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Savoring Sicily - A Trip Report

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Apr 24th, 2014, 07:43 PM
  #1
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Savoring Sicily - A Trip Report

It may be an over-used word, but WOW (!) is now I how I describe my recent visit to Sicily.

Preface:

During trips to Italy over the last 6 years my mom and I never ventured off mainland Italy, I take that back, I was in Capri for about 8 hours in 2009. On previous trips to Italy and upon each of our returns we began hearing more and more about Sicily. Maybe it was only because we were now becoming acutely aware of this fascinating island, but it seemed to us, there wasn’t a travel or food-focused magazine we subscribed to that did not dedicate some space to articles about Sicily at one time or another.

My mom was absolutely astounded by Sicily, she says she really didn’t know what to expect and was just “blown-away” by everything and loved it all. I had a fairly good idea we were going to enjoy our time in Sicily based on the articles and Italy-centric blogs I read and follow, but I never expected to love it as much as I do.

When I saw a price discount offered on the Rick Steves Tour website for his Sicily tour departure dates in February, this intrigued me and I mentioned it to my mom, who is my intrepid travel partner. I know, February may not be the best time of year to visit Sicily, but, the tour departing on Feb. 28th (well, it was practically March!), had a big discount and then we could add our Rick Steves tour alum discount on top of that, and we had over $1000 each in savings. How could we say, “No”? So we didn’t, and booked the tour.

I know people say the best way to see Sicily is to rent a car and I understand where they are coming from, but I know myself well enough to know that if I rented a car and had to deal with driving in a new environment, finding parking and making sure we got to where we wanted to go, I would not have an enjoyable vacation. To reduce my stress level, we had “Uncle Rick” do the driving. However, after being a bus passenger in Sicily I can say, that I could probably handle driving in Sicily, on the autostrada, however driving in the major cities, would be completely off-limits for me, heck, crossing the street in Palermo is challenging enough!

Typically when mom and I have traveled on other Rick Steves tours we like to arrive in the departure city a day or two prior to the tour beginning and this trip was no exception. We were very glad we spent two nights in Palermo before the start of the tour and one night in Palermo after the tour ended.

This tour is advertised as a ten day tour, but in reality it is eight days, because the first “day” with the group does not start until 4pm and the last “day” ends at breakfast, which we have come to find, really means the tour ends the night before with a farewell dinner.

The weather was hit and miss in late February/early March. We had some days of intermittent rain with the sun peeking out. Some days were gloriously sunny. Some days the temps dipped low (remember now, we’re going on 20+ years in South Carolina, so our idea of chilly temperatures is relative to where we live) and we needed to wear layers, but we came prepared and we took the varying weather in stride. One benefit we found to traveling at this time of year was the lack of crowds. In some places that was great (Palermo), in others like Cefalu, there was little to do on a rainy, chilly Sunday (of all days!) in early March, but more on that later.

Our flights from Savannah, Georgia to Palermo were smooth with no glitches. We flew Delta from Savannah to Atlanta to Rome and AlItalia from Rome to Palermo. It’s a long travel day and the 2-ish hour layover in Rome did nothing to help our tired bodies. We poured ourselves into the AlItalia plane seats, had a glass of blood orange juice and one hour later woke up in Palermo!

Stay tuned for more on our arrival in Palermo and a terrific tour guide we hired to show us the culture and flavor of Palermo
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Apr 24th, 2014, 08:15 PM
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kja
 
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"heck, crossing the street in Palermo is challenging enough!" -- you are already bringing back memories! Looking forward to hearing more.
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Apr 24th, 2014, 10:29 PM
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Ah, another Sicily convert. Looking forward to more.
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Apr 25th, 2014, 06:24 AM
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Thanks for taking the time to read and follow along! ;-)
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Apr 25th, 2014, 06:41 AM
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Uh oh, I fear my travel wish list is about to get longer...

Can't wait to read about your adventures!
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Apr 25th, 2014, 06:43 AM
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I love your trip reports - I'll be following along!

