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14 days in Sicily by bus, train, and car in May but with November weather! Now finished.

We just returned from a 14 night trip to Sicily with our daughter and her husband. We flew first on Air France (bought through Delta) to Rome via Paris and stayed in Rome for two nights (see Trip Report 2 nights in Rome). We met them at the Catania airport where they had flown from Atlanta on Turkish Air (with return from Rome).

This was our itinerary. We all flew back from Palermo on an evening flight with Ryan Air the night before our international flights back to the U.S. I chose Ryan Air over ITA because we could pay extra to bring our bags on board while a 22 inch carry on had to be checked with ITA. The price for tickets once luggage was accounted for was virtually the same.

Taormina 3 nights
Siracusa (Ortigia) 3 nights
Ragusa 2 nights
Agrigento 1 night
Countryside near Erice 2 nights
Palermo 3 nights
Fiumicino (near airport) 1 night

We stayed in air bnbs in Taormina, Siracusa, Erice, and Palermo and in small guest houses the rest of the time.

Day 1 sleep Taormina

Our flight was scheduled to arrive an hour before our daughter and her husband’s but theirs was delayed. We managed to catch with only a few minutes to spare the 19:45-21-10 bus to Taormina. The buses are located to the right as you go out of the terminal and we bought our tickets at a booth just before the buses. The bus driver refused to sell tickets to passengers on board. Our tickets were 7 Euros each.

We stayed in an Air bnb in Taormina and the owner asked us to contact the woman who would be doing the check in once we were on the bus through What’s Ap which is what we used everywhere to contact people. She suggested we take a taxi from the bus station to the apartment. I had planned on walking as it was supposed to be 10-12 minutes but it was dark now and decided that take her advice. I was glad we did. For a 10 Euro taxi ride, we were deposited right in front of the apartment. Easy peasy.
The apartment was our favorite place we stayed on this trip. The best feature was the huge terrace overlooking the town and the sea that we ate dinner on twice and breakfast once (before the rain started). The woman checking us in directed us down the street to what she termed a convenience store but was in actuality a mini Coop grocery store that had a broad range of merchandise. I had thought we would be lucky to have a frozen pizza for dinner but we were able to buy fresh pasta, fresh pesto, a Sicilian eggplant, fresh bread and eggs, yogurt, and fruit for breakfast. And a huge bottle of olive oil (no smaller ones) that we carried with us for two weeks and only had about an inch left when we departed.

Our family likes to cook while in Europe. We find it fun to buy food at local places and enjoy the challenge of figuring out foreign appliances. We cooked dinner four of the fourteen nights we were in Sicily and prepared breakfast every time it wasn’t provided. All of the places had dishwashers which made cooking a much less onerous task.

Day 2 sleep Taormina

We left the apartment for the Greek theater about 10 am after a leisurely breakfast enjoying the views from the terrace which we had not been able to appreciate while eating dinner in the dark the night before. It was Sunday which meant the theater had free admission! But it wasn’t crowded at all so we were totally thrilled. The theatre is amazingly intact and of course the views are stunning. It was bright and sunny so we took lots of pictures before departing to visit the nearby public gardens.
The gardens have only one entrance and we spent some time trying to find it but it was so worth it. The gardens are well manicured and have gorgeous views overlooking the town and the sea. The streets we traveled through in pursuit of the garden were charming and not nearly as crowded as I had feared.

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I had briefly entertained the idea of hiking up to Castelmola but the reality of the accent (straight up!) became clear once we were in Taormina. Instead, we decided to take the bus up and then walk back downhill. Since it was Sunday, the bus did not run very frequently and the next one was a couple hours later. With tickets in hand, we set out in search of lunch.
Walking to the other end of Taormina in search of Da Cristina, a budget takeaway restaurant, we encountered the only unpleasant crowds of our stay as we joined the occupants of a bus that had just arrived. We walked a bit faster than the masses and within a few minutes, the crowd had been left behind. Upon arriving, we bought our first pizza with eggplant and our first arachina (a deep fried rice ball filled with meat sauce or other ingredients) and ate them perched on the bench of a building with other tourists. All were delicious. Eggplant pizza became a staple of our diet.
The bus ride to Castelmola was scenic as it curved around as it climbed but shortly we arrived in the town. The town has commanding views of the surrounding area and twisty narrow streets. We wandered in and out of shops and down various streets and alleys before we finally settled on our first Sicilian gelato. It turned out to be associated with the Bar Turrisi-which is famous for its phallic themed décor. This only mattered because it meant we were able to enjoy sitting at their outdoor tables while eating our gelato. While in Sicily, I generally ordered pistachio and chocolate as my choices for gelato and seldom was disappointed. I actually never liked pistachio before this trip but ordered it to try because it was a local specialty. The chocolate was what the clerk recommended as going with pistachio and I agree that it did. I discovered that I had never really had pistachio but rather some imitation of it that did not taste the same.

Before departing back to Taormina, we climbed up a path to the ruins of a Norman castle which allowed for even better views of the area. It was not very difficult and certainly worthwhile.

Walking down from Taormina we encountered only a few people. A man and his girlfriend were climbing up who told us to turn around before it was too late. It became clear that they had walked down and then he wanted to walk up while she didn’t. I wasn’t sure that relationship was going to withstand the climb! Then there was a woman who was worried about finding the right trail who I pointed in the right direction. The way was more obvious going down than up. My only regret is that we did not take a path to visit the Sanctuary of Madonna della Rocca. It was not marked but I suspect we could have found it with goggle maps. Once back in the town, we certainly were not going to climb back up to see it.

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Day 3 Sleep Taormina

Our sunny weather ended the next morning. The forecast was for cool weather, clouds, but no rain. That didn’t turn out to be the case. I had booked a private tour to Mt. Etna and Alcantara for us with Davide of Mount Etna Tours. He was recommended on Trip Advisor. It was 360 Euros for the 4 of us which was cheaper than what I found to join a small group tour. He picked us up at our accommodation and then we drove these twisty roads to the north side of Mt. Etna. My daughter who is prone to car sickness sat in the front with him. It was raining by the time we arrived. We all had raincoats and my daughter and son-in-law also had umbrellas as well. I had brought a thin long sleeved shirt to layer but not my rain repellent hiking pants. Bringing them would meant planning for the worst case scenario which ironically turned out to be the case.

The rain was just drizzling as we set off on our hike. We saw a roof peering out from the lava where a house had once stood. We saw trees that now were just a shadow of their former selves. In our pictures, there is fog and bright colored umbrellas and raincoats! Davide was an interesting and engaging guide and I encouraged him to take us further than the short hike he had promised because of the rain. Of course, as soon as we reached the furthest point of the hike, it started to pour! I found out that my Marmot raincoat is indeed waterproof but soaked cotton ankle pants are decidedly unpleasant. I was coveting the pants I had not brought!

