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Trip Report Sampling Some of Sicily and Bits of Italy Beyond

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Trip Planning:

Where to go and where to stay? What to see and what to do? When to go and how to get there? And why? Planning a trip involves answering all those questions and more. But the reward when, through all our research, we get the answers to those questions right, is a memorable trip what we can return to, in our hearts and minds, again and again.

Where to go? This would be our fourth trip to Italy. On our three previous visits, my husband and I had never traveled south of Rome, so we figured it was time for us to sample Italy from a different angle, starting in Sicily, then visiting the Amalfi Coast, plus Capri, Naples and Pompeii, before ending up in Rome.

Where to stay? We wanted to devote at least two weeks to Sicily, basing ourselves first in the western part of the island with at least 5 nights in a rental house before traveling to an eastern base for another 5 nights in an apartment. We had heard from several sources that Sicily does not lend itself to spoke-like travel from a base, so it was a challenge to figure out where we should locate ourselves for 5 nights at a time. However, we decided that it was worth it for us to try to do this. Our style of travel has changed over the years and as we get older we no longer feel it necessary to visit every site there is to see wherever we are going. For us now it is more satisfying to settle into an area, hit nearby highlights, but also spend time just wandering here and there, getting to know the village streets and country roads, visiting the markets and watching the people and just relaxing. Plus, we enjoy renting little houses or apartments where we can do some of our own cooking. We love creating meals using local ingredients purchased from markets and neighborhood shops. And we have discovered that we can save both money and calories by not relying on cafes and restaurants for every meal.

What to see and do? Because of our travel-style preferences, we knew we would have to eliminate some famous attractions and work out an itinerary that felt right for us not only in Sicily but in the week we had allowed for traveling north to Rome. The process of elimination was of course not an easy one. Pompeii must be included. We really wanted to see that special place. Also, Capri and Ravello. What about Naples? Some people seem to love it, but others not so much. Should we skip it?

When to go and how to get there? When it came down to it, the answers to the question "How to get there?" had a lot to do with how our itinerary developed. We wanted to keep the logistics of moving from place to place as simple as possible. And it turned out that the question "When to go?" should have carried more weight in our planning. Traveling in April, we carefully factored the Easter Holiday into our plans, but it turned out that Liberation Day (Italian Independence Day), which we unfortunately didn't pay much attention to, had a greater impact on us.

And why? Why do we travel? Because we love it. Simply love it. For so many reasons I won't go into here because I think if you are reading this, you probably love traveling too and know most of the reasons why.

OUR ITINERARY:

April 09 - Flight via Kennedy Airport to Palermo, Sicily

2 nights - Palermo

5 nights - Scopello

1 night - Agrigento

5 nights - Ortigia

1 night - Taormina

4 nights - Atrani on the Amalfi Coast

2 nights - Naples

3 nights - Rome

May 3rd - Flight home

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    Our Adventure Begins with a Few Mis-Adventures:
    Our Flights to Palermo

    At 9:00 am on a beautiful sunny morning, my sister and brother-in-law picked us up right on time and drove us to the airport. This morning was a huge contrast to the morning a year ago, when we left for the airport from our home in upstate New York on our way to Lisbon, Portugal. That morning the roads were covered with ice and slush and definitely hazardous, due to a late season snow event. This morning the sun even spread some warmth on us as we loaded up our suitcases and we had clear sailing as we started on our way.

    Security at our small regional airport was a breeze with barely a line and we soon settled down at our gate with plenty of time before boarding our flight. Soon our flight was delayed, but only for 30 minutes, so no big deal. Then after boarding, we were delayed on the tarmac for maintenance issues, so it was another half hour before takeoff. Still, we thought we had plenty of time for our connection in New York. But then, we landed at JFK and things definitely began to get a little dicier.

    We hadn't flown through JFK in a while. Usually, because we used American Airline miles, we would connect through Chicago O'Hare to Europe. It seemed to us like we were going backwards to go ahead but it always worked out pretty well. Soon we were missing the familiarity of O'Hare and feeling definitely out of our comfort zone at JFK.

    When we deplaned from our Delta flight at JFK, we had to find our way from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 so we could board our Alitalia flight to Rome. Asking for help, we were told to take the bus to Terminal 2 and walk to Terminal 1 and were pointed in the right direction, we thought. Anxiously heading that way, we looked for signs for buses or signs for Term 2 but we never saw any. Ultimately, we asked again and were directed down a pair of unmarked stairs to catch the bus, which let us off in front of Terminal 2, a crowded area teeming with activity. We found someone there who then pointed us in the direction of Terminal 1. Again, no signs that we could see. Soon it seemed to us as if the sidewalk disappeared into the road. Sure we were not on the right path, we almost turned around. It was then when we spied a British couple we had noticed earlier asking for similar directions. They forged ahead so we did too. A narrow cinder path led us by some dumpsters and finally onto a real sidewalk. Ahead was the entrance portal (one of two) to Terminal 1. We let out sighs of relief as we made our way through the doorway.

    The relief we felt was premature. The departure area was swarming with travelers milling every which way. We had boarding passes and seat assignments for Palermo via Rome. We pulled them out as we got in line for security, which was obviously needed as we had exited the secure zone in the airport in order to find our way to Terminal 1. But for some reason, our boarding passes were not sufficient for security. We were directed to the Alitalia counter to have them reissued. The line at the Alitalia check in was huge and when we joined it, we were stunned to realize that it never seemed to move. Very disconcerting. But finally, someone in charge decided to open more counters and we eventually received new boarding passes (with the same seat assignments, etc.) and headed again to the lines making their way through security screening . Hope against hope, maybe our TSA precheck status would help us here and it did a little bit as we didn't have to remove shoes and iPads. The whole process was still chaotic as it almost seemed like prechecked passengers were intermingled with those without TSA clearance. Who knows? Finally, security behind us, we continued the trek to our gate. Because we were famished, we stopped briefly for a shared ham and cheese wrap and a bottle of water from a food-to-go place and when at last we arrived at the gate, airline personnel were getting ready to orchestrate boarding. But we had made it and were soon settled into our seats on the plane headed to Rome, where we landed just 15 minutes behind schedule.

    We can only fault ourselves for our next misadventure. And we have to thank our guardian angels (travel version) for helping us through it. After deplaning, we saw the sign for passport control, then another one for connecting flights. Jet lagged and not thinking straight we headed for passport control. The line was not too bad and moved swiftly. Fortunately, Steve thought to ask the passport control agent where we should go to access our flight to Palermo. With an expression that said "You are kidding me, right?", he gave us a long look but then took control of our situation. Writing something on both our passports, he called someone to take us back in the right direction. Feeling stupid, we nonetheless felt like we were breezing through on the way to our gate on time. Wrong. The security check roadblock wasn't too bad and we were soon winding our way through the aromatic aisles of the duty free shops, making good speed toward our gate. And then, dead stop. Ahead of us, a long and seemingly snail paced line wound along the corridor on the way to the gates. Passport control. Okay. Our passports had been stamped and verified by the kind agent who figured out we were not where we should be. But what now? If we stood in this line to be reverified we would certainly miss our flight. Another angel came to our rescue when we got the attention of a very busy young customs official who was shepherding the lines. We explained our situation and after an eye roll that clearly said "How could you be so stupid?" she took us in hand, lead us to another official and outlined our plight. That agent led us upfront to another person in charge who again examined our stamped passports and let us through to the gates. I want to say here how much we appreciated the each of the officials at the airport who treated us so kindly and so patiently. They truly were angels.

    Our particular gate was at the very end of the terminal and by the time we got there, passengers were in line to board. Completely stressed, we joined the line, headed down a stairway to board a bus on our way to the plane. This was the point where we encountered our next misadventure.

    As we were boarding the bus, the wheel on my roller carryon jammed. Not realizing right away what was wrong with my bag and pretty frazzled, I jerked it off the bus and it landed full force on my foot. Big ouch! "Have I broken my foot?" I thought. I could still walk, so maybe not. A steep set of narrow metal stairs provided access to the plane and I hobbled up them, not wanting Steve to know my predicament. It was tricky, but I gratefully made it to my seat.

    The flight to Palermo was smooth and even landed a few minutes early. As we neared the airport, I saw beautiful tan and buff mountains edging a brilliant blue sea. After a few misadventures, we had finally arrived in Sicily, so ready to begin our travels through Italy.

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    Thanks, all, for your kind and encouraging words. I know my reports are sometimes way too wordy, but I love our travel experiences so much it is hard to cut much out. And Dayle, I enjoyed your trip report on Sicily and referenced it often.

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    Probably the longest trip report I've ever read that focused on the confusion that I normally feel on International flights (the sort I used to take most months when I worked). Fantastic!

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    Nice, Candace, looking forward to more.

    A question: when we land at FCO on our way to Palermo, should we proceed to connecting flights? Will there be another passport control there? Any help appreciated.

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    Tuscanlifeedit, we totally screwed up when we followed the signs to "Passport Control" instead of "Connecting Flights" after we landed in Rome. If we had proceeded to "Connecting Flights", we would have encountered the correct passport control line. Then those very kind officials we appealed to for help would not have had to personally escort us through the line on our way to our gate.

    That being said, the passport control line on the way to connecting flights was really long the morning we arrived in Rome, so be sure you allow plenty of time to navigate your way to your gate.

