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LizTD Oct 31st, 2009 05:23 PM

Bus Travel in Sicily: Luggage Dos/Don'ts and other tips
What does a first-time traveler need to know about the logistics of bus travel in Sicily --- such as how to manage luggage so that it does not get snatched, whether there are any luggage restrictions, and whether there are issues I have not even imagined to be aware of? Also, there seems to be some convention about bus tickets being canceled before one gets on the bus (or one is fined and the fine assessor gets a percentage of the fine - what an incentive!). Is this true (and if so, what is the convention)?

GAC Oct 31st, 2009 05:40 PM

1. Place heavy luggage in the underfloor compartment.
2. Close the door to the luggage compartment before boarding
3. If the luggage compartment door remains open while you board, sit on the side of the bus where you can verify that no one snatches your luggage (theft is rare).
4. Punch your ticket as soon as you board, in the little punching machine behind the driver's seat.
5. If the machine is broken, ask the driver to validate the ticket (he'll tear off a small edge or simply tear it partly in half).
6. Be sure to enjoy the scenery and relax!!!!

valtor Oct 31st, 2009 10:21 PM

Liz, GAC gaves you very good advices.
In our vacation in Sicily in this October we traveled by bus. We had to buy the tickets before we board and to show to the driver, who punched them.
The buses were clean and in time. The travel was very easy. The central bus station is in general in the center of a city.
We took the buses between Palermo and Taormina (change the bus in Catania) and between Taormina and Siracusa (change the bus in Catania).
From Siracusa to Ortigia (where our B&B was), there is a free shuttle each 10 minutes.

There is no luggage restriction.

LizTD Nov 1st, 2009 04:14 AM

Thanks so very much. Largely on the good advice of GAC we will not rent a car and will travel by bus throughout Sicily. Since all of the bus web sites are in Italian, I would be a bag of nerves without the advice.

valtor Nov 1st, 2009 08:00 AM

Liz, I do not know Italian, but I had no problem to understand the web sites of buses. If you have a specific question related to a web site, I'll be glad to try to help.

We were very happy that we did not rent the car in Sicily. It was so easy by bus!

markrosy Nov 3rd, 2009 12:48 AM

I returned yesterday from 6 nights in Siracusa - we hired a car for the duration and all I can say is make sure you have an insured excess - the driving is that bad.

In 20 years I must have driven approaching 500,000 and never in all the countries I have driven in have I ever come across anything like it.

A large percentage of drivers on the roads are either

1. Ignorant
2. Bad mannered
3. Lacking in enough experience to appreciate spacial awareness
4. Out to cause trouble
5. Lacking in intelligence to appreciate spacial awareness
6. Always late

This wasn't cultural differences, simply a lack of any human civility.

I could write for hours about our northern european view of Sicilian driving but here's one example.

Driving down the Autostrada at 115kph (limit is 110kph so not driving slowly) I am overtaking 3 cars with very little spoace between them. I saw a car appraching at what must have been over 160 kph and was plain going to hit me - it started flashing around 200 m away - I couldn't brake and move in and our crappy Punto would not accelerate to pass the cars.

The car behind nearly touched us and flashed and pipped for the 2 minutes it took me to overtake. The driver then pulled alongside tapping his head and screaming at me - I just laughed in his face. This obviously seemed to further wind him up.

This was the type of incident that happened at last once an hour for 6 days.

We left Sicily with very little warm feeling found most of the population to be pretty unfriendly, the rubbish was appalling, the cities belonged somewhere outside Europe ( on the outskirts of Sao Paolo or Mumbai).

This was in fact our worst trip ever and I would say that the island's only redeeming feature will be its sun in July/August when you can ignore the pretty uncivilised way the locals lead their lives!

Mallorca (again) next time!

valtor Nov 3rd, 2009 08:24 AM

I am sorry Markrosy for your bad experience in Sicily.
We had not a car there, we travelled between cities by bus and we were glad for this. It was very easy, the buses were clean , comfortable and in time.

This was our third vacation in Italy, and I was also many, many time in business trips there. We always met nice people, ready to help or to give a good advice.

I can not compare at all Palermo with suburbs of Sao Paolo or even with all Mumbai!

We visited Sicily in October, we were not interested in beaches. We loved the architecture there, the archeological sites, the interior of palaces and cathedrals and the beautiful landscape and views.

We enjoyed local food, almond wine, chocolate of Modica, etc.

I recommended to all our friend to visit Sicily, in spring or in autumn.

Mimar Nov 3rd, 2009 08:54 AM

Well, our experience driving in Sicily was not that of Markrosy. It's just they have their own rules. First we didn't drive fast and rarely tried to pass. In general, any hesitation is a invitation to a crossing pedestrian or to cross traffic. Stop signs are most likely ignored. It didn't take long to adjust to the Sicilian style of driving. And the roads are generally very good.

The main issue was inexplicably closed highways and freeways. These roads appeared on the map, there were signed directions, but when you got there, a fence blocked the way.

