Sicily, September-October 2012


Jan 21st, 2013, 01:43 PM
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Sicily, September-October 2012

I'm sorry this trip report is so late (we got back three months ago). We've had too much else going on. Our thanks to all the Fodorite's who helped us plan this trip.

As usual for my trip reports, it's probably over-long. It appears in several installments below - I'll put them up as I do the final editing, italicising, and so on.

Table of Contents

An experiment: in this report, I list, in this "table of contents", the names of places mentioned in the text. If you see one of interest, you can search on it to find it in the text. In most browsers, will pop up a search box (the "f" is for Find). The Table of Contents doesn't contain every town and restaurant mentioned, but only the ones I say something significant about. The Italian names are used (for example, "Siracusa", and not "Syracuse"), and the lists are alphabetized.

Let me know if this Table of Contents is helpful.

Cities and Towns

Ragusa Ibla
Siracusa (Ortigia section)


Castelvetrano: Baffo's Castle
Erice: La Prima Dea
Modica: A putia ro vinu
Monreale: Dietro L'Angolo
Noto: Café Arté
Palermo: Casa del Brodo
Palermo: Ferro di Cavallo
Palermo: Ristorante À Vucciria
Palermo: Trattoria Il Maestro del Brodo
Palermo: Trattoria Torremuzza
Ragusa Ibla: A Rusticana
Ragusa Ibla: Antares
Ragusa Ibla: Il Barocco
Ragusa Ibla: Ristorante La Bettola
San Leone: Al Porticciolo
Siracusa: Dietro le Quinte
Siracusa: La Rambla
Siracusa: Le Vin de l'Assassin
Siracusa: Osteria Mariano
Siracusa: Taberna Sveva
Taormina: Osteria Nero D'Avola
Taormina: Ristorante Malvasia
Taormina: Trattoria Don Ciccio
Taormina: Le Quattro Fontane
Trapani: Osteria La Bettolaccia
Trapani: Tentazioni di Gusto


Ai Cartari (Palermo)
Aretusa Vacanze (Siracusa)
Fattoria Mosè (Agrigento)
L'Orto sul Tetto (Ragusa Ibla)
Residence la Gancia (Trapani)
Taodomus hotel (Taormina)


Erice: Grammatico Maria (pastry shop)
Erice: Toti Taormina (ceramics and terracotta)
Modica: Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto (chocolate shop)


This report covers a trip to Sicily taken between September 25 and October 13, 2012. The travelers are Larry and Margie, almost 70 (on the average). We both post under the screen name "justretired", although Larry actually retired in 2003. Margie usually does most of the trip planning, and Larry wrote this report.

After a past trip report, a Fodorite suggested that readers are interested in knowing the prices of meals, to help decide whether to visit a restaurant, for instance. Thus, I've included them where available. During this trip, the Euro was worth between $1.35 - $1.40. Sorry, I haven't taken the time to dig up the hotel prices. This report is late enough already.

Separate from this report, I've been writing my memoirs over the past year. I'm writing in the form of a blog, in the sense that I add one entry each week, and it's on the web. Although I don't write much in the blog about travel (I save that for Fodor's), a few entries I've posted since my return seemed relevant to this report, so you'll find a link to them in what follows. Let me assure Fodor's that my blog is entirely non-commercial - it contains mainly my memoirs, and I'm writing it primarily for my family.

We brought along and used a Garmin Nüvi 1370T GPS unit, and I'll report on some of our experiences with it in this thread. But I've also posted another Fodor's thread with more detail on our experience with our latest Garmin unit. It can be found at:

An expanded version, with some other thoughts on use of a GPS in general, can be found on my blog, in an entry called "Recalculating!". It can be found at:

Margie and I generally travel to Europe once a year, usually in the Fall, mostly alternating between France and Italy (I speak French, Italian, and Spanish).

Caution: I recorded what we did each evening in my Samsung Galaxy S III smart phone (turning the screen sideways and using a Bluetooth keyboard to type). While that preserves a lot of memories, it also means the Trip Report can get wordy. And it has gotten wordy indeed. Written out in Word in a 10-point font, this report is 17 pages long. Feel free to skim or skip, and perhaps the Table of Contents (above) can help you find things quickly.

Trip journal

Tuesday, 9/25/12: We flew to Italy on Alitalia. When we arrived at Logan airport in Boston, we found that they had changed our seats. We talked to them about having called Alitalia three times to get our seat assignments and check on them. The woman (at the Alitalia desk) said that the airport seating system was different from the one used by Alitalia's phone representatives, and she had no record whatsoever of having our earlier seat assignment. She seemed to think this was a valid reason for Alitalia having essentially lied to us about having a seat assignment that would really mean something.

We thus ended up way in the back of the plane, in row forty-something. But the seats weren't bad, although they were in the center (4 across) and not the side as we had previously been assigned. But we had an empty seat between us, which gave us a lot of elbow room. Margie took the aisle, and I took the middle. I sat next to a young woman from Bulgaria, who was returning to Sofia after having worked the summer on Martha's Vineyard. She was quite personable, and eager to chat.

The seats also had a lot of legroom, very much more than typical on previous flights we have taken on, for example, British Air. We arrived on time, and had an easy connection in Rome, although with a rail shuttle and a lot of walking. But our baggage was checked through.

Wednesday, 9/26/12: Our rental car in Catania, arranged through Kemwel, was with Hertz. We had no trouble picking it up, once we located the office (not well marked).

The drive to Taormina, about an hour and a quarter, was uneventful. Following excellent instructions from the hotel, we arrived at the designated multi-story parking garage, and drove (very carefully) up the rather narrow spiral entrance ramp (we had to go to the fourth floor to find parking). We then rolled our baggage to the elevator, and took it to the seventh floor. And then we rolled our suitcases a bit more, uphill, to the hotel Taodomus.

Once in the hotel, we found that we had to carry our luggage (with help from the staff) up one flight of stairs. From there, we could take an elevator three more flights up to our floor. In other words, the hotel had an elevator that didn't go all the way down to the bottom floor!

After checking in to the Hotel, which had arranged for us to go into our rooms early, we went off to a handy nearby restaurant, Le Quattro Fontane, for a simple pasta lunch. I just had an octopus antipasto, which was quite sufficient. The meal for two, with a glass of wine each, came to 48€.

We then explored the town by walking up and down the main drag, the Corso Umberto I. The town is always crowded with tourists. We returned to the hotel and took a one hour nap, setting an alarm.

We had dinner at the Ristorante Malvasia. Margie had fish. The meal for two, with wine, came to 41€. We chatted with another tourist couple at an adjacent table, a common occurrence. After the end of the meal, the chef, a woman, came out of the kitchen and started demonstrating how to roll maccheroni, rolling out the dough right on our tablecloth (with a wire in the center to make the hole).

You can see a couple of pictures of the above episode on my blog entry entitled "The Italians". It also has some other stories, and thoughts about Italy and the Italians. You can find it at .

Thursday, 9/27/12: The Taodamus hotel serves a fantastic breakfast buffet, with pretty much everything you might want, including eggs cooked to order. It's served on a rooftop balcony with a fantastic view.

We then walked across town, not too far, to visit the amphitheater (originally Greek, taken over by the Romans). This was a mob scene, to the point that it was sometimes hard to walk around. Most of the people seemed to be in tour groups. The theater was very interesting, though, a "must-see". Afterwards, we toured the nearby gardens.

Lunch was at the Trattoria Don Ciccio, around the corner from our hotel. It was a very nice restaurant, and the staff was particularly pleasant and helpful. I had a salad of tomatoes and onions (pomodoro e cipolla, a seafood risotto (risotto mare, and a beer. Margie had an insalata caprese, a maccheroni Norma (a typical Sicilian dish), and a diet coke. With our usual bottle of water, it came to 52€.

Why do I say "our usual bottle of water"? Well, it was HOT, only a bit under 30 degrees C (88 degrees F). This became a constant for our stay, unusual for the end of September according to many Italians we spoke to (but at least one said this is par for the course, even at the end of September).

For our last afternoon, we just walked across the town and back again, stopping at various shops. I needed to get some euros, and the bank BNL Parabas works with the Bank of America back home, so I can use their ATM machines without a fee or currency conversion charge. However, the only BNL bank in Taormina was at the far side of the town from our hotel, so it was a long walk. On the other hand, we were able to take a look at the cable car down to the beach, although we didn't ride it. The town had plenty of other banks, so I could have gotten cash from them, typically with a 5 euro fee and sometimes a few percent conversion charge.

We had dinner at the Osteria Nero D'Avola, where we had nice fish dishes. But the restaurant was short-staffed (a waitress had called in sick), and towards the end of the meal, the service slowed to a crawl. Other tables were having even more difficulty - a man at an adjacent table, at the end of his party's meal, was trying to cancel a grilled lamb dish that had never been delivered, when it suddenly was brought over by another waiter.

Friday, 9/28/12: We wheeled our luggage back down to the garage, and paid for our parking by feeding cash into an automated teller (27&euro. Using our GPS, augmented by instructions we'd printed from Via Michelin before our departure, we drove to Siracusa.

We drove in to the street the hotel is accessed from, as we thought we had been instructed, just to drop off the luggage (it's normally mostly a pedestrian street). But we couldn't find the hotel, and were forced to exit the area by other traffic. We tried to make a short loop around, but that didn't work. When I questioned a policeman, he told me I had to circle all around Ortigia (it's not that big).

