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Best of Sicily tour. Laundry info and general pointers?

Hello everybody,

I am thinking about the Best of Sicily tour in June (provided it doesn't sell out before I can get my act together). I am an historian and love art, architecture, and food as well, so it just sounds wonderful!

Can any tour alums comment on laundry facilities/options during the tour? In the interests of economy, I'm thinking of not getting the single supplement, and wouldn't want to monopolize the sink.

Also, any other comments or suggestions? I'm getting excited and just looking to pick people's brains! Things to see in Palermo before the tour (I've read the tour page suggestions, but any personal experiences?) or Catania afterwards? Sadly, I am allergic to shellfish, but I would think there would be fresh fish options on the coast?

Thanks!
Caroline

Posted by
18919 posts

For a traveler like you, a dedicated Sicily guidebook is pretty essential. You need something that descibes the various churches and oratorios so you know which will give you a good mixture of styles. The religious buildings conveniently have varying opening days and hours, so there are always places to see. But someone with your specialized interests will benefit from sketching out a tentative plan that groups nearby sights into sightseeing blocks. Be aware that Saturday seems to be a very popular day for weddings, so it can be difficult to plan an efficient list of church visits on that day. Oratorios should be OK.

Palermo and Catania both have exciting public markets that you should see. I haven't checked the tour itinerary to see whether they are covered. Catania has a very attractive historic district that's fairly manageable in size. It's a nice place to spend a few hours on foot. Palermo is pretty overwhelming; I just basically walked (a lot) from sight to sight. Do be careful of the traffic; there aren't a lot of stoplights.

Posted by
1175 posts

Caroline,

I took this tour last year and it's a great trip.

IIRC laundry service was available at the hotel in Ortygia about half way through the tour. I don't recall how much it was as I did not need to use it.

We were going to have pizza in Trapani at Calvino Pizza. Unfortunately no tables were available at 7:45. So make reservations or get take out. We ended up taking our food over to the beach and having a picnic style dinner.

In Ortygia we got lunch from Caseificio Borderi. You'll probably walk by as it's market day when we were there. He makes his cheese fresh daily. You can get take out (we waited about an hour) or dine in the patio across from the shop which seems to have waiter service.

Hopefully you'll be at the Hotel Ambascatori in Palermo. It has a great patio with an incredible view. Breakfast is served up there and it's a great way to start the morning.

PS Plenty of fish options along the way.

Posted by
242 posts

I was on this tour in the fall of 2015 and it was wonderful. I did not pay the single supplement and had a roommate. We both did hand washing in the room and had no problem with 'sink time.' Have a plan for hanging your laundry though. The bathrooms all had walk-mounted radiators you can use for t-shirts etc. Hangers in the rooms were in short-supply sometimes, so if you have a shirt that dries best on a hanger, be ready to share.

I did a walk through the botanical garden in Palermo and also the local art museum. If you know which churches you will go to, you can visit others. On the 'market day' in Palermo you will walk through a market or two, but not stop to shop. You could do that before the trip starts. When I was there a festival of the patron saint of Palermo occurred, so you may find yourself following a marching band down a narrow street as I did one day. I also attended an opera at the local opera house, which was fun. No need to be formal, but many of the locals were dressed quite formally...also fun to see.

Yes, hopefully your first hotel is the Ambasciatori in Palermo so you can enjoy the rooftop for breakfast...also open for dinner.

Posted by
4605 posts

Hi, Caroline: This is a great tour. I have a restaurant recommendation for you. There is a lot of fish available in Sicily, but it seems to be mostly swordfish and sardines, neither of which I am crazy about. There's a restaurant in Palermo called L' Alcova dei Sapori at 101 Bara All' Olivella that has great fresh fish. The first time we were there we had great sea bass. The owner, Giuseppe, said he goes down to the harbor himself every day to survey the day's catch and buy what he needs for the restaurant. I know you don't eat seafood, but in case anyone else wants to know... I had the seafood risotto there last time we were in Palermo, and it was very good, and the portion was huge. DH had the sea bass again, and enjoyed it.

The restaurant is in walking distance of the Hotel Ambasciatori, if you're a walker. (If you're not, you're on the wrong tour!.) Or you can ask the hotel desk to call you a cab or point you to the bus.

Have a great time.

I just reread my post, and realized I used the word "great" four times. I'll let it stand.

Posted by
29 posts

I took the off-season Sicily tour last year at this time, and it was a great tour (though I say that about all the Rick Steves tours I've taken). We arrived a day early in Palermo and took the tour of the Opera House, and I'd recommend it. We also went to the puppet museum on our free time, which was interesting and a great preparation for the puppet show you'll see in Siracusa. You'll walk through the markets in Palermo and Catania with your guides.

