhig If you do decide to visit Enna, try to visit the restaurant Centrale for lunch or a meal. It's very good and reasonable.

    I wonder if the groups of school kids would be gone for the day if we wait til later in the afternoon to visit Villa Romana. There seems to be conflicting reports of whether later in the day or earlier in the day is the better time. Any ideas?

    Apparently the archeological museum in Agrigento adds a lot to the visit to the temples. I certainly wouldn't claim to have studied Greek history, but doing a little research before you go about the Vallei dei Templi and the activities that took place there should really help bring it to life.

    I do remember it being very hot there, and I think on this re-visit that we will try to get there early, take time off during the noon when it's so hot, and continue in the later part of the day if we feel it necessary to continue the visit.

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    Sundried, I will also be at Villa Clementine in May. When will you be there?

    The question of visiting early in the day vs. late in the day is one I'm also trying to figure out. As we, too, will only be staying 1 night in Villa Clementine to visit Romana del Casale and then on to Agrigento for 1 night, it would seem easier logistically to visit toward the end of the day as we arrive at a place, rather than wait till the next morning. Yet it sounds like a morning visit at Romana deal Casale might be pleasanter. We will be driving from Scicli so we'd have time later in the day....ahh, the difficult decisions of travel!

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    I can't speak to Villa Romana del Casale in the late afternoon as we were there in the am, but at other places I seem to recall the school kids departing around 2-3. Of course that could always differ for different sites. Much of VRdC is under cover so you are protected from the strong sun.

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    My suggestion would be to see what the weather is like temp wise. When I visited in mid April it was perfect weather for my tastes. Sunny, but not too hot. I went in early spring because I hate humidity and heat together.

    Agrigento was warm, but not too hot for me. Villa Romana wasnt hot at all. However, I have heard from others trip reports that it can get hot under the structures that shelter the mosaics. If its supposed to be a hot day,go early.

    Even thought there were lots of people, it didn't detract from my enjoyment.

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    Goodpoints & suggestions, yestravel and Dayle. We've sometimes arrived at sites at the end of the day and found that to be a surprisingly good time as most tour groups are gone. But the point about the weather and the cover heating up at the Villa Romana is something to keep in mind.

    Rasputin-- sorry to take the discussion away from your trip report. I'm enjoying following you on your travels! it,does sound like the driving has been more exhausting than you had expected and I hope this is not affecting your experience too much.

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    Annhig not sure where you are starting your trip from, but your initial idea seemed to be too much back and forthing.>>

    hi Rasputin,

    not wanting to hijack your TR, but seeking your valuable comments, our present itinerary for 10 days and 10 nights is [ flying into Catania in the early morning] Syracuse/Ortygia 3 nights, Ragusa 2 nights, Agrigento 2 nights, and Taormina 3 nights, with a mid-morning flight home out of Catania on day 11. You may have guessed that we are Brits so we able to do short flights around Europe and have the option of coming back; OTOH it's taken me 60 years to get to Sicily so I wouldn't bet on a return visit too soon.

    From all I'm reading I'm thinking that on the day we supposedly leave Agrigento, to drive from there to Villa Romana de Casale, tour the villa, then drive onto Taormina is too much. We could do Plan A above, but that leaves us with 2 successive one-night stands which we really hate. I should like to see Agrigento [though I'm pretty certain DH could take or leave it] but I also think that I might welcome the extra time around the Baroque towns and the southern coast that Plan B would give us.

    sundried - I will look forward to seeing what you think of the Villa Clementine - I have already bookmarked the Centrale in Enna for a possible lunch after the Villa Romana.

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    annhig, for what it's worth we will be staying in Piazza Armerina for only one night just to visit the Villa Romana mosaics. Since my husband prefers to be in a town in the evenings for dinner and a passeggiata, we found B&B Diana, convenient and inexpensive, in the center of town. The reviews on TA are excellent and the photos look good. Might be the answer to your Agrigento to Taormina difficulty.

