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Rome and RS Sicily Tour February 2019

Before I start my trip report, I just wanted to say that we were lucky enough to share this tour with an amazing group of people including Liz who wrote up an incredibly comprehensive and evocative trip report here: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/best-of-sicily-february-12-trip-report

A little background. I am a married to Matt and the mother of two boys (Gabe aged 13 and Nate aged 11 at the time of the trip). We chose a tour after a conversation with my dad, Stan, and his wife MJ where we mentioned that we were starting to plan another trip to Europe with the boys. They showed an interest in joining us and while I loved this idea, I did not want to be responsible for planning an entire itinerary for a group of 6 covering three generations. I have always used the RS books in our travels so I suggested a RS tour as a great way for us to do this. We all agreed the Sicily tour offered some of the greatest variety in experiences and the food (very important) and the price was right as we signed up for a February Tour. Then I had to figure out how to get us to Palermo! We were really excited once we figured out the cheapest way for us to get to Palermo was through Rome. We made the executive decision to add a couple of days there and see that amazing city for the first time. I was in charge of finding a place to stay and setting up any and all tours for the extended family. While I enjoyed it-this processes made me think signing up for a tour when traveling with an extended family is a bargain in the mental stress department! I spent more time worrying over those 2.5 days than I did on the 11 days in Sicily. My boys and I also prepared for the trip by watching documentaries, relevant RS videos and Gabe even read my copy Mary Beard’s SPQR. I also made sure to include everyone in choosing the key things they wanted to see in both Rome and throughout Sicily. We only had 2.5 days in Rome (this included our arrival half day) and based on family input the important sights/experiences were 1. The Colosseum 2. a food tour and 3. St. Peter’s Basilica. I therefore made our schedule based on these priorities. Note these were not necessarily my preferences but I thoroughly enjoyed everything!

Rome
We stayed right by the Pantheon at the Hotel Pantheon and loved it. The location couldn’t have been more central and the staff was lovely. Also our massive family suite had a bathtub and after some long days trekking around Rome, more than one family member relaxed their aching legs and feet in a nice bath! Our goal for our first afternoon in Rome was simply to stay up until at least 8 after not really sleeping much at all on our flights over. All six of us went to the Pantheon and I “led” our own RS walking tour of the Pantheon. We then walked to San Luigi dei Francesi which has the three Caravaggio’s on the life of St Matthew. We really enjoyed this and my husband who had been an art history major was able to give us a little more background on them. We then walked to the Piazza Navona and then crossed back to the Trevi Fountain which was a mob scene, and not really our thing but was certainly an experience. We split up for dinner and in somewhat of a fugue state we wandered around a bit before finding a place that was open, ate and then promptly went back to our hotel and passed out.

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The next morning was a Sunday and we woke up early and five of us (not including MJ) took taxis to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. One of the things my boys and I really wanted to do was climb to the top of the dome at St. Peter’s. We were there at 8:15 in the morning, and there were no lines anywhere. We paid to ride the elevator to the roof and then started climbing the dome. I wish I had taken a picture of the slanting walls or how you end up in such a tight spiral staircase that there is only a rope hanging down the center to grab onto rather than a railing. My youngest (11) bounded up at a speed that would have made a mountain goat proud and later told me he felt cheated that we took the elevator and he had not been able to climb all the stairs at St. Peters. He thought then our climb didn’t “count” because of this. Just fyi, no one else in the family felt this way. My dad huffed and puffed his way up! The view was very satisfying and because we were early not crowded at all. We loved going in on the inside of the Dome as well and looking down into the Basilica is a view I won’t forget. Once down again on the main level, I led our own RS walking tour of the Basilica and we also went through the papal crypt. My dad said that our morning at St. Peter’s was his favorite part of Rome. The scale and the details of the place cannot be adequately shown on a screen- I think we were all awed in one way or another even though we were all intellectually and visually acquainted with many of the things that we were seeing. From St. Peter’s we went back to our hotel to pick up MJ and we went to the Colosseum for our 11:30 am tour. I was lucky enough to get tickets for the Underground and Belvedere tour through the Coop webpage. We made sure to arrive early to find the correct entrance. Once comfortable with where we needed to be and when, we wandered over to the Arch of Constantine where the Roma Police Band was playing big band music from the 1940s. It was a sunny day with blue skies and the temperature was in the 50s. The whole experience was charming and so enjoyable. I leaned over to my husband and joked, “It’s like EPCOT but in real life”. (My husband loves our trips to Disney World and this humorous video we found is an exaggeration on our different vacation priorities, namely Europe/travel v Disney https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVldRjNb4BE) It was then time to take our tour of the Colosseum and it was an incredibly informative and interesting 2+ hours. The only downside was that by the time we got out the Forum would be closing in an hour and the line was LONG. So we made an executive decision to skip that and walk down the Via de Fori Imperial to the Capitoline Museum. We ate a late lunch at the cafe on the roof and then spent over three hours being dragged into every room by my 13 year old who absolutely loved it. We enjoyed it too but my husband and I were actually done at the two hour mark. That night we ate at Vivi Bistrot right on of Piazza Navona, which is recommended in RS Rome Book. We thoroughly enjoyed it. I had the vegetable bean soup and I had to stop myself from licking the bowl.