But, with a little flexibility (always desirable when traveling in Italy), we found our way around, and enjoyed our trip.

I found central Palermo quite nice, with upscale shops and an unexpected number of trees and parks. Certainly Taormina is not third-worldy, but a lushly beautiful, expensive, chic resort city.

kja Nov 3rd, 2009 10:31 AM

I'm very pleased that my experience of Sicily was not like markrosy's! Yes, I thought the drivers were crazy, but I responded by driving very defensively when I had a car and I had no problems. The people I encountered throughout the island were memorably kind and helpful. I did not see a problem with rubbish, although I remember a LOL moment when preparing for my trip: Someone wrote, in a trip report, that maybe if Sicilians were better at cleaning up their trash, they wouldn't have left all those magnificent ruins there for us to appreciate!

markrosy Nov 3rd, 2009 11:33 AM

Firstly - the comments above all underline poor driving. No it wasn't poor there was more to it. I drove 1100 km and it was well just insulting. I cannot see how anyone can separate locals from their driving insulting driving is simply insulting behaviour.

Secondily, the myth of that beautiful landscape.

We travelled from to bottom of the east coast. Starting from the top -

Messina area - the worst driving and little not exactly stunning scenery.

Taormina - THE most over-rated resort I have ever encountered. I have been to many of the resorts that register as 5 star in the Med. Yet again in Italy deduct 1.5 stars from its pretentions. I know we were out of season but the scruffy, dirty buildings and many down market shops have been around for a long time. God forbid anyone should pay the top rates being asked by some of the so called 5 star hotels. It didn't help that Etna was under the clouds and so the one big feature of the place was removed from our experience.

Toarmina to Catania - very average seaside resorts.

Catania - I haven't been to the favelas of Brazil but Catania must have been a close approximation. We never made the Center Storico just got too scared to go any further.

Catania to Siracusa - please don't anyone try to defend this stretch of coastline.

Siracusa - loved it but Ortigia is only 1km by 1.5km!

Siracusa to Noto - very poor Lido type resorts all the buildings were 1960/70s with clearly very little input from the local bent planners.

Noto - We liked Noto but again was far smaller than we expected... however -

Vendicari - the biggest shock of our visit - have experienced many many Spanish and Italian nature reserves and usually compared with the UK - nature reserve usually means not full of high rise apartment blocks. The migratory birds and coast of Vendicari was well worth its title and the two days we spent there.

Vendicari around the coast to Marina Di Ragusa - again very little to attract us back.

Modica and Ragusa Ibla - yes liked them but again surrounded by aweful industry and more 1970s unplanned lego boxes.

So in all of the east coast and some of the south - I an only say that around 2km of Siracusa and a small nature reserve was worth a visit.

Of all the main islands in the Med I have only not visited Corsica, Santorini and Zante.

I can see that if the weather had been 10oC higher, we had not hired a car and had no interest in the coast we may have had a different experience. For it will be the usual destinations of Elba, Mallorca, Kefalonia and Sardinia in future.

LizTD Nov 6th, 2009 04:10 PM

Oh, my. I won't try driving for sure. Guess I will make sure to check on having my health plan cover me there! Truly, however, I am hopeful that my husband's Sicilian heritage and our daughter's joy at being on the island she has heard so much about will crowd out any unfortunate experiences that we may encounter. And, yes, not driving too!

GAC Nov 6th, 2009 04:50 PM

Liz: markrosy's tale is fortunately a minority position. It's a shame he had such a terrible experience, but I would not let his story discourage you whatsoever. The more you research your itinerary, meticulously plan each day, and read up on the sites, the greater will be your enjoyment of the trip. Sicily has a great deal to offer, and you can see virtually all of the important sites using public transportation, without the need to bother navigating the roads on your own.

markrosy Nov 7th, 2009 09:10 AM

GAC - ask many Northern Italians about Sicily - you will get a similar response. Many are shamed into conceding that they are part of the same country.

It does seem that Sicily is a destination for gushing types who are blind to the reality of what has happened to the island over the past 150 years. I went out of interest - I now have no further interest.

LizTD Nov 8th, 2009 04:29 PM

Actually, GAC, I am undeterred. Having lived some years on this Earth (middling ones), and having married into a Sicilian American family, I have learned that one must approach all encounters - whether they be cities, countries, or people - with an openness about the reality that not everything will go as planned but if you can relax and laugh, it will all be good fun in the rear view mirror. In fact, I have been saying my mantra to my 9 year old daughter more than she can bear -- we will fly a lot to get to Sicily, be very tired, and may be short with each other, but we will all try to laugh about it. (Plus, thanks to you GAC, we are strictly using the busses and not going to worry a bit about our luggage - it is scratch-proof!).

Graziella5b Nov 8th, 2009 04:56 PM

We drove all over Sicily, in Palermo and smaller towns, we had a great time. I am sorry markrosy did not have a good time in Sicily. We enjoy the food, the landscape, the history with layers of different civilizations. After reading about the good experiences in buses I might consider them the next time. As I said we enjoyed driving. No problem and we took the car from the continent in the ferry both ways.