    Thanks for letting us piggyback on your trip report Rasputin1! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip.

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    Just to put some perspective on the Greek Roman ruins. England ofcourse has great Roman ruins and well preserved with a lot of information.
    In Italy we would say that ofcourse each State/town want to promote their tourist attraction - its their livelihood. Paestum in southern Italy has great Greek temples - well preserved and accessible (although I don't know about now). As someone said do your research and don't let someone else's view influence what you see. Their reasons and perspective could very well be very different to yours. If they have not seen a lot of one particular thing, then they will ofcourse think what they have seen is the best. On the other hand if you have experienced a number of any such things (eg Baroque towns) then you will have a better impression of what is really worth your short time. Having seen Modica, Sicili and Noto. I would have avoided Sicili except I was influenced by people who had not had the experience we have had of Baroque architecture in Europe.

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    Ragusa

    Pretty much an easy morning drive and we noted the many dry stone walls which seemed not to make any sense as they surrounded small plots (all overgrown) or very narrow ones. One would have to be a mountain goat to do anything with them.
    Then we got to Ragusa. We followed the signs to Centro and had to ask directions. Finally found ourselves in Ragusa Superiore (new town). As I said earlier we decided to park the car in a covered car park in Corso Italia and only paid E3 for safe parking for 4 hours. The information office outside the New Duomo was helpful and gave us a lot of information and a map. They suggested that we walk down to Ragusa Ilba and when we got to the Giardini at the end, take the No 1 bus back and it would stop just outside the car park.
    The new Duomo is very photogenic and there is a good café in front of it if you have not had time for breakfast.

    If ofcourse you are coming from Modica you will come first to Ragusa Ilba and a different parking lot.

    The stairs/windy narrow streets to Ragusa Ilba are in themselves interesting and we spent more than the 20 mins the TO said it would take, stopping to view old closed churches, people going about their business and photogenic balconies and alleys. If you do go down this path, there is a small shop selling souvenirs. If you are interested in postcards, this is the place to buy them. They are the cheapest we saw and the same or even better quality.
    Up and up we go. Piazza di Repubblica has some views over the gorge and another small TO.

    You can follow the outer road Via del Mercato if you want views of the gorge.

    We visited as many of the churches as we could. Chiesa Santa Maria delle Scale has 340 steps and was built over a Norman convent and rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake. The Gothic doorway and external pulpit are still there.
    Church of San Giorgio is another Baroque church with three tiers of columns and 13 stained glass windows.
    Church of San Giuseppe in Piazza Pola has an unusual oval shaped interior with the cupola decorated with paintings of St Benedict's Glory.
    Finally made our way to the Giardini, a quick look in the gardens shows that they could be lovely when all the flowers are out. The little church of San Giorgio can only be entered infrequently but it is a little gem in this setting. There is a lot of work going on in the garden so it was not completely open. On the other side is a children's playground. The tickets are purchased from the Tabacci on the corner and the bus stop is not marked. However there is a bus shelter just on the garden wall and this is where the bus will come to. Watch that you are taking the correct number bus or you will end up somewhere else.
    Ragusa was an interesting stop, but I would not spend more than a day there. Perhaps the views at night are nice. A number of posters who have stayed there have indicated this.

    On to Modica. You can travel here by bus from Ragusa Ilba. The bus stop is on Corso Umberto I. There are 12 buses a day.

    Again Modica has two towns, Alta at the top of the gorge and Bassa at the bottom.

    Once again we did not want to negotiate the roads and chose a B & B out of town which had indicated that there was a bus we could take into town. Perfect we thought.

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    thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Rasputin, and thank you too Sheilio.

    I am more and more leaning to jettisoning Agrigento but as we've got until September we've got a reasonable amount of time to think about it.

    Thank goodness for good cancellation terms!

