Sicily and the Aeolian Islands

Jun 8th, 2005, 02:03 PM
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Sicily and the Aeolian Islands

This was an elderhostel tour as opposed to my usual method of travel in Europe--home exchanges combined with independent travel using the home exchange house as a base.

My photos will eventually be put up online as one of the elderhostelers has volunteered to do that. When they are up (and it may take awhile), I will be back to put up a link to the photos. I have to say that the scenery on this trip was just spectacular and I took more photos than I have ever taken on a trip times 2. I had to stop at one point and have a photo shop put my two film cards on a CD so I could start over. Unfortunately, I had to delete some photos I took before I did that when I ran out of room. Sicily and the Aeolian Islands are not places many Americans go on vacation unless they have relatives there or are living in Europe. Put in a few golf courses and Sicily could easily become a prime destination for those looking for a resort type vacation. In this observation I exclude the city of Palermo which, from what I saw, is dirty and not at all scenic. The rest of what I saw, however, was drop dead gorgeous. It was blue sea, brightly colored flowers, white or pastel colors on the homes. Choosing where to shoot was difficult, so you shot everywhere.

Information about the sailboat, The Flying Dutchman, can be found online at

Friday, May 20th

I left Dulles Airport on time for my flight to Milan with a connection to Catania, Sicily. Sicily has two airports: Catania on the East side and the capital of Palermo. I flew into Catania and left from Palermo. The flights were on Alitalia which has those centralized movie screens making it difficult for short people to see. Since I generally read on flights and/or nap, it did not bother me, but it might be something you would want to consider if seeing the films is important to you.

Saturday, May 21st

While waiting for the connecting flight from Milan to Catania, I began to meet members of my elderhostel group. There were 18 in the group about 2/3rds of whom were on the same flight from Milan to Catania. After arrival in Catania, we were escorted to our ship in the Catania harbor and assigned to our bunks. There were two bunks in a cabin and I was very lucky to get my own cabin. That resulted when the woman who was supposed to room with me announced she wanted her own cabin. The strange thing is that she ended up being the nicest person on the trip and we would have been roomies just fine. It was her first trip to Europe and I think she was just nervous. I took the smallest cabin and left her with the larger one.

Now the boat was The Flying Dutchman, a Dutch schooner with a crew of 4 (captain, his wife, Anika (age 23, a terrific sailor!) and a young man who was our cook. This was not to be confused with a luxury boat. The food was not gourmet but I have no complaints about it either. Our cabins were spartan and teeny. This was not a cruise ship; it was a sailboat; there was no dressing for dinner. But, we all knew the score from the information provided ahead of time and largely chose the trip because we wanted to be on a sailboat. The main problem for me on the ship is that I enjoy reading when there are long sails. It was often hard to get away into a quiet corner because people were busy chatting. Some whiled away the hours at sea playing bridge or dominos. I read 3 books, 6 New Yorkers and assorted other magazines left around by others on the boat. One of my books went home with another participant, which was fine with me.

On the first day we had free time until dinner when we were given some information about the boat and ate the first of our many meals on board. We then all crashed sound asleep very quickly.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Jun 8th, 2005, 02:06 PM
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Sunday, May 22nd

We sailed to Siracusa after some free time in the morning.

We had a walking tour of the town and the Greek theater. The theater is spectacular and the best preserved in Sicily. My biggest regret of the trip was that we could not see a performance of a play there as the one day we could have, we got in too late to go. The performances are in Italian, not Greek, but I presume that plot summaries are available in other languages if you do not speak Italian.

We were going to spend the night in Siracusa, but the captain changed his mind do to weather predictions about up coming rough seas, so we departed for Riposto. Riposto is the harbor south of Taormina where most boats for Taormina dock. It is my understanding that the only alternative in Taormina is to dock in the harbor and use dinghies to get to short (time consuming and not much fun).. At Riposto, unlike other moorings, we were able to dock alongside so we could just hop on and off the boat. At other ports we either used a narrow gangway or dinghies (2 ports). We quickly got adept at using whatever was needed to get on shore.

Those who wanted to could help raise the sails. It was not required. There were two masts and the largest of the sails was hydrolic. I have searched for a website to link with this report (I know there is one) to answer all the questions about the size of the boat, etc., but have not yet found it. When I do, I will come back and add the link.

Monday, May 23rd

The morning was free in Riposto and and an afternoon excursion was planned to Naxos to see some ruins and a small museum. This was improvised as we really were supposed to still be in Siracusa according to the schedule. Schedules have to be frequently negotiated on a sailboat.