A few years back we vacationed in Sicily and visited the town where my husband was born. We drove from Palermo to Agrigento and used a GPS which was helpful until we got into the city where the signal was lost. It was a great experience! We ended our stay with several nights at San Vito Lo Capo - a beautiful beach town just south of Palermo. Would love to go back!
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Apr 25th, 2014, 09:09 AM
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jmct714...definitely get your pen out and add Sicily to your wish list! Knowing you from your trip reports, I think you would LOVE it! ;-)

bab706...thanks for the compliment. I'm jumping ahead of myself by saying this, but as soon as I came home from this trip, I was trying to figure out how soon I could get back to Sicily!
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Apr 25th, 2014, 09:45 AM
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We are thinking we may go on trip number 3 next year. My husband has extended family in Salaparuta. We didn't spend nearly enough time there in 2013.
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Apr 25th, 2014, 09:49 AM
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I will read this with interest.
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Apr 25th, 2014, 06:57 PM
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LCI,
A year ago right now I was on my own solo adventure in Sicily! I can't wait to read more about your experience. Love Sicily!
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Apr 25th, 2014, 07:36 PM
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Settling in for a great read to come. My DH and I had Sicily on our list and convinced two friends to come with us. I know Sicily was out of their comfort zone but now they can't wait to go back. We still get misty when we think of Sicily. Loved every second of it.
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Apr 26th, 2014, 12:55 PM
  #12
 
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LCI - Looking forward to this adventure with you and your Mom! I'm in my next to last night of a 20 day trip to Italy (in Varenna on Lake Como) and already planning the next trip back! Sicily has been on my radar screen, so your report is very timely.

From one of your earlier reports, you responded to my Q on Gabs purses - grazie mille! I visited Flacco in Rome earlier in the trip, and now am the happy owner of my first Gabs purse! I'm hooked, it will be a favorite stop on future visits to Rome. Janet
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Apr 26th, 2014, 01:19 PM
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We loved Sicily and ate verrrry well there. Glad you liked it too. Looking forward to reading more.

For others, as LCI has noted, it is quite easy to see Sicily independently, so if you're not a group-tour type, don't shy away from visiting this fascinating island.
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Apr 26th, 2014, 02:38 PM
  #14
 
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Looking forward to this as with all your reports. The first thing I too picked out was your "heck even crossing the street is dangerous" So true. The folks there are absolutely lawless when it comes to driving. They consider red lights advisory and most of them hate to take any kind of advice. That we survived a drive through Palermo in order to drop off our rental car is still a mystery--and a miracle--as far as I'm concerned.

Excited to hear about your latest adventures.
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Apr 26th, 2014, 06:04 PM
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Along for the ride....Sicily is on the list of places I hope to get to!
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Apr 26th, 2014, 06:33 PM
  #16
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Thank you for all the kind comments. I was really on the fence about writing a trip report, but along with hopefully giving some helpful tips, I find it always nice to look back and re-read the reports.
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Apr 26th, 2014, 07:26 PM
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Oh, LCI, please do keep up with this report. I like following you, and I would love to go to Sicily.
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Apr 26th, 2014, 08:05 PM
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We arrived in Palermo at about 11:30am and were very happy to see the smiling face of Don Saro holding a card with my name on it. I found Don via Trip Advisor when I was looking for a guided walking tour of Palermo that would focus on the markets. His company is called Personal Guide Sicily and I think he must be updating his website, because when I looked at it to include a link, the site has a new look and only one page was available for viewing. For reference, here is his website, but please note, it may not be working properly. http://www.personalguidesicily.com/

When I browsed his website in January I noticed he not only offered tours but also airport transfers. Yes, we could have taken a bus from the airport into Palermo and then walked to our hotel, but arranging a car or taxi upon our arrival after a trans-Atlantic flight is our norm. We find the cost is worth the convenience for us. Don was a great first Sicilian encounter. He whisked us from the Palermo airport to our hotel in the center of the city with much care and a lot of commentary, which we enjoyed, but probably would have liked even more had we not been in a travel-induced haze. Good thing we were going to spend the whole next day with him!