    Enjoy Palermo. We loved it.

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    We loved Palermo - A Stay of Two Nights There Was Not Long Enough!

    Outside our balcony window at the Massimo Plaza Hotel, the square gray paving stones of the piazza reached across to the imposing Teatro Massimo, the opera house. With its domes, columns and broad sweeping stairway, shining blond and beautiful in the sun or lit up dramatically at night, the Teatro provided the perfect backdrop for the passage of daily life in Palermo. Waking up on our first morning, we looked out the window to see a full moon, pale in the early light, hung next to the Opera House like an ornament in the sky. After breakfast, as the sun warmed the piazza, a few big dogs took up residence against the iron balustrade and were soon greeted by passersby with pats on the head and scratches to the ears in what seemed to be a morning ritual. Businessmen and stylish women hurried past and soon the street right in front of the hotel was closed to traffic for the day, becoming pedestrian-only as students with backpacks, mothers with strollers, and a varied array of bicyclists took the place of cars and small trucks. Occasionally, a police car would roll up and briefly survey the scene. Once or twice, for reasons we couldn't guess, two or three young soldiers would arrive to stand guard on the corner or in the street in front of us. Kitty corner from the hotel a few cafes would begin setting up tables and chairs in the morning. By late afternoon, the chairs would all be taken. Evenings brought strolling couples and lots of dog walkers. That first morning after breakfast, I opened the balcony door to the sweet haunting music of an accordion, played by a man in the street below. Enjoying the music, a group of elders lounged under a tree. One grandpa among them was happily entertaining a small boy. The boy was having a fine time being the center of all that attention. Another child, practicing on a scooter, received enthusiastic encouragement from the elderly onlookers, as did the accordion player as he paused between tunes. I sat close to the opened window and watched it all. And I have to say that Palermo captured my heart from that balcony.

    The afternoon we arrived at the hotel from the airport (via a taxi arranged for us by the hotel) the piazza was full of activity as an elaborate ceremony was underway celebrating the achievements of various police agencies in the city. As we made our way from the taxis stop to the hotel, bands were playing martial music while policemen and women in full dress uniform, some on horseback, others in tight formation, filled the square. Different speakers took turns at a microphone and a huge tv screen was set up on scaffolding so everyone could see and hear the speakers. Overhead a helicopter circled. Lots of pomp and circumstance, but fun to watch as we scurried past.

    Because our room was not quite ready, we found our way around the corner to a little bakery for a puffy little pizza type snack and some bottled water before finally checking in. Opening the balcony door in our room, we could see all the activity was still underway on the piazza below us.

    As we always do after an overseas flight, we pulled the drapes and settled down for a nap. The noise outside was at full volume but we slept through it for an hour or two of needed rest. Then, after a shower, we set out, relaxed and eager, to explore Palermo. Right outside our hotel's entry door, we turned left on the Via Maqueda, a pedestrian street that ran straight to the Quattro Canti, Palermo's four corners. It is there that the Via Maqueda crosses the Via Vittorio and that important spot is impressive, with four angled Baroque buildings on each corner, decorated with dramatic statuary and elaborate fountains. At this point, looking up at the those elegant buildings displaying all that finely carved stone ornamentation, we knew we were once again far from home, somewhere old, enticing, and beautiful in Europe.

    After turning right onto the Via Vittorio Emanuele, we made our way down to the Cathedral and strolled around the Piazza Cattedrale for some good pictures of the impressive edifice. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and we didn't go inside the Cathedral but instead took advantage of the beautiful day and walked around the right side, thinking to find a different way back to the hotel. Tucked around this relatively lonely corner, we stumbled across some traditional painted carts, very colorful but sadly worn out and broken down. Great photo-op however.

    We got a bit lost on our way back to the hotel, but we enjoyed our ramble. On one street corner, we were stopped short. One car was trying to turn around in the tight space, disrupting the progress of two or three other vehicles whose drivers were all yelling and gesturing out the windows or laying on their horns. At the back of the line was a motor scooter, the father driving, the mother on the back and a small boy standing in between - a family unit ready to roll. Eventually, after a lot of noise from all involved, the traffic tangle untangled and all went on their way. But we have to say we were fascinated by the traffic patterns in this city. There seemed to be unwritten rules about how to merge, how to pass, etc. At the airport when we were renting our car after our stay in Palermo, we met a woman from Atlanta, gray haired like me, who was driving with her husband as a passenger into Palermo to a hotel. I hope they made it okay. I can't imagine the stress involved in that drive.

    We wandered by chance through a street market (Il Capo, I think). Vendors were just starting to tear down their stalls for the day, but plenty of colorful tables of fruits and vegetables remained. Again, an opportunity for some colorful pictures.

    The young man on duty at our hotel gave us a good recommendation for dinner, Trattoria Del Massimo, which was just a short walk across the piazza. And although we were the first diners seated that evening, we were warmly welcomed. Steve chose pasta with baby clams and I had rolled swordfish with prawns. Starters were marinated artichokes and eggplant carbonate. All delicious, but too much food for us and we hated to waste it. Anyway, we passed up dessert and didn't even think about a gelato on the way back to our room.

    Tomorrow, our first first and only full day in Palermo with a trip to Monreale.

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    So enjoying your TR Candace! Im glad my TR was helpful to you. The greatest thing I have liked about Fodors all these years are the Fodorites who take the time to do long and detailed TRs complete with opinions. Those TR help me determine what I would or would not enjoy and are so helpful in planning.

    Looking forward to the rest.

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    Thanks, everyone, for the encouragement. This will be, I guess, a fairly long trip report and it is good to be cheered along the way. Trip reports complete with opinions, as Dayle put it so well, can be really helpful for others in the planning process. They certainly have been for me and I hope to return the favor.

    Yes, Adelaidean, Palermo is fascinating because it feels so authentic. There are many beautiful and historic sites to attract tourists, of course, but maybe because outsiders, conquerors, and others from someplace else, have ebbed and flowed through this place for a few thousand years, tourism is part of the fabric of the city and just taken for granted, not overly emphasized as it sometimes is elsewhere. Not that the people of Palermo weren't welcoming. They were, and their welcome felt genuine, as if they were happy to have us there and hoped we enjoyed ourselves. We did enjoy ourselves and found that watching the everyday street life of Palermo, people's interactions, the comings and goings throughout the day, was definitely a highlight of our visit there.

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    Really enjoying your report. We were in Sicily last April/May and we liked Palermo a lot. Actually a lot more than we thought we would. Thanks for taking the time to post this. Is there any chance you will post some pictures to go along with your wonderful report?

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    Our First, and Last, Full Day in Palermo!

    We woke to another bright and sunny day. Breakfast at the Massimo Plaza Hotel was served in our room each morning, an elegant touch. We requested a "savory" breakfast at 8:00 am. On the dot of 8:00, a tray arrived and was set on the small breakfast table in the corner of the room. A pot of coffee, a platter of meats and cheeses, assorted jams, breads and rolls, plus juice, made for a lovely way to start the day.

    The young people at the hotel desk helped us arrange for a driver to take us up to Monreale at 11:00 am to visit the Duomo and see the mosaics. In the meantime, we decided to walk in the direction of the port. A huge car ferry, which must have been the overnight ferry from Naples, was docked at one end, and a gigantic 5 story cruise ship was backing into a dock at the other end. The mammoth, top heavy bulk of the cruise ship loomed large as it maneuvered itself into position at the pier, but soon it was safely docked and unloading its cargo of tourists, eager to see the town.

    Leaving the port, we wandered back through little side streets, which grew more picturesque the closer we go to our hotel. There was a puppet theater tucked into one side of a narrow alley, advertising performances, although we couldn't figure out the schedule. The puppets we glimpsed through the doorway were large, over 3 feet high I think, and quite beautifully detailed. But when we tried to photograph them, a woman inside told us pictures were not allowed and shooed us away. We never did find out about show times. Too bad! It probably would have been fun, but then our time was so limited we might not be able to fit it in anyway.

    Our driver picked us up as planned across the piazza from the hotel. The drive to Monreale took maybe a half hour through the crazy Palermo traffic and cost 30 euros. We planned to take the bus back because we wanted to stop in at the Norman Palace to see the Chapel and the mosaics there.

    As so many have said, the mosaics of Monreale are truly special, filling almost every space and covering almost every surface in the Duomo. The golden bits glimmer like jewelry on the walls and ceilings. Tiny squares of glass in multi colors create depth and shading and illustrate bible stories in great detail. The pictures formed by the mosaics glow like the pages of illuminated medieval manuscripts. We sat awhile in the nave, trying to take it all in, before we found our way to the ascent to the terraces, where we could look out first at the cloisters below and then at the city of Palermo from the top.

    Back down from the heights, we took some time to enjoy the mosaics again, then exited into the bright sunlight filling the pretty town square. Rounding a corner, we found a pizza place for lunch where we could relax at an outdoor table and enjoy a view of the square. Vendor stalls were overflowing with souvenirs and a few customers fingered over the trinkets. One or two street performers entertained a little group of onlookers. The lack of any crowds made it seem rather sleepy and quite peaceful there in the sun. But with our pizza eaten and our water drunk up, it was time to find the bus stop and head back down to town. We had asked a policeman before entering the Duomo about where we could catch the bus to Palermo and he had gestured vaguely in a downhill direction. After lunch, we walked that way but saw nothing that resembled a bus stop. Walking back to the main square, I remembered reading that bus tickets can be purchased at tobacco shops. Sure enough, the tobacco shop nearby had bus tickets for sale and the friendly lady who sold them to us kindly took us outside in order to point us in the direction of the bus pickup zone. When we still couldn't understand where we needed to go, she took my hands in hers and lined them up in front of my face as a guide, pointing down the hill. She was a sweetheart and I think we finally got it, as we did eventually make it to the bus stop and finally boarded the bus back to Palermo.