We parked in the Largo Aretusa, and phoned the hotel Aretusa Vacanze for instructions. Antonio came out from the hotel, accompanied us with the car to a spot a bit closer, and helped us bring our luggage to the hotel for check-in. He then gave us directions to find the parking garage arranged for us (at no extra charge). Although he volunteered to accompany me to the garage, he was alone at the front desk, and I figured I could handle it on my own. Antonio, who's pretty computer-savvy, pulled up Google Street-View on his computer, and showed me on the screen exactly how to recognize the entrance to the garage.

By then it was around 2:30 pm, getting late for lunch in Italy. We went right next door to the Osteria Mariano, which was ending their lunch service. But when we mentioned we were at the hotel, they said OK, and a waiter stayed on a bit while we had a quick lunch.

We chatted a long time with the desk staff at the hotel - Antonio and his boss Ettore. Ettore is a member of the family that owns the hotel, and Antonio, who has worked for them for years, is sort of an "adopted" family member). We then walked around, and saw a wedding in the Palazzo Arcivescovile in the Piazza Duomo.

Dinner was at the Taberna Sveva, recommended by the hotel: swordfish (good, but a tad overcooked) and a very interesting fish in a "potato crust", which looked sort of like a potato pancake. With a salad, one dessert, a 6€ carafe of wine, and a bottle of water, it came to 47€.

Saturday, 9/29/12: We walked to a local market, not very large, and mostly food. The fish laid out on ice were very varied, and rather interesting. We took cab to the museum, which has an extensive collection of local antiquities. We then walked back, trying to find la navetta (the free shuttle) all the way, without success.

We stopped on the way for lunch at La Rambla, a couple of simple pasta dishes for 36€. We then continued our walk back to the hotel, and visited a local museum, the Galleria Regionale di Palazzo Belomo, mostly containing a lot of religious art.

Dinner was at Dietro le Quinte, near the theater (the name means "behind the sets"). We had their well-known fish antipasto, although they modified the dishes due to Margie's shelfish allergy. Since they didn't seem to want to serve me different items, I think I missed out on some of the usual shellfish (although they did add a shrimp dish for me alone, carefully kept separate).

We then happened across a striking art show at another gallery, the Galleria Civica d'Arte Contemporanea Montevergini. The show, by the artist Andrea Chisesi, was called Fuochi e Vortici Siciliani (Sicilian Fires and Vortices). We were shown around by a representative of the gallery, and introduced to the artist, who was there with his family and, apparently, his dog.

Sunday, 9/30/12: We got up early, so we could get to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis before the highest heat of the day. We splurged on a taxicab ride, partly to get there faster, and partly because our legs and feet were sore from all the walking of the previous day (when we had walked the identical trip in the opposite direction). We toured the amphitheater and L'Orecchio di Dionisio (the "Ear of Dionysius", a tall, narrow cave with interesting acoustics). We took a taxi back to the Piazza Duomo.

Arriving at the Piazza Duomo, I found that the only cash I had left was a 50€ note, and the cab driver was not able to change it. I looked around for a nearby ATM, but couldn't find one. But the driver waited patiently as I went into a few stores, and found someone who was willing to break the bill. He didn't seem to be particularly concerned that I might run off without paying.

Heading back to the hotel, we stopped to visit to a famous Carravagio painting, the Burial of St. Lucy, in the Church of Santa Lucìa alla Badìa. Back in our room, Margie took a nap, and I wrote up the day's activities.

We then took a short walk to look at some of the restaurants that had been recommended by the hotel staff. We settled on none of them, but rather made a 7:30 reservation at Le Vin de l'Assassin, a French/Sicilian restaurant.

We then walked around along the sea, admired some luxury yachts, and the "Stad Amsterdam", a square-rigger that can be rented out for conferences and special events.

At dinner, I had a hot camembert with a salad (a huge piece of cheese), and a duck confit (probably more fat than I usually have in a week). Margie had eggrolls with goat cheese, and duck with honey.

A waitress described Margie's duck dish while we were asking a few questions about the menu. Her English was not too strong, and since I was speaking to her in Italian, she was mostly answering in Italian, although with some English and gestures thrown in for Margie's benefit. She described the part of the duck used in the dish as the breast. While saying this, she gestured with her hands as Italians do, putting one hand over each of her breasts for emphasis. Although I found this rather amusing, I tried not to smile.

But remembering the event afterward, I decided that she and I had been thinking differently, in a way that indicates how speaking in different languages can sometimes affect our thinking. In fact, the word she had used in Italian was "petto", meaning "chest", and she had merely intended to indicate her chest in general. But as an English speaker, the word that sprung to my mind, given the context, was the word used for that part of a duck (or chicken or any other poultry) in a culinary sense, which is in fact "breast".

As an Italian speaker, I think that she didn't have any such association. "Petto" is the word for the breast of a chicken or duck, while "seno" is the word for a human breast, so she wouldn't connect the two at all.

With two glasses of wine, 56€. Margie had initially been attracted to the crème brulée, but we were much too full for dessert.
justretired is offline  
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Jan 21st, 2013, 01:45 PM
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Naturally, I started off with a typo in the second line. That's "Fodorites" - there's no reason for a plural to have an apostrophe. Oops.
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Jan 21st, 2013, 02:35 PM
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SInce you mentioned your blog, I got curious and read some of it.

I think you would understand Italy and Italian communication better if you understood that the Italian language does not have future tense that is used with as commonly and as loosely as it is used in English. What you complain about as disorganized is actually rather precise in Italian, if you understand the whole outlook of the language. An English-speaker says something like "We'll get together. See you later." An Italian would only speak of the future that way if he or she was making a business appointment with you. When something is "closed for maintenence" in Italian, it is a description, or explanation, of a present state of affairs. It doesn't project a future. Italians have a much livelier sense that the future is unknowable. It very much affects the organization of their society -- and not always for the better -- but you have to be a certainly personality type to protest it is inferior. Sorry! Don't assume the clock-driven notion of a future is the more intelligent way. It creates its own problems -- even violent reactions -- when the unpredictable happens.

Likewise, Italians do not think it is such a big deal that they are still a culture of conversation. "Why would you believe a sign when you could ask somebody?" What is wrong with relying on other people to keep things running as needed, instead of pretending something like public transportation works in America because we can show you a nicely printed piece of paper. Amtrak is actually pretty useless for getting people around in America. Thousands of commuters are in agony every day trying to make public transporation work for them around New York, and Venice gets 20 million newcomers every year who don't speak Italian, and somehow nobody misses their flight, even when there is regatta.

Please don't think I am romanticizing the disconnect between Italian ways of organizing things. It costs Italy a great deal to persist in this way, but do note that the last person who threw the discipline of the great Roman empire in their faces was Mussolini, and it came to a bad end for everybody.

There is more than one way to organize human society, and Italians are intensely human oriented and human focused and humane. They can be mean, sure. But never as mean as some of those better organized countries with clocks ticking and lots of signs telling you just what the future will be.
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Jan 21st, 2013, 02:45 PM
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As an Italian speaker, I think that she didn't have any such association. "Petto" is the word for the breast of a chicken or duck, while "seno" is the word for a human breast, so she wouldn't connect the two at all.>>

thank you for the explanation, Larry; i can see how that might lead to a degree of confusion with non-native italian speakers, as I aspire to be.

really i want to say what a terrific start to a trip report this is - and I for one really appreciate the food detail, from what you are to what it cost. as for having a search capacity in a TR - as my granny might have said 'well I never!"
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Jan 21st, 2013, 03:01 PM
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larry - thanks for the link to your blog, which I for one found hilarious. my experience of Italy is that italians are equally frustrated by type of he events you catalogue, but can't see a way of changing things, as with the political system etc.

i think they view such things very much as Acts of God or immutable forces of nature, which simply have to be accepted as the way things are.
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Jan 21st, 2013, 05:59 PM
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Hi, Goldenautumn – thanks for your comments. For readers seeing just this comment: Goldenautumn is referring to my blog entry "The Italians", at .

Please take anything I say as respectfully addressing some of your interesting observations. I'm saying this because there's something about Internet exchanges that can make them sound angry when they're not intended to be, and then they can devolve into shouting matches. Of course, that would never happen on Fodor's, would it?

Before going further, let me repeat something else that's in the same blog entry: "Margie and I love traveling in Italy. The people are warm and friendly, there are interesting things to see, the food is good, and the language is musical." The only reason I study Italian is to visit Italy, and we typically travel there every other year. Italian culture has great strengths.

But I'm hardly the first person to think that Italians tend to be a bit disorganized, on the average. I wasn't the person who created that joke about Heaven and Hell that opens my blog entry – it's a classic.

It's certainly true that one can need a pretty deep understanding of a culture to understand some sentences. I'm told that it's virtually impossible for an outsider to ever really understand Japanese like a native. Japanese grammar is even simpler than English grammar (like most Asian languages, it doesn't even distinguish singular and plural), which creates ambiguity. And culturally, the Japanese, I'm told, try to say as little as possible explicitly, leaving as much as possible to be filled in by the shared cultural knowledge of the listener. A listener who doesn't share that cultural knowledge can be completely at sea. That's true to a lesser degree in all foreign languages.

But I'm rather intrigued by what I take as your suggestion that an Italian reader wouldn't be likely to misinterpret the funivia Trapani-Erice web page, as I did. The exact words were:

Fuori Servizio - Chiusa per manutenzione Lun, 08 Ott 2012

Translated literally, "Out of service – closed for maintenance Mon, 8 Oct 2012". Do you really think that most Italians would NOT take that to mean it would be closed the entire day? I don't know that many native Italians, but I know one, my Italian teacher Sabrina, born in Verona. I just printed the page from the site ( ), and it says the same thing (except with the date Martedi, 22 Genaio, 2013 – it's already Tuesday in Italy). I'll ask her how she interprets it.