As to laundry, I always do a quick hand washing the first night in a new hotel, and everything is dry by the time we move on if not sooner. I bought the clothesline from the RS store a couple years ago and it comes in handy. I don't recall a shortage of hangars anywhere.

Have a great time!

Posted by
1175 posts

RS does not have his own dedicated Sicily guide book. He suggests the Lonely Planet Sicily guidebook. Several of on my tour thought it was pretty bad and stated so on our tour evaluations. I would not recommend the LP one.

Posted by
1018 posts

We were on this tour in April 2016 (off-season itinerary). It was fabulous - our best RS tour. We arrived early in Palermo (took the bus from the airport) and stayed at the tour hotel - the Ambasciatori. We ate at Ferro di Cavallo, which was a short walk from the hotel. This restaurant was frequented by locals, and is the kind of place where you sometimes sit at a table with strangers. We sat with an Italian couple from northern Italy who were on vacation. The couple spoke little English, and our Italian is limited, so we had fun trying to communicate! A couple of days later at Monreale, we ran into the same couple. Note that you will run into more locals who do not speak English (compared to the major tourist cities of northern Italy). On the day before the tour started we visited the Galleria d'Arte Moderna. This museum has Sicilian art from the 19th and 20th centuries, and provided some interesting cultural-historian background. If your tour stays at the UNA Palace hotel in Catania on the last night, you are in for a treat. This hotel would probably cost $700 a night in Manhattan.

We did laundry in the sink during the tour.

We used the Lonely Planet guidebook especially before the tour started.

It can be expensive to fly to Sicily. We used Aer Lingus to fly to Rome, spent a couple of days there, then took a short Alitalia flight to Palermo. At the end of the tour we flew from Catania to Rome on Alitalia, stayed overnight and continued home on Aer Lingus. This flight arrangement was so inexpensive compared to other options that it paid for the extra nights in Rome. It also broke up the trip, since flying from the US to Sicily is a long haul.

Posted by
350 posts

In Italy I get my laundry done by nonna Figaccia. She is about 80 years old, has a head of beautiful silver white hair and ALWAYS wears an apron. She'll take it the village washing trough, mix in some lye soap she made herself, and beat the cloth with smooth river rocks. She'll neatly fold it, tie it up with twine and deliver it to you along with a bottle of homemade wine and a chunk of cave aged cheese. The cost is small and if you are a young man who will marry her granddaughter she will do it for free.

Or, if nonna Figaccia is not around, I do my wash in the bathroom sink. I do find it humorous when a hotel recommended by RS does not want us to do laundry in the bathroom sink. Have they never seen his travel tips show?

Posted by
14335 posts

I didn't take the tour but I did do laundry in Ortigia at a laundromat. It was just the other side of the Ponte Umbertino bridge (that links Ortigia with Syracuse). I'm pretty sure they have drop-off service. They may be closed on Sundays and only open mornings on Saturdays.

I don't remember eating fish (I don't eat seafood either), but the pasta and veggies were sooo good.

I highly recommend getting to Europe 2 nights or more before a tour, to get over jetlag. Cefalu would be my recommendation for an overnight. One of the problems with planning for pre-tour Palermo is that the itinerary isn't very specific. I enjoyed the Frommer's walking tour. If you can't find it on their website, PM and I'll send it to you.

Posted by
1943 posts

We also arrived early in Palermo and took a wonderful street food tour with http://www.streatpalermo.it/en It was so much fun; informative, interesting and educational. The food was wonderful....(some of it um...unusual) and we tried everything we were offered. They also offer a tour in Catania but we didn't have time to try that one. If you have time, check it out! And you will love the rooftop terrace view at the tour hotel in Palermo! This tour is fabulous and I know you will enjoy it.

Posted by
217 posts

Thank you all for your great and helpful replies. I reserved my spot on the tour yesterday! I am sure I'll be back with more questions!

Caroline

Posted by
4605 posts

Caroline, good for you! It's a great tour. Be sure to get to Palermo early enough ( a couple of days, if you can) to explore on your own. There's a great market - tiny, very local - just a couple of blocks from the tour hotel. Vuccinia, I think. I don't have a map handy to check the name.

When are you going?

Posted by
4605 posts

By the way, the last time we were in Sicily, we stayed at the Ambasciatori, and signed up for their cooking class. It was fun, not too expensive, and we ended up with some good tips, as well as a good lunch.

Check into it.