Instead of remaining with the group, I took off on my own to take the circumvensa railroad around Mount Etna. This involved taking a bus from Giarre/Riposto to where you pick up the train and then spending a little over 4 hours on the train circling the mountain (plenty of photo ops). There is a place where you get off and wait about a half hour for the next train. This is a very small slow train--fine for sightseeing, but also used by locals as the school bus back and forth to school, for shopping, etc. You arrive back in Catania, but, as I discovered, not at the train station where the train leaves for Giarre/Riposto (figures). I asked a few people and finally figured out how to get the bus to the central station. As in all of Italy, bus tickets are purchased at any tabacconist, kiosk, etc. Arriving in Catania I at first went to the queue to buy tickets and then saw the automatic ticket machine (bigletteria). I went there and charged my 2.25 euro ticket “home”.

On board the train I met a delightful young man who was studying English. His English was so letter perfect that I thought he was British--complete with an upperclass accent! We had a nice chat and he ended up driving me back to the port in Riposto. I was “home” about an hour before the group returned from Naxos.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Jun 8th, 2005, 02:08 PM
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Tuesday, May 24th

Today we went to Taormina. We had a walking tour of the town before lunch. For lunch some of us took a cab to Castelmollo on the top of the hill. After an “interesting” cab ride, we found a restaurant and had spaghetti there. The setting overlooking Taormina (spectacular enough from Taormina’s level down below) could not be beat. After lunch, some hiked down, but I looked at my watch and figured that, if I did that, I would keep too many people waiting, and opted to take a taxi. We ended up waiting for the hikers. I spent some of the time shopping and bought a small painting that could fit in my suitcase and a figurine of a woman lawyer for my office (I am an attorney).

Then it was back to the ship to relax. I do have to report that on this trip I discovered Sicilian granita. It is what we Americans often refer to as lemon ice, but in Sicily it is definitely much better and there are oh so many flavors that don’t exist here. After being tipped off by my English student young man on the train, I tried the granita at the restaurant in the Riposto harbor. I had pistachio granita. It was to die for.

Wednesday, May 25th

Today we sailed through the straits of Messina to Scilla in Calabria. We had to use dinghies to get ashore but landed right smack in the middle of a Corpus Christi religious procession. It was the first of two such processions we were to see. An even larger one awaited us on the island of Lipari in the Aeolian Islands (more on that later). A walk around the town and up to the castle (unfortunately closed for the evening) ended, of course, with a gelato.

Thursday, May 26th

Today we sailed for our first Aeolian Island, Stromboli. The chief attraction in Stromboli is the volcano. It is best seen at night when you can see the red flares. Some hiked up to the top, but, hey, this was an elderhostel. The boat moseyed on over to the best viewing point and watched in comfort rather than climbing up. I bought a t-shirt which says (in Italian) “On Stromboli even the cats are on vacation.” There is a nice drawing of a sleeping cat in a window well.

Friday May 27th

We headed for the island of Panera. Many of the jet set have summer homes there. We took a hike to a prehistoric site. Not everyone did the hike. I made it to the top of the hill but did not walk into the site. I was able to take plenty of good photos from that vantage point and, mindful of an ankle I broke last year that was reinjured two weeks before the trip, I did not walk down into the site. Enough was enough and I did not want to take unnecessary chances with turning it over on the uneven ground. I did have the ankle in a brace for much of the trip and occasionally used a stick on uneven ground as a safety measure.

Saturday May 28th

If it is Sunday it must be Salina. Salina was the quietest of the Aeolian Islands we visited (we did not go to Filicudi or Alcudi). There was a bar and a ceramics shop in the harbor but not much else. During the day, we had a tour of the island which included a caper farm and a winery. I bought some capers which I ended up giving to the boat when I thought about the damage that could be done if they plastic bag they were in decided to open in my luggage. I also bought a bottle of grappa at the winery which was eventually consumed on the boat. Given the weight and trouble, I no longer bring wine or liquor back from Europe.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Jun 8th, 2005, 02:09 PM
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Sunday May 29th

We went first to Volcano where a hike to the top of the volcano was offered. At this point we were all fairly chilled out and only 3 tried the hike. Two completed it. Some swam off the boat. The rest of us took the dinghy to shore and explored the town on foot. Eventually we all met up at the inevitable bar in the harbor for limoncello and/or gelatti. Unfortunately some of the group found out how much those fancy ice cream concoctions cost when you sit down at a table in a major tourist destination.

