Is Sicily, Italy a safe place to go?

Jun 14th, 2002, 10:38 AM
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Is Sicily, Italy a safe place to go?

I'm a solo female traveller planning a trip to Sicily for 2 weeks. I'll start my trip in Rome first for the first 4 days before heading for Toarmina and the rest of Sicily. Having been told that Sicily and the South of Italy is not a safe place to go, I may re-think my trip as I will go solo. I'm planning to take a plane from Rome to Catania.

Q1: Can I buy the plane-tickets when I land in Rome? (only 3-day before the Sicily trip, I prefer the plane than the over-night train as I had lost all my banknotes in an over-night train some years ago in Italy.)

Q2: How much would that be for the return tickets from Rome to Catania and Catania to either Rome/Florence/Pisa (most preferable)

Q3: What is the safest way to take from Catania to Toarmina?

Thank you for any help?
Jun 14th, 2002, 11:23 AM
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I felt safer in the small cities, small towns and rural areas of Sicily and Basilicata (a region in southern Italy) than in any place I have traveled in recent years. The people are extraordinarily hospitable, generous, and froiendly toward foreign visitors. However, some of the friendliest, kindest, most hospitable areas are also the most traditional and the least accustomed to seeing foreigners. A woman traveling alone would be at the very least viewed as unusual, and at worst might be viewed as some sort of loose immoral woman. I was in these areas on tours, and then after the tours were over went alone to remote towns that did not generally see foreigners. When I was alone, I tried to find occasion to explain to people that I was visiting because my ancestors were from such-n-such town. That made me immediately acceptable and the object of much friendly interest. I also was careful to dress in a way that would not be considered too strange, or too foreign or that would make too many nosey old ladies go tsk tsk, even if it meant going a little overboard. It's not that I was trying to hide the fact that I was American. I loved having people know that I was American when I got into conversations, but I didn't want to be recognized as a foreigner from a 1/2 mile away. So, when I was alone in a small town I stuck to black skirt and sturdy flats rather than pants and sneakers. If you're young (I'm not), I'd suggest not wearing very tight low cut tops, or rally super short mini skirts, EVEN IF IT'S THE STYLE in Italy. Better to be dressed as what the old people view as a "nice girl" even if it's a tiny bit dowdy. When you are walking around in a little town, people WILL stare at you, really really hard. Italians STARE openly, a lot, to a degree that would be deemed rude or maybe evn threatening in the USA. I'd suggest saying hello to everyone: the people you pass in the street (unless of course your intuition tells you you'd better not!), the old men sitting on benches together outside the shops or in the parks, the ladies sitting by their front doors sewing or watching their toddlers, the old lady sweeping the street in front of her house, the children giggling and pointing at you. (Buongiorno for hello, or after around 4 p.m. buonasera for good evening even though it's not really evening yet). The stares will promptly turn to smiles, or at the very least friendly nods, and maybe even conversations. If you're going to the real boondocks, don't expect to find people who can speak english, by the way. But in Taormina, you'll find plenty of English-speakers, though if you can speak Italian, it would be better to use it.

Everything I've said above applies to smaller cities and especially little towns. it does NOT apply to Palermo and Catania. I've never been to Catania. But have been to Palermo a few times, and there's a lot to see there. Both are big cities. You should be alert and cautious in Palermo and Catania as you should in any big city with a fair amount of crime. If it's your first trip to sicily, you might consider skipping Catania and taking group tours in Palermo.

I've found that many of the comments about Sicily being
"unsafe" reflect bigotry. Some people also have fears because of misconceptions about the way the mafia operates. (The mafia couldn't care less about some tourist, unless you happen to be an investigative reporter maybe.)