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    <<Having seen Modica, Sicili and Noto. I would have avoided Sicili except I was influenced by people who had not had the experience we have had of Baroque architecture in Europe.>>

    Do you mean here that you didn't think Scicli was worth the time? Would you elaborate why? Many people say it's a lovely town, one that is "real" (not just touristic), a "Modica-lite: but without all the stairs. I'm curious why you would've avoided it.

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    Yes Progol We would definitely have avoided Sicili and spent more time in Noto.
    Sicili is indeed a small town. The so called Boroque architecture is limited to a couple of grotesque masks over doorways and one or two balcony supports. These are all located in one Palazzo. The tourist office is non existent and there is no good map of Sicili to help you around. The bike store sold us a useless map for E1 and the real estate agent who doubles as an information point also had a map that was near to useless. It is an uphill walk to the church which is closed. The only interesting thing was the caves/storerooms carved into the hill near the church. The main Duomo in the square is plain. The main square too is plain although they are building a café there. I will upload photographs into Trip Advisor soon enough or you can see them on Peter Witton's facebook page next week.

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    Wow, rasputin. I had a differnt experience in Scicli. I wandered all over and found lots of Baroque architecture. I also took a little tour of a Baroque church that was under restoration. Another I skipped because a baptism was underway. Wandered into another to find a music performance with harpsichord and flute. What a treat to hear a harpsichord live. Definitely a treat for me. Did you not get a chance to see the Costume Museum? Its small, but interesting. A glimpse into the everyday past.

    Im sorry it seems that you are not enjoying Sicily, but everyone has their preferences!

    I hope the rest of your trip will improve!

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    Thank you for answering my question, Rasputin. Travel is so personal and we all experience places so differently! I hope that my experience of Scicli will be different than yours, however!

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    Progol enjoy your time in Sicili. I hope you spend sufficient time in Modica and Noto.
    Dayle, perhaps if we had a map pointing out where things were rather than having to waste our time wandering in what was not a visitor oriented town, then we might have liked Sicili. The Boroque centre is very small. No where was there a sign to the costume museum.
    The harpsichord and flute performance was a serendipity for you. Not something that anyone else would come across.
    We had a similar experience in Lucca, where we were able to listen to some classical music being practiced in a decommissioned church, for an official paid performance later that day. Chance is but chance. We would not however base our view of Lucca on just that one chance experience.

    Modica:
    We parked near the cemetery and called our B & B who came right away and we followed him to the accommodation. Thank goodness too, we were only five minutes away from where we had stopped but we would never have found the street which was uphill from the main road and unmarked!

    A school or office building was opposite and had been closed. Some of the windows had been left open and so the building was now home to the pigeons. Oh what a view they had!

    Modica was hidden from our sight when we parked the car at the front door and we were shown our room - furniture very Franco Cozzo (only Melbournians will understand that statement). Then he threw open the French doors to the balcony - and wow - there was Modica in panorama. A million euro view no matter what time of the day. The balcony was the perfect place to enjoy antipasta and wine and watch the city. And even without the antipasta and wine it was a wonderous view.

    There was no bus as we had been told, down to Modica or else it ran at some odd hours - we never did find out. We hiked down the steps he showed us - I stopped counting at 600. We realised that we would have climb back again!! It was interesting watching how the people live in the untourist streets. We even found old stone washing stations when the locals would have had to pump water (we found one of those too) and then wash their laundry in the communal stone wash basins. The lanes were narrow and twisting and we did wonder whether we would get lost in the dark when we returned. We had forgotten to take our torch with us.

    Soon enough we found ourselves in the main street of Modica. Chocolate and marzipan heaven.

    The TO was the best and most helpful we had come across to date and they were at great pains to point out the highlights of their city and make sure that the things we were interested in were covered.

    If you are driving into Modica, do be careful where you park and for how long. They have very strict rules. The smartly dressed parking attendants are on the prowl and will have no hesitation fining you. They will however, go out of their way to help a tourist who tries to speak Italian (but not to avoid a fine).

    Modica traffic is busy. Park near the bus station and leg it in.