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RS SICILY TOUR

Palermo
In order to squeeze in one more day in Rome, and still fit it in with my husband’s allotted vacation time, we decided to fly into Palermo on the day the tour started. This is not usually the suggested or optimal plan but it worked for us. We took a taxi from the airport to the Ambascadori Hotel and less than two hours after our check in we were meeting our RS tour group! I was a little worried about this. I took a 13 year old boy and 11 year old boy on a RS tour in the middle of February and I knew most, if not all, the other participants would be closer to my dad’s age. Given our travel experiences in the past, I knew my boys would fit in well with the RS philosophy and would be very happy with the itinerary and topics covered. I had also double checked with the RS office given my youngest son’s age to make sure they were ok with it. However, I was a little nervous about how the other tour members would respond to them. Would they think our family was going to “ruin” their lovely adult vacation? I am so happy to say, the members of our tour were kind, open and interesting and treated the boys no differently than any other members of the tour. My boys genuinely developed relationships with many of the other tour members and occasionally would even eat meals or sit on the bus seperate from myself and husband to be with other members of the tour. We all had an incredible time making new friends and sharing experiences together.

Liz has done a wonderful job going over what we did as a group (and actually including restaurant names) so I am simply adding my impressions to that. Our first group dinner in Palermo was fabulous. My family loves seafood and it tasted incredibly fresh. We noted that in all the restaurants we had eaten at in Italy there was never a salt or pepper shaker on the table. We also noted that the food was also seasoned perfectly. We wondered how insulted would the staff be if we ever dared to ask for one?? We happened to be sitting at a table with Karin, our tour group leader. She had picked the menu and we enjoyed everything. However halfway through our pasta course the manager(?) came over to Karin with another pasta dish that she had not ordered. Based on the back and forth it seemed that the restaurant thought that she hadn’t picked their best pasta dish so they made it in addition to what she ordered. Oh my gosh it was so funny and we were soo full by the end of the night!

The first full day of our tour started with our bus trip up to Monreale. Now, many of us had checked the weather and is said mid 50s and partly cloudy. We dressed according to that. However Monreale is at a much higher elevation and there was a wind advisory. Lets just say some of us (ahem me) didn’t take that into consideration and weren’t properly layered for it. However, the church and its Arab-Norman style was fascinating and our family of four walked to a bar and drank our hot chocolate standing at the bar like we knew what we were doing. It was our first experience with Italian chocolate and it was life altering. It is more like warm, rich chocolate pudding than what we call hot chocolate here.