If you have more questions, post here, and I'll try to get some friends who are sicily experts to look at your questions and answer you.
Jun 14th, 2002, 07:27 PM
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Re: prices of the air tickets, you really have to ckeck with the airlines. it may clost less if you fly to Sicily as part of your flight from abroad, i.e. fly from your country to Rome or Milan, and from there to Palermo or Catania. It may cost a lot more if you just purchse a separate ticket from mainland Italy to Sicily.
Jun 14th, 2002, 07:37 PM
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Q1 & Q2) This is similar to a trip we took a couple of years ago.
If you're sure you're going to Sicily,
buy your tickets in advance
Rome to Sicily is a Lufthansa and an
Alitalia route. Pricing for June/July
shouldn't be more that $150-$200
round trip....if you purchase 14+ days ahead

Q3)The safest way to Taormina from Catania would be by taxi or arranged
shuttle/limo from your hotel(maybe$$)
If you're renting a car the search for your hotel could be confusing if you're arriving in the evening.
It's about 30 miles.
If you arrive during daylight hours a cheap and reasonably safe option would be the public bus. I believe that it runs atleast every hour.

As for your questions about safety for
a female solo traveler, I would echo
Carol's remarks about modest dress and
behavior in the smaller Sicilian cities.
However, Taormina is a real tourist town
and a beach town, so there should be no problem dressing accordingly.
I would also echo carol's remarks about
the sincere, kind, honest, and friendly people of Sicily.

I would however take her to task for mentioning the mafia. No group or orginization of that name or type exists in Sicliy. The whole idea is merely a fabrication of storytellers and Hollywood types who wish to perpetuate this cruel, wicked and untrue image of Sicilians.
Jun 14th, 2002, 07:46 PM
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Dear Carol,

Thankyou very much for your information!
I've to go to Catania just because I'll land there since I'd avoid taking the train (for security reason) from Rome to Sicily.
I'm just wondering if it is safe to take the bus from Catania airport to Toarmina town.

I plan to see the following places: Toarmina-Naxo-Syracuse-Etna-Cefalu-Palermo-Agrigento- and one/two small island if possible.
Is taking a bus or train more convenient than the other to travel between cities in Sicilia?

I've done the main cities in Italy and have spent 3-week in Tuscany last summer. That's why I want to do Sicily this time as I'm v.interested in History. I understand a little bit Italian and I always dress decently. Again, thanks a lot to Carol!
Jun 14th, 2002, 07:59 PM
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About in-land flight

My local travel agent(I'm an Asian and will the the Emirates to Rome) told me it'd be cheaper to buy the return Rome-Catania tickets when I'm in Rome as there's more options. Is that true? It'll be only 3 or 4 days before I fly to Catania. Would that be possible or v. expensive to buy the flight tickets?
Jun 15th, 2002, 03:47 AM
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We recently returned from a trip to Catania-Taormina-Palermo and I posted a full report here. If you do a search for it I am sure many of your fears will be put to rest.
Jun 15th, 2002, 05:23 AM
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sorry all, I had to laugh about the mafia thing.
To say there is no mafia in Sicily, is like saying there are no fleas on dogs or cats.

They are there, just like all the rest of Italy (and for that matter also the US) but you won't see them.
Common everyday people minding there own business do not have to worry about mafia.
Jun 15th, 2002, 05:47 AM
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it is less expensive to purchase two separate tickets - one from NY to rome and one from rome to palermo then it is purchasing from NY area straight to palermo. Lufthansa and Meridiana are around 100 per adult RT. Continental has a 958 airfare. If purchased in one ticket, it comes to about 1250.
Jun 15th, 2002, 06:04 AM
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Melissa: I guess it just depends....
When I did it, it cost a lot less to fly to Catania with a connection through Milan than it would have to purchase separately Newark to Milan, Milan to Catania. she should shop around, ask questions, and compare.

P.S. xxx: Tony was kidding (I think).
Jun 15th, 2002, 08:05 AM
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Didn’t mean to take it out on you, I respect your opinions and enjoy your posts, but I was only partially kidding about he mafia thing.
When you’re father comes from Sicily, and you have a first and last name like mine, you are constantly bombarded with remarks like, “was your family in the mafia”, “‘do you have connections”,etc. etc., often said in a poorly imitated Marlon Brando godfather voice. These are people who act like like xxx’s reply, You won’t see them, but they are there. xxx are you the only one who can see THEM
That’s why I’m very sensitive to anyone mentioning Sicily and the mafia in the same post or paragraph, like they go together. Only in Hollywood’s eyes do they go together.
I truly meant what I said about authors and filmmakers perpetuating this stereotypethrough such racist and degrading shows like “The Sopranos”. The airing of this show is a slap in the face to the millions of hard working and honest Italian Americans.
Could you imagine a show that would so negatively stereotype any other group or race of people like this one does.
Negative stereotyping of Italians in prevalent in TV, radio, films, books, and advertising
Organized crime does indeed exist everywhere and most tourists, in whatever country, will never be affected by it.