We stopped for lunch at a refuge which basically is a restaurant. There were long tables and you ordered at the counter. I had squash soup but most of our group had their first pasta Norma which looked very good. I recall my soup was 7 euros and the pasta was 8. We dried off some (my daughter gave me a pair of leggings to wear as I had not been smart enough to bring extra clothes) and enjoyed chatting with Davide. He told us the rain was the result of Sirocco winds off Africa and it would dissipate in 3-7 days. At the time, we found that very discouraging but we would have had better weather for more of our trip had his forecast had been correct.

After lunch Davide drove us down some narrow roads to a place where we walked to the top of the waterfall in the Alcantara park. I think he was hoping the stones would be dry but they were not. As a result, he wasn’t comfortable having us hike further, especially I think because my daughter had a way of straying from the group.

On our way back, we came upon a shepherd herding his sheep down the road. He had two dogs with him who did not seem to be doing very much. We were quite amused because we have an Australian Shepard who likes to herd us. It was really amazing to think that this very traditional way of life still exists. We had seen lots of goats on the road last year when we were in Crete but they seemed to be wild goats while these sheep were clearly part of a flock. We felt like we were lucky to encounter this which made up for some of our bad weather that day.

We ended up because of the weather not really having the day I had anticipated. But it was a good day nonetheless and we knew that mountain weather could be a bit unpredictable. So we were all in pretty good spirits despite the rain.

That evening we walked around Taormina some more. It had rained while we were gone but now it was only cloudy. The town did not look nearly as beautiful without the sun and we were grateful to have had sun the day before.

We had dinner at La Napoletana which specializes in pizza. We had a roomy table upstairs and the pizza was quite tasty, although the crust was not as crisp as I would have liked. The crust was more Neapolitan style (thin) than Sicilian (thick like bread). We had some left over and I reheated it in the oven the next morning for breakfast and it was even better with a crispier crust.

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Overall impressions of Taormina:

We enjoyed our time there and did not find it much more touristy than some other places we went like Ortigia. My husband really wanted to visit Mt. Etna and from my research it seemed that Taormina and Catania were the best choices. I had thought Catania might be a bit too gritty and thus settled on Taormina despite fearing it would be impossibly crowded. I had thought at the very least we could enjoy the town from our terrace and certainly we did, but for the most part, the town was not unpleasantly crowded. There are very expensive shops but we did not shop in any of them. My daughter bought a magnet for 1 Euro so all is not expensive. Our choices of restaurants were budget level and similarly priced to other places in Sicily. It is clearly a resort town but we did not mind that. We had our first great cannoli here (following a mediocre one the day before).

The three nights we spent here with a day trip to Mt. Etna seemed about right.

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I was in Sicily in April but avoided Taormina because of all the “White Lotus” hype.
I’m sorry you had so much rain!
Looking forward to your impressions of Siracusa area and Palermo….

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Great trip report! Thanks for all of the details. Looking forward to your next installations…
I am interested in Sicily, but perhaps doing the Rick Steves Sicily tour next year, but found that the flights from Cleveland are difficult. I was hoping to do it in February. I like the idea of picking another major city to fly into like you did, spending a couple days, then taking a European budget airline to Sicily. I’ll have to look and see what airlines fly direct from major European cities. Thanks! Sounds like you had fun, even with inclement weather.

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Day 4 Ortygia

While I had been quite pleased with myself for figuring out how to buy a ticket that combined a bus from Taormina with the train to Siracusa, I ended up ditching the bus in favor of another taxi. It had started raining hard again the evening before and traipsing in the rain with luggage did not seem appealing. So we took a taxi for 15 Euros to the train station.

I had read less than glowing things about public transportation in Sicily. But both the bus and the train ran on time and were quite comfortable. I didn’t see any discernible difference between them and those we have used in Northern Italy.

The air bnb we stayed in on Ortigia was at the far end of the island. It had four rather steep sets of stairs and we found out later that the owners used to live there until they had their third child and the woman insisted they move to a one story residence. We hauled our dinner that night up the stairs and ate on the fourth floor which was like a sunroom. There was also a roof top deck that we sat in a few times, between all the rain drops. They provided bikes and we used them to ride around the island. There was a bit of dodging people and cars and I would not have wanted to use them for transportation but it was an efficient way to get the lay of the land.

We walked around a lot prior to using the bikes. We went to the market and had lunch at Caseificio Borderi, which is a sandwich shop with sandwiches big enough to share. The produce was beautiful and we couldn’t resist so bought more vegetables and fruits than we needed. There is a Sicilian eggplant which is round rather than long I would highly recommend if you visit a market. It is just wonderful sliced and roasted with olive oil in a hot oven. Sicily is known for its swordfish so we bought some from a vendor who looked just like the one on a Rick Steve’s video! I cooked it for dinner with olive oil, salt & pepper again in a hot oven.

We learned that the castle would be closed all week to visitors because of an “event”. We figured out that the “event” was associated with the Italian designer line Fendi as there were these black SUVs all over town which had a card in the window to that effect. The drivers were dressed very formally and would stand at attention beside their parked vehicles. One time I encountered a photographer and a model in a red flowing dress on the way to the cathedral square. He was taking pictures in rapid succession as she walked down the square which had become her catwalk. It became a game to spot Fendi activity. And when the sun came out a few days later, we had our own “Fendi” photo shoot.

We visited the Catacombs of San Filippo Apostolo which really are not catacombs at all, since there are no bodies. But with a guide you go down below the church and see where bodies had been buried. Most interesting is the tunnels that burrow under the church and the square that were used during World War II as an air raid shelter. There seems to be miles of them! We even saw the “toilets” that those sheltering used. Beneath that still down a narrow staircase is a spring that was used as a purification bath by the local Jewish community. The church itself had once been a Jewish temple. We found it all interesting and it was a good activity for a less than ideal weather day.

Day 5 Sleep Ortygia
This was our day for visiting the Neapolis Archaeologic Park and the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum. The rain from the evening before had stopped and we rather ambitiously decided to walk to the archaeological park. At the moment, it seemed easier than figuring out how to take the bus. It was about a 30 minute walk but trusty goggle maps led us right there.

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We saw all the vendors first and turned there. We found the ticket office and while it was labeled for group sales, we were able to buy individual tickets here. It was 15 Euros for a combination ticket. The line across the street for tickets was much longer so this worked out well.

We used the WCs at the entrance of the park. A few comments about bathrooms. First of all, bring toilet paper. It is unusual to find one with it supplied. I had taken a snack sized Ziploc bag and rolled as much toilet paper as I could fit in it and have it zip close. It was enough as I came back with a few sheets after 2.5 weeks in Italy. Most of the toilets do not have seats on them either. Expect to pay to use a “public” toilet which are not that common. We often had to resort to hunting down a toilet in a restaurant. I became quite proficient at identifying a restaurant which was busy enough that my presence would not be noticed and quickly finding the WC (always in the back corner or down stairs). My husband was unwilling to use the restroom without being a customer so he would find bakeries or gelato shops and purchase a drink or snack. I am not sure, however, that his “ethics” weren’t just an excuse for enjoying more Italian delicacies as he usually emerged with far more than certainly necessary.