    The main street is full of elegant palazzo and lots of trinket and chocolate tasting shops. There are so many choices that even a chocoholic would reach surfeit in no time.

    Past the round about there is a supermarket if you want to self cater.

    We decided not to venture into one of the obviously touristy chocolate shops and chose a small baker/chocolatier who was not trying to impress purchasers with expensive displays or packaging but was so enthusiastic about his product. He was giving away free samples and not just tiny bits but whole chocolate tarts made with his product. We bought quite a bit from him. He is located near the supermarket and below street level. He was happy to discuss the process and even show us his workshop.

    We visited as many churches and buildings that our legs would accommodate. As you know Modica is all uphill. The steps to the Duomo reminded me first of the stairs at Fontainebleau followed by the Spanish Steps in Rome. Up and up we went. The Cathedral is beautiful and we were glad we made the effort to climb the stairs. This is also the first time we came across people begging - in this case it was for you to hold the budgerigar on your finger and then donate some money to the owner. I'd hate to have that budgie's life!

    Finally it came time to climb back those staircases to our abode. Luckily by now there was some lighting both from windows of houses and some lovely lamps (that we previously thought were no longer connected). Lots of rest stops along the way, listening to family chatter through the windows and children called home for their dinner. Our self catered dinner and wine was enjoyed with our million dollar view! We were far above the noise and hassle of main street. Watching the lights come on in Modica and neighbouring towns in the surrounding hills - no restaurant in town could have afforded us this wonderful experience.

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    Glad to read that your experience in Modica has been wonderful - your self-catered dinner at your B&b sounds hesvenly! And the discovery of the chocolate shop....perfect!

    Those stairs are the reason that I decided not to stay in Modica (health reasons). 600 steps! Wow! I hope we have a chance to visit -- we will see what time allows.

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    Rasputin - thanks for your great description of Modica. We definitely want to visit but I'm still thinking that Ragusa is a good place for us to be based while we explore the area.

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    Nice to read that you enjoyed Modica. 600 steps -- geez, not sure I'd want to go up and down them every day.

    I want to second your comment on parking. Be very careful to park legally. We didn't realize we were parking illegally and got a ticket. Back at our BnB, several other people had also gotten tickets in various towns. Fortunately the owner of the BnB took all the tickets to the post office and took care of paying them. (We all gave her money.) It saved us from dealing with payment. Also it was good to know where you could pay one as we had been on a wild goose chase trying to pay it in Noto. We kept being told different places to go.

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    Yestravel, I also read about someone getting a ticket for parking and not knowing where to pay it. Going around in circles before they realised that it could be paid at the post office. Finding one of those open too at the time you want it is just as much fun.

    Our balcony was just as wonderful to watch Modica coming alive in the morning. The church step lights remain on all night and look like a double row of candles on a birthday cake.

    We met an older couple going out just as we were leaving. More about them later.

    The drive to Modica to Sicili was the usual. I have already said that I would have avoided Sicili had I known that it was such a poor representation. It is mostly a modern (post war) and poor town. Am happy to send you pdf copies of the two maps we got and you can decide for yourselves.

    We parked in the market area and walked into the town just one street away. The market was a fruit and veg market only with stall holders obviously doing the rounds of local towns as they did in Trapani.

    We wanted to avoid driving back into Modica to go on to Noto but there was no one in Sicili who could point out the road to us. As it was we went back in the Modica direction but were able to avoid the town and skirted it to get on to the autostrada.

    Again we opted to stay out of the centre and although the B & B was opposite a dump of a building site on a 'modern" high rise it was a great place to stay. The owner Salvo and his daughter Amba, for whom the B & B is named, were welcoming and very helpful. Amba insisted that we relax in the dining room with a welcoming orange drink from their own orchard. They have orchards of oranges, lemons, almonds and that coco stuff (cant remember the name). Salvo gave us one of the large brown bean like things to chew on - an acquired taste and hard on the teeth! There are baskets of almonds and nut crackers all around the premises for guests to eat as they please.
    There is safe car parking (locked) in the back yard. Amba offered us a room on the ground floor which looked into the back yard but then offered another room on the 2nd floor (the family live on the first floor). I had been happy with the ground floor room but Peter said that we would like to see the room with a view and so up we went. When I saw it, I decided that this was the one for us and Peter suddenly realised that he would have to carry our heavy bags (now laden with books he had bought along the way) up several flights of stairs. Too late.