Go to Sicily, you will only be touched by your heart, mind and soul.

Jun 15th, 2002, 11:18 AM
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Just back from Sicily and I loved it! I felt very safe there. I was with my husband, but we walked the streets at night and never felt uncomfortable. The people are very friendly and Taormina is spectacular. Positano was my favorite, but Taormina is now! I flew out of the Catania airport and it is small and easy to get around.

Q1: I flew from Venice to Naples, used a driver to get to Taormina, and then flew from Catania to Milan. The open-jaw ticket on Alitalia was $371 round trip. Most in the Catania airport were flying a carrier that started with an S I believe. I understand there is a flight from Rome to Catania on a commuter airline. Try Europe by Air.
I would check out Alitalia and then look for bargain airlines from there, but it will give you a starting point.
You might be able to get your hotel to pick you up in Catania or arrange for a driver if you don't want to drive it. I also know there is a bus available many on this forum have mentioned so you might want to search that. Whatever you do, don't re-think Sicily, I was in Europe for 32 days and Taormina was the highlight of my trip. Take care, Kay
Jun 15th, 2002, 11:22 AM
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Don't miss the Villa Casale in Piazza Armerina, the best preserved roman mosaics in the world. I was more impressed with this than the Temple of Concord because so much of the temple is reconstructed. You can stop there on your way to Agrigento, but leave by 9 a.m. Kay
Jun 15th, 2002, 11:55 AM
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Tony: You are a bit over sinsetive.
You are not the only from Sicily.
I feel very much the same way as you about the over hype.
Catania is my second home.
I simply wanted people to know, there is no more mafia there than there is in any other place, including the US. I said this as so many americans are the ones afraid of mafia and the only way to explain to them what Sicily is like is to tell them it is no different than what we see in the US.
I think this is a little more realistic than telling them it does not exist.
If you have to insist, then it doesn't exist in any part of the world either.

Jun 15th, 2002, 12:12 PM
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Tony: I'm of Sicilian ancestry, too, and thoroughly enjoy that heritage. I mentioned the mafia because Wai asked about safety in Sicily, and I can't help noting that many of the unfounded fears that otherwise sensible people seem to have about going to Sicily come from their concerns about the mafia. (There is also of course generalized prejudice against the mezzogiorno.) I won't deny that it exists. It simply has absolutely nothing to do with me, or with any Sicilians I've ever known (just as the Ku Klux Klan and our home grown American crime organiztions haven't a thing to do with me and do not in any way taint me). My father, who grew up in Sicily, was so super-ethical and clean that no one would ever have been stupid enough to suggest that he had anything to do with crime. I didn't sense that anyone on this thread was trying to characterize Sicilians or Sicilian-Americans as mafiosi. I think if we lived in Sicily, particularly in the western part or the larger cities, our lives could be affected by the mafia, but it is silly for casual vacationers to worry about it. But denying that it exists didn't seem to me to be the way to reassure to assure Wai that the fear that she was politely avoiding expressing too explicitly wqs unfounded.