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    What a nice day :)

    The main reason Sicily is lower on my wishlist is that we would use public transport. I note most people recommend a car.

    Candace, re: photos....I use flickr for photosharing, I take an ipad and load my photos every day, anyway, just in case my camera is lost/ broken/ storage card is corrupted - then I have at least 'saved' my photos up until then, and it takes no time to just select a few and add them to whichever photoshare site you register with. So, for example, I can link anyone (family at home, Fodors) to my last trip like this https://flic.kr/s/aHsm7WHJHM (which was Switzerland). Zenfolio is another option, if you look at isabel's photos, for example, you can see how the display compares, and that site allows for text as well.

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    Thank you so much Adelaidean. That doesn't seem so complicated. I'll give it a try as soon as I can. I need to make the effort to upgrade my computer skills, that's for sure. My kids are always shaking their heads at my ineptitude.

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    On Our First, and Last, Day in Palermo - a Moment of Travel Serendipity!

    Knowing that bus tickets needed to be validated after boarding, we tried to figure out where and how to do that. No one else seemed to be bothering. The bus stopped frequently to pick up new passengers as it headed down to Palermo and it was starting to fill up with people. At one point, an attractive lady boarded and we did see her stamping her ticket at a little machine a few seats away from us. Taking a seat kitty corner to us, she must have noticed our struggle to figure out the ticket stamping process because, with a small gesture indicating she could help, she took the tickets from us and stamped them herself. We thanked her, of course, and started, between the two of us, pondering our next dilemma. Because there was no route map on the bus and no stops were announced, we had no idea how we would recognize our stop at the Piazza Indipendenza, where we would need to get off in order to make our way to the Norman Palace. Again, this lovely lady came to our rescue, asking us in American-accented English if she could help. Turned out, she was a certified tour guide for the city of Palermo who grew up in Los Angeles and was on her way to meet a client.

    For the next 15 minutes of the bus ride we chatted with her and enjoyed every minute of the conversation which covered a variety of topics from Sicilian dialects to the diversity of the Sicilian people. She highly recommended that we visit the archeological museum not far from our hotel where there was a temporary exhibit of a beautiful greek bowl made of gold originally discovered in Sicily. The bowl had disappeared for years and it had only recently been returned to Italy. She was happy it had come back to Palermo, if only temporarily and we promised to visit the museum to see the exhibit.

    We all got off together when the bus stopped at the Piazza Indipendenza and she walked part way with us so she could point out the entry to the Norman Palace across the piazza. That lovely lady, whose name was Jacqueline Alio, gave us her card, and it was only when we got back to our hotel and looked her up online did we realize that she has been called one of Sicily's leading historians. She has published several books and has four available right now on Amazon. One of those, Women of Sicily, Saints, Queens and Rebels, I purchased for my history loving daughter for Christmas.


    We can only imagine what a wonder tour guide Jacqueline Alio would be in Palermo. Her passion for the history and the people of Sicily was so apparent and she taught us a lot in only 15 minutes. Sharing that crowded bus ride with her was truly a treat and an honor and we'd like to thank her again for her kindness and generosity to us.

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    Signing on and enjoying your writing. Sicily is one of my favorite places.

    BTW, a maps app on a smart phone makes traveling by bus very much easier - but then you might have missed the serendipitous encounter with Jacqueline Alio.

    Also, if you go through JFK again, you might find the AirTrain (free) a better way to reach T1. http://www.panynj.gov/airports/jfk-airtrain.html

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    Thanks, thursdaysd. Those sound like two good suggestions. I should have spent more time researching ways to get around JFK. Lesson learned. And smartphones are wonderful, aren't they. Never thought to use it on the bus but we certainly will next time.

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    If you ask Google maps how to get from A to B by public transport it will tell you when the bus will arrive, what number it is, how many stops, and how much it will cost. Then it shows you where to find the bus stop, and you can follow the route once you are on the bus. So much less stressful - but less contact with locals.

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    Our First, and Last, Full Day in Palermo Continued.

    After leaving Jacqueline Alio, we visited the Capella Palatine in the Norman Palace. Again, almost every surface of the chapel was covered with mosaics like Monreale, but in a more intimate space with even more brilliant colors, it seemed. The smaller spaces worked to magnify the intensity of it all, I think, and the effect was amazing. Lovely!

    A visit to the Museo Archeological, as recommended by Jacqueline, seemed like a good way to end our day of sightseeing in Palermo. We figured we had plenty of time, as a check of the museum's website stated that it would be opened until 6:30. That should be sufficient, we thought, to see the golden bowl and other highlights. But oh-oh. We had heard about the capriciousness of business hours in Sicily. We arrived at the entrance at about 4:50, only to find the gate shut. Thinking we might be at the wrong entrance, we wandered around the block but saw no other way in. When we got back to the front gate, it was still closed but slightly ajar. Steve pushed the gate open and went up the steps where a guard stopped him (very pleasantly) and showed him a piece of copy paper taped to the door. Hours: Open til 5:30 today and obviously no entry after 4:30. Oh well. We had a few hours in the morning before we had to head to the airport to pick up our rental car. So we could come back in the morning and to see what we could see.

    For dinner that night we went to the same restaurant as the night before, Trattoria del Massimo because we could be accommodated there at 7:30 and other recommended spots didn't open til 8:00. We both had good meals again. For me, salad with veal, tomatoes and cheese. Steve had veal scallopini. The bill, with a glass of wine each and a bottle of sparkling water came to about 40 euros.

    After dinner, we walked back by the Teatro Massimo to our hotel and settled down for the night after a wonderful day. Tomorrow we would leave Palermo after a visit to the Archeological Museum, pick up our rental car, and head to our 5 night stay in Scopello.

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    Like you, I had a short but sweet visit to Palermo. I really enjoyed my time in the city, and am glad to read you did too.

    Looking forward to your impressions of Scopello.

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    Hi Candace!

    What a nice report! More please! We are Italy lvers, but have yet to visit Sicily, and being well into our 60s we share this style of travelling.

    Thanks for your report!

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    Candace we only just used a smartphone this last holiday and it is a lifesaver! We left our teens at home and had to use the technology ourselves, sometimes I just forgot that I could check things like bus stops. But people are so kind, and as you found, it often leads to lovely interactions, we even had a waiter drive us home after dinner!
    I'll be saving your report if I ever get to plan a Sicily trip.

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    Leely 2, "short & sweet" is the perfect description of our visit to Palermo too.

    You are right, Adelaidean, people are so kind. Traveling to different countries and cultures always reinforces for me the notion that we are all so much more alike than we are different. It is so obvious that people everywhere very much love their children, are proud of their hometowns, like to share traditional foods, and are willing to extend their hand to someone who needs help. I am so thankful for the opportunities I have had to travel. Wherever we go we always seem to have the good fortune to meet kind, generous, and friendly people.

    Thank you, everyone, for your encouragement.

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    From Palermo to Scopello, Eventually.

    Another sunny morning dawned, and after a good breakfast in our room at the Hotel Massimo Plaza, we set out for Palermo's archeological museum, the Museo Archeologico Regionale Salinas. With only a few hours available before we had to leave for the airport to pick up our rental car, we could only hit the museum's highlights.

    Immediately upon entering the museum, we turned to the right and came upon the special exhibit area displaying the famous golden bowl, "La Phiale Aurea". suspended in a clear case in the center of the room. The amazing gold sphere, intricately carved on one side with acorns and bees, and inscribed with a Greek inscription around the edge, dazzled like a small sun. Jacqueline Alio had told us the story of its loss and recovery and how wonderful it was to have it back in Palermo so Sicilians could have the opportunity to see it. We loved having that opportunity also.

    After taking some time to view the bowl from every side, we returned to the main entrance and proceeded to the sunlit area straight ahead. The museum was housed in a former monastery founded in the 17th century, and this area contained a lovely fountain surrounded by a set of cloisters. The fountain and its pool were bathed in natural light and turtles swan lazily in circles. Artfully placed artifacts around the pool set the scene for the statuary, jewelry, bronzes and pottery displayed further along the museum's corridors in interesting, and uncluttered, order. Finally we entered a series of rooms with friezes and other artifacts recovered from the temple sites at Selinunte. Very imposing and a big incentive to visit the site where these treasures were originally situated. It was time to go, but we wished we had more time to spend in this lovely museum. Reluctantly we made our way back to the hotel to checkout and meet the taxi which would take us to the airport to pick up our rental car. The taxi arranged by the hotel was waiting for us across the piazza and we were soon on our way toward our next destination, Scopello.