    The room was small but had a small balcony overlooking the front garden and the building site and access to a patio with chairs and tables (again great for watching the city go to sleep or wake up) with plenty of almonds to chew on.

    Amba advised that her parents had relatives in Melbourne and that she had not seen her cousins who lived there.
    This is something that we frequently come across - Sicilians who have relatives in Australia. As soon as they know that we are not American or English, their whole attitude changes - for the better. More on that later.

    We followed her directions and walked down into the town. Noto's attractions are fortunately along one long and level street except for the steps up to the Cathedral. We decided to take up the offer of the three for one, the museum, the theatre and the mirror room in the municipio. Well worth the money.

    We started with the mirror room. What a little gem. paintings, mirrors and just beautiful. What a thrill is must be to be invited to hear music ensembles here.

    This where the beggers begin. These still have the birds on the cart or cages that will sit on your finger for a fee. We saw more of this as we went further east.

    On to the museum and while the ground floor was dedicated to ancient history - the usual bits of broken pottery the upper floor was filled with wonderful bronzes and coins. We were certainly glad that we walked upstairs - there is also a toilet with a view (no toilet paper).

    Along the way we visited the gardens at the end of the street (unfortunately work going on and so could not enjoy the whole gardens) the usual kitch stalls and this is also one of the public car parks.

    We also decided to visit the only palazzo that is open to the public. We were supposed to be given a guided tour, but they were short of staff and we were presented with a brochure and told to get on with it. Interesting, but a guided tour would have really made the difference. They have tried to reproduce all the furnishings, especially the silk wall coverings and the ceiling paintings and have done so successfully. The last owner was unmarried and did not have any children so he gave the palazzo over the municipio. There is a painting of the last Contessa in full high wig and pannier dress, and the owner's study with a photograph is kept as he had used it. The fake marble pillars and walls are peeling because they are in fact plaster made to look like marble and so well done.
    We had to cut our visit a bit shorter than we would have liked as we wanted to visit the theatre as well.

    The theatre looked closed with its high metal gates, but was infact open. It is tiny and dedicated to the actress Tina Leonardo (a lovely bronze of her is in the museum). There is also a marble plaque dedication to her in the foyer and a giant painting of her in one of her costumes. We were lucky enough to be able to sit in on a dress rehearsal of a new performance by local students and it was fun watching the director trying to get them to perform the final curtain call! It was obviously a very modern play and we hope that it went well for them. The theatre is all red and gold with a wonderful ceiling and chandeliers. The tiny boxes had even tinier chairs - would get uncomfortable sitting on them for too long!

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    A light dinner at Piero's of melanzane and arancine and then a walk back to our B & B to be met by Salve who insisted in getting us coffee and told us all about his orchards in the countryside and his cats.

    The workers on the building site opposite were still going and we thought they might be working through the night, but luckily they did stop. We had a bottle of wine on the terrace and enjoyed watching the city of Noto turn on its lights.

    Unfortunately breakfast appears to have changed from small banquets of variety to just a claggy croissant filled with chocolate or crema, commercial toast and some pastries. Not a good diet. Luckily the orange juice here was freshly squeezed so I was lucky to be offered another tiny glass.

    From Noto we decided to visit Tellaro - another adventure in sign following. Thank goodness for roundabouts. You can keep going around until you see the sign you want. Tellaro is off the beaten path so you will go a long way before you see signs and you really have to be on the look out for them - they are now old and peeling and you may think that is just an old sign and go looking for a legible one. No that is the sign. In fact we drove right past the last one. I made Peter turn back on a country lane to what I had seen as a banner for parking. Sure enough above it hidden in the branches of trees was the old and faded sign to Tellaro.

