I just finished the 9th annual vacation with friends (11 days, varies between 10 and 14). Let me begin by saying everyone's warts are magnified in a Renault Elf.
My strategy for keeping successful trips and friendships is to surrender, most of the time. About eight months to a year ahead, my two friends let me know what area they want to visit. I make reservations for hotels (they like small towns, hate big cities, love agriturismo stays). I prefer big cities. I find wilderness and forests creepy. They are willing to search all day for the perfect beach (in between meals and historical sights); I grew up on South Beach, so...
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? That's where surrender comes in. I am absolutely willing to give up my phobias for time with them. So I search out nature preserves and beaches. We agree on food, wine, archeological sites, and art, and those take up most of our day. And I know that with them, I will see wondrous things that I would never notice on my own, even if I wanted to get close to them.
We started in Mondello, at the edge of a nature preserve in Sicilia, but it is actually a suburb of Palermo. We had to be rescued by our B&B host when we got lost - a major street had the wrong stenciled name on it. So Francesco saved us, we checked in and went to dinner at a seaside restaurant and had a great first meal together. We walked around the small harbour and the main Piazza. It was late, so we turned in soon afterward.
The rooms were three around a kitchen/dining area, which we did not use. Only once was the third room occupied, so we had an apartment to ourselves for four nights. Breakfast (fresh pastries, rolls, butter, jam, ham and cheese, coffee of any kind, juice and yogurt) was more than ample.
To my surprise, there was a bus that goes from Mondello to central Palermo, so we set out the first morning to see the things we had missed several years ago when we couldn't find a parking space. Parking has not improved since then, so with a combination of bus, taxi, and free navetta (described in my earlier "Palermo" report), we saw the Capella Palatina (top of our list). Very crowded, and the apse is roped off so the viewer cannot get a good perspective on the mosaics. We decided to skip the Royal Apartments and the special exhibition, and went to the Duomo, which we agreed is more impressive from the exterior. We took the bus back to Mondello for dinner.
The rest of our Mondello days were spent driving to small towns nearby, discovering places we had never heard of before. On our last day, we went to Segesta (a return visit) and were again mesmerized by this unfinished temple.
We then moved on to three nights in Selinunte. The scaffolding has been removed, the temples are beautiful. The town has grown up around the archeological site, so everything is close at hand - until you get into the temple grounds. The site is vast, no, really vast, so we opted for the full ride (3 stops) in the little tram, which takes you to one, two, or three stops, drops you off, and another tram comes by every 15-20 minutes. On the third pass, the tram driver asked where my friends were, and I replied that one was an engineer and had to inspect every stone. "measuring the dimensions?" The driver asked, and just then my friends reappeared, the engineer saying, "The dimensions of the stones are amazing," and we all had a great laugh. Then onto the furthest point, which we had completely to ourselves (apparently not many people buy the long version of the tram ticket). So the driver stayed with us rather than make a 15-kilometer roundtrip, and gave us tons of information and narrative about the ruins, and briefly stopped at a Byzantine church that is still mostly yet to be excavated. Then we went to the Acropolis, were dropped off, and picked up an hour later. What a beautiful, memorable day.