    A final word about the Hotel Massimo Plaza, which turned out to be a really good place for us to stay in Palermo. the location was great, within easy walking distance of many sites. The staff was helpful and genuinely friendly. Upon arrival, as a welcome, we were served glasses of procecco and a dish of snacks in our room. The room with its little balcony and the ever changing view below was perfect for us. We loved being served breakfast in our room each morning. We think almost anyone visiting Palermo would like this hotel. The only problem might be accessibility for guests with mobility issues. Once you pass though the entry doors from the street below, the reception desk is up a long flight of stairs. There is no elevator but plenty of help with luggage is available.

    Our car rental at the airport though Europcar went fairly smoothly, although we did end up with a larger car than we originally reserved. We had heard that this was a common occurrence in Sicily, although we aren't sure why the rental company would want to do this to customers, as the charge for the larger car is the same as the smaller one originally chosen. Having a larger car did turn out to have consequences for us at one point along the way. However, before long we were pulling out of the parking lot, on our way to Scopello. Or so we hoped.

    We had arranged for a gps to be part of our rental package. On our last trips in Portugal and France, the rental gps worked out great. Not this time. We had trouble with it almost right away and were soon taking wrong turns one after another. Eventually, with frayed nerves, we gave up on it altogether and (shout out to Adelaidean) programmed our smartphone. The smartphone proved to be lots smarter than the gps and we soon found our way to our destination in Scopello.

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    Candace,

    What a lucky thing to run into Jackie Alio on the bus! Amazing timing. I did a half day walking tour with her on my first day in Palermo and just loved it. Her knowledge was impressive and we had some fun talking about southern CA since I was born there. Highly recommend her services to anyone reading, but she is very busy so plan far ahead.

    Cant wait to hear about Scopello.

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    Yes, Dayle, good luck was on our side when Jackie Alio got on that bus. That she took the time and effort to help out two hapless senior citizens trying to negotiate unfamiliar territory was wonderful, as was her willingness to engage in conversation with us. She was so interesting and easy to talk with. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed your tour with her. Our chance encounter certainly led us to believe she must be a very special tour guide.

    Thanks, Sassafrass, for following along.

    Absolutely correct, bilboburgler. A wrong turn trying to exit Erice and we were stuck. The car was too big and the alleyways were too small. Don't know how Steve ever got us out of there.

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    Wow, I would be reluctant to drive in Erice even in a small car. I seem to remember car parks at the entrances? Certainly the bus I used dropped everyone off outside the walls (fortunately my hotel wasn't far).

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    We did park in a car park, thursdaysd, right at the entrance to the village. We found an open spot immediately upon arrival, parked, and thought "Wow, that was easy". But somehow when we were leaving we missed the Exit sign. That was all it took for us to end up in a very tight situation. For a while we felt like rats in a maze. I still don't know how my husband maneuvered us out of there but eventually he did.

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    Five Nights at the Villa Azziza High Above Scopello.

    Scopello might not be the ideal base for those looking for a place with lots of nearby sites and plenty of available activities to keep them busy. But when I was looking for someplace to base ourselves for five nights on the western side of Sicily, this town kept popping up as a possibility. A small town in a beautiful location by the sea, not really touristy but with plenty of rental options, located within reasonable driving distance to some interesting places, Scopello filled the bill. And when I started reviewing the actual rental properties available, I was captivated by the spectacular locations of some of these properties and the amazing views they offered. The view from the Villa Azziza, when we finally got there, turned out to be breathtaking.

    The owner of the Villa Azziza, Guglielmo, arranged for his father to meet us at the Zingaro Nature Preserve parking lot, which he did, right on time. From there we followed his car as he led us up to the house, which we never would have found on our own. After many steep twists and turns on a few very narrow bumpy roads we arrived and pulled into the driveway. The view in front of us was truly gorgeous. From the veranda, we looked out over the Tyrrhenian Sea, spreading turquoise and azure blue before us, with the town of Scopello and its watchtower off to the right and the Zingara reserve to the left. Mountainous ridges rose up from the sea in every direction. Absolutely breathtaking, and for five days we enjoyed that lovely view every morning and every evening, and sometimes all afternoon.

    Guglielmo's father was very welcoming and friendly and although he didn't speak much English he managed to show us the workings of the house with the help of the translator app on his smartphone (there we go again, Adelaidean). Only once did he have to call his son, who was working, I think, in Switzerland. Anyway, the only thing we didn't quite comprehend was his advice that we must keep the sliding door to the veranda closed at all times because of the "bugs". We never saw any bugs, but soon after we settled in we were visited by four or five neighborhood cats who seemed quite willing to swarm into the house if we'd let them. We like cats, but we didn't want to share our rental with them. None of the cats looked to be underfed. I think they were just looking for handouts and had found that visitors to the villa would often accommodate them. We tried to discourage their frequent visits at first but eventually they wore us down as they happily greeted us every morning and evening.

    The Villa Azziza had everything we look for in a rental: a comfortable place to lounge around and relax, a dining table with good chairs, a comfortable bed and a decent shower, plus of course a great view. Settling into this pleasant little villa didn't take us long, although the first thing we did was to retrace on foot our route back down the hill. We wanted to make sure that when we ventured back out with the car we could avoid a wrong turn on those narrow impossibly tight roads. Assured that we wouldn't get lost, we were soon on our way to the nearest food market which we had seen on the road into Scopello. The market was good sized with an appealing deli counter (can't think what you call them in Italy) with cheeses, lunchmeats, and lots of prepared foods, a bakery and fresh meats section, a good selection of wine, and plenty of other groceries. Everything we needed except fresh produce, which we couldn't find anywhere. It turns out a produce truck sets up operation in the parking lot on certain days of the week and today wasn't one of them. Oh well, we made do with some marinated artichokes and eggplant parmesan from the deli. Often when we cook our own meals in rental kitchens, we try out local regional recipes we print out at home and bring with us. But on this night we kept things simple. Along with our deli choices, we had a sautéed chicken breast with lemon and some cookies picked up from the bakery. Everything was delicious.

    After dinner, we laid out our plans for the four full days we would be staying in the Villa Azziza. Our last day here would be Easter Sunday, so we needed to plan accordingly. We knew that Erice, which was a definite must-see, has a famous procession of 18th century wooden figures, the Processione dei Misteri, on Good Friday. The procession draws big crowds and the crowds spill over into Saturday. Much as we would love to see such a traditional religious observance , there was no way we could handle the traffic, the parking, and all the hustle and bustle, that it would create. So if we wanted to see Erice, we should plan it for the next day, Thursday. Then we could do a Zingaro Reserve hike on Friday, visit Segesta on Saturday, and spend Easter Sunday quietly in Scopello. Plans made, we went to bed and slept soundly until morning.

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    Mountain Town to Beach Town - From Erice to San Vita lo Capo.

    The drive from Scopello to Erice was pretty straight forward. We had read that the road up to Erice from the town of Valderiche had the fewest switchbacks, although, as we worked our way up it, there still seemed to be plenty of those. When we dared to look, there were magnificent views. The day was beautiful and after we parked, we set out to follow the Michelin walking tour of Erice, more or less. We find mountain towns, wherever they are, to be special places. Within their high stone walls and narrow passageways, time stands still. What we are seeing in the stones, the alleys, the ancient buildings, and the incredible views, are the same sights seen through the eyes of those who lived there long ago. And we can't help but be amazed by the sheer grit and raw power it must have taken to build these villages on top of mountains. What medieval minds figured out how to drag tons of rocks up cliffs and set them in such perfect order that they never tumbled down, once stacked into towers and turrets and steep stone walls. We never tire of visiting these places and being amazed.

    Walking around Erice was pleasant. There were a few other people enjoying the sites, but it was not at all crowded. We passed by some shops with pretty displays on the street, colorful pottery and rugs stacked in pleasing patterns, and then typical tourist goods. We stopped for lunch at a place that had tables set out in a little piazza in front of a small church. Steve had a sandwich and I had my first arancine di rise (rice ball), which I really liked.

    Erice, like most mountain towns, was memorable, but more memorable was our exit from town, which I've described in part above. How we took a wrong turn leaving the parking lot, I have no idea. But soon we were driving in ever tightening circles until we couldn't squeeze through anyplace anymore. I remember the look of horror on the faces of two ladies who rounded the corner of an alley and saw our predicament. Our car was wedged at an almost perpendicular angle in the passageway. The ladies quickly backed away, shaking their heads.

    Needless to say, Steve somehow powered through the situation and finally got us out of there. Our relief was enormous as we headed down the road out of town. Again the switchbacks came on one after another and the views when we dared look were gorgeous. But we were very happy to finally reach the flat roads at the bottom.

    Feeling a second wind after our adventure, we decided not to head directly back to Scopello but to follow the road we were currently on to the beach town of San Vito lo Capo. It was an interesting drive past marble quarries and one or two good sized towns before we approached the resort town of S. Vito lo Capo and its rather forlorn stretch, this time of year, of hotels and various tourist venues on the outskirts. But when we finally parked at the beach, which spread out in front of it all, everything burst out in color. The gorgeous turquoise and cobalt blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea served as a brilliant backdrop to the long stretch of yellow sand with some looming dark green cliffs beyond. Multicolored flags snapped in the breeze, brightly striped deck chairs lined the beach, and vendors were selling hats and shirts in vivid tones of pink, orange and purple from little carts along the street. A few hearty souls were swimming in the gentle surf, but paddle boats and beach chairs seemed to be the venues of choice on this pre Easter holiday.