Back to the park. Because of Covid, the park was roped off so you could only follow a defined sequence. That made using a guide book to figure out what you were seeing more challenging. The star of the park is the Greek Theater which was being prepared for the theater season. There were metal seats covering the stone ruined ones. The theater season was starting a few days after our visit so a crew was setting up everything. Later, back in Ortygia, we saw pictures of the theater which was much more impressive without the metal seating. Of course, the theater was also against a blue sky not gray clouds which I am sure contributed to its splendor.

Overall, we enjoyed our wander. The ruins here though are not as impressive as those in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento but we had not visited there yet. And the theater is not as well preserved as that of the one in Taormina but the overall archeological site is larger.

After a tasty and reasonably priced lunch near the entrance of the park, we headed over to the museum. We stopped along the way at the Sanctuary of Madonna of the Tears which is a modern church built where a statue of the Virgin Mary began weeping in the 1950s. It was closed for siesta. It was the first but not only site we were unable to visit because of siesta hours. By the time we arrived at the museum, we all were starting to feel the wear of the day. We agreed to meet up in 1.5 hours. I went downstairs to use the bathroom and found that there were chairs on the lower level and no one was around. So I took one and closed my eyes for about 15 minutes which helped revitalize me. My daughter, who is less interested in museums in general, spent about half of the time we were at the museum there. But it really is a fabulous museum and it might be better for planning to come here before the ruins so you are fresher, except not for us as it had started to rain by the time we arrived. We have visited Greece and it was striking to me how the pottery looks the same. I am not sure why that hit me more than seeing similar theater structures in Sicily as in Greece.

The other reason for considering doing the museum before the ruins is that there are taxis waiting outside the ruins but not the museum. It was raining hard by the time we left and we were exhausted but it still seemed simpler to walk back to Ortygia than figure anything else out so we did. It was about a 20 minute walk through the rain.

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Day 5 Sleep Ortigia

We woke up to the forecasted bright blue skies. Taking advantage of them by being outdoors dominated our day. The forecast was for rain and more rain. We retraced our steps around Ortygia to take pictures with the sun shining ending up on the other side of the island for a boat ride.

The day before I had used the phone number in the Rick Steves Sicily book to contact Carmelo from Blu Marlin. I had scheduled a private tour for the four of us at 11 am for 80 Euros which was about 5 Euros a person more than it would have been for a regular scheduled tour. I had not actually been asking for a private tour but this is what he offered us. It worked out well as we were able to move around the boat to take pictures. It was a narrated tour but it was obvious when we tried to ask him any questions that his English was limited to the narration and tourist transactional language. We waved at him with a regular tour that afternoon in the same boat but now jammed full with passengers. Ortygia is beautiful from the water and it was a lovely way to spend part of a sunny day. At the end, we all had to duck down to go through the bridge which was fun and I suddenly understood why all the boats were wide but not high. The only complicating factor was he wanted cash and had not told me this ahead of time. We were able between the four of us able to rustle up the 80 Euros.

We ended up spending the rest of the day just enjoying Ortigia in the sunshine. This was the day I had thought we might go by bus to Noto but in the end spending two hours on the bus on the only sunny day we were forecasted to have did not sound that appealing, no matter how attractive Noto might be. Instead, we went out on a "dock" over the water, laid down on the cement with our feet in the cold water, and a raincoat for a pillow. And just basked in the sun like cats!

That night we ended up at a family owned restaurant where we ate in a garden that we really enjoyed but I can’t find the name of it. It was near the Cathedral and we had Penne ala Norma for 10 Euros. Now in my searching online I did find the name of a nearby place where we bought some fabulous cannoli-Pasticceria Artale. It has a window looking out on the street and all the like in all the best places, your cannoli is filled after you order. My husband liked it here so much that he had his picture taken with the clerk!

Overall impressions of Ortigia

We really liked Ortigia but did not find it much less touristy than Taormina. It did not have the high end shops of Taormina but it certainly had an abundance of stores and restaurants geared to tourists. We liked it better than Taormina because it was larger and more varied. We also thought the public spaces here were just gorgeous, especially at night. We particularly loved Piazza Duomo where one night we enjoyed music and dancing. We wandered the streets every night after dark, even in the rain, stopping at some point for a gelato or cannoli.

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Here is the next installment! Glad for the interest.
Day 7 Sleep Ragusa

Today we began the rented car portion of our trip.

I had suggested a private transfer between Ragusa and Agrigento via Villa Romana del Casale so we could use public transportation the rest of the time. When the quote came in at 450 Euros for the four of us, my husband was less than enthusiastic and said he would rather drive. I was a bit intimidated by all the cautions on Sicilian drivers but he was not. He had driven in Crete last year and while it was an adventure at times, he was up for a repeat.

While we rented through local agencies last year in Greece, the advice seemed to be to stick with the majors so we did, renting through Avis. I will tell you though that a Polish couple we met who was making his sixth visit to Sicily had a rental car with the often maligned (on Trip Advisor at least) Noleggiare. It did make me wonder. Anyway, we bought full insurance through Auto Europe which is basically like credit card insurance in that you have to pay upfront and get reimbursed. I had intended to use my Chase Sapphire Reserve card but found out a week before we were to go that since it was my card, I had to be the primary driver. Having two drivers cost an extra 10 Euros a day and cancelling and rebooking using a different credit card would increase our rental cost by 100 Euros, so buying insurance through Auto Europe was the cheapest option.

We had a Citroen C3 which was big enough for four carry on suitcases but small enough to maneuver Sicily’s roads. We paid 448 Euros for a five day rental with manual transmission and an additional 32 Euros for full insurance.

Driving the toll ways (which had no tolls, BTW) was generally easy. They were mostly well marked although like Greece, there are not as many signs as in the U.S. We occasionally went the wrong way but it is just what happens. If essential, we turned around but usually we just went a different way. There are a lot of roads in Sicily. There was not a lot of traffic anywhere except right outside of the Palermo airport. The small towns could be challenging if you ended up on a very narrow road. The roads along the coasts were good while those further inland were not. We also drove some interesting roads when we stayed in the countryside outside of Erice but that was totally avoidable had we had an in town accommodation. We returned the car before Palermo and I certainly would not have wanted to drive there, but generally we did not think the Sicilians were crazy drivers. But realize we live in an urban area where there are lots of drivers worse than any Sicilian. So I think it all depends on what you are accustomed to.

It rained most of the way to Ragusa but the real challenge was when we arrived. The proprietor of the guest house had told me where to park and I had put it in my GPS but when we arrived we saw the dreaded ZTL sign. There was a green “Open” as well but that did not register immediately as we were not aware that ZTLs could be variable. So we drove all around both Ragusa Superiore and Ibla for almost an hour before getting more explicit directions that we were allowed to enter because it was green. We were all beginning to regret renting a vehicle! Apparently, because it was still May the ZTL is not in effect all week. But the next day when we went to leave we had to cope with extremely narrow medieval roads to get out of town. We decided not to repeat that and parked outside the old part of town our second night.