Regarding the lack of a sign outside the solid grill with the hours of the Peck Delicatessen, you said, 'Italians do not think it is such a big deal that they are still a culture of conversation. "Why would you believe a sign when you could ask somebody?"' Well, I don't want to make too big a deal out of it. Of course, it's not the end of the world, and in Italy, I'm happy to be have an excuse to try out my Italian with a native. But we asked four or five people in the area, actually. Nobody knew. We were just about to leave, but I made one more stab at asking someone, in the bank, and finally got an answer. The Peck nearly lost me as a customer – not too many people would have been that persistent.

You said, "Venice gets 20 million newcomers every year who don't speak Italian, and somehow nobody misses their flight, even when there is regatta." I doubt it – I'll bet MANY flights have been missed, but of course I can't know for sure any more than you can.

But when I first mentioned that Vogalonga incident (closure of the grand canal with little notification to tourists), one of the replies on Fodor's said, "We experienced the very situation you were able to avoid due to the vogalonga!". She went on to describe running for a train dragging her luggage all the way. Someone else replied to the thread saying, "in Florence we met people who had been dumped off the train in the middle of nowhere when a strike started at 1400h". As for Margie and me, while waiting in Venice for our train to depart, we saw group after group of tourists arrive who clearly had no idea about the event, and were forced to walk to their hotels dragging their luggage. This included groups of elderly people who weren't having an easy time of it. You can see that thread at:

I understand that different cultures have different strengths and weaknesses – in a way that's the point of the Heaven/Hell joke. And there are wonderful features of Italian culture that we would do well to imitate in the US. Maybe the disorganization disturbs me because I'm an engineer and computer programmer, and tend to like a certain amount of order and control.

And yet I still love Italy.
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Jan 21st, 2013, 06:11 PM
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Hi, annhig. I'm not sure I explained the incident all that well. I had seen the dish Margie was thinking of ordering on the menu, and the description included petto di pollo, among other things. I don't usually mentally translate into English - that's a common enough dish that I knew what it meant without having to make the translation explicitly.

And yet clearly at some level, my brain was thinking "breast of chicken", because that was my association when the waitress, trying to describe the dish to Margie in English, indicated the part of the chicken in question by putting her hands on her chest.

As for Italians accepting things the way they are, you, goldenautumn, and perhaps even I might agree that Americans tend to try to over-control things. And then sometimes we get very upset when we find we can't.
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Jan 21st, 2013, 07:33 PM
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Bookmarking to read later. Looks very worthwhile and a lot of work to put together.
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Jan 22nd, 2013, 01:36 AM
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Hi, annhig. I'm not sure I explained the incident all that well. >>

on the contrary, Larry, you explained it very well, and I learnt something too!
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Jan 22nd, 2013, 03:17 AM
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Hi justretired,

Glad you took my intervention in such good spirits. I want to correct an error of my own that I made in my mini-rant, but I'll do that later. First let me address your point.

First of all, as a computer engineer and programmer, surely you know that every form of "order" looks like "disorder" from the perspective of someone operating with but one concept of what order is. From your point of view, when you see a sign in Italy that says "Closed for Maintenence Monday" you think: "It won't be open today" In Italy, I have learned to think: "It will be open when it is ready to opened." Because that is the reality. If while they are cleaning they find nothing wrong, they will reopen. If they find something wrong, it will be "Closed for Fixing."

In many other countries, when something goes off-line, customers demand to know when they will be served. They want order! So they are given "order:" A number, a time. But when they are not served 'in order" because it is not possible to serve them because of the realities of the situation, now they are TWICE as angry. Why? Because I was given a number! I was given a time!" What you have is the illusion of order, not order itself. And what that illusion is exposed, you insist that the illusion be reinstated, and the reality must be covered up.

Please don't hang me on the small point of whether some people in Venice miss their flights. I think you drew the wrong conclusions about the Vogalonga, pouncing on it as more "proof" of an Italian "What-the-hell attitude" and disregard for order. But actually, the reality is not that.

If you go to New York City for the weekend of March 15, staying in the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Ave, planning to catch a cab Sunday afternoon to take you and your luggage to the airport for your flight back, shouldn't YOU be expected to know March 17 is St Patrick's Day and what that means for Fifth Ave If you and your wife only happen to learn when you pause to admire the funny green shamrocks being hung from lamposts and ask "What's this about?", are you really entitled to conclude that New Yorkers are inconsiderate jerks for not putting up signs that on Sunday there is a St Patrick's Day parade, and thus no cab will reach your hotel?

I would NEVER expect any food store in Italy to be open between 1pm and 3pm. If someone stopped me on the street in Milan at 2pm and asked me: "Is Peck's closed today?" I would say: "I don't know." I am not sure which days are Peck's closure days. It would never occur to me this person didn't know every food store in Italy pulls down its shutters between 1 and 3pm. Why would anybody ask me if a food store was closed just because its shutters were down between 1 and 3pm? That would be like somebody asking you at 6am in the morning: "Is Walmart's opening today?" What could say other than: "I guess so." Perhaps this person asking this unexpected question knows something you don't.

Everyone in Italy knows that offices, including a tourist office, will not be open at 1pm. Human beings need to eat lunch. It is even in guidebooks. That is an orderly way to live. Yet you showed up anyway at the tourist office at 1pm, and when it is not open, you derisively add this to your string of misimpressions and come to the conclusion it is the Italians who are manufacturing disorder.

In almost every instance, the correct information was available to you, even given to you, told to you. Everybody knew what was going on except you, and throughout, you were never ONCE inconvenienced in any way. Yet because you didn't see a sign where you expected one, or the sign didn't say what you expected it to say, or the door was locked as it always is in Italy when you thought it should be open at a time it is in America, you say: "What poor communication these Italians have! What undisciplined people they are! Look at what MIGHT have happened to me, and when I think about that, I'm as upset as if it had happened!"

Why are you not mad at Delta for hanging out a sign that says to you: "Fly with us! We're Delta!" Why are they not the incompetent, irresponsible people in your blog? Despite your needing to know the number of your seats before boarding or else you would get upset, the truth is that, once given your seats, you were comfortable on your Alitalia flight and had no complaints about it.

So in Italy you don't see the signs, the numbers, the announcements that make up your world of "order." I'd like to point out you give a pass to the lies, the illusions of order, the come-ons that are the every day reality of American advertising. Somehow, even though you enjoy learning about the tradition of the regatta, get to the airport in Venice without problems, ride the cable car without delay, get inside Peck's, have a nice flight home on Alitalia, Italy needs to be shown to the world as "incompetent". "Undisciplined." "Disorganized."

I actually don't think Italians are a "proud" people. I think they are tired of people trying to humiliate them when they in fact deliver more quality food, quality made goods, quality experiences in tourism, and quality hosting and customer service with a smile than you so easily find anywhere else in the world. I know you say you like Italians. You should! But I don't think what you are writing about them is true. I think you have a too limited view of what "order" is. A lot of what you complain about actually doesn't matter, and it is a higher order of intelligence to perceive that!

But I think you sense that, and it is why you keep coming back to Italy.

To correct my own mistake above, it was particularly inept of me to use American and Italian forms of goodbye as an example of how the Italian language almost always stays in the present tense. So scratch that, because it just came out backward. I'm sure your Italian teacher can do a better job than I can of explaining the mysteries of using future tenses in Italian. Ciao....
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Jan 22nd, 2013, 11:02 AM
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Goldenautumn, I'll let you have the last word here, and suggest that if you want to continue this conversation, you should start a different thread. Call it "Italian culture", or whatever you want, and you can put a link to it here. But we're getting off-topic having this discussion here. This is, after all, a trip report (to which I'm about to post the second part).

- Larry
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Jan 22nd, 2013, 11:15 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,104
Here's more of the Trip Report, leaving out only our last stop, Palermo.

Monday 10/2/12: We checked out of the Aretusa Vacanze, rolled our luggage to the garage, and retrieved our car. Following our GPS, we drove to Noto. Once there, we set up an address for the GPS in the historic area and drove a few minutes to refine our location. We found a spot in a parking lot, although it was fairly full. A sign indicated that we had to pay for parking until 1pm, and it was only about 12:45. But the sign gave absolutely no indication as to WHERE you were to pay.

A local I asked directed me to a nearby bar. But when I asked there, I was told not to bother paying - I wouldn't get a citation in only 15 minutes.

So we left our car there for free, and wandered off down the street to admire the assorted baroque buildings of Noto, many of them rather impressive. We picked a random restaurant for lunch, the Café Arté, where we shared a pizza, the first pizza we'd had since arriving in Italy. It was rather different than anything we'd had before - it had two crusts, top and bottom, with the ingredients in the middle. With two diet cokes, 11€52.

We then phoned our hotel in Ragusa Ibla, L'Orto sul Tetto, which means "The garden on the roof" (that's where you eat breakfast). They had asked us to give them an hour's notification of our arrival. The GPS took us by a route which Margie was not able to follow on the map, which wound through assorted country roads with kilometer after kilometer of drystone walls lining the highways. We did eventually enter Ragusa Ibla, but weren't easily able to connect where we were being taken by the GPS with the map given to us by the hotel.