The boat then moved on to Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian Island, where we anchored for two nights.

The evening was free for ambling and shopping or whatever. A group of the men went to dinner in a restaurant. The rest of us remained on board. My understanding was that a number of the men more or less drank their dinner. I heard about it afterwards. A highlight of the day was the Corpus Christi relgious procession in Lipari. Unfortuantely, it was in the evening when it passed by and and I missed some great photo ops. I thought the locals took the procession rather casually. One of the musicians in the band immediately picked up her cell phone and began talking as soon as the music stopped. She talked as she continued walking in the procession. Some of the children needed adults to remind them to keep their minds on what it was they were supposed to be doing. Kids are the same everywhere!

Monday May 30th

The morning was free for ambling, shopping or relaxing by the port. I used my time to finally put my film cards on a CD so I could freely shoot photos again. I did some shopping, buying a ceramic tile from a shop in the harbor that had the most intense colors of any ceramic shop I saw. I was sorry I had purchased things elsewhere. The tile is out at the framers being simply framed so I can hang it on the wall.

The afternoon was spent on a tour of the island by bus which finished with a walk up to the castle and the Aeolian Museum. The museum is full of pots and the guide spoke about the different ways the pots are dated, the styles, etc. If it had not been so hot in the museum I would have paid better attention. There were also masks from Greek plays that had been discovered and were displayed. Interestingly, there was no museum shop. Plenty of replicas of those masks were available all over Lipari in the shops.

After dinner, the guide, one other woman and I walked over to the beach and collected pumice stones. Italians use these to rub dead skin off feet. We brought ours back to the boat and left them for anyone who wanted them. They are volcanic in origin and actually float if you throw them in water! We tried it!

Tuesday May 31st

We spent the day sailing to Cefalu, just east of Palermo on the northern coast. Cefalu is a charming town, but the boat had to dock a good distance away from the downtown so we got in a walk after dinner to earn our gelato. I had limoncello gelato which, alas, turned out to taste suspiciously like lemon custard. The cathedrale is very interesting inside with a huge mosaic of Christ over the altar.

Wednesday June 1st

In the morning we double confirmed our flights and then set sail for Palermo. Arriving in Palermo, we had a few hours and I finally succeeded in seeing a Sicilian puppet show where Orlando and Rinaldo slugged it out and the Saracens were left in a heap on the floor. We got a chance to try to pick up the puppets afterwards and I can tell you that they were extremely heavy. I also saw the cathedral in Palermo. My one regret is that there was no time to go to Montreale, but I have learned that you never get to see everything on these trips.

Thursday, June 2nd

We were awakened at 4:00am to tumble onto the bus for the ride to the Palermo airport and our connecting flights home. I had a window seat on a blissfully uncrowded transatlantic flight. As we flew away from Milan, I could almost touch Mont Blanc out the window. When we reached Canada, there were great views of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia! You do not get that often!

Our wonderful trip to Sicily was over and I had a wonderful tan to cause much jealousy in the office!
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Jun 9th, 2005, 06:23 AM
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lovely trip report FauzSteMarie. It remided me of the time that we lived in Sicily. It is my favorite desitnation.
PJI is offline  
Jun 9th, 2005, 07:26 PM
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Excellent report. I've never been to this area, but it sounds delightful. I look forward to your photos. Thanks for taking the time to write such a comprehensive report.
kopp is offline  
Jun 9th, 2005, 09:47 PM
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Thanks for the detailed report, it sounds like you had a wonderful time. I've been researching Sicily for next year so I've copied your report. Yes it is rare here for someone to tell about the islands. I'm glad you did.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 04:26 AM
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Great report - I am in the early stages of planning a trip so this was very helpful. I look forward to your pictures.

SRS is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 08:50 AM
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Marie, I enjoed this report! Are you going to send it to Bob for EH reports? Will I get it with his next e-mail?
FainaAgain is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 10:13 AM
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Thanks so much for your report. We're going to Sicily in the fall and it is great to hear, once again, how beautiful it is!
mamc is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 03:38 PM
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Faina, in answer to your question about Bob, I do not even know who Bob is.

In any event, the trip report will eventually be posted on the elderhostel site and a couple of others as well.

Today I spent 3 1/2 hours printing photos in the local photo shop. I only disposed of the first 283 (I certainly did not print them all). I have another CD to look out for prints. I ordered a huge poster of that boat with all the sails furled. When they had all the sails up, they took us out in the dingy to snap photos. I got some wonderful shots. They may use one or more of them on The Flying Dutchman site because my camera had more pixels than theirs did. They did ask and I did not mind. I take photos for pleasure not for profit.