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We stayed at Balate Dimora which was a very small guesthouse with three or four rooms. The owner had furbished it just in time for the pandemic! I had chosen it because we had a terrace with a gorgeous view of Ragusa Superiore. It was about 80 Euros a night. It involved lots of stairs—two flights to our room and then there were the stair cases to the core of Ragusa Ibla. The stair cases in town we had to traverse involved avoiding piles of dog poop. It seems that no one cleans up after their dog so we made sure to take a head lamp at night to avoid unpleasant surprises. My husband moved one pile out of the center of the staircase our first day only to find a fresh one in the same exact spot the night morning. My daughter nicknamed the stair cases “the poop chutes”.

But I digress. That afternoon after a record breaking eating lunch of pizza and salad in less than 45 minutes, we did what was called the Ibla 1860’s tour. It was 18 Euro a person for the 1.5 hour tour and included the Palazzo Arezzo di Trifileti, the Conversation Club, the Theatre Donnafugata and the workshop of Sicilian carts (Cinabro Carrettier). There was six of us total on the tour.
The tour of the Palazzo was conducted by the grandson. It was maybe five rooms they had opened to the public. It was quite fascinating to hear his stories of his family who had lived in Ragusa for generations. He lives now in Superiore with his wife and family while his sister lives in Milan. The evening after we saw him on the square with his two young children. He recognized us and encouraged us to go to the concert that was being held at the palazzo. We did and it is one of our special memories. Our daughter and her husband even danced on the square to the music!

The Conversation Club was where the aristocratic men hung out. It is quite plush and starting in 1970s women were admitted. Interestingly enough, the men founding it contributed according to their means with the Donnafugata family who were the wealthiest contributing much more than the others.

The interesting thing about the cart making shop was that there were apprentices learning the trade. The carts are made mostly for decorative events now. It was hard to imagine how everyone there could make a living as they only made a few carts a year, although they did paint some other types of wares. We also wondered what would inspire a young man to apprentice in such a dying art.

The theater had once been part of the Donnafugata estate but now is open to the public. When we were there, children were practicing.

This was a very unique tour and we all enjoyed it very much.

That night after climbing all the steps to Ragusa Superiore to take photos, we returned to Ragusa Ibla for dinner. We ate at Trattoria La Bettola which we really loved. We did not have reservations so we were seated outdoors not under an umbrella with a dark sky looking like it would rain again any minute. But we only had a few drizzles until after we finished our dinner. We shared all our dishes but the most memorable was one of the specials for the day “stinko”. It is slow cooked pork and my husband’s Sicilian co-worker was very impressed we had eaten it. It was wonderful and the tiramisu we had afterwards was maybe even better. It is well priced-it was 92 Euros for wine, 2 antipasta dishes, 3 pastas, the stinko, roasted vegetables, and one tiramisu (we were stuffed but couldn’t resist!).

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This day we began by driving in the rain to Modica for a chocolate factory tour at Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. We had no problem parking on the edge of town. The tour was basically a performance by the guide and a chocolate factory worker. There is a larger location that most of the chocolate is made. It was quite fun and interesting to learn that originally chocolate did not have butter in it. A chocolate drink, a chocolate liqueur and a box of chocolate samples (which my husband ate most of while driving) were included in the 8 Euro a person tour price. We then sampled the various types of chocolate in the retail store before settling on which bars to buy. It has a lot less sugar in it than traditional chocolate and is grainy because it is not heated at as high of a temperature and the sugar does not completely melt. Still if you sample enough (and I did), you find yourself needing some “real” food.

After a couple more tourist stops, we headed to Scicli where my husband and had a Montabano tour. My daughter and husband relaxed at the pizza shop across the street. I had read in Sicily guidebooks about Inspector Montabano and we had started watching the TV series. The first three we had to watch multiple times to be able to follow the plot, a combination of reading English subtitles and not knowing who the characters are. But after that rough start, we have really enjoyed the series. The tour was 6 Euro and was of the Police station and Quaestor’s room. We were the only ones on the tour and had fun learning about how the series was filmed.

Following a brief and very windy visit to Marina di Ragusa, we headed to Donnafugata Castle which was a rural residence of the family. My husband was very much looking forward to visiting the gardens and especially the maze but they were closed because of the weather. We were able to see without charge the costume museum but while I enjoyed it, it was no compensation to him. The castle is huge and we saw only 22 rooms which was enough. But we noticed that there were only two bathrooms…..

We ate at II Baroco after returning to Ragusa. It was a bit more upscale than Trattoria La Bettola and we arrived early enough to get a table with an umbrella which was essential because it was starting to rain again. Most memorable that night was the grilled variety of meats that we shared at 23 Euros.

Impressions of Ragusa
I am not sure Ragusa captured our hearts as much as Ortygia. It may not have been her fault though. We never saw the sun once and we had off and on rain. On the positive side, we did find its aristocratic past fascinating and we had two really good dinners here. My favorite thing to do was to sit on our terrace and watch the lights twinkling in Ragusa Superiore. It didn’t matter then that the sun had never shown its face.

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Some more!

Day 9 Sleep Agrigento

This morning we head first to the Villa Romana del Casale and then to Agrigento to see the Valley of the Temples.
It took us two hours from Ragusa to get to the Villa Romana del Casale. It was raining off and on but until the end, the roads were good. But we arrived in one piece and the rain had stopped.

Against all advice, we left our luggage in the car. There just wasn’t any other way to reasonably do it. Our four suitcases fit in the trunk which was covered. As a precautionary measure, we all had packed our backpacks with medications and anything else that would be a disaster to lose. We had our passports on our person. We did not go into the trunk at all after arriving. It is a pay lot so it seems like there would not be as much opportunity for break in and there were buses whose drivers waited nearby for their passengers there by the time we arrived at 10 am. We returned several hours later to our car without any incident.

We passed up the chance for a guide for 10 Euros each because I was afraid that it just would not work with crowds. It was the right decision. I read how the Villa can be unpleasantly packed and hot. Hot was not a concern with our unseasonably cool weather but packed was. We went right into the Villa, saving the outside exhibits for later as we thought the crowds would just multiple as the day progressed. But really it was crowded only at the beginning. There seemed to be a large tour group as we entered but we were able to move around them. After that, it was quite pleasant and we just wandered around marveling at the mosaics. I had seen lots of pictures of it but it still was hard to fathom what it meant to construct room after room full of intricate mosaics.

Afterwards, we ate a quick mediocre lunch from a stand near the entrance in the drizzling rain and left.