We should have tried harder, because the GPS was lacking some information, apparently, about reasonable circulation in Ragusa Ibla, and it eventually led us to a street that our car simply couldn't get through. With the walls inches away, I had to back up to get out of the situation. We did then manage to locate the street of the hotel (the GPS had taken us to the right general area), but didn't know how to further proceed. We stopped right in the street (nobody was behind us at that moment), and phoned the hotel.

A man named Lorenzo came out to meet us, and directed me to drive forward to a parking place, but I was unable to get into it. I turned the car over to Lorenzo, who drove around a few blocks to allow other cars to pass by, while we waited in the parking place. That is apparently the trick in Ragusa Ibla - you drive around a short circuit in a circle, and you'll eventually find a spot. A hotel parking pass on the window allowed us to leave the car overnight.

After some unpacking, we walked down past the very impressive Duomo, sat down at a café, and each had a drink (7€ for both, with some complementary potato chips, peanuts, and olives, which we polished off).

A large group next to us was speaking French, and we started talking with them after I commented about something in French. They turned out to be Swiss, from Geneva. We moved over to their table, and chatted with them for a while, mostly in French, with some English mixed in. One of them had a Guide Routier, from which I copied some restaurant recommendations.

We returned briefly to the hotel to pick up some jackets and umbrellas (it was raining on and off), and then went down the street to find a restaurant for dinner. We used our previously prepared restaurant list, and the names we'd gotten from the Swiss group.

We ended up at one of the restaurants recommended by multiple sources, Il Barocco, where we had a great dinner. We started with an antipasto buffet, in which you select what you want, telling a server behind the antipasto bar. Because of Margie's shellfish allergy, we avoided the available shellfish dishes (octopus and shrimp), but we got a lot of vegetables, heavily concentrating on melanzane (eggplants) prepared various ways.

For the main course, Margie had a traditional Ravioli Ragusana, and I had a Ravioli di Cerna - a ravioli stuffed with grouper, with small shrimp on top. With a bottle of mineral water (2&euro and a half liter of red wine in a carafe (3€50), the meal came to 39€50.

As we were finishing, we got to talking with a couple from the Netherlands at an adjacent table, who were there with their six-month-old baby. As they left to get back to their parking garage (which closed at 9:30), they gave us the rest of their bottle of red wine, actually about half the bottle (it was better than ours).

All in all, it was a wonderful day, filled with the kind of international conversation that we really adore.

Tuesday, 10/2/12: Breakfast at the hotel consisted primarily of a couple of gigantic filled croissants, Marige's with vanilla, and mine with chocolate. They were huge, and really too much. I had a coffee ("Americano, lungo, con latte"), but they didn't have any decaf for Margie.

We then drove to Modica and parked basically at one end of the Corso Umberto I, the main drag of the tourist section. We walked up the street to the tourist office, and got a good map and some advice. We visited the impressive Chiesa di San Pietro, and then the Chiesa Rupestre di San Nicolò Inferiore, before they both closed for lunch from 1:00 to 4:00pm. The latter cost 2€ each, and amounted to a brief visit to a single very small room containing ancient frescos.

We next located a famous chocolate shop, the Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto, where we bought a substantial amount of chocolate, some for gifts, and some to eat ourselves. A film crew seemed to be filming a television special back in the kitchen, and they later moved their cameras into the sales area. Modica is famous for its chocolate.

As usual (they can't favor one restaurant over another), the tourist information office had not been willing to recommend a particular restaurant. But the sales woman in the Dolceria Bonaiuto wasn't shy about suggesting A putia ro vinu for lunch (the Siciliano name simply means "A bottle of wine"). There we each had a 15€ fixed course meal consisting of a typical Sicilian appetizer, 2 half pasta dishes, and 2 half meat dishes (beef and pork). The waiter seemed to think we would need to have one dish each, but in fact all the courses were huge, and we could have easily split one. We couldn't finish it all, but on the other hand, a young Italian couple next to use had the same set of fixed-menu dishes, and polished off pretty much everything.

After lunch, we walked up to the base of the stairs leading up to the Chiesa San Giorgio, with gardens on the various landings leading up to the church. We didn't climb them - we were rather exhausted and sore just from arriving at the base of the stairs, and the church itself was closed.

We strolled back down the Corso Umberto I to our car.

We drove back to Ragusa, determined to find the main entrance to the town this time, to pick up the map given to us by the B&B. Fat chance. We still ended up entering the town way up at the north-east corner. We had a hard time figuring out where we were using the GPS - I could zoom in and out on the map, but had a hard time scrolling it around on the screen to get an overview. However, I was much aided by my smart phone (Android) app called Sicily Offline. It uses the Smartphone's GPS function to place you on a map, and we were able to use it to figure out where we were, and drive home. We found a parking place right in front of the B&B.

I later used that same app to zoom in and out on the map, to figure out where we had gone wrong. It turned out to be an intersection only shortly after we had left Modica, where we had followed a sign toward Ragusa Ibla instead of just Ragusa. That had put us on an inevitable course towards entering the town from the north-east corner. Although it was not in fact a bad way to go, it didn't end up taking us to the starting point on the B&B's map.

Back home, we washed out some socks and underwear, checked our e-mail, made some phone calls, and hung around until dinner. We ate at the Ristorante La Bettola, not far from our apartment, where we had only an assortment of antipasti and a large salad (after the large lunch, we were less hungry than usual). With a carafe of wine and a bottle of water, it came to 28€.

Wednesday, 10/3/12: A lazy day, hanging around Ragusa, although we did a lot of up and down walking. We walked down the Corso XXV Aprile, and stopped in a small shop to buy some tiny baby shoes for our daughter's yet to be born baby, code named "Geloto" because she was conceived in a hotel room over a geloto shop in Rome. We then continued down to the end of the street, and walked around the garden.

We then strolled around some of the narrow streets to the south of the Corso, passing the restaurant Quattro Gatti, which the hotel had recommended to us. It had a sign on it saying that it will be closed for vacation until October 8.

We walked back up to the Corso, and had a drink in order to get off our feet. As Margie freqently found, the Caffè did not have Coca Light (diet Coke). We instead had a couple of rather nice local sodas, called Cola Baladin, described as an "artisinal cola".

We continued up to the church Santa Maria del Gesù, where I glanced down the long, steep Via Walter Porta, going way down to the Via Avvocato Giovanni Ottaviano below. A French couple were coming up, having parked below and walked into the city. The were running to get to the Piazza Duomo before the Duomo closed. I thought it was open until 1:00, but someone had told them 12:30, and it was 12:20. We directed them towards the church - I don't know if they made it.

Lunch was at the restaurant A Rusticana, where Margie had a large assortment of local cheeses, as well as a small salad. I had a seafood risotto. With a bottle of water and a carafe of wine, 31€.

We went back to our room for a little siesta, before heading out into the town in the opposite direction. We climbed behind the Duomo to the heights of Ragusa Ibla, with commanding views to the north and the south. We meandered through little streets, with lots of climbing and descending, to the Piazza Republica, which was rather smaller than I expected. We glanced up the long, long stairway up to upper Ragusa, but declined to walk it. We returned along the Via XI Febbraio.

We stopped for a geloto, a cone for me, and a granita for Margie.

In the evening, we walked out to explore for a new restaurant. While looking at a menu posted on a sign, we were encouraged by a representative on the street trying to gather clients, and decided to try the Antares, even though it wasn't listed in any of our books, nor in the files of information we had accumulated before the trip. Since it was a bit cool, we didn't want to sit on their outdoor tables, so the man led us across to the indoor part of the restaurant.

This proved to be quite extensive, in elaborate stone galleries that looked quite new, with a rather modern decor. The service was also very attentive, possibly because there was only one other group eating inside (I think they were German, although they spoke to the waiter in English). Margie had a swordfish dish that was not unlike the "Swordfish Messina" that she likes back home at "The Naked Fish". I wasn't all that hungry, and had just mussels in white wine sauce. With a side of grilled vegetables, a bottle of water and two glasses of very decent wine, 38€50. While Margie thought her dish was good, she didn't think the swordfish was as fresh as she usually gets back in Boston. But then, we get very good fish in Boston.

Thursday, 10/4/12: We checked out of L'Orto sul Tetto after breakfast, and set out for Agrigento. The instructions we had printed from Via Michelin were rather complex, and we never quite picked up the exact recommended route. This didn't seem to be a problem, because we could follow the GPS. But the route the GPS took us on seemed bizarre - we didn't manage to get on the highway we expected, and rather were taken along a series of smaller, winding roads. We found ourselves heading unexpectedly far south, towards the coast. Margie finally said, "Why am I looking straight ahead at the Mediterranean?"

I stopped and looked at the GPS settings to see if they were somehow causing a problem - perhaps it was set to "Avoid Highways", or some such thing. But everything seemed in order. We started ignoring the GPS, and following the signs for assorted villages on the way, eventually arriving at the industrial village of Gela (through which we knew we had to pass). We drove through the slow traffic in town and eventually out the other side, although we were starting to get hungry. We ended up at the Panini al Volo ("sandwiches to order"), at the Punto Ristoro S.A.S., a sort of deli on the side of the road, where we had a loaf of bread sliced into two sandwiches of prosciutto and cheese for 2€50 each, and a couple of ice creams at 2€ each. We ate at outdoor tables, next to our car.