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We then drove back to Palermo. We were given a tour/overview of the daily food market and then left to our own devices. The food market was one of the highlights of Sicily for Gabe. We ate the freshly boiled octopus, which earned thumbs up all around. Then we had to find a stall that sold the infamous spleen sandwich. This was important to Gabe. We did, he had one made and he split it with his dad. Matt (my husband) thought it was ok. He said it was much more mild than liver, it’s really more of a texture thing. Gabe claimed to enjoy it and it truly was one of the highlights of the trip for him. Nate and I declined. We then paid one euro for a loaf of bread made in a wood fired oven and walked back to our hotel eating it. We rested for about 45 minutes and then we went on our next adventure. When we were planning this trip, I had given Gabe the Lonely Planet guide book and told him to find something for us to do in Palermo. He discovered the Museum of the Spanish Inquisition which is located at the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri. We walked down towards the waterfront and soon located it. This place was our favorite “find” of the trip. You can only see it by guided tour, but you show up, they give you a ticketed time entrance (usually within 15-20 minutes of your arrival) and our family of four had a private tour of some of the most unique original sources I have ever seen as a historian. There was cell after cell covered with graffiti, images, and writings of prisoners of the inquisition. We were given an excellent overview of Spanish rule of Sicily and the role the inquisition played. Our tour guide explained what we were looking at in a way that developed a narrative as well as giving technical details. While this place was initially chosen because my 13 year old has an affinity for Monty Python and just had to see it as “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” we highly recommend it to anyone visiting Palermo. You literally can’t see anything like it anywhere else in the world. There is apparently only one other cell in a town in Spain that has anything that comes close to this.. After that we walked along the waterfront and played in a park for a bit. The lighting was beautiful reflecting off water and sailboats in the harbor. We walked back towards our hotel and strolled along the pedestrian only shopping center. We stopped in the Palermo F.C. store and Gabe and I got our soccer jerseys, and Matt bought a knit cap which was the suvneer we wanted from this trip. We were pretty tired by this point so we headed back to the hotel for an early night.

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Segesta and Erice
The next morning our entire group met with their luggage in hand and walked to our bus. We were on our way to Segesta! On that bus ride Karin, our guide, talked to us about the role organized crime has played in the history of Sicily, including how US military operations during WWII helped to re-establish the Mafia in power in Sicily to the bombing and assassination of two judges in the 1990s. I know my dad, who took a class on organized crime as an attorney, complimented Karin afterwards for the accuracy and thoughtfulness of her talk. Karin then went on to explain what we were going to see and experience at Segesta, a Greek temple that was never completed and a Greek theatre with a view over a valley. When we arrived the first thing that I noticed were the flowers! Beautiful orange flowers (orange calendula I think) were blooming everywhere against a deep blue sky. Back home it was snowing and overcast and here I was taking pictures of a sleeping cat in a hill of flowers with a backdrop of a partially built greek temple. For me, life couldn’t get much better in February! The first stop was the Greek theater. You could either wait for a bus or you could hike up the road yourself. It was such a beautiful day that about half of our tour decided to hike up the road. I think most of us regretted that decision by the top! It was some really good cardiovascular exercise. The bus passed us on our way up and the only two who thought the hike up was “fun” were my two boys. The theater was beautiful and many in our group were willing to try out the perfect acoustics. . We then got back on the bus to take the climb up to Erice. It was up in Erice that we had the gift of having a cooking class with Maria Grammatico where she taught us to make two cookies from ground almonds and cannoli made with fresh ricotta. Maria does not speak English, but she is a character and had us laughing and my boys blushing with her sense of humor and references to “nun’s boobies”- the name of one of the cookies. We then were able to walk around the stone town of Erice before taking the bus to our home base for two nights- Trapani.

Trapani
We arrived in Trapani that evening and our room had views of blue the Mediterranean Sea with a glass floor that showed the roof of an older building under us. Our family of four walked along the rocky shore in the setting sun. Both my boys got their feet wet in the Mediterainian (with their shoes on, but we’ll skip that part). After our group orientation walk that evening we made sure that we got our nightly allotment of gelato. The next day our tour got to explore the island of Mozia, which ended of being one of the highlights of the trip for me. I loved taking the boats over to the island, being greeted by the little dogs who lived there, seeing all of the beautiful flowers in bloom, and walking along the island shore with blue skies above, flowers around and Carthigianian ruins to learn about. I really enjoyed seeing the only known Cathigianian ruins in Europe and learning how you can differentiate their building style from the Romans.The picnic lunch they fed us was simple, vegetarian, and bursting with flavor. The freshness of the ingredients in Sicily can not be rivaled. I could follow the exact recipes at home and never hope to replicate the taste. We then took the boat back to the mainland and took a tour of the traditional salt works. My boys thought this was the worst part of the tour but almost all of the adults loved it. (My boys impression was that there was a lot of focus on selling the salt and the business side which they did not enjoy.) The salt was delicious and most people bought some to bring back as a souvenir of the day. We ended back in Trapani and and a lovely dinner with my dad and MJ.