By the way did you read Midnight in Sicily? I have it (somewhere) but haven't read it yet.
Jun 16th, 2002, 08:33 AM
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Dear All (Tony, Carol & Kay),

Thanks a lot for your feed back. What I concern about safety is nothing to do with Mafia but petty crimes or muggers. I'm just wondering if there are a lot such nasty people in Sicily, esp. in Catania which is 'famous' for its crime rate. (At the same time, I know there are much more pleasant, nice & naive people in Sicily, and that's another reason why I want to go)

Who can tell me how I can book the Rome-Catania and Catania-Pisa air-line tickets on line, if there is such web-site? I read a little bit Italian, so web-site with Italian is also fine with me (I will start my trip from an Asian country, not America.) Thanks for your help!
Jun 16th, 2002, 01:08 PM
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Wai: you shouldn't have to worry about this to much either. You just have to use the same precautions you would use in any other big city.
Also, trust your instincts, if you feel you have walked into a zone that feels odd, turn around and walk the other way (though in Catania, I doubt you will ever be in any place to worry).
Always carry your purse away from the street side of you, try not to wear jewelery showing, and don't let gypsy's get near you, attention to the kids and women. Carry yourself with confidence and no one will mess with you. I generally think in any city, if you act like a victim, you will become one.
I believe fully you will be very surprised in Sicily how friendly everyone is, and have a great trip.
Be sure to eat pastries, arancini, car-toe-cha-ta (I spelled it the way you would need to say it) (at any rate, when you see something that looks like an american calzone this is it), and pasta con melenzani (eggplant).
The ice cream is pretty good too.
Have fun.
Jun 16th, 2002, 02:19 PM
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Wai--I also am a solo female traveler. I spent 2 months in Sicily in 1985, a month in 1991 and a month in 1993. All 3 times, Palermo or nearby was my base. It is an incredibly fascinating city and I loved it and all of Sicily.

Yes, you do have to worry about petty crime in Palermo (muggers, purse-snatchers) and probably Catania (haven't been there). But no more so than you would in New York or any large city.

I felt perfectly safe wandering the streets of Palermo in daylight, but if you go into a neighborhood that you sense is poor and rundown, such as the Kalsa, be alert. Do not carry a handbag at any time, anywhere, and do not wear any jewelry that would make you a tempting target for thieves. At night, stick to streets with a lot of pedestrians.

I cannot address your train/bus question because I rented a car each time. I did use city buses within Palermo and felt quite safe on them.

Taormina is a tourist town and you should be perfectly safe there. It's beautiful, but everybody there is either a tourist or in a tourist-related business.

By all means, visit the Aeolian Islands. They are beautiful and I loved them. I second Kay's recommendation to visit the Roman Villa Casale at Piazza Armerina and highly recommend a visit to Solunto, the archeological site of a Carthaginian settlement later taken over by the Romans. It's very near Palermo and the map shows a railroad line from Palermo to Santa Flavia, which I think would be the nearest station, but I don't know how you get from the station to the archeological site, which is out of town. Taxi, unless a bus is available. Don't know.


At night in Palermo, I would stick to streets with a lot of pedestrians.
Jun 16th, 2002, 04:59 PM
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My husband and I were in Sicily in March 2001. You should have no trouble getting a ticket from Rome to Catania. There are many flights a day. We flew into Catania and rented a car and drove to Taormina. I did all the driving. The roads are fairly well marked. You really don't need a car in Taormina, so you could park and walk. Taormina is very safe and there are plenty of cabs if you feel the need. We drove around Etna, to Siracusa and inland to Piazza Armenia. I had no trouble driving. Siracusa traffic was hairy, but again, major sites and even some hotels are well marked. If you can drive in Boston, you can drive in Siracusa. There are plenty of places in Siracusa where you should feel very comfortable - especially in summer when everyone is out on the streets. Use the same common sense you would use here - avoid sparsley populated areas late at night. The Sicilians were very friendly, have at least rudimentary English. You'll be fine.
Jun 16th, 2002, 05:09 PM
carol again
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I'm glad you weren't weren't because of some notions about the mafia. re safety: I felt the need to be very cautious in Palermo the last time I was there. I didn't feel physically in danger, but I just felt like I had to be very alert for taxi scams, pickpockets, etc. This was hard for me because I went there after spending almost two weeks in smaller towns in Sicily, where I was able to let my guard down to a degree that I cannot when I'm at home. I would expect that Catania might also be a place where you should be extra careful not to become a victim of theft or scams. I was only in Catania airport, which was fine and felt safe.

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