    As they have not excavated a lot of Tellaro a visit to the site is currently free. You wander at will through the few mosaic floors and buildings. They are under cover but only Perspex which causes an awful amount of glare. The mosaics are different to Roman Casale in PA in that the tiles are much smaller and the designs and colours were done by African artisans so are quite different. Good to see and make a comparison if you are interested in that sort of thing. Also know that Tellaro is not on the way to Syracusa. It is south of Noto and you have to come back almost to Noto to get the autostrada to Syracuse.

    Another thing I would mention is that there is not a lot of information available overseas or on line, on things to see out of Noto. Noto could be your base for a number of things eg Tellaro and the Nature Reserve. There are also a few other sites that the Information office could tell you about. So think about making Noto your base for a few days and explore.

    The autostrada is an easy drive and you will see the church of Santa Maria di Lacrima in the distance. Easy driving into town and then the usual fun starts. Again we decided to stay a bit out of Ortygia in Syracusa. It is a residential area along the harbour. It suited us as we could walk into Ortygia as well as to the Ruins and were close to an excellent gelataria and supermarket.

    We managed to return the car to Avis and you already have the story on that.

    The area the B & B was in looked a little seedy with seemingly abandoned apartments with crumbling balconies - but it was really a thriving area with people coming to the parks and small markets that set up in the evening for street food.

    The apartment was in a post war building that had seen better days but the apartment itself was large and clean and Rosanna was an excellent ambassador for her city and gave us all the information we could want. The windows had double glazing so that kept the noise from the road out.
    Breakfast was overseen by Rosanna's mother who made the cakes and pastries but they also provided various meats and cheeses and Rosanna made cannoli for Peter when she found out that he liked them. Rosanna's father worked the night reception at one of the local hotels but was there at Rosanna's B & B to help out during the day.

    At breakfast the next day two more guests (who sort of looked familiar) turned up in the dining area. They were the Milanese couple who had been at our B & B in Modica. We had quite a chat about driving and they too said that driving in Sicily was not like driving in other parts of Italy. The young Lithuanian couple also agreed with this.

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    Can't wait to read the remainder of your post. Leaving in 6 days, on a last minute trip. Retired 1st of year, and using my air mile points. I have had my Sicily travel books for years, and I thought it's now or never, I'll be 74 in August. Thanks for posting, will start reading again tonight.

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    Forgot to mention that in our drive into Syracusa we stopped to ask an older man the way to our street and he asked if Peter was Australian and when he said yes, he smiled and shook his hand and said that he had lived in Sydney for 40+ years and was just returning to Syracuse for a holiday. He directed us to our street in words we could understand!

    Extricating ourselves from Avis, we walked around Ortygia. There is a wonderful red Venetian looking house just near the bridge. At the end of the same street is the Grand Hotel. A friend of Peter's and friend are travelling around Sicily, the mainland and France for three months. However, their budget is immense in comparison and they stayed at the Grand Hotel for several days. We just slummed by!

    A walk along the lungomare (a site for the passegiata later in the day) and an expensive, one flavour only, dark chocolate gelato from one of the glam restaurants along there.

    The lungomare is a wonderful place to walk or rest at any time of the day. Look out for monuments to the King of Savoy and the tiny beach near the aquarium. Up the ramp to view the rather overgrown and dirty Pond of Athena. Even the ducks know better than to swim in that mess.

    The path is lined with Bangladeshi salesmen selling selfisticks, mobile phone covers, plastic belts and sunglasses. When it rains out come the umbrellas for sale.

    You can continue from here to the end of the island or return to the centre and the Roman ruins.

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    Sorry to hear about the overgrown pond and the salesmen! No salesmen in evidence when I was there, and the pond was home to papyrus, which I was interested to see. Anxious to hear how the rest of the island is doing.