Since we could now see signs to Licata and Agrigento, our route was finally obvious, and we just followed the signs, taking us along the SP115. The GPS, still turned on, tried to get us to turn off the SP115 and head south. Did it desire a seaside vacation? Then once it seemed to accept that we were staying on the SP115, it periodically chimed in with absurd comments like "Follow unpaved road for 38 Km". Why the GPS would consider the SP115, absolutely the major road of the area, to be "unpaved" was a complete mystery. But that probably explained why it had kept trying to take us off the highway - the GPS thought it was unpaved, and it was trying to find a better road.

Since we no longer trusted the GPS, we followed the instructions we had printed from Via Michelin, and exited at Favara to a roundabout. At that point, it was completely unclear which way to proceed, so we pulled over and phoned Chiara Agnelli at our destination, the Fattoria Mosè. Once she figured out where we were, she told us to get back on the highway, continue for another 200m or so, and exit at a yellow sign for the Fattoria Mosè. And lo and behold, that turned out to be exactly what the GPS was telling us to do.

So when we followed the GPS, it was wrong, and when we ignored it, it was right.

Arriving at the Fattoria Mosè, we were greeted first by Barbara, who offered us drinks, and then Chiara Agnelli, with whom we chatted for about an hour. We were then shown to our rooms, to which we were able to drive our car to unload.

The room was actually an apartment, with a queen-size bed on the upper level, and a small living area. A spiral staircase led to the lower level, which had another living area, a kitchenette, the bathroom, and another bedroom with two single beds. We actually chose to stay in the lower bedroom, so we wouldn't have to negotiate the spiral staircase if we needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. It was also a room that could be completely closed, windows with wooden internal shutters, and a solid door, so that it could be completely darkened.

The grounds of this large Agrotourism farm are substantial, and it took a bit of walking around to understand the layout. On the way, we passed a pen containing goats, that bleated every time we passed by. There was another pen of similarly noisy chickens. Dinner is served at around 8:30, about an hour later than we usually eat, so we were pretty hungry. Margie had a snack bar, and I had a chocolate bar to tide us over until dinner.

We went up to the outdoor dining area at about 8:00, and found a group of other guests sitting around having some pre-dinner wine. This included Don and Ruth from Toronto, whom we had met when we had first arrived. There was another family with two children, and a Swiss couple arrived for dinner, with whom Margie, Ruth, and I spoke in a mixture of French and English. I always adore this sort of international conversation, and Margie and I later wondered why we haven't chosen this sort of B&B often in recent years.

The dinner (25€ each, including wine) was hearty and unpretentious: risotto, sausage, campanata, and a tomato salad. We hung around talking until around 10:30. I was glad we had brought along a good flashlight for the walk back to our apartment, although Chiara had one available had we not had one.

Friday, 10/5/12: We ate breakfast with Don and Ruth, and said goodbye to them (they were leaving that morning). Breakfast had a good assortment of foods available, with lots of kinds of cheese and jams, and salami and yogurt and other selections. The coffee was so dark and thick that I thought it was hot chocolate when I first poured it.

We then set out for the Valle di Templi (the Valley of Temples). It's rather odd that it's called a "valley", since it's the opposite - the temples are all lined up on a ridge. It's a fantastic site, with some Greek temples 25 centuries old. We parked at the west end (3&euro, and then took a cab (3€ each) to the east side, which is higher. This allowed us to walk the long site only one way, and downhill all the way, eventually returning to our car.

We'd been told earlier that sites are free to people over 65, with documentation. So I mentioned at the ticket office that we were "anziani" (seniors, although the word is obviously a cognate of the English word "ancient"). But when I showed our US passports, I was told that the discount only applies to members of the European Community. I forget the charge to get in - it was something over 20€ for both of us. But that included tickets to the nearby museum, which we intended to use later. We were given tickets with a printed barcode, and we were admitted to the two sides of the Valle, and later to the museum, by sliding these tickets under a scanner, which opened a turnstile.

After spending the morning at this marvelous site, we asked a souvenir store attendant to recommend a restaurant for lunch. She suggested that we drive down to nearby San Leone, where there are quite a few restaurants along the sea. There were indeed a few, although San Leone seemed rather dead - it was pretty much past season for beach resorts. We read a couple of menus, and had lunch at Al Porticciolo. Margie had a "four flavor" pizza and a beer, and I had a shellfish pizza (covered with mussels, shrimp, and other frutti di mare). It came to 28€.

After lunch, we walked across the street (the Lungomare Falcone Borsellino, to a small beach, with very few bathers. Margie took off her shoes, rolled up her pants, and waded in the Mediterranean.

We then drove up to the museum, and toured it, using the tickets we had purchased earlier. It's got a very extensive collection of locally-found artifacts of various sorts.

Our diesel fuel being down to about a quarter tank, and having a longish drive the next day, we stopped on the way back to fill up. Oddly, the slip doesn't tell how much diesel fuel we got, but the cost was 61€. As usual, I later got an e-mail message from CapitalOne, giving the dollar charge as $79.51, for an exchange rate of about $1.30 per euro.

On the way home, we then actually stopped at a McDonald's, had a couple of ice cream sundaes and diet cokes (an odd combination). We also bought some snacks to eat if we got hungry before dinner. I tried to use their Wi-Fi connection, but they put me through a registration process that involved giving a telephone number, so they could send a password via SMS. Why they use this process, I have no idea - perhaps to collect your phone number. But it means you can't use McDonald's Wi-Fi unless you also have an active Italian cellular phone.

And I don't. Using the OneSimCard system, my cellular number is in Estonia. McDonald's rejected it.

We drove back to the Fattoria Mosè, where we hung around until dinner (I had a swim in the pool, actually). Dinner was another international multilingual affair , the main dish swordfish, served with the usual assortment of grilled vegetables and other side dishes.

Saturday 10/6: We packed up, said goodbye to Chiara, and hit the road, stopping at McDonald's on the way out for a bottle of water and a diet coke, which Margie has usually been unable to find in Sicily. We decided to take the coastal road to Trapani rather than the highway, for the scenic possibilities, and to have a better lunch than we would get at a highway rest area. At lunch time, we detoured off the SS115 into Sciacca, but decided against it after hitting some pretty bad traffic, and got back on the SS115.

Further along, we happened upon the restaurant Baffo's Castle, in Castelvetrano - Margie spotted it, and I braked sharply and turned in. There we found a large parking area with a roof for shade, and we backed in, with the back of our hatchback against a wall, making it impossible to pull our luggage out the back (not that the parking lot seemed particularly risky). This situation is much more comfortable than leaving one's car, with luggage in the back (although it's hidden from sight), in a highway rest area. We made a lunch out of their antipasto buffet and a very large Minestrone soup.

The pricing of the antipasto was rather curious - they sort of note (rather informally) how much you eat, and charge you accordingly. For example, since we made a meal of it, we made rather a few trips, and were charged for three antipasti at 7€ each, instead of just two, one for me and one for Margie. But it wasn't that we made three trips to the table - we made more than that. Although the system was a bit odd (you don't quite know what the meal will cost until you get the bill), it was explained to us at the start. With a bottle of water and a beer for Margie (I never drink at all when I'm driving), 38€50.

We noted a tour bus in the parking lot when we arrived at the restaurant. This proved to be a large group of French tourists, who were being regaled by a group of musicians playing accordions, with a running commentary in French by the leader of the group. We thought we might have to put up with the loud music throughout the meal, but they shortly finished up, sold some CD's to the French tourists, and left.

We got back on the road, and drove to Trapani. As we had been warned by Chiara, the area around Marsala was an unattractive urban sprawl. As we had experienced in the past, the GPS plotted some absurd trajectory through the city to our destination, and we abandoned it. But I had, before leaving the US, installed an app on my Samsung Galaxy S III phone called "Sicily off-line". With it, I was able to pop up a decent map of Trapani. But more to the point, it's a "GPS enabled" map, so it showed our exact position. With knowledge of where we were, and the written instructions we had received from the hotel via e-mail, I plotted a course to our hotel, the Residence la Gancia.

The staff at the Residence la Gancia was particularly friendly and helpful. I spent some time exchanging linguistic tips with Claudia, who was often at the front desk. She helped me with my Italian, and I helped her improve her already good English.

The hotel is in an ancient monastery, and in fact la Gancia means "the monastery". But the old building was shored up with heavy steel beams when it was renovated, and they are visible in many locations, including in the rooms. Artwork on the walls shows the old building before renovation, and pieces of it can still be seen unchanged in various locations. It's a very interesting building.

Parking was on the street, using the usual European type of meter in which you feed in enough money to cover the time you intend to stay. The hotel told us what hours of the day had to be paid, and what hours were free. The rates were low enough that the total cost of the parking during our stay was quite reasonable, and we never had to drive very far down the street to find an open spot.

Dinner at Tentazioni di Gusto - Larry had, for the first time on this trip, the traditional seafood couscous, and Margie had a lamb chops. With an appetizer of roasted cheese and prosciutto, a side of roasted vegetables, water, and wine, 54€50.

Sunday, 10/7: There are limited things to do on a Sunday, and it occurred to us that we don't think ahead enough about where we will be on weekends vs. weekdays. But we phoned the Museo di Sale (the Salt Museum) a bit south of Trapani to verify that they were open, and headed off to there in the car. It's a small museum, but it sits on an operating salt production area. The tour (2€50 each) emphasizes the old ways of doing things, with pumps and grinding powered by a windmill. We both found it quite interesting.