    The sun was actually hot, and we didn't stay long. Looking forward to relaxing on our shaded veranda, with its gorgeous view of the sea, we turned the car around and headed for home.

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    Scopello looks amazing. And Erice, .... (We recently walked up a very steep hill to the medieval town of Trezzone, above Lake Como, tiny, tangled alleys and stone buildings clinging to the hillside, a real step back in time and it felt surreal and untouched; I love those experiences too). Really enjoying your descriptive account.

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    Yes, thursdaysd, Erice is truly a gem. So glad we got to see it. And Adelaidean, Trezzone sounds beautiful too. We visited Lake Como years ago but didn't get to Trezzone.

    bilboburgler, we didn't seem to have a choice when it came to obtaining a smaller car. We were told none were available. I wonder if that was true?

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    Walking Zingaro Nature Reserve - Above the Sea and Among the Flowers.

    Again, a lovely day of blue skies and bright sun dawned. I hardly dared say it but the weather on this trip had been amazing so far. This would be a perfect day for a hike into the Zingaro Nature Preserve. From our veranda, we could look over to the parking lot of the reserve far to the left. It was empty this early but we had the feeling, because it was a holiday, that it might fill up quickly. The little public beach we could see far below us already had a few sun seekers securing their space on the sand.

    Our first order of the day was to drive into Scopello to pick up sandwiches to pack for our hike. A little bakery in Scopello, Panificio di Stabile e Anselmo, is famous for its pane cunzato sandwiches and we wanted to try one. The small, dimly lit bakery was bustling when we walked in the door. Obviously a family affair, we were served by a jolly, motherly woman while her son hauled in tall carts loaded with freshly baked sfincione, thick crust Sicilian style pizza. As planned, we ordered two pane cunzato sandwiches, which consisted of sliced peasant bread seasoned with olive oil and herbs and filled with fresh tomato and slices of cheese. Anchovies were optional and we passed. We also ordered an arancini to add to our dinner menu later.

    With our special picnic procured, we stopped back at our house for water and oranges then made our way to Zingaro's parking lot. We paid the entrance fee, obtained a little map, and headed out. Following the trail, we were rewarded by gorgeous views in every direction. Before long, we came to the small visitors' center with some pictorial displays providing information on the flora and fauna of the reserve and some glass cases holding artifacts of the region. There was even a small area of handcrafted items for sale. A few nice and rather unusual things tempted me but we continued on. After a while, the path became rougher, stoney and boney in spots. Steve, who has some balance issues due to spinal stenosis, began to wish he had hiking poles. After hiking about an hour and a half, we decided to turn around, not willing to risk a fall. We wished we could have gone further, but we were glad we got as far as we did. Peering down over cliffs and ledges at the pure blue green sea and the little beaches below, enjoying the various and beautiful wildflowers at every turn, and the birds wheeling overhead, we took our time on the trail back. We remembered a picnic area which spread out below the trail not far from the parking lot and decided to have our lunch there. We were the only people taking advantage of the tables shaded by thatched cabanas. Gazing out at the sea, we watched a lone fisherman working his territory, and ate our sandwiches. The sandwiches were good but that rustic peasant bread was somewhat tough to chew. We took one whole sandwich home to deconstruct and cook in the oven like pizza. It turned out to be fantastic, crunchy, very unusual pizza! Loved it.

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    Off to Segesta. Our First of Many Temples.

    After breakfast the next morning we set out for the Segesta archeological park. It was an easy drive from Scopello and we arrived midmorning. We could see the beautiful Doric temple in the distance as we approached on the roadway. As we walked up toward it after parking, it was so lovely in its lonely setting on a hill among yellow, blue and purple wildflowers and scattered red poppies. On one side a glen of evergreens was shaded and cool. On the other side on a slope beyond the valley, a single tractor worked a field near a vineyard and a small olive grove, creating a perfect pastoral picture. How long, I wondered, had a farm occupied this spot, alone in the landscape except for a exceptional Greek temple sharing the neighborhood in solitary splendor?

    After awhile, watching the deep buff colored stone of the numerous pillars and pediments of the temple become a soft golden tone in the sun, we walked down to the entrance and took a bus up the steep hill to the amphitheater. Here, the wildflowers outdid themselves and formed banks and heaping mounds of color, again yellow, blue and purple, providing a vivid border for the spectacular views toward the distant sea. We walked all around the site of the ancient amphitheater, and sat for awhile on one of the stone seats, enjoying the view. We watched preparations being made for performances that would take place throughout the summer. What fun it would be to see one of those.

    That afternoon, after having a late lunch at Villa Azziza, we drove into Scopello. Except for the bakery and the little supermarket outside town, we hadn't really explored the village. Exploring it didn't take long. It is very small, with only a few streets, a small piazza, a few hotels, and the courtyard bagnio, or fortified farmstead, which now houses a few cafe/restaurants and little shops around the perimeter. We enjoyed a glass of wine at an outdoor table at one of the cafes and enjoyed the holiday atmosphere of the Easter weekend. When we stopped at the grocery on the main road outside of town for a few supplies, it was very busy with people stocking up for their Easter feast the next day. Tomorrow would be our last day in Scopello and we planned to just relax and enjoy it.

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    Easter Sunday in Scopello.

    Determined to just hang out and enjoy our great little rental house on our last day there, we took our time over breakfast and hung out on the veranda looking out at the sea. Everyday we were there, it had been interesting to watch the beach activity below us. The beach was never very busy but there were always a few cars parked while people took advantage of the sparkling agate blue and turquoise water. The color of that water was so striking from up high. At water level it was even more brilliant, we discovered, as we decided to drive down and finally see it first hand. On this Easter Sunday morning, the wind was chilly and it was too cold to swim, but I could only imagine what a beautiful spot this would be on a warm summer day.

    Another spot we had noticed everyday as we passed by but had never stopped to check out was the old tuna factory on the main road in front of the town. After paying a small entry fee, it was possible to walk around the property with its pretty and picturesque old buildings, many old tuna boats and heavy iron anchors, and of course that gemstone water surging against the rock shore. It is possible to rent an apartment in one of the building right on the water. The location would be wonderful, I think, but not very private.

    We probably spent less than an hour enjoying the scenery at the old Tuna Factory before heading back to our house where we put together a dinner using up the delicious red sauce Steve had made from scratch plus other bits and pieces of leftovers. Not a traditional Easter dinner but good.

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    From Scopello to Selinunte and onto the Valley of the Temples.

    The next morning Guglielmo's father and mother arrived promptly at the appointed time to retrieve the keys and say goodbye. Even though neither father nor mother spoke much English, all sorts of expressions of good will and good wishes passed between the four of us and we left feeling like valued friends. Soon we were backing out of the driveway and winding down the hill to the main road, on our way to Selinunte and then Agrigento. On our way, that is, until we got the phone call a half hour later from Guglielmo letting us know we had left some clothing behind. Steve had left a sweater and shirt, folded neatly, in a dresser drawer. Needing every piece of clothing we had so carefully packed in our carryons for this trip, we turned around and went back, adding at least an hour to our drive to Selinunte. We had packed a sandwich for lunch and to save time we ate it when we arrived at the Selinunte parking lot. Again, we had a beautiful day for temple touring but we now also had a timing issue due to our late start. Because of that, we didn't do much more at Selinunte but clamor over the inside of the biggest, most complete temple. We admired the other ruins with the sea beyond from a distance. Back in the car, we headed toward Agrigento, a few hours away, hoping to have time, after checking into our hotel, to visit the Valley of the Temples.

    The Hotel Foresteria Baglio della Luna was originally a baglio, or fortified farmstead, with a watch tower added a few century later. Transformed into a small hotel with a wide courtyard, bubbling fountains, and adjoining gardens, it was quite lovely. Check in was smooth and professional, and even before being shown to our room, we were given a map of the Temples and good instructions about how to proceed through the site. Our corner room (#206) had a little balcony and a distant view of the temples.

    Having heard that viewing the temples is special in the late afternoon when the slanting sun hits them at an angle, we followed the road map provided by the hotel and were soon pulling into the parking lot at the top of the site. Beginning with the temple at the top, we worked our way down the hill. Honestly, we didn't spend a lot of time studying the ruins but we did enjoy the beauty of it all. Reaching the bottom of the site, we turned around and walked back up, enjoying that beauty all over again.

    The Hotel Foresteria Baglio della Luna serves dinner and we had made reservations for 7:30. The attractive dining room had windows on three sides and a view of the temples. For my first course, I had green pea soup with pasta and Steve had little seafood raviolis in a fluorescent red sauce. Both dishes were tasty. My next course was tuna with marinated vegetables. Steve ordered amberjack, which is a fish we were both unfamiliar with. Because it was highly recommended by the waitress, he decided to try it. When she served this course, she mentioned something about meat, but neither of us understood what she was actually telling us. As he was eating, Steve said his meal was good but he questioned the taste and texture, saying it was unlike any fish he had ever had before. When the waitress was clearing the table, he asked her about the fish he had just dined on. She laughed and laughed. Not fish - meat, she said. We concluded the chef had no amberjack that night and so had substituted a meat dish. We have no idea what Steve had eaten but at least it was good. Deciding to order a dessert plate, we shared a little bitty cannoli, a delicious scoop of gelato, and a nice piece of nut brittle, between us. Very yummy. All and all, we had a good dinner, but with a little mystery meat thrown in.