It was another two hours to Agrigento. The roads were not good. I am not sure I would have done this stop again but my husband who was doing the driving disagrees. He thought it was worth it for the mosaics. There was one point where my husband was stuck on a hill on a road with cobblestones and couldn’t get the car to move. He looked at us with panic in his eyes and said now what do I do. I had driven a stick for longer than he but at this point, he had more recent experience. I did suggest just coasting back and starting over which actually worked as he “gunned” the car up the hill. The GPS then took us to a road that was closed without any indication of how to detour but we just kept going a different way. I am not sure it mattered as none of the roads are very direct and none are very good as they are narrow and sometimes even have sections that are made of dirt not cement.

There is nothing along the way so make sure you don’t need gas or food if you so journey.

We stayed on the outskirts of Agrigento at B & B Villa San Marco where we paid about 75 Euros per room. It is down a narrow dirt road. There are views of the Valley of the Temple from the property which is what first attracted me. They also do serve dinner, although did not because of the uncertain weather the night we were there. Instead, they facilitated us having a pizza dinner which they ordered and even paid for while we were at the Valley of the Temples. There are peacocks and domestic animals on the property and some donkeys behind a fence. The peacocks turned out to be an issue for my daughter and her husband that night as they were very noisy and kept them awake half the night. We were in a different area and up some steps and were not bothered by them.

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After settling in, we drove to the Valley of the Temples and parked. Interestingly, we had to go through an airport type of security to enter, although I have no idea why. The weather had cleared and it was even partly sunny and the temperature was really perfect. It was not crowded with people at all. I don’t know if it was our late entry (it was nearly 5 pm) or the less than stellar weather earlier that day but there were very few people visiting. It ended up being one of my favorite things we did in Sicily. We shared an animated guide with three Canadians which greatly enriched our experience. The site is much larger than I realized when we arrived and I am not sure we would have even managed to see it all without a guide. She shared stories of the Greeks and some personal ones as well (she was a Mexican married to a Sicilian man) along with providing historical context for what we saw. The tour ended at the entrance at the opposite end of the park from where we parked and you could take a taxi back but we opted to walk back. When we reached the parking lot, there were only a couple cars still there.

Day 10 Outside Erice

It had started raining last night after we returned to the B & B so we never enjoyed the view from our terrace. It was still raining the next morning when we left. We had intended to make a short detour to visit La Scala dei Turchi (Turkish steps) on our way but ditched that idea in light of the rain. Instead, we drove directly to the air bnb we had reserved in the country side.
It rained almost the whole way. The roads along the coast were through towns and we stopped at one point to buy gas. Fortunately, we did not wait until we were near empty since we could not get either of our credit cards to work. In Sicily, self service gas is really self service. There are gas pumps but not anyone on site. We went to another gas station that was full service (and more expensive) and had no problem when the attendant handled our sale. We filled up and it cost 65 Euros. Not cheap.
We took the toll road (four laned) towards Trapani and got off at the exit our GPS indicated. The owner of the Air B & B had sent me a pin which I put into the GPS. Soon though the roads deteriorated and my husband was questioning whether we REALLY were supposed to go up that road. They seemed to go almost straight up and they were very narrow and were a combination of concrete and gravel. But it was the right way and we soon arrived at our destination.

We had one part of the house with two bedrooms and a bath. There was a large terrace with a gorgeous view which had sucked us in when we were investigating options. Augusto and Sarah were the owners and lived on site. The house had been Sarah’s grandparents. They made the rainy weather we had not matter quite so much. On the second night, a couple from Poland stayed there as well. It was their third time staying here. It is that kind of place.

They served us breakfast and dinner both days. Breakfast was included and we separately purchased dinner. I had been attracted to the dinner option because I didn’t want to drive around at night. I didn’t realize at the time how isolated we would be. I also didn’t know what a great cook Sarah was. We had two kinds of pasta and vegetables the first night. It was just excellent and we were stuffed but enjoyed the homemade lemoncello afterwards. We had homemade lemoncello as gift in Palermo too and be aware of the very high alcohol content! The second night we had Trapani pesto on pasta and slow cooked lamb. They both were heavenly. My husband wanted to know what the herbs in the lamb which Augusto told him but the real secret I am sure is that the lamb came from “350 meters down the road”.

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It wasn’t rainy so we set off for Erice, 30 minutes away, knowing that the funicular would not be running because of the weather. We thought we would try to take a taxi up to Erice so I put Erice funicular into the GPS. Mistake. It located the one in Erice while I had intended the one at the foot of the hill! But we were climbing to Erice before we knew it and there was no good way to turn around.
For the first half of the climb, we could see the sea, although it was cloudy. But then we became enveloped in fog. It wasn’t the best but my husband drove slowly around all the curves and we arrived at a (surprise!) almost empty parking lot. We got out of the car and it was freezing! Erice is high and somehow we had not factored in that the already cool weather would be even cooler. It was pretty miserable frankly as I had capris on (I had brought only one pair of pants on the trip). We decided to have lunch and visit the famous Pasticceria Maria Grammatico and then reevaluate.

The restaurant we had picked out in the guidebook was closed but the pasticceria was not. We ordered a bunch of sweets we intended to take them with us. But when the clerk asked us if we wanted to eat there, we looked at each other and thought that we don’t want to go back into the cold, and said yes. We ordered some tea and coffee to accompany the sweets and let’s say none of them made them out of the pasticceria. Sicilian pastries are less sweet than American ones or we would have all been sick by the time we had finished! They were as wonderful as promised and my favorite was the almond cookies, which are their specialty. However, when we went to pay, we were told that the weather had taken the credit card machine done and we had to pay cash. We scrambled a bit but came up with the 20 Euros for our “snack” but it cleaned us out. We did wonder if we would be washing dishes if we couldn’t come up with the cash-they had not told us this when we ordered. And of course, when we asked about credit cards at the place we ended up having some “lunch”, they acted like we were crazy for even asking.

It was pouring by now and we decided to leave Erice. We thought we might go down to Trapani in hopes of somewhat better weather. It was about 10 degrees warmer but still raining so we eventually decided to bag it and head back to our air bnb. Then we spent the time before dinner wrapped in the many wool blankets in the closets, reading, going through pictures, and taking a nap.

Day 11 Outside Erice

The weather had improved by morning and there was even some sun. Then on the TV during breakfast we saw the devastating floods in Northern Italy. It put our situation into perspective. We headed out down some more crazy roads to Zingaro Nature preserve, thinking it was good that the rain had stopped. It was agricultural most of the way with both with crops and animals. My husband refused to go one way the GPS dictated and soon we were on a different almost as bad road. I think this was the “not as good way” to our air bnb that Augusto referenced. But we arrived in one piece and found the parking lot not very crowded. The sun was even out and we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. But then I went to the ticket office to pay and was told it was CLOSED! I couldn’t believe it. Apparently, all the rain had made the trails unsafe.