We arrived at the Hotel Ambasciatori Palermo on Via Roma, just a few blocks from the main train station, it really was a very good and central location, and we could easily walk to all the sites we wanted to see from there. The staff was friendly and the room was clean and larger than we had expected and for €55 per night, the price was definitely right! Breakfast was included in the room rate and Wi-Fi was free and the signal was strong. Breakfast was served on the top floor and there is a lovely roof top terrace with a nice view of Palermo and the surroundings. Here is the hotel website: http://www.ambasciatorihotelpalermo.com/web/index.php

When the front desk clerk said our room was ready, we just about hugged him. We took the old-timey elevator to the 5th floor and made our way to the room and just about collapsed on the beds for a nice little nap.

By 7pm we were rested and ready for our first Sicilian aperitivo. During my pre-trip research I ran across an enoteca that appeared to be not too far from our hotel and thanks to Google maps I had directions in hand and we set off for Cana Enoteca located at Via Allorro, 105. What a charming place.

Stepping through the door, we walked into a very warm and welcoming room. Only one other table was occupied, so we settled into a corner table and the owner/server could not have been nicer. Between our limited Italian and his limited English we managed to order a wonderfully delicious Grillo white wine and a mixed meat and cheese plate that was more than satisfying. In fact, we enjoyed the wine so much, we each had a second glass. The cost for this little pre-dinner “meal” was €28 . Although we did not have a full meal here, the other table was enjoying what looked and smelled like a delectable couscous main dish. We had wanted to return here on our last night after the tour ended and before our early morning flight, but it was closed for a private party, just another reason for us to return to Palermo! Here is the enoteca’s website: http://canaenoteca.it/it/home/

Prior to arriving in Palermo I had made a reservation for our first night dinner at a place called Ferro di Cavallo at Via Venezia, 20. At least I thought I had made a reservation on the trattoria’s website, but never getting back a confirmation, we still went hoping there would be a table. When we approached the front door I began to have my doubts, all the outside tables were full and the inside looked to be at full capacity too. Lucky for us, there was one table open at the back of the restaurant.

Mom and I LOVED this place! Thanks to a blog article by Judy Witts Francini (the Divina Cucina, http://www.divinacucina-blog.com/ ) I found this truly Sicilian trattoria. We were greeted with a friendly smile and shown to our table. A paper table cloth was set atop the table which had the menu printed on it. All very straight forward and very Sicilian. The noise level was high, but I’m pretty sure we were the only ones not speaking Italian.

Our Italian language skills must be getting better or the staff was just being kind, but we managed to order in Italian and have the correct food brought to our table! We started with a dish of caponata and a dish of eggplant involtini, yes, both mom and I are big fans of eggplant. Both were delicious, but we agreed the involtini had the slight lead over the caponata. Mom had the pasta alla sarde with fennel (pasta with sardines and fennel), it may not sound appealing, but it definitely took the prize between our two pasta dishes, it was wonderful. I had the pasta with swordfish and eggplant (see, I told you!), which was tasty, but not “knock my socks off/out of this world” delicious. We had a bottle of water and a liter of the house white wine, which was drinkable and for €4 who could complain. We ended the meal with one cannolo, 2 espresso and 2 limoncello. The total cost was €35, a really great deal.

A funny thing happened during this meal, which made our arrival in Sicily even more special. Seated next to us was a lone diner, definitely a regular, by the conversations between him and the staff. He smiled and spoke to us, but we could really only understand maybe every 4th or 5th word. There was a lot of smiling and head nodding going on between us and him. Then he said goodbye and got up to leave/pay his bill and then a few minutes later, he came back and said our liter of wine was on him. What a nice gesture and a great way for us to say “Hello” to Palermo. We hadn’t been on the ground for even 24 hours yet and were loving Sicily!
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Apr 26th, 2014, 08:06 PM
  #19
 
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Agree with the above sentiments, please keep it up.

I have only been to Italy once, it is a long haul from Oz. In the last half dozen years SE Asia has consumed me, and it's closer too. However, I do enjoy revisiting places via your entertaining and easy to read reports.

Gotta say, you and Mom are good on the tooth !
I love to cook, and have been inspired by your food descriptions, there's been some pasta going on here lately ....

Thanks for making the effort to keep me entertained and both of us fed.
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Apr 26th, 2014, 08:07 PM
  #20
 
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Wow that was quick
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