And Faina I enjoyed your Switzerland reports. You have a sense of humor--very important when you travel whether you go solo or with a group. Each type of travel has advantages and disadvantages.

There were only 18 of us on The Flying Dutchman in a very small area--which did mean that people needed to be very considerate of one another's space (a disadvantage). However, you did not have to worry about where you were going and where you would sleep every day. The hassles were all taken care of.

I really want to return to Sicily one day. What a place! If only I could get a home exchange!
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 03:53 PM
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Bob is a frequent Elder Hosteler who maintains the EH reports website, and sends new reports out in e-mails. I can give you his e-mail if you send me yours to [email protected]
FainaAgain is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2005, 05:21 PM
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If you want to see a selection of my photos from the Sicily trip, here is the link:
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2005, 05:35 PM
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What a great trip. I hope this report is being read by all those people who think Elderhostel is about a bunch of old foagies on walkers sitting around doing nothing. You go, girl.
Patrick is offline  
Aug 24th, 2005, 03:29 AM
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Thanks for the interesting report - I've not seen one from a yacht before.

But "Put in a few golf courses and Sicily could easily become a prime destination for those looking for a resort type vacation" ?? What a horrible idea !!

I recommend going back & spending more time in Palermo which is one of the most fascinating places I've ever been. On my last trip to Sicily we spent a week there, loved it & would go back. And we didn't even make it to Monreale !

Intrigued by "I walked over to the beach and collected pumice stones. Italians use these to rub dead skin off feet." Not just Italians. What do Americans use to rub dead skin off feet ?
caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Aug 24th, 2005, 12:19 PM
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I didn't bring any pumice stones home. I simply left them on the boat for anyone who wanted them. I simply let dead skin on my feet flake off of its own accord.

Elderhostel has trips for people at all activity levels. The only complaint I have is that often people will sign up without reading the adviseries about the degree activity required by the particular program. People sometimes end up unable to do the program and unhappiness can result. I had some problems in Sicily myself because I have had terrible trouble with my left ankle recently. I was broken about a year and a half ago and I turned it over two weeks before the trip. I put it in a support as a precaution and used a collapsible walking stick more to prevent problems than because I could not walk. I did not want medical problems in Sicily. There was one offered walk (the one to the volcano) that I did not do and one I did on one of the islands but stopped short of the end point. You are always given the option to do that. Nothing is absolutely required.

While one person on the trip had knee problems and could not do some of the activities, he was a sweet person and people made accomodations.

When I went to Russia, however, there were a few people who should not have chosen the trip because it was too strenuous for them. A couple of them, sadly, ended returning home early. I should note that none of this impaired my enjoyment of the Russia trip. The people who should not have enrolled made problems for themselves--not everyone else.

And I just got back from an elderhostel in Maine that involved sea kayaking and hiking. Elderhostel has something for everyone.

The problems with mobility impaired travelers occur on programs sponsored with other agencies as well. If you are going on an active trip, take an honest look at yourself before enrolling. One I will never do is the hike that goes down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and up the other side, but, yes, elderhostel offers that too.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Apr 16th, 2007, 10:50 AM
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Insofar as the remark about golf courses is concerned, I was being a bit facetious. Many people are poor in Sicily, however, and better marketing of the island might bring in welcome tourist dollars and enable some Sicilians to stay put instead of migrating to other areas of Italy where they end up working in factories.

There would be nothing wrong with putting in some resorts. Properly marketed, they should do very well. People could relax, swim, play golf and visit some of the worlds most spectacular Greek ruins and churches.

I took the trip I did because it was off the beaten path. While I missed somethings the conventional land tours to Sicily do, I will just have to return some day to see those.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Apr 16th, 2007, 11:30 AM
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Lovers of La Bella Sicilia are really not to0 anxious for many resorts. Best for people to visit who want to come and already appreciate all Sicily has to off - too much to do and see to waste time staying at a resort. It's also why many oppose the Messina strait bridge. Let Venice/Florence/Rome be Italy's TrafalgarTourTriplets. shhhhhhhh
TravMimi is offline  
Apr 18th, 2007, 03:04 AM
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HI Can anyone advise where I can get VW spare parts in catania.
madar is offline  
Apr 18th, 2007, 06:16 AM
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Google 'volswagen catania'
caroline_edinburgh is offline  

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