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Agrigento and Villa Romana del Casale
The next day we headed to the Greek ruins of Agrigento. On our bus drive there we were temporarilly stopped by a flock of sheep being driven across the road. Nate loved that. The guide that gave us our tour of the museum and the historic site was knowledgeable and entertaining. My husband has an art history degree and has rolled his eyes at how many slides of greek vases he had to look at as an undergraduate. He stated that if he had had this man as his teacher, he wouldn’t have minded so much! He was able to not only talk about the large narrative but weave in daily life vignettes. These Greek ruins are one of the reasons we chose the Sicily tour. I loved the idea of seeing the history of multiple empires/ civilizations in a relatively small area. In Sicily we were able to see and study the ruins of Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Norman, Arabic, Spanish, and Bourbon rulers. We had beautiful lighting on our day at Agrigento and the local stone used to build the temples glowed like a golden sunset. Our favorite moment was when my family of four laid foot to head in a row on the ground next to one of the Atlases from the Temple of Zeus. The four of us together was the same length as one of those huge statues. After a late functional lunch at a local cafe we were off to our stay at a rural hotel and restaurant. The garden and views here were relaxing and lovely. My boys enjoyed running around the garden and getting some energy out of their system. We headed to the bar before dinner where we had more italian hot chocolate and talked to many of our tourmates before dinner. The dinner we had here was seafood based and absolutely delicious. This evening was perhaps one of the most relaxed on the tour and a perfect time as it was right in the middle of it. We were in the country, all the food was provided for us and there was nowhere to go or anywhere we had to be. We could simply enjoy the good food and good friends. My boys had a lovely conversation with our busdriver, Salvatore, about Italian composers they enjoyed with Karin translating for them. The next morning the hotel supplied us with one of the largest (and fresh) spread for breakfast I have seen. If you get experience it, pack up some of their delicious cookies to eat later in the day. They are homemade, tender and so so good. Their pistachio and dark chocolate were some of the best I have had. We then took our bus to the Villa Roman del Casale which is in the middle of nowhere! It is also epic. I had seen images of the mosaics including the famous “bikini girls” numerous times. What I did not appreciate was their scale and that the figures were in some cases greater than lifesize. My younger son Nate, enjoyed going on a photo scavenger hunt of trying to take pictures of as many animals as he could find in the mosaics. That kept him focused for a LONG time. Gabe loved the fact that there were the remains of an aqueduct that was built to serve this property. He had really begun to appreciate Roman public works while in Rome. What we found most interesting from our talks about the Romans in Sicily was how they had totally changed the climate of the island. Apparently before the Romans arrived the island was covered in forests and had a cooler/wetter climate. They deforested the entire island leaving it more arid and hot. Our trip showed us the impact of the Roman Empire both in its need to “subjugate” nature and also in its ability to build and organize. From these Roman ruins we took our bus to Syracuse.

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Syracuse
In Syracuse, we stayed on the Island of Ortigia, which is the historic heart of the city. I think this town had the most beautiful town center of anywhere we visited. On our first night after our group orientation walk we were free to do what we wanted. However two thirds of our group decided to follow Karin like ducklings to see if we could find and exhibit on Archimedes that was going on. We were able to get in for the last hour it was open and at half price. It was a wonderful exhibit on this native son of Syracuse. It had an engrossing intro movie and then all the exhibits were hands on. The pictures I have of our group trying to solve three dimensional puzzles or work an Archimedes screw are some of my favorites. The next day we visited and toured the Cathedral of Syracuse which to me is the symbol of our trip to Sicily. It started as a greek temple, became medieval Christian Church, became a mosque, became a church again, an earthquake damaged it, and it gained a baroque front. Seeing all of that history in the architecture of one building was a highlight for me. We also had a surprise tour of the oldest Mikvah in Europe. They story of how it was uncovered by a woman doing work on her house and the story of the Jewish presence in Sicily that lasted until the Spanish inquisition was moving and tied into the earlier stories we had learned in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome and in Palermo. We then went to a traditional Sicilian puppet show. My husband loved this. The running story of Orlando and Rosalinda with sword fights and decapitations was surprisingly entertaining considering we couldn’t understand a word of the dialogue. We had the afternoon to ourselves and we had a fabulous lunch with my dad and MJ at a restaurant with views of the blue sea in the sunshine. Afterwards my family walked to the military fort and toured it. We kept it easy and relaxed and didn’t have any objectives for the afternoon and just enjoyed the sunshine and walked along the walls of the island.