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    The Papyrus is still there, but the water is scummy and has lots of rubbish thrown in. A couple of other posters on TA have also indicated the same late last year. I thought that it would have been cleaned up, but no. There are some very dark fish as well as some bloated gold fish. They seem lobsided as if one pushed them - over they'd go!

    There are some nice restaurants along the lungomare at this point where you can sit and watch the sunset - for a price.

    We enjoyed following alleys as we knew that sooner or later we would come out on one side of Ortygia or the other. Some really decrepit places and then suddenly a new place. These also differed during the day to during the late evening. They'd come alive with little cafes and restaurants that you would never have known were there during the day.

    If you are interested there is a café/bar behind the cathedral that has an interesting side line in old curiosities - bottles, keys, and other paraphernalia. You never know what small treasure you could find.

    Having expended our energy around Ortygia, we went back to our B & B to find our room ready and we just collapsed for a while. Found the Supermarket and had a wonderful gelati from the Gelateria. This suburban one is well patronised by locals (in fact we were the only foreigners) and has a variety of gelati, ice cakes and desserts and pastries. Families come there and sit in the canopied garden area or on the benches outside to enjoy their gelati.

    We also found that the Supermarket sold Modica chocolate as good as any we had in Modica for under the E3 it sold in Modica. The supermarket deli (as in Marsala) made up rolls with whatever fillings you wanted, so we often got one of these on the way back from wherever we had been for the morning, for lunch.

    Will report on our walk to the ruins tomorrow.

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    We also found that the Supermarket sold Modica chocolate as good as any we had in Modica for under the E3 it sold in Modica>>

    sorry, Rasputin, I may not have been following - is there just the one supermarket in Ortygia? Modica chocolate AND rolls from the deli sound like a pretty good deal.

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    Thursday, I have miniature papyrus growing in my backyard - do you want some? :)

    annhig - there are several small Crai supermarkets in Ortygia. I would have to check my map to see if I can remember where I saw one. It was down an alley in front of an old abandoned church. I took a photograph (of the church) so may be able to identify the area. The supermarket we used was a Syracusa residents supermarket, small compared to some others in towns, but had what we wanted - water, chocolate, small deli section with olives, sundried tomatoes, salami, ham, speck, mortadella, and cheeses including those we liked ie Gran Padana, Pecorino and Parmesan and wine. It was on the way between Ortygia and our accommodation and the Gelateria followed (I have reviewed on TA) so that was taken care of easily.

    We were walking distance to the Lacrama church and also the bus stop to take us to the ruins. However, when we got to the stop, there was no sign of the bus so we decided to start walking. We were already at the ruins when a bus came past.

    If you are driving and need to park your car, you will need to deal with the man and woman who have set themselves as unofficial car directors and money collectors. If you drive past them to go elsewhere they will abuse you (not that you can hear).

    You will need to park where they tell you and give them a couple of euro to ensure that your car is still there when you return and unmarked.

    Go into the gate on the left handside and walk past all the trinket shops selling the same kitsch. You will come to the guide booth where you can decide whether you want a guide or not and then to the ticket office where you purchase your ticket, either a single one for the ruins or a combination with the museum.

    Many people have rated the museum as a must see and if we were not as tired as we were, we probably would have taken the combination. We took the single entry ticket and then retraced our steps past the trinket shops to the well dressed traffic police who ensure that cars stop and that pedestrians can cross safely. Don't try to cross without permission or you will get a ticket.

    Entry into the park - which way to turn? How to avoid the tour groups? First is the Roman amphitheatre - overgrown at this time of the year. Interesting to walk around to the other side = less people.

    Toilets are here if you need them (Pink building). Bring your own toilet paper.

    There is a semblance of a garden and plenty of cats hiding around. Not tame. I had brought dog treats after I think it was you Thursday who mentioned stray dogs, but found that I was equally feeding cats too.

    BTW there are many stray dogs in Agrigento in the park. There is one glorious one as big as a small bear - I just wanted to cuddle him. Ofcourse I did not and that day I did not have the treats with me.