Suddenly the people we had encountered walking on the road made sense. We had thought a bit superiorly that they didn’t realize where to park. But now we realized they were doing the only thing you could do and we soon joined them. Before that we discovered this beautiful field of poppy flowers at the edge of the parking lot we ended up in. It was a lovely consolation prize. But after awhile we gave up on walking along the road and went to the nearest town, Scopello, to buy some sandwiches to eat at a beach we had passed by on our way to Zingaro.

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My husband managed to squeeze into the last legal parking space at the beach. We then tried to figure out what to do with the rest of the day. We entertained the idea of going back to Erice since we had not really seen it but a quick check on the weather ap told us it was still raining there. I suggested going to a museum outside of Trapani on the salt flats but it was closed for siesta. Finally, we decided to head to San Vito lo Capo where the weather ap claims the weather was even better than what we were experiencing. We had seen beautiful pictures of the beach when researching our trip
It was a good decision. The clouds were gray and ominous most of the way there but when we went on the other side of the mountains the sky was almost blue. Sicily has many more mountains than I ever realized and they do affect the weather. The beach was sandy and wide with only a few people in the water. The water was cold and none of us went further than our feet. But we used our rain jackets as blankets and laid down and enjoyed some sun. We also had several gelatos (to use the bathroom you know). It was a relaxing afternoon and quite a contrast to the storm of the day before.

Day 12 Sleep Palermo

We turn in the car this morning and take the train to Palermo.

There is not a single gas station along the tollway to the airport. We are reconciled with paying a premium at the airport. We return the car to Avis very quickly and without any problem. We are charged 81 Euros to fill the tank which is not bad, considering we had paid 65 to do it ourselves not too many days ago.

We took the train from the airport to Palermo Centrale and then walked 10 minutes to the apartment we would stay in for the duration of our trip. Palermo has few lights but lots of cross walks. This mean you have to step into traffic, trusting that the cars will stop. It is a bit unnerving at first but our way of coping was to cross with locals or lots of tourists (yes you can tell which are which).

We were surprised by Palermo. It is much more charming than we had anticipated. The neighborhood our air bnb was in was in the old Jewish Quarter. The street name was in Italian, Arabic, and Hebrew. The streets off of the main street Via Roma were narrow and full of small shops. One street which we nicknamed the bicycle street had at least three bicycle shops all of which had their bicycles outside the shop to tempt passersbys. We saw a few customers off and on in the shops. Coming from the opposite direction, the street was full of small shops selling metal goods which at least some of the shops made onsite. We saw men welding, using a shield but no goggles. There were cooking pans for sale outside some of the shops. I never saw anyone buying anything as we passed by. I wondered how they survived.

The owner of the apartment meets us outside the apartment. She speaks very little English and our Italian is confined to pleasantries. We had relied on goggle translate to communicate and at one point she speaks into her phone and produces an English text. My daughter speaks Spanish fluently and she starts to talk with her. My daughter later relays that she must have been mixing Spanish with Italian because she could understand her much better than she could other Sicilians.

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The apartment is lovely. Large and spacious with lots of light and on a very quiet street. The only thing the apartment in Taormina has over it is outdoor space, which I couldn’t find easily n Palermo.

While our original intention was to see Cefalu later in our trip, the forecasted sun had made us rearrange our plans. We figured that sun was more important to have in Cefalu than in Palermo which had many more indoor attractions. So after leaving our bags, we all quickly bought some food for lunch at the Lidl supermarket we had earlier passed that we then ate on the next train. I had bought tickets for all of us on the Trenitalia AP on my phone. Good thing as the lines were long at the train station and we would have missed the train we took.

Cefalu was charming and with the sun out at last; it was very photogenic. We loved wandering the medieval streets and especially enjoyed visiting the medieval laundry. Piazzo del Duomo was lively and dominated by the Cathedral which we visited. We also ate some very good pastries on the square. The church is under renovation though and the Christ Pantocrator was covered in scaffolding which was disappointing. The beach is narrower than we had thought it would be. There were people on the beach and in the water even though the temperatures were still only maybe 70 degrees. The beach at San Vito lo Copo was much nicer than that in Cefalu, while the town in Cefalu was more charming than San Vito lo Copo.

We ate dinner at Al Gabbiano on the boardwalk, prioritizing a sea view over food. The view was wonderful while food couldn’t compete with the meals we had already had in Sicily. As my daughter said, what do you expect from a restaurant that never takes a siesta.

Around the train station seemed a bit grungier at night than earlier. We were glad we had not taken a later train.

Day 13 Sleep Palermo

We met at 10 at the Teatro Massimo for a three hour Anti Mafia tour. It was 32 Euros a person booked directly through Addiopizzo Travel and more through Trip Advisor and other sites. Our tour was with Stefano who was fabulous. We learned about the history of the mafia in Palermo and the efforts to eradicate it. Addiopizzo is part of a social movement dedicated to facilitating store owners to sell their goods without paying “pizzo” to the mafia. It started with a commitment by community members to buy goods from those not affiliated with the mafia and then enlisted shop owners. There is a symbol on the doors which indicates membership in the organization that guarantees no mafia involvement. While the mafia is not as dangerous as it used to be (no killings since 1990s), it is clear from the tour that it still holds a grip on everyday life.

This is a fascinating tour that I would highly recommend. Stefano was a passionate tour leader and the three hours went by quickly. We learned things we would never otherwise had the opportunity to do. And the tour ticket, provides some support for the anti-mafia efforts of the organization which I appreciated. After the tour, we returned to a restaurant that Stefano had pointed out as pizzo free.

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After lunch, the sky started to brighten up and the consensus was to go the cathedral and climb to the roof for a view over the city. Our tickets for 7 Euros included the Royal Tombs which we visited while waiting for the next opportunity to go to the roof.
The staircase is very narrow and I know I counted how many steps but can’t recall now. It was quite a few. It really is the top of the roof-about three foot wide with railings on either side. The view was very nice and the sun certainly made everything look better. I would recommend. The Cathedral itself is free and we wandered for awhile. Most notable for us was the monument to Father Giuseppe Puglisi who was killed by the mafia on his birthday in 1993 for his work encouraging poor children to stay away from the mafia. The altar itself was not visible as like the one is Cefalu it was being refurbished.

It was still very pleasant out when we exited the Cathedral so we continued walking down Via Vittorio Emanuele. We lingered in Piazza della Vittoria is occupied by the Villa Bonanno garden. It is very well manicured which surprised me a bit. I had expected gardens to be less maintained, given the reputation of Palermo. We walked past the Norman Palace and of course, our walking led to a nearby gelato shop.

At 5:30 pm we attended a puppet show at the Silver Theater down a little street across from the Cathedral. I had followed the signs to the theater. Tickets were 12 Euros but cash only which again led to some scrambling. The front rows were occupied by a tour group (Gate1) but we sat immediately behind them. There were only tourists attending as far as I could tell. Certainly there were no children. The puppet theater is recognized by Unesco as an art form but its survival today seems to rely on tourists. It is in Italian but that was no barrier to enjoying the show which is quite animated. I would heartily recommend attending a show. It provides a very different taste of Sicilian life than visiting the major attractions.