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Mt. Etna and Taormina
The next day we drove from Syracuse up the slopes of Mt. Etna. Mamma Etna was smoking as we drove up to it. Karin had started a tradition of playing songs based on where we were or the feeling of the day. Dan suggested Jimmy Buffet’s “Volcano”. Most of the bus joined in the singing of the chorus and this led to lots of chuckles and good cheer as we went on to our next adventure. (As an aside: I’m posting this after the tragedy in NZ- I am not trying to make light of that or that we were somehow being usafe by going on the craters. We were given a very scientific lecture on Volcanology and the type of volcano that Mt Etna is and that it is one of the most studied volcanoes in the world and that it was very safe for us to climb on it in spite of the smoke plume coming out of it.) My boys loved climbing along the craters of Mt. Etna and this was a highlight of the trip for them. One of our tour mates, Cheryl, made it up to the top of the trail with my boys and offered great encouragement to me, but my fear of heights got me! I actually scooted down on my bottom for part of it because my knees got so wobbly at one point. Our tour then went to a winery on the slopes of Mt Etna. The grapes are unique varieties to Sicily and are grown on old craters of the volcano. It was lovely walking around the winery and their hospitality and knowledge made the afternoon very enjoyable. Most of the adults loved this part of the tour and I know my dad ordered a case of the wine to be shipped home because he liked it so much. We then headed to Taormina which is so high up on a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean Sea that we actually had to transition from our large bus into smaller vans in order to fit along the roads leading into the town. That night we had the fun experience of having a pizza making class with Gabriele. He was hilarious and very opinionated about his pizza. FYI - no more than three toppings on a pizza, pineapple does NOT belong on pizza, and you do NOT want a lot of gluten in your pizza dough. We all learned a lot and enjoyed the evening with our tour group. The views from our hotel were spectacular. My favorite photo from our trip came from here. I woke up early the next morning as the sun was rising. I took a panoramic photo that showed the sun rising on one side and on the other side was Mt. Etna smoking with the moon setting. In between the sun and the moon was the sea and the town of Taormina. On this day my youngest Nate was not feeling well. So he and I stayed in our room which had a balcony overlooking the town and sea while the rest of the group went on a tour. I had the experience of going to the local pharmacy to get medicine to help an upset stomach. Asked Karin what words to use, and they were super helpful and the cost was very inexpensive. Once the tour group came back, Matt took me out to give me the tour of the Roman theater that I had missed and we walked through a beautiful garden and bought delicious local candy. We had a relaxing day and found a supermarket where we bought food to make our dinner in our room. Some of our tour mates were adventurous and went down to the shore and rented a boat and guide and toured the Blue Grotto- the pictures were beautiful.

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Catania

The next day we drove to Catania, our final stop on the tour. That morning we went to the Sicilian World War II museum. This was Gabe’s favorite part of our RS tour. He really appreciated the perspective given (Sicilian) as well as the objects in the collection. The start of the museum where you are in a recreated village center and then go into a bomb shelter while being bombed is incredibly evocative and was a unique experience for us. Our tour group then went into the center square of Catania. Our family walked through the fish market and had a delicious lunch of fried fish from a local stall with Marcia and CB. Catania was not my family’s favorite place to visit. While interesting it felt more “aggressive” and many of the places we would have liked to have visited including some churches had hours that were not conducive to actually seeing it (i.e. open 1 or 2 days a week with odd hours on those days.). In effect Catania is slightly oblivious to tourists-which is totally fine- but it is not the most fun city to visit from my perspective. That evening we had our final group dinner. It was bittersweet as we were laughing and talking with our new friends but sad that on the morrow we would depart for our homes and new adventures. The next day the unexpected happened. Mt Etna was smoking so much that the Catania airport was temporarily closed. Many had connecting flights throughout Europe that they had to make the next day. Our family of 6 decided to rent a van and along with Dan and Mary and head to the Palermo airport on the other side of the island and fly out from there with new tickets. That van/taxi ride was crazy. I don’t think he ever went slower than 80 miles per hour and Mary in the front seat looked like she was holding on for dear life! We flew out of Palermo that evening ensuring we would make our flight home from Rome the next morning. This trip was so wonderful and we were so thankful that we were able to experience it with family and some amazing new friends.