    At checkout the next morning, we were given a pretty little package of cookies, and were soon off to the Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina. After visiting the famous mosaics there, we would head down to Syracuse, drop off our car, and check into our next rental on the island of Ortigia.

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    Onto the Villa Romana del Casale.

    We checked via Michelin for the drive time to Villa Romana and given our early start, it seemed like we would have plenty of time to visit the villa and then drop the car off in Siracusa by 4:00. The roads were good and traffic was light. We sailed along, happy with our progress. And then, suddenly, we were stopped without warning by a construction roadblock. Not a temporary roadblock, but a series of boulders set in a row across the blacktop. There were no signs directing us toward a detour, so we backed up, veered off in a different direction and hoped the GPS would reroute us, which it finally did. The new route, however, was comprised of tiny, twisting roads, barely one lane wide, which took us off through the countryside. It was a very pretty drive with lots of hills and wildflower strewn fields, but it was, we knew, time consuming. So, for the second day in a row, we arrived at our interim destination very pressed for time.

    Luckily, the Villa Romana was not crowded so we could easily view the mosaics from the catwalks above them. We enjoyed the hunting scene with its depiction of various animals, the young women with their roses, and of course, the bikini girls were fun. Amazing that these treasures, with colors like crayons in a coloring book, had been buried in mud and forgotten for centuries. We wandered the villa complex for awhile and found it interesting, but felt pressure to continue onto Siracusa in order to return our car rental on time. We grabbed a sandwich in the cafeteria by the parking lot for our lunch and ate it on our way.


    Rental Car Return in Siracusa.

    Leaving the Villa Romana, we checked our GPS and saw that we were on a tight schedule. We were supposed to drop the rental car off at the Europcar office in Siracusa at 4:00 We knew the office was on a busy city street a few blocks from the bridge to Ortigia. At 4:00 almost exactly, after a few wrong turns and frustrating and misleading road signs, we found the office and, low and behold, a parking spot right in front. With all the traffic filling those streets, that was like a miracle. So there we were, right on time, with our totally unscratched and dent-free rental car parked on the street with all sorts of crazy traffic whizzing by, and the door to the Europcar office was locked up tight. A little hand lettered sign indicated "Back Soon" or something similar in Italian. Okay, we could do nothing much but wait and hope that none of those speeding cars, or scooters flying by, did any damage to our (so far anyway) pristine rental vehicle. Finally, the Europcar service representative sauntered up to the office door and unlocked it. Soon, we were headed up the street, suitcases in tow, to the place where we were scheduled to meet up with Stephano, the owner of our rental apartment.


    Our Rental Apartment in Ortigia.

    Stephano was wonderful! After a few miscommunications, he finally found us on the street, and somehow managed to cram us and our gear into his very small car. Off we went, over the bridge and onto the island of Ortigia. After a wave to a policeman guarding the way, he drove right into the traffic-free Piazza Duomo and parked in front of a building set in a passageway. It was some sort of municipal building, we found out later. He led us through the passageway, into a courtyard shaded by trees, and up to the heavy wooden door of the apartment. Stephano's English was not too extensive, but he showed us the apartment with great pride. And as soon as he opened the big window to the little balcony overlooking the harbor, we were in love with the place too. Out the window, we could see boats making their way in and out of the harbor. Sailboats, fishing boats, yachts and cruise ships came and went. A few large and luxurious yachts were moored right in front of us, humming with activity as crew members worked hard to keep their decks and brasses spit shined and polished. The harbor side promenade was right under our window too, and a constant stream of pedestrians strolled back and forth, providing us with plenty of people watching opportunities day and night.

    With a comfortable little bedroom, a decent bathroom with a shower, and a good sized lounge area that included some sofas, a spacious dining table, and a nice little kitchen along one wall, the apartment was perfect for our needs. It didn't take us long to unpack and make our way back out, through the courtyard and the passageway, on our way to begin our exploration of the little island of Ortigia.

    And there, right in front of us, was the magnificent Piazza Duomo of Ortigia in all its glory. Some say it is the most beautiful piazza in all of Italy and I wouldn't argue. In the sunlight, the facade of the duomo glows pure and white, like fondant icing on an expensive wedding cake. The piazza itself, which is paved in stones that look like marble, is large and made irregular by the other impressive baroque buildings that surround it, some tinted pink and some tinted pale yellow. Magnificent in the sunlight, the piazza is drop dead gorgeous at night when it is floodlit and the duomo gleams golden against the blackened sky. I couldn't get enough of the sight of it all, day or night. Every time we left our apartment or returned to it, we encountered that stunning view of the duomo and its piazza. How lucky we were!

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    Sigh...yes the Piazza Duomo is definitely one of the most beautiful. It would be hard to choose between it and Piazza San Marco. Beautiful in different ways....both magic at night.

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    I agree, Dayle, that Piazza San Marco is stunning, and it really makes no sense to describe any one place, be it a piazza or a hill town, as the most beautiful in Italy. Italy has so many amazingly lovely places that it is impossible, I think, to pronounce one more beautiful than another.

    Adelaidean, I am beginning to think you are right about the driving. My husband does an amazing job but there always seems to be stress involved, whether from roadblocks, tight corners, missed turns or parking issues. We are not as young as we used to be and I don't do stress that well anymore.

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    Five Nights in Ortigia.

    Rather than describe our stay in Ortigia day by day, I thought I would just describe some of the highlights of our visit to this special island.

    The Piazza Duomo:
    Having already described this wondrous place, I just want to say that its beauty will stay with me for the rest of my life. The duomo itself was first a Greek temple and the huge columns in the interior are a lasting reminder of that era. Over time, the temple was also used as a mosque and eventually turned into a cathedral by the Normans. The layers of cultures , one built on another, are symbolic of the multicultural history of Sicily.

    The Archeological Museum of Siracusa:

    Having decided to walk to the museum from Ortigia, we somehow managed to get lost after we left the island, but eventually we made it to the rather scruffy building housing the museum. After reading several reports, we knew to first head downstairs to the coin and jewelry exhibition. To gain entry, it was necessary to ring a buzzer. Once inside, we were met by a truly enthusiastic greeter with lots of red hair who, it seems, wanted us to love the exhibits as much as she obviously does. The first display in the exhibit was a grouping of iron tools which, she explained, was used as currency before the introduction of coins. From there we moved through centuries of coinage. Magnifying glasses attached to each display case brought the beautiful detail of each coin to light. I was fascinated by the various "hoards" of coins buried in gardens or hidden in walls by desperate people, centuries before, in order to protect their precious coins during times of war and disruption. Never to be reclaimed by the original owner, these hoards would eventually be dug up or discovered centuries later. Imagine the undiscovered hoards that still must be hidden in the fields, rocky crevices, and ancient ruins of Sicily. Then there was the jewelry. The details seen through the magnifying glass were fascinating. And some of that jewelry was just so darn pretty.

    We spent awhile enjoying this part of the museum, so when it was time to move on, we took the red haired lady's advice on the important exhibits not to be missed on the higher floors: the Sarcophagus of Adelphia and the Venus Landolina. But first we paused to study the displays describing the geographic formation of Sicily, which was interesting. Bits and pieces of several islands gradually squeezed together to form the one grand island that became Sicily. Some of the creatures that inhabited Paleolithic Sicily, such as pigmy elephants and giant rats, were represented in the museum by recreated skeletal remains. Very cool, my grandson would think.

    The Archeological Park:
    Like the outside of the museum, the archeological park seemed run down. In order to gain entry, it was necessary to take a long and irritating walk past stalls selling t shirts and similar souvenirs in order to access the ticket booth. As we proceeded through the site, we couldn't really see the quarry area because that path was closed. Walking on, a group of school kids preceded us into the cave known as Dionysius' Ear and energetically started testing the acoustics. Temporary seating for summer performances was being constructed at the Greek theater when we climbed up through it . The mechanics of that construction, and how the wood framing was cut to fit around the uneven rocks, was interesting to Steve and he watched the workmen for awhile. The necropolis above and behind the theater was interesting too. Several rooms, hewn out of the rocks, were big enough to live in, being at least the size of small cottages. In the center of the necropolis, a little pool now fed by a tiny waterfall was once filled by an aqueduct and was originally used to supply the needs of the theater.

    The Street Market and the Food.
    Open everyday but Sunday, the street market was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, all kinds of seafood, spices, olives, and various other Sicilian treats. It was also full of so much color and energy, with loud talk back and forth between vendors competing for customers. We loved it and visited it almost every morning to buy our fruits and vegetables for the day and our fish for dinner. Strawberries, artichokes and asparagus, all in season, were heaped up in tempting displays on many vendors' tables. With such wonderful fresh ingredients we created some great meals in our little kitchen. Swordfish, simply prepared with lemon, salt and pepper. Sides of asparagus steamed with lemon, and pasta with olive oil, garlic and parmesan. Or zucchini sautéed with red onion and fresh tomatoes accompanied by steamed artichokes with caper mayonnaise. One night, instead of fish, we had skewered spiced chicken and served it with tiny new potatoes and fresh parsley from the market. Dessert was big bowls of strawberries with some of the cookies from a local bakery Stephano had left for us. And then we discovered the bakery down the street where, when we ordered a cannoli, the baker took a shell and filled it on the spot with sweet ricotta. We had never tasted a cannoli like it. It was beyond words for good. One day the fish guy at the market threw in an extra piece of swordfish at no charge, so for lunch we created a fish chowder with leftover potatoes, parsley, and some crisped up pancetta. Wow, that was good. Because we were so happy with our own cooking we never did have dinner in a restaurant the whole time we spent on Ortigia.