We ended up making dinner in our apartment after the restaurant I wanted to visit had no room for the evening. I made reservations for the coming night and we stopped at Lidl for groceries. We had a great kitchen and a full sized dishwasher so it seemed like a good idea. But the food we bought was not of the same high quality as we had enjoyed in Taormina and Ortigia. It was a bit tasteless—so we were disappointed. We had read how supermarkets were replacing the traditional markets but after our dinner it was hard to understand how. The next morning we went back to the Ballaro market and bought freshly made pasta, pesto we were able to taste before purchasing, and a Sicilian eggplant (Lidl only had the standard kind) all of which we cooked for lunch. It was delicious!!!

Day 15 Sleep Palermo

This day we did Rick Steves’ walking tour which started like our anti-mafia tour yesterday at Teatro Massimo but goes to the eastern part of the city not the west. The walking tour takes you down some very pleasant streets and then through the La Vucciria Market which is more of a place to buy street food than a market now. You end up at Piazza Bellini by the Fountain of Shame. There is a trio of churches here with very distinct archeological styles here that we visited. If you buy tickets at one of the churches, you get a discount at the others.

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The challenging part was the crowds. There are a surprising number of tour groups in Palermo There is no line at all to get into Chiesa di San Cataldo so we start there. It is unlike any church I have been into. It is very plain and feels like you have been set back in time. You seems almost like a church the early Christians would have worshiped in. We follow that by Santa Caterina which in contrast was the most opulent Baroque church I have ever been into. Apparently, it was connected to nunnery for many many years and aristocratic families would send their “extra” daughters here instead of having them marry “down”, since often families could only provide a suitable dowry for the first born daughter. When the crowds begin to descend, we move to visit La Martorano, which is the only of the churches that are strategic avoidance is not all together successful. The line is shorter but we certainly do not have the church to ourselves. Part of the church is covered with Byzantine-Norman mosaics and part of it is baroque. It is a bit odd and I found I actually did not appreciate it as much as the other two. It also may have been the crowds which made it hard to appreciate where you were. This was the only crowded space we were in while visiting Palermo.

After our wonderful home cooked lunch, we went further east in Palermo. It was partly sunny and we made our way to Piazza Marina which has huge ficus trees. We then went down to the marina and walked along it for awhile. There were lots of boats of different sizes docked there which I assume belonged to Palermo residents. The water glistened a bit in the sun. Then we made our way to Palazzo Butera which a colleague of mine had recommended.

Palazzo Butera was the big surprise of our visit. It was 10 Euros for entry and was not crowded at all. We felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was purchased by a couple from Milan, renovated, and is intended as a place to bring the multiple cultures of the city together. Part of it is an art museum with their own collection. It is modern art which was not our forte. But the building itself was for me the main attraction. It had been meticulously renovated and there were interesting pictures and videos of the process. There were some quirky features. Roots of the tree in the courtyard were found in the tiled drains and the owners had put plexi-glass over them so you could see the drains with the roots in it. You could climb under the original roof and see what it looked like, before it was reinforced. There are beautiful outdoor areas renovated with tile found in the palazzo. Our whole visit really was a joy.

We then went to the Stanza al Genio or tile museum. It is a quirky little museum that actually is the bottom floor of an occupied house. The entrance is hardly obvious and a neighbor across the street actually directed us. There was a tour that had just begun that we were allowed to join without any reservations (10 Euros each). The owner of the house is clearly a bit eccentric. He started collecting tile at age 9. Every surface in the house is covered in tile and yet he was off buying more tile, according to the guide. There is machine made tile and hand made tile and the contrasts are intriguing as are the stories about collecting.

Our last dinner in Sicily is at Osteria Alivaru which I would highly recommend. We ate indoors as it was raining again. We enjoyed our dinner very much and the prices certainly were reasonable. I think we paid about 92 Euros for multiple courses, including desert, with wine and water.

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Day 16 Sleep near Rome airport

On our last day in Palermo we went by bus to see the Montreale Cathedral. I had stopped in the TI office to inquire about the schedule and took a photo of it. When I commented on how many people visiting Palermo, the woman replied “isn’t it just wonderful!”. The city was clearly pleased about the resurgence of tourism this year. The bus though did not seem to run on the published schedule. It seemed like the traffic was not as bad as the schedule accounted for, perhaps because it was Saturday, and the bus just did the loop in the time it took, not waiting for the time it was supposed to be departing.

The Cathedral of course is stunning. I must admit I might have seen too many pictures of it so I wasn’t as awestruck as I should have been. In fact, I was at least as taken by the cloisters which I knew nothing about. Perhaps there is a case for not researching quite so much! The columns in the cloisters are a work of art themselves.

I had hoped we could visit the Capuchin Crypt following the Cathedral but our late start that morning combined with the Crypt’s scheduled siesta made that impossible. So we decide to take our time and enjoy one last walk down the pedestrianized street back to the Teatro Massimo. Along the way, we spotted some people leaving a pizza restaurant and pounced on their seats. We planned to have a couple order the food and a couple stay at the table. But someone from the restaurant asked if they could help us and replied that we wanted to have some pizza for lunch. The employee told me that we should all come in side and order our lunch and that he would save the table for us. We really didn’t feel like we had much choice but were not convinced that we would have a table available when we had our food. But we did-he had saved us the table. Small things but just again a contrast between how you would manage lunch at a crowded restaurant in the U.S. and Italy.

We ended up being able to take a tour of Teatro Massimo. I had read complaints about the tours being in English and Italian and that the Italian part of the tour was much more thorough. Ours was in English and French and the tour guide spoke equal lengths of time to both groups. It is opulent like the 1880s it was built in and huge; it is the largest theater in Sicily and the third largest in Europe. We didn’t see backstage as that is a separate (and longer tour) but the backstage is where the real estate really is. The guide told me that there have been performances with three cars in them and others with multiple elephants on stage!!!

Afterwards, we made one last stop to buy cannoli as we made our way back to our apartment where the owner had been kind enough to store it. We took the train to the airport and Ryan Air to Rome where we stayed at a hotel we reached by paid shuttle near the airport. The next day we left on separate flights.

Reflections on Palermo:
We liked it much more than we had thought we would. In fact, Palermo was one of my favorite places we visited. It has beautiful buildings and we liked the vibe of the city. It is a little bit rough around the edges but in a positive way that made it not seem like every other city. There was less trash here than I expected, although it isn’t Switzerland We certainly would return again to Palermo and then try to see the Western part of Sicily that we never really saw because of the rain.

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Very thorough report, Beth! I have been saving it so I could read it all at one time - and yesterday I had to duck into a coffee shop because of a heavy downpour and a closed museum here in Thessaloniki - and it seemed a very fitting time to read. 🤣

I love how well you research your trips - and yet roll with the punches. :)

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Really enjoyed reading your report as I was in Sicily at the same time starting in Palermo for 4 nights before joining a tour and leaving Catania on the 23rd. The weather definitely made it challenging at times but at least Catania airport was only closed for a day. I too really liked Palermo but it sounded busier when you were there. I found Taormina busy and lots of school groups everywhere.