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Oh, kbachtell, I know just what you must have experienced. I enjoyed this tour so much, I took it twice (slightly different itineraries). I loved Sicily and so enjoyed going for a third time with you through this wonderful and beautifully written tour report. Also, as regards your children, my husband and I have taken our adult children plus their children (aka known as our grandchildren) on 4 other Rick Steves tours and found they were as accepted on those tours as yours were. We are about to take the Adriatic tour in May. Those grandchildren are now in college and 20 and 18 years old. While we early on originally had the same concerns about their reception as you expressed, we have always have found other tour members to be very inclusive and welcoming. For the Family tour which was our first RS tour together, they were much younger but took we took the others when they were teens. I encourage you to travel with them and your parents as much as you can. "Generational travel" is a true learning experience for all. Thank you for taking me with you to Sicily. You make me want to return one more time!

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Kristin! Thank you for the heads up regarding your trip report! What a nice thing to read on a dark, cold winter afternoon. It was fun to relive the tour through your eyes and visualize the different activities your family chose to experience in the free time we had. I think most of us, being parents ourselves, intuitively understood your nervousness regarding bringing the boys and I'm so glad that your fears were unfounded. They are delightful boys and I commend you and Matt for opening their eyes to seeing the world and learning about history and different cultures. We had a very special group of people on that tour - open, friendly, curious and inclusive. And that's how you became fondly known as "the little family." Please give our holiday greetings to the boys, Matt, Stan and MJ! I hope our paths cross again.

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Great report, thank you for helping me imagine the February version of this wonderful sounding tour!

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We also did this tour in February, but that was some years ago. And we also did the tour twice, as andi did, because the itineraries were different.

I must say that we've been on several RS tours with children (not the family tours) and have always enjoyed it. The kids ranged from 11 to 16, and all managed to interact well with the older folks. It adds a new perspective for the rest of us, as well.

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What an interesting report!
I'm taking the Sicily tour this coming April with a couple of friends and reading about your experiences has me even more excited.
Thanks for sharing your trip with us!

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Kristin, thanks for the memories! It was a great tour, our favorite so far, and it was a pleasure traveling with your whole family. Your boys are going to be great adults. And nicely written report.

Stan #2

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Thanks for the report, this tour is on our radar for possibly 2021 (Scotland is taking up 2020). I'm curious about the RS scheduled meals, you mention a lot of seafood. Were you given other options besides that? Even the smell of seafood at the next table is enough to make me gag.

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Allan, I remember lots of seafood, lots of swordfish, and lots of eggplant. I'll flip back through my journal tonight and if I made specific notes about meals.

I remember the swordfish and eggplant because I'm not particularly fond of them. Although I will say the the best eggplant I've ever had was in Sicily, on one of the RS tours.

You could always opt for Pane con la Milza, a spleen sandwich! (Much better than it sounds, by the way.)

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Allan, I was on the same tour as Kristin (and Stan #2!) There was a lot of seafood served, but if you tell your guide that you can't eat it (there will be time at the end of your initial group meeting for this) he/she will know in advance to alert the restaurants and they will accommodate you. From what I understand they are quite used to this, as there are so many people traveling now with gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan diets. One of our tour group was actually allergic to seafood and she managed just fine with their help. Kristin was kind enough to highlight my own Trip Report at the beginning of hers, and if you read it you'll be able to find some of the restaurants my husband and I found during our free time - they served wonderful soups, breads, meats, potatoes, pastas, pizzas etc. There are many choices for those who don't care for/can't handle seafood. It is a wonderful tour.

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Liz is right. I have a mild food problem, and the guides have (almost) always made sure that I'm accommodated. If you tell your guide that you cannot tolerate seafood, they will handle the restaurants for you at group meals.