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    HappyTrvlr, I found it on TripAdvisor. If you search on apartment duomo Ortigia it pops up. The site has 47 pictures and will give you a really good idea of what the apartment is like. We loved the apartment and Stefano was great.

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    What medieval minds figured out how to drag tons of rocks up cliffs and set them in such perfect order that they never tumbled down, once stacked into towers and turrets and steep stone walls. We never tire of visiting these places and being amazed.>>

    yet they did tumble down [in the towns in the east during the earthquake at the end of the 17th Century] and they rebuilt them just the same way! What were they thinking of?

    Candace I am a late arrival here and have greatly enjoyed your descriptions of Palermo and environs [where I have never been] and Ortygia, where we spent a lovely few days last September, before we did a tour of Ragusa, Piazza Armerina, and Taormina. How I identified with your descriptions of the roads and the driving conditions - I swear that we were on the same roads as you! Ragusa was a particular trial, both driving up and driving down but worst, by far, was the drive up to Castelmola above Taormina. Once we had got there and parked our hire car at our hotel, there was no way that we were going to move it again until it was time to leave. [BTW, I think that we must have been very lucky - we were given the car we had booked which was a Fiat Punto; what it would have been like with a larger one on some of those narrow streets I cannot imagine - but then again I don't need to now as you've told me!]

    I understand why you ate at home - the markets were wonderful - but we didn't have that option and I have to say that we had some great meals in Ortigya, so if you go again, do try to eat out at least one night.

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    You are right, annhig, stone walls and towers, built so painstakingly and with such heavy lifting, can tumble down in minutes if the earth starts to quake. It must have taken huge amounts of optimism on the part of those who decided, after an earthquake, to build it all back up again.

    I can't imagine driving a rental car up to Taormina and then beyond. The road to Erice was steep enough but at least there was no traffic. Traffic was heavy when we took a taxi from the train station up to Taormina. The taxi was a big black Mercedes, and the driver flew around the curves in spite of the traffic. The ride was both breathtaking and nerve wracking.

    I would like to try a few more restaurants next time. We do save quite a bit cooking for ourselves but I like to be waited on now and then.

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    That sounds like heaven. A wonderful apartment, a street market, walking the alleys, a few sites. I'd like to cook my own meals, too, still carrying the extra kilo's from the half board in Switzerland recently ;)

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    Highlights of Ortigia Continued.


    The Caravaggio Painting at the Church of Santa Lucia all Badia:
    Although we are far from knowledgeable in art history, we generally enjoy viewing the wealth of paintings and sculptures we encounter in Europe. This painting, The Burial of St. Lucy, is located in a church at one end of the Piazza Duomo. One afternoon, we noticed that the door to the church was opened, so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to see the inside of the church and the famous painting. This beautiful work by Caravaggio really struck us and we took a while studying it. The simplicity of the play of light and dark was perfect when combined with the strength and the sadness displayed by the painting's subjects. I don't know if I am saying it right but the whole effect was really forceful. We resolved then to see more of Caravaggio's works when we got to Rome.


    The Puppet Museum:
    Our brief glimpse of the puppets in Palermo intrigued us, but we never got a chance to see them close up. The puppet museum in Ortigia had limited hours and again we weren't able to see a performance, but we did manage to visit the puppet exhibits one afternoon. We enjoyed this little museum, with its colorful displays of intricate handmade puppets along with the history of the family that revived the art of puppetry in Ortigia. We bought little replicas of two puppets, Orlando and Angelica, as gifts for our grandson and granddaughter. Our grandson loves knights in shining armor and our granddaughter was a pirate princess for Halloween, so these gifts should be perfect.


    Museum Leonardo da Vinci and Archimedes:
    Another small museum we enjoyed in Ortigia was devoted to the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci and Archimedes. Here, Leonardo's drawings were transformed into actual machines and devices. Some of them we could actually operate, but others, which were really intricate, we weren't allowed to touch but could only study from different angles. The hands on stuff was interesting and there was a section for kids that looked like fun. Steve and I actually built a replica of Leonardo's "instant" bridge with the Lincoln Log type materials provided. The puzzles and displays related to Archimedes were also interesting. A very unique individual, Archimedes was born in Siracusa. It was said that he would become so involved in his theories that he would often forget to eat and sleep. Ultimately, he was slain by a Roman soldier because he had no idea that there was a war raging outside his study. All this was very intriguing stuff and we spent awhile here.


    Just Wandering the Streets:
    Often, we would follow the little streets beyond the main thoroughfares, on our way here or there. These little alleyways were often colorful, lined with potted greenery, bits of statuary, and clever flower arrangements artfully displayed around doorways. The little shop windows were endlessly intriguing and of course all the hanging laundry strung out above added lots more color. On the side of the island opposite the harbor, the wind blew hard and waves crashed on the bits of rocky beach here and there. On the harbor side, locals and tourists alike strolled the lungomare as vessels of all sizes and shapes bobbed on moorings.


    Opera From Our Balcony:
    Steve always brings his iPod and some little speakers with us on vacation and on this trip we often enjoyed opera in the evenings after dinner. One night just after sunset, the balcony doors were opened with the music playing softly in the background. Watching couples walk by below, Steve suddenly had an inspiration. As Pavarotti began his amazing rendition of Nessun Dorma, Steve turned the volume up. Down on the street, one couple stopped dead in their tracks, then looked up to see where the music was coming from. Another couple began a graceful dance on the pavement, while a woman passing by just stood still and swayed to the music. How magical beautiful music can be. It was magical that night for us.

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    Hi Candace,
    I am thoroughly enjoying your trip report! You are an excellent travel writer! I haven't been to Italy since the 1970's when my husband and I visited Rome and Florence. I would love to return because there are so many beautiful places we have not seen yet in Italy. I admit Sicily was not on my radar, but now it is after reading your report. It looks like you were gone about 3 weeks, right?
    Karen

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    The puppet museum in Ortigia had limited hours and again we weren't able to see a performance, but we did manage to visit the puppet exhibits one afternoon.>>

    I think that we were very lucky, Candace, because on our first afternoon we asked in the Tourist office about when and how we could buy tickets for the puppet theatre but they didn't really seem to know. However later on we went past the puppet theatre and found the door open and tickets on sale, so we bought them for the following night. All in italian [and Sicilian italian at that I think] but still reasonably easy to follow and very funny. Highly recommended to anyone who manages to crack the code about when the tickets go on sale.

    I love the story about the opera - what a wonderful idea.

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    Karen, it's nice to hear from you. After reading your report about your travels in Spain, I was inspired to finally get started on my own report.

    We spent two weeks in Sicily and then an additional ten days making our way up through the Amalfi Coast, Naples, and on to Rome. We loved Sicily. It is not as polished and poised as some of the more famous destinations in Italy but it sure feels authentic. It's well worth keeping on your radar, I think.

    Annhig, I'm glad to hear that you saw a puppet show and enjoyed it. I've read other reviews, too, that say these shows are so much fun. Sorry we missed out. But I'm glad you enjoyed the story about how we shared our opera music with passersby. It was a fun moment for us.

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    Taormina for One Night.

    When we decided to travel by train to Sorrento from Siracusa, Taormina seemed like the ideal place to stop and spend a night on the way. Taormina gets mixed reviews on this forum. Some people rave about its beauty while others deride it as super touristy and are totally turned off by the masses of visitors crowding its streets. If we hadn't been traveling right by, we might not have included it in our itinerary for that reason. Ultimately, however, we were glad we did spend a night there. The mobs of tourists were sometimes overwhelming, but I would have been sorry to miss seeing such a gorgeous place.

    Our train from Siracusa to Taormina left at 8:42 in the morning. Stefano kindly offered to pick us up at the rental and drive us to the train station. He arrived at the apartment right on time and refused any payment for the ride. He is a great guy and we highly recommend his apartment.

    The train ride to Taormina took about 2.5 hours. When we exited the station, we easily found a taxi to take us up the mountain to Taormina. Although the driver couldn't take us down the pedestrian street to our hotel he pointed us in the right direction and we easily made our way to it. Hotel Taodomus is a little boutique style place on the main thoroughfare and for us it was the perfect oasis in the chaos that was Taormina on the Sunday of a long holiday weekend. The holiday was Liberation Day, which would be celebrated on that Tuesday. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't pay much attention to Liberation Day when I was making our plans. I should have, because it seemed as if all of Italy was flocking to Taormina and to the Amalfi Coast for that holiday. Both were crammed full of holiday revelers.

    Our room at the Hotel Taodomus was not ready yet, but the young woman at the reception desk gave us a good recommendation for a nearby street food place for lunch, Da Cristina. A favorite with locals, it was located on a narrow side street and it was packed. Somehow I found a tiny unoccupied table and Steve battled the crowd to place our order. I had arancini with peas and ragu and he had pizza. No knives or forks came with the food, so I looked around to see how other people were eating rice balls with no utensils. Okay, start at the top (pointed end) and work down. Messy, but don't worry, everyone else is eating it the same way. Delicious.