After the tour, we asked the guide about restaurants in the area. There's a rather fancy restaurant alongside the museum, but instead we chose a small local restaurant recommended by the museum guide. We were able to find it by driving into the town of Paceco, and asking a local man filling up at a gas station (it's in the main square of Paceco, but that was not so easy to find). Once again the app "Sicily offline" was very helpful. We had a simple lunch, pasta and green salads, 30€.

I can never resist a linguistic note. When giving me the name of the town with the restaurant, the guide said "pa-SHAY-ko". I started writing it down in my little notebook the way that would be spelled in Italian, "Pasceco". He saw what I was writing, and wrote it for me correctly, "Paceco". But that in fact should be pronounced "pa-CHAY-co", with the CH as in CHurCH.

I later asked the night desk clerk at the hotel about this, and got the answer. "pa-CHAY-co" is indeed the proper Italian pronunciation, but "pa-SHAY-co" is the way it is pronounced in Siciliano (Sicilian).

Back in Trapani, we walked around some of the back streets. There's an old section of the town where there are alleyways hardly wider than a person, with high arches between the walls helping to hold them apart. We bought a large bottle of water and some other items in a grocery store on the way back. I paid for about 4€40 with a 50€ note, taking the occasion to break one of my sometimes difficult to crack fifties. The shopkeeper didn't seem to like the idea at first, but then plunked down a couple of 20€ notes with rather a great show, and then 0€60 in change. I pointed out that this was not enough, and he apologized, and threw in another 5€. This could have been a simple error, but I don't think so. He does this for a living, and I've seen this trick before. Had I been distracted and not noticed, he would have pocketed the extra five.

We did a little window shopping back in the center of town, and then, after the stores opened at 5:00pm, some real shopping for our upcoming granddaughter (Estimated Time of Arrival March, 2013).

For dinner, the hotel recommended the Osteria La Bettolaccia and they phoned and made us a reservation. Margie asked for 7:30, they offered 8:00, but then settled on 7:45. As we suspected, this really meant 8:00 - they just didn't care if we arrived 15 minutes early. We were the first to arrive, and the staff was finishing their dinner in the back room. But the reservation, made only two hours before, really was necessary. Throughout the dinner, walk-ins (and there were many) were being told that they could reserve a table at 10:00pm.

Margie had a Caprese salad, and I had a white shrimp with mayonnaise for appetizers. Margie then had veal with a pistacchio sauce, and I had a whole fish cooked in aluminum foil - both dishes were very good. With wine and water, 53€.

Linguistic flash - "pistacchio" in Italian is pronounced "pis-TAK-ee-oh" - CH (or CCH) in Italian is always, ALWAYS pronounced like a K. That's why "bruschetta" is pronounced "bru-SKET-tah", despite the way Americans mispronounce it. It's funny - we don't have a problem with "chianti" or "scherzo". Or if you followed the New England Patriots, with "Tedy Bruschi".

We strolled around some more after dinner, where the Sunday passagiata was in full swing, although with slightly fewer people than on Saturday evening. A couple of granite, and then to bed.

Monday 10/8: Got up for breakfast, with the intention of going up to Erice on the funivia (funicular). I checked the web page for the hours, where a banner at the top said, "Fuori Servizio - Chiusa per manutenzione Lun, 08 Ott 2012" (Out of service, closed for maintenance Mon 08 Oct 2012). I mentioned this at the desk, where the two hotel personnel insisted that it was closed only in the morning, and would open at 1:00pm. I suggested they telephone, but they were certain of their information. We returned to our room, where I in fact telephoned myself, and was told (by a real live human, not a recording) that they would indeed open at 1:00. I thought the information on the web site was very misleading, and might cause some people to not show up at all, thinking the lift to be closed all day.

We then walked west along the coast, cooled by a nice breeze. We limited our excursion because Margie had been developing some blisters on her feet, so we needed to limit our walking. Returning on internal streets, the breeze is shielded, and the walk was much warmer, so we went back up to the Lungomare. After a brief rest at the hotel, during which I wrote in this journal, we set out again.

We drove to the funicular station, where a couple of industrious men "helped" us to park (on a public street) for a small donation - a friendly way of begging. We bought round-trip tickets for the funivia, essentially a very long ski lift, with "cars" hanging from a cable. You can see a picture at . It seemed to me that each car could seat about six people, but in general riders were going with only one or two in each car, because very few people were making the trip.

When a car rides the cable into a station at either end, it is unclamped from the cable, and rides around a separate, slower circular path, automatically opening its doors so any occupants can get out. As it passes the centerline, the next load of passengers gets on to the slowly moving car, which then closes its doors. It then accelerates along a straight track to the same speed as the cable, and is clamped on. On the way up, the ride took 12 minutes. The view from the car is spectacular.

In a wonderful piece of Italian planning, the sort of minor silliness that is so typical of Italy, the funivia on Monday only starts running at 1pm, and when you arrive at the top, you find that at 1pm, the tourist information office has just closed for lunch. So we toured Erice without a proper tourist map. I made much use of my Sicily Offline app to find our way around the twisted streets of Erice, particularly since a blue dot always indicated, using the GPS, exactly where we were.

We walked past a few restaurants on the main street looking for lunch. I noted a man who was a limo driver getting into a touring car, said buon giorno, and asked if he had a restaurant recommendation. He sent us up to La Prima Dea ("The First Goddess"), just a little way up the street. There I had a nice stuffed squid dish, with two squid about 8 or 9 inches long, counting the tentacles. Margie also had a stuffed dish - veal, although the English menu called it "beef". With two sides of garlic-roasted potatoes, a bottle of water, and a couple of diet Cokes, 50€. Diet Coke! We've found it unavailable in most restaurants in Sicily, and it's Margie's favorite hot-weather drink.

In addition to the diet Coke, La Prima Dea had another difference from every restaurant we'd visited so far. When we tried to pay, we were told that they didn't accept credit cards! We'd gotten so used to restaurants accepting cards that we had not bothered to ask, nor had we noted that the restaurant didn't display the usual Visa/Mastercard logos on the door. Fortunately, Margie still had a 50€ bill, although that left us with very little remaining cash.

I did have enough money to buy dessert in the well-known Erice pastry shop "Grammatico Maria", where Margie and I each had a slice of very sweet tarts. After that, we made use of a "bancomat" at a branch of the Banco di Sicilia to get some cash. Unlike an earlier withdrawal from the BNL bank, I was happy to get the cash entirely in 20€ notes, instead of the sometimes difficult to use 50€ notes (recall the incident with a taxi, earlier, who was unable to change a 50).

We then walked around Erice, always going up and up, using the Sicily Offline app to keep track of where we were. At one point, I chatted with an ebullient man who seemed to be working at a restaurant, not anywhere we had eaten. He seemed ecstatic to see my Samsung Galaxy S III smart phone, which he immediately recognized. He told Margie she was wise to marry a man who possessed a Galaxy S III, and said it would take another two months of "slinging bread and onions" before he would be able to buy one. He also gave us a booklet on Erice, with a map (finally, we had a map, no thanks to the tourist office). When I looked more closely at the booklet later, I found it was in Italian and French.

We headed over to the east side of Erice to see the view and the castles. By then a cold wind was blowing, and fog was coming and going. The view was alternately clear, and then entirely obscured. The view from the high castle of a smaller castle a bit below came and went - now you see it, now you don't.

We walked back through the south-center of Erice so as not to descend too much, and came out on the main street right next to a ceramic shop that Margie had admired on the way in. It featured one-of-a-kind ceramics of Toti Taormina ( ). The shop was manned by the ceramicist's son. We bought three medium-sized bowls each with a playfully hand-glazed fish theme, which he carefully wrapped in bubble pack.

Our selection was partly driven by size - we wanted something that could go in Margie's carry-on, and not have to be packed in checked baggage. The bowls made it back in one piece, and were given as a wedding gift. The recipients seem to really love them.

Finally, back down on the funivia. The return trip took a bit longer - about 15 minutes. It was marked by a bit of a crosswind, which occasionally rocked the cab very slightly from side to side. I wondered if the crosswind had caused the operators to slow the cable slightly, accounting for the longer trip. I know that if the wind is severe, the funivia is closed, but I doubt that we were anywhere near that eventuality.

Back in Trapani, we fed a bit less than 5€ into the meter, to carry us over until our departure the following morning. In calculating the time you have paid up to, the meter automatically takes out the overnight hours from 8pm to 8am, when parking is free.

We then returned to the ristorante Tentazioni di Gusto, where we had eaten on our first night in Trapani. The waiter greeted us like old friends. That night, there was entertainment in the outdoor eating area, a man playing the guitar and occasionally singing, and another man, 88 years old, playing the mandolin. At one point, they played the theme from The Godfather. I caught the eye of the restaurant manager, nodded towards the musicians, and said, "Eh, Sicilia". He smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. Margie had beef with green pepper sauce, and I had the lamb chops she had liked the first time we ate there. With wine, water, and a side dish, 45€50.
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Jan 22nd, 2013, 01:05 PM
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i'm really enjoying being with you on this trip, Larry and Margie - and thanks for the detail about your meals [and the prices].

The linguistic tips are appreciated too!
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Jan 23rd, 2013, 04:12 PM
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Here's the final part of the report, on Palermo.

Tuesday 10/9: We ate breakfast, packed up, and said goodbye to Claudia, who told us the best way to get to the autovia. We then drove straight to the Falcone-Borselino airport a bit west of Palermo. Since the highway and a service road take you pretty directly into the airport, we had to backtrack a bit to fill the tank with diesel fuel (40&euro. We had driven a total of 838 Km (about 525 miles).