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Liz and Stan (#2)- It is so good to hear from you both! Thank you for the kind comments and maybe we will run into each other again on a future RS Tour. Although, I'm not quite sure how it would top the one we were on together as the people we had on that tour were so wonderful.

Allan-Liz has already answered the question as I would have done. I just wanted to add there were so many good vegetarian dishes as well. As a rule I do not like eggplant, but however they prepare it in Sicily made it absolutely delicious!

Andi and Jane- As you experienced, we loved this tour so much that we absolutely want to go back to Sicily again. I'm glad my trip report could bring back good memories for you.

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Andi- Please write about that Adriatic tour when you get back! I think it may be hard to top Sicily, but that tour is one that is in my wish list for the future. I hope you have a wonderful time there.

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Allan, I can't eat shellfish, as I told the tour leader at initial meeting (its part of the RS SOP to ask). It was easier to just say no seafood, and I always was served something tasty like pasta Norma (eggplant - which I love). But you cant avoid seeing and smelling it in a restaurant, especially if you're at a table for 12 and everyone else is eating seafood. And I might just mention that you'll see and smell plenty of "interesting" sea life, live and wriggling at the markets that you'll visit on the tour, so you might want to think about that.

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Thanks so much for this TR. I've travelled Sicily on my own, and I'm really not the best at tours, but you've made me really think about the possibility of taking my 10 and 12yo grandsons on this one.

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Ruth, I'm so glad you enjoyed the trip report. My dad has said having this experience with his grandchildren was wonderful and that this was the best vacation he has ever had. I too was unsure if I would "like" a tour as I do enjoy travelling independently and I can sometimes find group activities to feel forced. We found all of our tour mates to be genuine, interesting, fun people that increased our enjoyment of the experience. There was also plenty of time to do things independently as a family. As a practical matter, when we signed up for the tour that the RS office wanted at least one of the kids to be thirteen but they were okay with the younger one not hitting their stated age requirement. You might want to call the RS office to double check what their current policy is on this matter.

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Oh Friends- I just realized that in my copying and pasting my trip report I somehow skipped our entire day two in Rome! Well, slightly out of order now here it is.

Full Day #2 in Rome
This day ended up having even more walking in it than the previous day. We started by walking from our hotel to Largo Argentina to see where Julius Caesar was assassinated and to see the Cat Sanctuary located there. We found out that it opened after 12 noon so we promised my youngest that we would come back later in the day. We then walked to the Gesu Church where we enjoyed the over the top baroque art and architecture. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the right hand of St Francis Xavier there (which became a humorous experience when we went to another Jesuit church in Palermo only to discover his right hand was being venerated there as well!) We then took a taxi to go to our Europe Eats food tour of the Trastevere neighborhood. This was an enjoyable experience and the food was excellent. I particularly liked seeing the hills made up of broken amphoras that now have small restaurants built into them. After being stuffed to the gills, we took a taxi back to the Largo Argentina area. The boys and I went into the Cat Sanctuary. This was Nate’s favorite part of Rome. One of the managers of this organization allowed us into the room with some of the injured or blind cats who could no longer roam the streets of Rome safely. My boys patiently sat on the floor and waited to be greeted by these animals while we learned about the organization's efforts to give medical treatment to the feral cats of Rome. Nate bought a t-shirt from the sanctuary and it is by far the coolest souvenir from our trip. After this experience we walked to the Jewish Ghetto and I led a tour using the RS guidebook. This made a huge impression on Gabe as we covered the impact of antisemitism for centuries. After this we walked to the Victor Emmanuel Monument and went through its museum of Italian nationalism. Nate was bored to tears here, but Gabe and I really enjoyed it and it actually gave us some great perspective for the history we were to learn on our tour of Sicily. We were happy but exhausted but this point so we simply picked up some food from a local deli right by the Pantheon and ate in our room before falling asleep. The next morning Gabe and I went to see the Pantheon once again before we flew out of Rome. We were the first ones in the building and it was a magical experience. I loved being able to go into the Pantheon both in the morning and the evening as we came and went to our rooms. I knew I wanted to see it because it was historically significant, but what surprised me was my emotional reaction to the space. The Pantheon became my surprise love of Rome.