    Our room was ready when we got back to the hotel and it was a lovely little room. It had a balcony overlooking a side street with a restaurant right below and a small church tower at the end. Peaceful and quiet, it seemed far from the hoards in the streets.

    When we ventured back out, the street in front of our hotel was jammed packed. It was almost impossible to see the beautiful town of Taormina through such crowds but we tried hard to do it as we made our way up to the amphitheater and its spectacular views to Mt. Etna and the sea. We had gotten our first view of Mt. Etna when we were driving from Piazza Armerina to Siracusa. Suddenly it had appeared on the horizon way off in front of us and we found it stunning, with whiffs of smoke trailing from it across the blue sky. On this day in Taormina, the smoke streaked in a long line from the crater to the coast and the sky was again a brilliant blue. That view alone was worth navigating the crowds.

    We walked back down from the amphitheater, and after awhile, meandered through the Giardini di Villa Communale which was pleasantly uncrowded. The garden paths wound past rose bushes and flowering shrubs and offered occasional views of the sea far below. We enjoyed this tree shaded bit of peace and quiet but soon were jostling our way back through the mob to our hotel.

    Because we were tired and happened to have some wine and crackers, we decided to have our own private aperitivo time on our pretty balcony. It was wonderful to relax, sip some wine, and look out toward the church tower at the end of the street while we contemplated dinner plans. Deciding that a restaurant dinner would be too much, we settled on a little bar at the end of the street for a spinach calzone and a simple ham panini. Then we headed off to bed. We needed to catch the train for Salerno at 9:19 the next morning, and then we would be on our way to the Amalfi Coast.


    Goodbye to Sicily.

    We loved Sicily. I know we missed seeing many of its lovely towns and special places but we were so happy with what we did see. We felt we experienced Sicily the best way we could, and we are thankful for that opportunity. I keep trying to put into words what makes Sicily different from the rest of Italy (which, of course, we love too) and I really can't. As I have already said, it is less polished and less poised than some of Italy's glamorous regions like Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast. It feels a touch exotic, maybe because of the endless stream of invaders and explorers that came and left their mark through the centuries. The people of Sicily, even though they talk fast and drive even faster, seem to be patient people and more inclined to take their time with strangers. Whatever it is about Sicily that makes it special, we loved it, and recommend it to anyone who would like to experience a different part of Italy.

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    What a fantastic report, Candace, I will keep it to show hubby when the time comes for me to start convincing him Sicily should be on our radar :)
    I have only visited north Italy, and we loved it. Our first venture last year, our (probably) last with the kids, so it was a special trip. It did whet my appetite for more, so have occasionally been stalking this forum, LOL.

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    The south is very different than the north. They have even made films about it! I like both but they are very different places, if you like Sicily you will also like Puglia and Basilicata.

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    The south is very different than the north>>

    that applies to lots of places, bilbo. The UK, US, Germany, France, Spain, even NZ and Australia!

    what is difficult to define is perhaps why it's different - it's not just the topography but also, as you say, the atmosphere. And the food - some of the best I have ever had.

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    I find the people more childlike (by which I mean no disrepect, I actually enjoy the happiness and the lack of focus on the bottom line), the reduction in a meat focus and move to more vegetarian is a delight, while the wines, especially Puglian are undersung to a great extent. Even the move away from Basil, though minor is actually a pleasure when eating with the locals.

    The Chiantis and SuperTuscans are all very well in the their place but that place is no longer in my cellar, they are slowly being replaced by Aglianico di V and Negromaro,

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    Candace,

    Thanks again for your wonderful trip report. So glad you enjoyed Sicily! For me the biggest impression was the Sicilian people. I was amazed that in general they were even more welcoming and friendly that mainland Italians, and that's saying something!

    Your opera moment on Ortigia was special and reminded me of my own musical moment. I was walking down one of the narrow streets and someone was whistling an entire complicated song so beautifully. It was echoing off the building walls. I looked around and up to see a man on his balcony. I smiled, waved and gave him a thumbs up when he finished. He smiled and waved right back. Nice little memory!

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    Thanks, everyone, for your imput. Adelaidean, I hope you do have the opportunity to visit Sicily someday. My husband wasn't really enthusiastic at first about traveling to Sicily but now he is definitely happy we went there. Bilboburgler, Puglia and Basilicata will certainly be part of our future travel plans. I did some research into both areas when I was planning this trip and they both seemed interesting and quite beautiful in a different sort of way. And Annhig, good point about how northern and southern regions are so very different in so many parts of the world. I'm sure there are plenty of scientific studies which try to figure out the reason why.

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    Atrani on the Amalfi Coast.

    The train ride from Taormina to Salerno was long, over 6 hours, but we like train travel in Europe and this trip had the added interest of a ferry ride across the Straits of Messina. After the train pulled onto the ferry, we could leave the train car and go up onto the decks, where we watched our progress over the water. I thought the trip was an easy one, with the ferry ride and some glimpses of the sea as we made our way up the coast. Before we knew it, we were pulling into the Salerno station and Pina, a friend of the woman who owned the apartment we were renting in Atrani, was there waiting for us. A charming, attractive young woman, she shepherded us to her car and off we went for what should have been a 40 minute drive to Atrani and the apartment.

    Pina was fun and full of information about what we were seeing on our way, and we were enjoying the drive. But then things began to go wrong. It was not her fault, but that long holiday weekend we had already dealt with in Taormina was now impacting the traffic on the Amalfi Coast. Two hours later, we were still kilometers away from Atrani in stop and go traffic, and Pina was in the midst of a crisis. Her 7 year old daughter, who was at dance class, would soon be waiting for her mother to pick her up. Pina, stalled as she was on the roadway with us in tow, would never be able to get there on time. Phone in hand, she finally found someone who would pick up her daughter and take her home. Then, as we inched along, she phoned another friend who agreed to open a space in front of his house on the roadway, allowing her to park there, a kilometer away from Atrani. Once parked, we could walk on the road to the village, dragging our suitcases and wearing our backpacks, which is what we did. Traffic was basically stopped dead, so being in the road was not as scary as it could have been, and we scampered between cars following the lovely Pina who was deftly dodging the vehicles in her way. Finally, we reached the steps of Atrani and left the road to run up 85 steps. (We counted them later.) Pina had my suitcase, which she had insisted on carrying, and she hauled it up those stairs like it was empty. Steve and I were having a little more trouble but tried not to slow down too much. As we rounded each corner and more steps loomed in front of us, slowing down didn't seem like an option. Finally, a narrow flight of 20 some steps with a door at the top came into view. Beyond the door was our new home for the next 4 nights. All was well when Pina opened the door and we walked over to the big floor to ceiling windows and looked down on Atrani below and the sea beyond. Gorgeous.

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    Dayle, I agree 100 percent. The Sicilian people are a really big part of the reason Sicily is such a wonderful place to visit. And I can imagine your whistler provided a special moment for you to remember.

    Karen, the train, when it gets to the ferry, is split into two sections, then loaded onto the tracks that run along the bottom section of the ferry. After the ferry docks, the two pieces of the train are unloaded, then coupled back together and off it goes. Pretty neat!

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    The Amalfi Coast/ Atrani Continued.

    So we began our 4 night stay on the Amalfi Coast. The first order of business was to find a place to buy groceries. It was past 6:00 and we needed to stock up. We said goodbye to Pina who assured us that there were shops in town where we could find basic supplies. We soon found it was two hundred and five steps from the apartment down to Atrani's little piazza and the small shops she spoke of. Two hundred and five steps down meant two hundred and five steps up, of course, but we had no choice. In the first tiny store we entered we couldn't find much to cook for dinner except hotdogs. Beer, wine, and milk was available but no bread or produce. Thankfully, there was another slightly larger shop further down the street where the owner was putting together some chicken, pork, and sausage skewers with his own special marinade. He held out a glass jar of the marinade for us to sniff. Smelled wonderful. So hotdogs were off the menu for dinner that night. However, we needed bread and the only bread left in this shop was hamburger buns, complete with red, white, and blue plastic bags. Turned out we loved these buns which were slightly sweet and made great toast in the morning. So our first meal in Atrani wasn't half bad after all. And trudging up and down 205 steps sure helped our appetite.

    I had done a lot of research prior to our trip, trying to find an apartment in Amalfi or Atrani that could be accessed without too many stairs. This apartment had seemed like a good choice as it was only 50 plus steps up from the piazza in front of Atrani's main church. What I hadn't realized was that the churchyard was halfway up the hill from the main part of town. The beach, the restaurants and shops were all the way down at the bottom, as was the pedestrian path that led from Atrani to Amalfi. But we got used to the steps and ultimately appreciated the exercise. Also, we enjoyed staying in Atrani, Amalfi's little neighbor, with its more laid back vibe. The walk to Amalfi, with its bustling shops, and all the bus and ferry connections, was easy. But we were always happy to leave the hub bub behind and head home to Atrani.

    We ended up walking from Atrani to Amalfi everyday, either along the coastal road or through the pedestrian tunnel, in order to catch the ferry or the bus, or to do some shopping. Amalfi on the first day was mobbed with holiday visitors, which based on the traffic the day before, we had some indication might be the case. We did a little shopping, had pizza for lunch in the main piazza, and then happily escaped back to the relative peace of Atrani for the rest of the afternoon.

    Tomorrow, beautiful Capri!

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