    The altar of Heron is said to be wonderful - it is nothing more than a tiered platform of granite. I have plenty of blue stone in my other house that I could pile up and call it something or other it would look the same.

    On to the Greek Amphitheatre which was being decked out for a performance and some of the seating had already been covered in planks. Great views of the Latomie from the path around the amphitheatre. There are some caves and a small waterfall in a pool that everyone wanted to sit near as it was the only place that was cool and in the shade Hats and plenty of water and wetones are essential here at any time of the year.

    The amphitheatre is amazing and if it was not so hot it would be a wonderful place to sit and think about time and space and one's place in it.

    There were steps down to Dionysis' Ear and the Latomie caves. Peter opted out of that and waited at the ticket shed where they check that you have your ticket (so don't lose on the way). Several cats came out and kept Peter company. When I returned I tried to feed them. Some ate the treats but other turned up their noses. The German tourists were amazed that I was feeding them.

    On to the Ear. It is quite an amazing space. Not sure how it could have been used as a prison, but the acoustics are wonderful. Dark and stony so be sure that you are sure footed. If possible bring a torch as it gets darker as you get into the cave. Your eyes will adjust to some extent but it is difficult to keep looking up as you will, into the amazing space and keep your footing on the large and rocky floor.

    The path to the Ear, once you have cleared the steps, is around and through a garden of orange trees. They were in flower while we were there and the perfume was lovely. There are citrus and olive trees throughout the park and no one appears to collect the fruit they just fall and rot.

    The Ear and Latomie area is lovely because it is so much cooler and greener than up above.

    Some of the Latomie are closed but walk around what you can and you will come to a lovely greenery covered arcade - so welcome after the heat. There are also some benches under the orange grove area, so if you have your picnic lunch with you, you can sit here and enjoy it while the others push and shove to get around.

    We chose not to go to the Archimedes area and walked back via the Lacrama church. More about that.

    At the gate there was an enterprising accordion player - lots of fun music so he deserved a few euro. Behind are some Roman houses (you can make out the rooms here).

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    Thanks for the papyrus offer, but I was happy to see it in Sicily, and have no good place to grow it. Nice that you do.

    No, I doubt I mentioned dogs as I don't remember any.

    I suspect informal parking attendants are a local custom. I watched some from my B&B one evening.

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    Don't know about local custom but I have read a lengthy article by a Palermo journalist who deplored this and wrote about his own experiences which were funny to read but no doubt to him were not funny and could have been life threatening.

    The offer of papyrus was ofcourse made in jest.

    The Lacrame Church was open and there was mass going on only you would hardly know it. It was more of a circus with people coming and going and tour guides with their flags bringing groups of people in. People were chatting and carrying on as if it was a picnic. One woman even walked behind the priest saying mass!

    The church itself is one of love it or hate it. If you like old churches and their wonderful architecture and paintings, then this is not for you. However, if you are into modern architecture then the sheer size and structure will have you amazed.

    We did not stay long in the circus and went around and down to the crypt. This area has a museum where you can see the archeological work that had to be done before the church could be built. The crypt itself has some of the Roman (?) foundations showing and there is a requirement that you keep silent in the chapel there. There are guards to ensure that you don't wander off elsewhere.

    We self catered with pizza followed by some gelati from our Gelateria.

    All that walking meant that we did not have the energy to go back into Syracusa that evening.

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    I would be grateful for advice on two topics:

    We are traveling to Sicily in two weeks, bringing our 3-year-old son. We would love to rent a flat or similar in downtown Syracuse - but do you think it would be too noisy and/or unsafe for a small child?

    Also, should we leave valuables behind (e.g., my engagement ring)? Is there likelihood of mugging around Syracuse or Taormina?

    Thank you in advance!

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    Nshibles, by downtown Syracuse do you mean Ortygia? If so, it is perfectly safe here. Don't leave your rings at home. Because it's an island, and mostly Traffic calmed zone, the traffic calms right down at night.

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