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Hi Kristin & Liz,
Thank you both for your very detailed trip reports! I’m a solo female Traveller and just signed up for the Sicily tour in early February. I’m looking forward to sightseeing in the cool weather in about 6 weeks. While I know weather can vary, what kind of jacket and tops & pants did you find worked well? A waterproof windbreaker/lined jacket with a fleece or sweater underneath or would a heavier jacket/coat be better? I know that 50 and sunny sometimes feels warmer, so wasn’t sure a coat was needed. I’m going to Rome after the tour so did it feel colder there? Or did you need more layers?

I’d much rather be cold than hot and want to pack light, so just thought I’d get your observations. I did the RS Ireland tour last year and it was much warmer than the forecast so I only wore my jacket a couple of times.

Thanks to all those with the notes on seafood. I don’t eat seafood so it’s nice to know there should be other good options available too. Can’t wait for the pizza, pasta, and gelato!

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111 posts

Hi TriciaC- On our tour I brought layers. I already owned an ll bean thinsulate vest and an ll bean polartec hooded sweatshirt that I brought. I splurged and bought myself an REI raincoat for the trip that also doubled as a windbreaker/outer layer. It looked awesome and even Karen the tour guide asked where I got it from. With these three layers plus a long sleeved shirt I was comfortable most days and could easily take off layers and tie around my purse or leave a layer on the bus when needed. My youngest son did get colder than he thought was comfortable with the layers he had brought so in Palermo we bought a puffer style coat at an outlet type store in the main shopping street for less than 15 euros that he wore the rest of the trip. The 50 degree average could feel either cool or warm depending on the wind and cloud cover for the day. Remember though there are times and places that are much colder. Mt. Etna is a ski resort and there was snow there. The evenings would drop into the 40s and since it is winter daylight ends early so you are walking around city centres when it is often in the low 40s. My biggest concern was rain both in Rome and Sicily. I know we were lucky with how little rain we dealt with. In Rome we only had one major storm, but it was a downpour that included hail! For pants i just brought my normal pair of jeans (that I wear on the flight), a long ankle length skirt (that i did not wear that often) and a pair of light cotton Capri pants. I also brought cuddle duds leggings (think super thin stretch/cotton) that i could wear under my jeans or long skirt for extra warmth. I did do this on several days. I basically wore my jeans 80% of the time which is also representative for what I do at home. As many people on these board often say-wear what you wear at home for those conditions and you'll be good. I was able to pack everything I needed in a carry on no problem. I hope this helps and I am so excited for you! I think you are going to have a wonderful time.

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Thanks so much! Yeah I have several different layers and just trying to decide what to bring.

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113 posts

Kristin, thank you for your tour report. I will be going on this same tour in about 45 days. You have answered so many questions I was wondering about. I like Allan, do not like seafood either. The smell is okay, just don't like the flavor. I have been to Rome before too, so I am only spending the day I arrive and the next morning before leaving for Palermo. I am getting so excited for this trip to come.
As for clothes, I just wear what I wear normally. I just have to bring layers. I am usually a warm person, so adding a few extra layers for vacation are just fine. I already wear a light weight coat that is water resistant and lined. I am also a fan of scarfs, hats, and gloves. I am a big fan of a carry on and not checking, so I have all my clothes when I arrive. I hope you family had a wonderful holiday season.
Thank you again.

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679 posts

Thanks for your trip report. I really enjoyed it and reading how your boys travelled so well.

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262 posts

Kristin, do recall the name of the REI raincoat you took on your tour?

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111 posts

Luvt2Travel

Here is the link: https://www.rei.com/product/136927/rei-co-op-pike-street-trench-coat-womens
It has a cord on the inside of the waist that you can cinch in if you want. I bought it in a pretty jewel blue/green color on clearance that is no longer available, but it is currently on clearance in the last two colors (black and tan) and a good deal at the moment. It is not lined (no warmth) but I found it to work well as a windbreaker with layers beneath. I particularly liked how long it was in the back and how it curved low to cover the top of my hands.

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1402 posts

Thoroughly enjoyed your report!
Thank you. (I want to travel with your boys....!)
I'm just in the process of looking at a trip to Sicily; having been to Italy 10 times, but never to Sicily.
We always go independently; as can't afford the Rick Steves tour prices with our Canadian/US exchange rate.