After returning the car (I always feel good when I return a rental car, and I haven't totaled it), we went out to the roadway to wait for a shuttle to the terminal, to get a cab into Palermo. But a taxi came by shortly, and we grabbed it, after I asked the price (fixed fare, 40€, which we had been told is standard). The highway into Palermo was uneventful, but once inside the city, the driving seemed to be a nightmare. The traffic was heavy, and the drivers aggressive. The cab was able to go down backwards on special lanes on otherwise one-way streets, passing signs with the "Do Not Enter" symbol (a white "minus sign" on a red circle), with the note, "eccetto veicoli autorizati" (except authorized vehicles). The trouble was, scooters and motorcycles kept darting into this lane in the other direction.

We made it to the Ai Cartari B&B, lugged our suitcases up a couple of flights of stairs, and checked in. We spent a good deal of time checking on the phone with Al Italia to see if we had seats assigned on our flights. These were Al Italia flights code-shared with Delta Airlines, and because we had been given a rebate from Delta for earlier problems with seating, we had booked through Delta. Given our earlier problems, perhaps we should have known better.

Since a few days before leaving Boston we had discovered we had no seat assignments, we wanted to check our status in Palermo four days before our return flights. On the phone, the Alitalia rep assigned us seats on the Rome-Boston leg, but couldn't do anything about the Palermo-Rome leg (even though it was also an Alitalia flight). We called Delta, who said that we did have seats, but they gave us the seat numbers we had originally received in a message from Delta way back in March. I was willing to bet $100 that those would NOT be the seats we'd actually receive.

The general impression I have of the way these airlines handled the seat assignment is that they were totally incompetent. But I couldn't blame this one entirely on the Italians - Delta was just as disorganized. Neither of them could get the most basic seat assignment right. If they don't want to assign us seats when we book our tickets, they shouldn't waste their time and ours pretending to do so.

After some unpacking, we spent some time perusing our books and notes to find a good place to have dinner. We were tired, and Margie was having problems with blisters on her toes, so we didn't want to walk far. We were attracted to the description of the Casa del Brodo in the Lonely Planet Guide to Sicily (5th Edition, Jan 2011), but it noted that the restaurant was closed on Tuesday. The Eyewitness Travel "Top 10 Sicily" mentioned the "Ferro di Cavalo", but it didn't answer the telephone, so we figured it might be closed. Ultimately, we set out for Le Pergamene, which we had seen earlier near the Giardino Garibaldi in the Piazza Marina. It looked rather touristic, and had a fairly ordinary menu, but it was nearby, and seemed acceptable.

But we walked up to the Vittorio Emmanuele, to go by a different route than we had used before, and happened on the Via Chiavettiere, which was packed with bars, and a few restaurants, although some of them were primarily pizzerias. We ate at the Ristorante À Vucciria, where we had a very nice meal, with antipasti, secondi di carne, wine, and water, for 43€. The service was particularly friendly and attentive.

We went back "home" for bed, walking via the Via Roma, to take a look at it. I hadn't been able to figure out the air conditioners, nor contact Rosi to ask about it, but with the windows open, it seems to be cool enough (although we encountered at least one (small) mosquito). At least in Italy, unlike our native Massachusetts, the mosquitoes don't carry West Nile Disease and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Wednesday, 10/10: In the end, we closed the bedroom windows to avoid noise, but that was probably a bad idea, as it got quite hot during the night. I spoke to Rosi in the morning. She said that the air conditioners in the rooms go on automatically when the temperature is above 30 degrees C, but the temperature was lower than that. But that's 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which is quite hot for Margie.

Still, we decided we could try another night, with the windows open. There were windows on both sides for cross-ventilation, and both sides opened to quiet areas, so we didn't think there would be a noise problem. Rosi had assigned us this particular apartment because we had specifically asked for a quiet room.

We also found in the morning that we had no hot water, so we couldn't take showers. When we reported this, Rosi immediately called for a propane canister delivery, as the hot water in our bathroom was from a heater fired by a tank in the bathroom. Thus, the hot water problem was resolved by the end of breakfast.

Over breakfast we chatted with the only other guests, a couple of men from northern Italy. We spoke with one in particular, Giorgio, who spoke English very well. His traveling companion was mostly silent.

We talked to Rosi about how to use the buses, and restaurants to consider. We then set out towards the Via Maqueda, with the intention of heading up it towards the Piazza Castelnuovo, where the tourist information office is. There are also interesting things to see along the way. We walked via interesting back streets to the Piazza Pretoria, which has an enormous fountain, and went in to the very ornate Chiesa San Giusseppe. The intersection of the Via Vittorio Emanuele and the Via Maqueda is called "Quatro Canti", or "Four Corners". I don't know why the word "canto", which normally means "song" or "call" also means "corner".

We went a bit past the intersection to buy a couple of lemon granite, basically slushes, to cool us down in the hot weather. This brought us within sight of a sign for a puppet theater in the Vicolo Ragusi. We walked up to look at the sign on the door, which advertised a show at 18:30 every day. As we looked, a man popped out, and brought us inside for a quick peek. I chatted with him in Italian. The puppet theater had been in his family for generations - he had first worked there with his grandfather. The puppets are a well known attraction in Palermo.

We then walked down a bit further to the modern art museum, and went through it, although at 6€ each, we found the price a bit steep. We were also not particularly fond of the contemporary art on display, rather a mishmosh. Oh well, we felt we were supporting the arts.

We walked north on a series of side streets parallel to the Via Maqueda. As we passed the Via San Agostino (just how many saints are there?), we found along open-air market going on, with stalls set up the entire length of the street. The items for sale were mostly uninteresting - clothing and belts and shoes and knick-knacks. We continued on up to the Piazza Giuseppi Verdi, where we admired the impressive Teatro Massimo.

We were getting a bit tired, and it was approaching lunchtime. So we dropped our goal of going up all the way to the Piazza Castelnuovo, and we turned back along the Via Trabia / Via San Basilio (another saint I'd never heard of), which diagonaled south towards the Via Roma. When we hit the Via Bandiera, an extension of the Via San Agostino, we hit the eastern end of the market we had crossed earlier. Down to the Via Venezia, where we were heading for the restaurant "Ferro di Cavallo" (horseshoe), which was recommended in Top 10 Sicily. It says, "Join the locals at this casual trattoria not far from the Quattro Canti for traditional fare and great people-watching." I had tried to call them the night before, and they had not answered.

It was indeed mostly locals - I saw one other couple carrying Top 10 Sicily, but other than them, everyone seemed to be Italian. The food was OK, and inexpensive. But I was not fond of the service, which was very slow. The staff also seemed rather cold and curt. I wouldn't particularly recommend it. Margie had a chicken breast, and I had a stuffed squid. It was undoubtedly a good buy - with a side of grilled vegetables for only 1€, and water and a diet coke, the whole thing came to only 19€.

We walked back to the hotel, and took a little siesta. We then set out again to the Museo di Pupi, the puppet museum, which was quite interesting - puppets of various types from all over the world. In addition to the extensive collection of old puppets, there were videos of puppet shows in action. We walked back along the Via Cala, which borders the harbor, stopping to sit a while and have a couple of drinks (the receipts from the bar give me no indication of the name of the establishment, but if I recall properly, it might have been called the "Navy"). In the distance, the mountains to the north went in and out of the clouds. When the clouds cleared, one of the mountains seemed to have an umlaut on top - I assume this might be a couple of parabolic antennas.

We stopped into a bookstore, the Libraria del Mare, and bought some gifts.

Back again to the hotel, and then out for dinner at the Casa del Brodo, where we got tables by arriving shortly after 7:30pm. Quite a few couples were turned away after us, because there was a reservation for a tour group of 30 people in the back room, who arrived towards the end of our meal. The service was friendly. Margie had Antipasti Caldi (hot appetizers, sort of like vegetable tempura) and Involtini di carne alla Siciliana, and I had Cacio carallo all'Argentiera (a kind of baked cheese) and Lingua in salsa verde (tongue in a green sauce). With water, half a liter of red wine, and two desserts, 57€. Quite a good meal, and good service.

Two staff members of the restaurant checked as I was leaving to be sure I took my receipt with me - perhaps they've been the subject of checks lately. My understanding is that clients are required to get a fiscal receipt ("ricevuta fiscale") from any establishment they visit, and that the customer can be fined for not obtaining one. This is to ensure that the restaurant declares all their income for tax purposes. Indeed, my printed bill has a line at the bottom that says, "Ricevuta Num.6293 R del.10/10/2012".

Back to the hotel - the room seemed considerably cooler than the previous night, and we planned to keep a couple of windows open. Margie reported a salamander on the ceiling. It looked like a chameleon, clinging to the ceiling in a corner, with suction feet. I took a flash photo of it, but was disappointed to find the camera didn't focus properly, and the photo is too blurred to be useful. It was about five or six inches long, and after the flash, it darted off across the ceiling, hiding behind some drapes. Margie seemed to find it a bit creepy, but I can't think of anything more harmless than a chameleon. I figured that maybe it would eat some of the mosquitoes. I suppose it could be a bit disconcerting if a chameleon runs across your face in the middle of the night.

Thursday 10/11: We kept the windows open in the sleeping area, which made the room much cooler for sleeping. I woke up around 3am, unfortunately, and was awake for a couple of hours. I then closed the windows, to avoid being awakened by light and noise in the morning. Not a good idea - by morning the room was rather hot again. I guess the stone walls hold a lot of heat.