GAC Nov 8th, 2009 05:22 PM

Markrosy: I am really turned off by your negative attitude: you obviously saw only the negative aspects of Sicily (of which there are indeed many), the poverty, the garbage, the awful modern concrete buildings and poor modern urban planning, the lack of organization and infrastructure, the examples of "bad manners". But you have not even bothered to take note of the unique and magnificent aspects of the Island: perhaps you could care less about these, perhaps they are not "your cup of tea," perhaps you didn't even take the time to stop. I saw no mention in your report of the Greek Temples at Agrigento, Selinunte or Segesta, the Cathedral of Monreale, the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, the beauty of the Aeolian Islands. You are right not to go back, it would be a waste of your time. And the same goes for some (but certainly not all) Northern Italians who have a similar attitude. I know the enormous differences between Sicily and the rest of Italy as well as anyone else, and I know its history from ancient times (not just the past 150 years). When I travel to Sicily, I know where to go, when to go, and what areas to avoid. There is no need to allow the bad parts to spoil the good experiences.

I wish you well on your future trips.

markrosy Nov 9th, 2009 04:35 AM

GAC - Thanks for the thought about future trips - this was actually the first out of nearly (well I have no idea but 3 a year on average) 120 trips outside the UK that we were totally let down by the destination. We do a lot of research and god knows how did we plan a trip previously without google earth.

Another issue that came up in conversation last night was the exchange rate - the pound is around 30% under-valued against the euro. Eating out is never an issue - it difficult to compare. One thing that we always used to love doing was bringing bag fulls of clothes, wine, food (anything). With the state of the pound we now bring back what we take and that detracts from the trip. We are now thinking of giving up with Europe, spending more time in the UK and still having at least one US/ Caribean trip a year.

You're right we didn't visit Palermo or the other sites you mention - with a 4 year old and based in Siracusa that would have been unfair on my son.

I think after 40 years of trailing round a lot of the pre 1850 architecture of European and indeed living amongst some of the best architecture in Europe - pile of stones, however they are arranged do less and less for us (again a sleepy 4 year old doesn't improve matters. We are most comfortable with beautiful countryside and great people.

I am not hear to stand in judgement on the social and personal traits of Sicilians but I think if you had spent the 2 weeks we had sailing around the Ionian in May - you may appreciate what a warm genuine welcome can be. On that trip the Greeks contributed hugely to 2 weeks that were a logical nightmare (try sailing with a 4 year old). Basically they made a quite stressful time very very enjoyable. Other than the fact that we were late for EVERYTHING as we couldn't get anything done for chatting.

In comparison, we had a great time between with our own company, Sicily provided little towards this experience. That is, apart from the incredible hotel we used (Il Parco, Siracusa) which at 80 euros a night was around 250 % underpriced.

I suppose retrospectively I should have posted a trip report instead of making a negative comments on other peoples threads that way those unsure of their own decision making could have simply ignored the report.

TDudette Nov 9th, 2009 05:06 AM

LizTD, please see bus stuff below.

Oh dear, markrosy. DH and I have watched traffic for fun in Rome but think Palermo is much more interesting. We decided to simply follow other Italians. We were following two gentlemen across the road when the air horn of a huge truck sounded as it bore down on us. The gentlemen we were following were tipsy-poor choice, eh? My theory is that not stopping is the goal of all Europeans. Get there without having to idle and use gas. Just a theory. I'm sorry you missed the good stuff.

DH and I took the bus from Palermo airport into town. I left my duffel bag on the bus. Front desk called the bus company the next morning and bus driver had found it.

We took a taxi to the bus company and our driver, Stefan, made certain that my bag came out of the locked closet in a timely manner and then he adopted us. He and DH decided upon a fair amount of money and Stefan drove us to Monreale and we took him to lunch. With our fractured Italian and his fractured English, we compared our lives and found how much alike we are. We drove all around Palermo and got a good look at a complex place and people. He saved us so much time by accompanying us to the main bus stop (near the train station) to get tickets to Agrigento and Siracusa. There were 3 different companies with differing places to buy the tickets: one at an office, one from the driver, one having 2 offices-one for schedules and another for tickets! HAR! Oh, and LizTD, our experience was that the Sicilians did not line up for the bus. Just go ahead and push-it's expected!

alihutch Nov 9th, 2009 05:23 AM

Markrosy, if it took you 2 minutes to overtake 3 nose to tail cars, then you were driving too slowly to attempt the manoeuvre.

markrosy Nov 9th, 2009 05:40 AM

Re-read what I wrote - couldn't brake - would have hit me - could not go any faster (and at 135 was over the speed limit as it was) couldn't move over as the apes on the inside wouldn't let me in. Besides no idea of exact timescales but the situation in England would have been plain silly.


Like little stories like that - on returning to Alghero airport on a Sunday we realised that the petrol stations were self service only. The machine ate my card - we ended up with 27 locals gathered round trying to help with all manner of suggestion of how to get it out!!

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