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Trip Report Trip report to Sicily in September, 2014

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Trip Report to Sicily: September 12 - 27

Whenever you plan for a trip or a special event to celebrate it seems to take over your life!

All of the planning including where and when to go; how long should you stay; which hotels to choose; should I rent a car, take busses, trains, arrange for taxis, which restaurants and what sights to see? It can become all consuming, however, when you have forums such as Fodors and Tripadvisor all you need to do is to take a deep breath and read everything you can before making decisions. Helpful comments and shared experiences by travelers who have already been there certainly is a wonderful starting point in planning your first trip to Sicily!

So I begin by thanking you all for your help in planning my itinerary.

This TR will not be about the food (it will include restaurants) and not about the sights in detail ( you can do the research). I want to share with you some of our experiences, the choices we made in our itinerary, the people we met along the way and helpful hints for those who are considering going to Sicily for the first time. I also want to relate some stories of our adventure because when it comes down to it, for me, it is the stories and experiences that stand out long after the return back home.

So here goes:

The itinerary : 9/12 JFK to Rome ( Delta/Alitalia) and Rome to Catania ( Ryan Air)
9/13 Pickup by car in Catania arranged by Villa Schuler in Taormina
9/13-15 Taormina
9/16 Pickup rental car through AutoEurope in Giardini Naxos
9/16-18 Hotel Palazzo Del Sale in Ortigia. Day trip to Noto.
9/19-9/20 Drive to Modica and stay at Casa Talia. Day trip to Villa Romana and Caltagirone
9/21- 22 Drive to Selinunte and stay at the Villa Sogno
9/23 Drive to Trapani and stay at I Colori Del Vento. Visit Erice.
9/24 Drive to Palermo airport and drop off rental car
9/24-26 Taxi from airport to Palermo and stay at the Hotel Principe Di VillaFranca. Day trip to Cefalu.
9/27 Flight from Palermo to Rome ( Alitalia) and Rome to JFK ( Alitalia)

** We signed up for Global Entry which ended up giving us both TSA status and quick entry back into the USA .
** We chose to start in Taormina rather than Palermo as we felt it would be more relaxing to begin in a smaller setting and easier to deal with jet lag.
** There is no need to have a car in Taormina as it is easy to walk to sights, has excellent transportation options and parking is too difficult.

Day 1 The overnight to Rome was uneventful. We had a 3 hour wait before our Ryan airlines flight to Catania and ended up being delayed for an hour. Upon arrival we were met by a driver ( arranged by the Villa Schuler) and off we went to Taormina! The fare was 75 Euros and well worth it!

We loved the Villa Schuler! Our room overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Etna . The grounds have a beautiful garden, wonderful breakfast and is in such a lovely setting. The staff were attentive, polite and offered many suggestions and the location to the Corson Umberto ( the main street) was quick and easy. After checking in we went
for a walk on the Corso Umberto. We felt relaxed and not rushed and just enjoyed the fact that we were in Sicily! After doing a great deal of people watching and becoming familiar with the area we returned to the hotel , unpacked and went for an excellent dinner at Trattoria Da Vino, Via Luigi Pirandello , 37 ( which had been recommended by our driver). By the way: since we arrived on a Saturday there were several Brides and Grooms parading up and down Corso Umberto with their photographers and posing on fancy cars. What a fun way to begin our trip!

Day 2. Our day started with a lovely breakfast in a most magnificent setting. We had our first Granitas ( delicious), walked to the the Teatro Greco ( Greek Amphitheater) with no Senior rates where we went on our own tour. After leaving the Teatro Greco we took a short cut to the Publico Gardens ( beautiful) and ended up having lunch at Gambero Rosso, Via Naumachia, 11. A quick story:

when we left our hotel in the morning we ended up walking and found ourselves in the back of Gambero Rosso, a restaurant which wasn't opened yet ( way too early). An older woman came up to us and began talking in Italian and with my limited Italian we discovered that she was the owner of Gambero Rosso. She opened up the restaurant just for us and took us for a tour. We felt we had to give back and so ended up having lunch there several hours later. It was a good meal on a busy street with wonderful people watching. Later on in the day we took a taxi up to Castelmola, explored the area and walked up to the highest point overlooking Taormina. It was breathtaking! Since we had dinner reservations at Al Saraceno in Castelmola we quickly looked for a bus or a taxi that would take us there. Unfortunately, due to the time there were no taxis in sight and the bus would arrive after our reservations. I was hesitant to walk down and so my wife decided to do something that was rather daring. She walked up to a total stranger about to get into his car and asked if he could drive us to the restaurant! Fortunately he was a good soul and told us to get in and proceeded to drive us directly to Al Saraceno! Absolutely loved the restaurant: very romantic, the view was awesome, the sunset magnificent and the food was delicious. We ended up walking down to Taormina from there.

*** Tip: Carry a small flashlight with you. It helped walking down unlit stairs and helped at other times in various locations. It was so nice to walk after such a huge meal and we headed back to our hotel.

Day 3. After another wonderful breakfast we were picked up by Eddie who would be our guide for the day via Legendary Sicily, Salita De Luna, 10 which I had arranged before leaving home. What I thought would be just a visit to Mount Etna turned out to be something much more. This full day excursion included going up the East and North side of Mount Etna visiting sites such as the lava flow of 1971/1979 eruptions; walking inside a lava tunnel with helmets and flashlights and walking down the Alcantara gorges! We were picked up at 8:30 in the morning and came back close to 6 PM. It was both exhilarating and exhausting! There were two other couples…much younger, however, despite my limitations regarding stamina we were able to do the entire trek! Our time at lunch at the Rifugio Ragabo was lots of fun filled with stories from our Irish and British friends. The food was okay. Our dinner that night was at Ristorante al Giardino, Via Bagnoli Croce, 84 ( recommended by our hotel) and directly across from the Public Gardens.
It was a perfect end to a spectacular day!

Day 4. After breakfast we arranged for a taxi to the rental car agency ( Europcar) in Giardini Naxos). It cost us 30 Euros and once again worth it! Although it was easy enough picking up the car ( although we did have some difficulty locating the lot where it was parked) we initially had a problem. This is the second time I have ordered a car that is automatic and small and received a huge car. We ended up with a Peugeot PG 508 SW 16 or ONE HUGE VEHICLE!! It hadn't been cleaned, however, it did come with a GPS and although we didn't figure how to use until we left Ortigia , it was a huge blessing to have and we weren't charged extra for it! It just bugs me that AutoEurope and Europcar do not tell you in advance that they actually don't have small automatics to rent out.

Part 2 will continue with our " Interesting arrival into Ortigia"!

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