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Trip Report A brief but selective report on our Sicilian sojourn

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Our lovely trip to Sicily is over and given that there is much going on in our lives right now, I don’t have the energy for a full report. But I wanted to share some of our experiences as I so appreciate all the help I got in planning.

Just to let you know about us…we are a 60-something couple, youthful but with too much going on right now, we were truly exhausted when we left, and didn’t do half the things I had on my to-do list, although naptime was definitely a daily activity! I usually take lots of notes, and this time, I just couldn’t manage it, so I tried to capture the trip every few days.

The trip was focused on the ancient ruins and appreciating the cross-cultural place that Sicily is, and we felt we got a good sense of the many layers that add up to this remarkable island. It does not feel like “Italy” – it really does have an identity of its own, and many times I had to remind myself exactly where are we? Sometimes I thought we were in Greece -- it's reminiscent of Crete -- and other times, I had inklings of last year's trip in Andalucia! It just didn't quite feel like "Italy", if you know what I mean.

There are so many places we would’ve loved to see, but didn’t get to in the short time we were there. I opted not to go to Taormina as we are not fond of crowds and felt we had other priorities. If I were to do it over, I might include it, but still not sure what I’d sacrifice, as we had limited time. Overall, though, we felt like we had a wonderful taste of the island. Maybe someday we’ll return…..

We stayed in some lovely hotels and B&Bs and overall I’d say they were some of the best for value we’ve stayed anywhere. I’ll highlight some of our favorites as I go along.

It seemed that our diet was ‘Pizza, pasta and pastry’! We loved the pizza! And we are NYers, and have some great pizza, but consistently, the pizza was really good. Maybe it was what we ordered, or where we ate, but we weren’t in love with the pasta as much as we expected. Breakfast almost always consisted of large buffets, with lots and lots of pastry options (cannoli for breakfast!); most places did provide more savory foods, including cheese and meats, and yogurt and cereal were available, but it was always overwhelmingly sweet dessert for breakfast! We are not foodies and don’t eat at higher end places, but will look for good, local places. I used recommendations from here, TA and from our hotels; some places were outstanding and others were good to very good. Again, I’ll mention more as I go along.

So let me begin….our itinerary + hotels:

Ortygia – 3 nights – L’Approdo delle Sirene (with many thanks to kja for the recommendation)
Scicli – 2 nights – Hotel Novocento – wow! We were upgraded to the suite, and what a wonderful experience that was!
Piazza Armerina – 1 night – Villa Clementine – Lovely! Wonderful hostess and amazing place with great breakfast, good pool and grounds
Agrigento – 1 night – Villa Diana – Great big house, warm host – almost wonderful, but misses a beat – we were the only ones there so it was a bit odd.
Selinunte – 2 nights – Villa Sogno – My absolute favorite, I could’ve stayed here happily for a lot longer. Loved the place. Loved the hosts, Cinza and Lorenzo, and a stunning property with beautiful pool. Thanks to Alison, I remember reading about this place and thinking, that’s where we’ll stay. And I was so happy we did.
Erice-2 nights – Pietre antiche – an apartment, not hotel. Large space, good amenities, very helpful and available host/manager and great location. We enjoyed staying here.
Palermo-3 nights – Palazzo Pantaleo. Very comfortable and spacious room, good location in the center of town. Many reviews sing the praises of the host, Guiseppe, and talk about his energy and helpfulness. Although he was mostly available and provided the necessary help, he was not especially engaging and didn’t seem particularly interested in assisting us. So I was left with a bit of a disappointment, as we were expecting a much more enthusiastic host.

So, by location:

Ortygia – the first 3 nights. Loved the town! It’s a beautiful place to stroll, and the first day we were there, we walked all around the lungomare, soaking in the waterfront. Very romantic, very relaxing. Our favorite site in town was the Duomo, with the remainders of the 5th century BC temple to Athena still visible, and its beautiful Baroque façade lit by the sun or by lights at night. We also enjoyed seeing the fragments of the Temple of Apollo, sitting right in the middle of the busy streets of Ortygia; the Fonte Arethusa; the mikvah (a mini-highlight); taking a boat ride. We did enjoy the archeological park more than we expected, and were fortunate to see a performance of Electra by Sophocles in the Greek theater during their festival. Despite not understanding a word, we thoroughly loved the experience of being in the open air theater on a beautiful night, experiencing the drama of the play with hundreds of others – it stayed with us long after it was done.

We did have the frustrating experience of finding out that strikes occur randomly and no one seems to have a clue when places are really open…. Our first full day was a Monday, and my research and the hotel told us that the Archeological Park was open till 5, and then it closes to get ready for the performance. The hotel gives us directions to find the bus and we leave for the park in the early afternoon. The first thing we discover is that the local busses are on strike and the bus to the Park is not running. So we walk – it’s doable, but long and not an especially interesting walk, and I have some difficulties with distance walking, but we do it, and at last we arrive around 2pm….only to find out that the park has closed at 1:30pm! Why didn’t our hotel know this? I looked on line and it was still scheduled to be open! So we discovered the ‘Sicilian way’ –schedules do change arbitrarily and one needs to be able to adjust. It was the only melt-down of our trip, but I was really annoyed!

The next day, we set out in the afternoon, and planned to stay through the evening as we had bought our tickets in town for that evening’s performance. We discover that the bus stop that we were sent to was not the location for the bus to the Archeological Park, and we are sent on our way, with vague directions as to where the stop really is located. We then walked into a small café to ask directions, and a local couple and their daughter hear us asking for directions and then insist upon driving us to the park in their car! Sicilian discovery #2 – the people are incredibly warm and welcoming, and will go out of their way to help you.

-Trattoria Kalliope – good food in a touristy but very comfortable setting, with a large outdoor seating area, it’s especially good (and popular) for its pizza. Not fancy but good atmosphere. We ate there the first night and had pasta with sardines (good, but a little strong), tuna with pesto (nicely done) and Pizza Margerita (very good). Total 34Euros (no alcohol, just bottled water).
-Dioniso – More upscale, excellent dinner overall – the appetizer and firsts were outstanding, the main dish was okay. We had stuffed sardines (excellent); gnocchi with cheese and pistachio (to die for!) and tuna (this was okay; a bit dry and disappointing. Tuna the night before was better). I had a white wine that was recommended but don’t remember what it was.
-Caseificio Borderi, the sandwich shop in the Market. Everyone writes about it and it’s fun and they make excellent custom-made sandwiches for a reasonable price.
-Granitas – at a lovely little café along Via Cavour. Both the almond and pistachio were delicious
-Arancines (rice balls)- I enjoyed these tasty morsels, M. not as much. They are dense with rice and other filling, and for me, a great small meal.

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