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Beth, great trip report, so detailed and thorough. I enjoyed reading it. Sounds like you saw many sites and accomplished a lot despite the poor weather. I am sure this report will help future Sicily travelers with their plans.

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Well, I try to roll with punches but am not up to your level, that is for sure. You have to be really able to go with the flow to do some of things you have done.

I will be interested in your impressions of Thessaloniki as I have toyed with visiting. I saw it on the sign when we were visiting Meteora last year and somehow it intrigued me!

We had school groups too! Especially in Siracusa. To help the adults keep track of them, they all wear the same color baseball hat. The guide we had for Mt. Etna said his son was visiting Pompeii on school trip. Can you imagine?

We left before Mt Etna erupted but it reinforced the wisdom of taking unconnected flights from Palermo not Catania! One day being closed could result in missing the international part of the flight.

I read all the trip reports I could find on Sicily, including yours, multiple times while planning ours. So hopefully will help future travelers out. I also especially like to read TR of places I have been!

We mostly missed out on the western part of Sicily because of the rain. So I guess the only solution is to return! We were never going to be able to go down the western coast so we could next time. And maybe an island too!

But hopefully with no rain. I would go later next time. I would rather have heat than rain.

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Thoroughly loved your report. Makes me want to go back

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Glad you did! I find it especially fun to read trip reports of places I’ve been. It makes me feel like I am back there!

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Beth- what a great trip report - thank you so much for sharing... question for you - would you think it realistic to go to Modica/Ragusa/Scicli as a day trip (or series of them) from Siracusa , or did you feel like it was a better experience to stay there overnight - I am trying to judge distances etc and a big decision point is whether its worth it to get a car (as you mentioned the roads seem to be not overly crowded and decent shape, but i am also hesitant when its a lot of hill driving !)


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I just saw this today!

I don’t think you can do Modica/Ragusa/ Scicli all in one day trip from Siracusa. Scicli is not on train line but there is a bus but I think too complicated if not staying near by. You could get a taste of Modica and Ragusa in one day. We felt like that is all we got if Modica, even with a car. We got to know Ragusa better but honestly could have another night (so 3) there. We spent one full day exploring other places.

You could also take the train and stay in either Modica or Ragusa and spend a couple nights. You can then get a bus from Ragusa to Palermo. The challenging part without a car is getting to Villa del Casale. You can though take an organized trip from Palermo that goes there and Agrigento. There is also a train and a bus that goes to Agrigento from Palermo. But public transportation from Ragusa to Villa del Casale and/or Agrigento is challenging at best.

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Thanks ! - Based on your insights, I think we prob will end up going over there to Modica or Ragusa and spend a few nights -

we were trying to avoid a car for as long as possible , but it sounds like the flexibility is worth it for some of these stops where you cant tell if you want to spend two hours or eight !

Appreciate it !

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WHAT an amazing trip report! Thank you so much for taking the time to write in such detail about your experiences. Sicily is one part of Italy we've yet to visit & this has certainly confirmed it would be a fantastic trip.

Question - How much research did you do before this trip?!? It looks like a LOT went into planning it, curious about the resources you found the most helpful for planning? Thanks again.

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Glad you enjoyed the report! Sicily truly is a fascinating place.

On research: I actually started with Rick Steves episodes on Sicily. They were what had sparked my interest initially so when we started seriously talking about going, we watched them again. They hit most of the highlights.

I also watched the BBC series Unpacking Sicily which I learned about on this board. They go to somewhat out of the way places so not as useful for planning a first trip as much as getting a sense of Sicily.

The two books I used were Rick Steves and DK Eyewitness. Rick Steves is easier to start with but doesn't include as much.

I also read all the Trip Reports on Sicily I could find on this board. I found them very useful.

And I started reading Trip Advisor's Sicily board.

Finally, of course, I did research on the internet but found that most helpful when I was looking for something specific.

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BethFL, Thanks for the details about how you planned your trip, most appreciated! We've gotten as far as watching RS's Sicily videos, which is indeed what got us so interested in traveling there. OK, BBC 'Unpacking Sicily' is the next on our list, good idea!

One follow-up question, because we're European residents, we have the luxury of visiting places for shorter trips and returning to Sweden, minus jet lag. What about a 5-7 day trip to Palermo, base ourselves there with day trips to dip our toes into the area? Perhaps another trip to Catania and do the same thing.... (PS, I just looked through RS's suggested Sicily itinerary, the 6-day plan he outlines sounds about right.)

When I spent a LOT of time in Italy 2 decades ago, Sicily wasn't yet very safe, my Italian relatives refused to travel there, so isn't it amazing how times change??

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How fortunate you are! Personally, I still would try 7-10 days as it is trouble to go anywhere.

I think 4 nights for first time visit to Palermo would be ideal. You could visit Cefalu by train from there. You can do a visit to Agrigento by train as well. You could spend extra nights in both places or add nights to Palermo and day trip.

Most of the west side of Sicily is a bit challenging without a car. People do it but it takes longer. Or you can take a tour to places like Segesta.

On the east side, we did not stay in Catania. There are a lot of mixed opinions on it and we had to make choices and did not stay there. You might try Ortigia-the old part of Siracusa instead. That seems to be universally liked and is pretty well positioned for day trips, if that is your desire. You can take the bus to Noto and train to other Baroque villages. Personally, I would stay in Ortigia for 3 or 4 nights and then Modica or Ragusa for 2-3. You could do a few more nights in Catania or Taormina. You can get to Mt. Etna from either.

You could do this without a car but again some of the smaller towns are more difficult. But public transportation is better on east side than on west side of Sicily.

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Thanks Beth! We've put it on the 2024 list and thanks again. Agreed, travel is a pain. A week would work for us so we could prioritize Palermo, take a day trip to Agrigento & end in Siracusa, but it ALL sounds amazing!!

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I missed this the first time around — so glad it was topped up! What a great trip report with tons of detail. I especially love the descriptions of the unusual things you did — the puppet show, the Anti Mafia tour. They sound super interesting and fun.

Sicily is on my short list for a future trip — bookmarking this for when I start researching.

Thank you!

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Deb-you will love Sicily! My mom after seeing our pictures and hearing our stories, told us it was the most interesting place we had been.

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@BethFL ... another question... would you mind sharing the name of your Air BNB in Taormina?? we are trying to decide whether to stay in Taormina proper or stay down in Giardini Naxos and transit in to Taormina , Etna from there ??
thoughts? thanks

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Well, I can’t figure out how to link it here but it is called Vanni’s house.

I would stay in Taormina proper as it isn’t that close to Taormina. We took the train from there but have to admit I really don’t know much more about the town.

There are tours that go from Taormina to Etna.