We were the only people at breakfast, the other men having gotten out very early for an activity-filled day they had planned. We didn't get going until around 10am, and to avoid any possibility of arriving too late, and to save our feet, we sprang for a 30€ cab ride to Monreale, high on a mountain overlooking Palermo. The mosaics of the cathedral are absolutely astounding, and astonishingly extensive. We also toured the attached museum.

We bought bus tickets for the return trip in a Tabacchi store, but decided to stay in Monreale for lunch, even though it was a bit early. We had a recommendation for "Dietro L'Angolo" with us, so we went there. I had a risotto with wild mushrooms that I thought was quite good. Margie had a Pizza that was OK, but not great. With water and two diet Cokes and a salad, 30€. The view over Palermo from the rooftop terrace where we ate was fabulous. Monreale was quite a bit cooler than Palermo.

Since we had not paid attention to the posted bus schedule (knowing that the buses run about every 30 minutes), we managed to just miss the 1:30 bus, and the next one was posted for 2:20 (a longer than usual interval over lunchtime). We walked around a bit, but that only used up ten minutes. We then sat and waited for the bus, figuring that by being there early, we'd get seats (we'd seen lots of buses going by with people standing).

This allowed us to observe the pickup from a school that got out at around two. Although many of the students walked off to parts unknown, quite a few were picked up by cars. The resulting traffic jam on the narrow road was monumental. The jam eventually included the bus coming up the hill. It really seemed to me that it would never be able to be unwound, as more and more cars became backed up behind it from both directions. But somehow, some slack was created, and the downhill-facing cars were able to squeak by the bus (staying to the left). Meanwhile, the bus disgorged its passengers - why not, it wasn't going anywhere for a while, and we got on and took our seats. Thus we were already seated as the bus made the turn around the square, and stopped at the official bus-stop facing in the downhill direction.

Eventually, the bus left more or less on schedule, and we arrived at the Piazza Independenzia. Inspectors boarded the bus there to check that all the passengers had validated your tickets, which you have to do when boarding the bus. If your ticket has not been validated (and hence could be re-used), you can be fined.

In the Piazza, we toured what is called "Norman Palermo", the Palazo dei Normanni, including the Cappella Palatina, with mosaics even more colorful and gilded than those of the cathedral of Monreale (but less extensive). We bought tickets for a bus ride down the Via Vittoria Manuele (our earlier tickets having lapsed after 90 minutes), but seeing no bus coming, we set off walking down the street (stopping for some water and a couple of Granite). We walked through the Porta Nuova, and eventually reached the Cathedral of Palermo, which we toured inside and out. Still seeing no bus (perhaps one had passed us by while we were inside the cathedral), we continued strolling down the Vittoria Manuele, eventually reaching Via Maqueda, via Roma, and home, still not having used our bus tickets.

A woman with a Russian accent, walking with her husband and another couple, stopped us and asked if we spoke English. They then asked if we knew the whereabouts of some restaurant whose name she had on a piece of paper. We knew the street, as it was the street our B&B was on, so we walked them there (it was very close). But the restaurant would have been, by its address, next to the Foccaceria Antiguo, and it wasn't there. I asked a couple of men setting up tables at the Foccaceria about it, and they replied that it had closed. We directed the group to the nearby Casa di Brodo, which we had enjoyed the night before.

So after two days in Palermo, we were local experts. We asked the woman with the Russian accent where she was from. The answer: Minneapolis.

We had dinner for the second time at the Ristorante À Vucciria, 45€ this time, with a couple of secondi, a salad, and a decent wine at 5€ a glass. As I've noted before, when you go back to a restaurant a second time, you're greeted as family.

Friday 10/13: After breakfast, we walked through the Kalsa district, via a somewhat too long and circuitous path, to the Orto Botanico (botanical gardens), which are quite extensive, and interesting. Of note, a few odd "Dragon Trees", and many strange looking tropical plants, whether in the open, or in greenhouses. We ducked into a greenhouse during a brief thunderstorm.

We then walked up Via Cervello to the Via Torremuzza to find a couple of restaurant possibilities recommended by our hostess. We settled on the Trattoria Torremuzza. We declined their 20€ fixed menu, which we thought would be too much, and just ordered from the menu. With a beer for me, it came to only 22€, cash (no credit cards accepted). We chatted with other tourists on both sides - a couple of women from the Netherlands, and a couple from Wales.

Back at the B&B, we spent a good deal of time packing up for the return flight. We must have done a good job, because despite having bought a reasonable number of gifts (including the three ceramic bowls in bubble-pack that took up most of the space in Margie's carry-on), we got everything in without any problem.

We phoned the Trattoria Il Maestro del Brodo to make a reservation for our last dinner in Sicily (no relationship with the Casa del Brodo, although it's right around the corner). They had a nice antipasto buffet, which Margie could eat despite her shellfish allergy, as long as she avoided the octopus (42&euro.

Although I set an alarm in my smart phone, I'd found its alarm to not be very loud, and I was afraid of not waking up at the necessary 4:45 AM. The B&B was not like a large hotel, which could have arranged a wake-up call, and which also probably would have had a clock radio in the room. We got around this by arranging for our daughter Elissa back in the Boston area to give us a call at 4:45 AM. That was easy for her, because it was 10:45 PM in her time zone.

We were met on time by the taxi which Rosi had arranged for us. Several of the taxi drivers we had used during our stay in Palermo had given us cards, and had encouraged us to call them for the return trip to the airport. But we felt better using a taxi company that Rosi was familiar with, and knew to be reliable.

As anticipated, the airline once again messed up the seat assignment. In fact, when we first came up to the desk, they didn't seem to be able to find our reservation at all. This was in spite of the fact that I had documentation with me with both the Delta and the Alitalia confirmation numbers. But eventually, we were assigned seats on the flights. After that, the flights went off without a hitch.


This conclusion is excerpted from comments by Margie, posted in an earlier Fodor's thread.

All in all, it was a lovely trip. For most of our recent travels, we have stayed in one place and branched out daily for day trips. Sicily did not lend itself to this way of travel, and although I was happy to have a "crash course" on the areas around the perimeter of the island, we missed our usual way of travel.

We traveled by rented car for 13 days. For the most part, we did not find the traffic or the driving any more difficult than other European areas. We did not drive in Palermo, dropping off the car at the airport before going to our last spot. Since Larry speaks Italian, he can read the signs and in general, does not find communicating difficult.

For the most part, we enjoyed all the places we stayed. We had chosen a variety of lodging, and they all were quite lovely. It was quite hot while we were in Sicily - those of you who detest the heat as I do should make sure that you chose places with AC. We tend to chose modest B&B's or hotels, and found these choices quite nice.

One place that really stood out was an organic farm outside of Agrigento, the Fattoria Mosè, The owner and host was truly gracious and lovely, and the setting, quite near the ruins, was charming. We had 2 dinners at the farm, which were good and served family style. What was so nice was eating outside and talking with folks from diverse locations. It does not particularly cater to Americans, but English was one of the common languages.

We liked a lot of the food on this trip, but since I am allergic to all shellfish, I found some of the choices remaining to me repetitive. Larry enjoyed it more. We usually chose small restaurants that are not particularly rated or recommended in the major books, and find that we eat well [Larry: but we collect files of recommendations from the Fodor's Forum before leaving - thanks!]. Often, we ask the owner or manager for recommendations, and that works well.

All in all, we liked the trip a lot. It probably wasn't one our favorite - I am drawn to Provence and Tuscany, and whenever we are thinking of the next trip, we lean towards one of those destinations. Perhaps it's because I speak French and Larry speaks Italian, French, and Spanish. I want to visit Greece and Turkey and a number of other places, but it seems we're heading back to Provence this Spring to see the lavender (by traveling in the Fall, we have always missed it).
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Jan 23rd, 2013, 04:36 PM
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Thanks for this. I have been glued to your planning thread and still not through it all yet. Now I will get to see how it all turned out.
One question. I see you had a car for 13 days. How much mileage did you put on it?
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Jan 23rd, 2013, 08:03 PM
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ahotpoet, it's up there, buried in the long report (on 10/9, when we returned the car). We drove a total of 838 Km (about 525 miles). That basically took us from Taormina around a southern arc to the Palermo airport - the island isn't all that big. We could have done a bit more driving had we ventured further inland, but we had enough to see.

I'll put a link on the planning thread.
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Jan 24th, 2013, 08:50 AM
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We also traveled in Sicily in early autumn. We saw lovely red, ripe tomatoes in the markets, but got only hard, half-ripe tomatoes in restaurants. The better restaurants avoided large tomatoes, served good grape tomatoes instead.

Was this your experience also? You'd think there were enough tomatoes for everyone.
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Jan 24th, 2013, 11:04 AM
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We saw lovely red, ripe tomatoes in the markets, but got only hard, half-ripe tomatoes in restaurants. The better restaurants avoided large tomatoes, served good grape tomatoes instead. >>

mimar, i seem to remember reading or hearing somewhere that there is a special sort of tomato that the italians like to use in salad which is deliberately used when it is, to us, only half ripe. I think it's something to do with the acids in the fruit. In any event I have had tomato salad in Italy times without number and it is often made with these "unripe" tomatoes.

the big ripe plum toms they bottle or make into passata.
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Jan 24th, 2013, 07:16 PM
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I have to confess I never particularly noticed anything about the tomatoes. - Larry
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Jan 24th, 2013, 07:20 PM
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Great report. I really enjoyed reading it. I got lost constantly when driving in Sicily--mostly not a big deal. Just that one expletive-inducing time.
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