I've been meaning to get back to do a trip report, mainly to say thank you to those who offered advice, but I got home 9 days before Christmas with 4 teenagers and two dogs waiting for me to make the magic happen!
I had wanted to get to Noto on a Sunday so I could actually stay there and enjoy somewhere a little quieter for a couple of days. Everyone here at the forum recommended I choose Ortigia instead but my accommodations there fell through. In the end, I had two full days in Palermo, took a bus to Ragusa on Monday morning, stayed overnight and visited Noto on my way to Catania, where I had three days before an early morning departure.
Palermo- I found it to be extremely interesting and beautiful. I'm always fascinated, as an American, by how raw many sites are. A lot of places in Palermo, you're on the honor system as far as keeping your hands off ancient artifacts or not falling off a catwalk. The crumbling cathedrals felt like both tragedy and triumph.
I had an unfortunate encounter with a local my first day there that deeply colored my feelings while in Sicily. It didn't so much inform my feelings about Sicily itself, but I can't go back and relive the time without a little cloud hanging over me personally. I was aware that I was far safer in Palermo than in my hometown in terms of violent crime, but I'm not approached aggressively multiple times a day at home. I wasn't bothered by anyone on the so called rough edges of town- only in the tourist centers. I experienced an interesting combination of reserve and forwardness from people in general and the particularly aggressive few were standouts.
It was the entirely wrong season, but Palermo still had enough tourists for granita and I loved every bite. My favorite place I visited was the Palazzo Conte Federico and I highly recommend the tour, which is guided by a family member of the (very interesting) owners who still live and work in the house.
I've found the hours for restaurants and sites on google to be unreliable maybe 15% of the time in Italy as a whole, but at one point in Palermo, I went to 5 places in a row marked open on google, that were closed when I arrived. I ended up chucking my loose itinerary and walking and taking things in.
I took the bus to Ragusa on Monday and the bus ride was a wow. The land was absolutely beautiful and much of it looked like I have pictured Ireland-emerald green with low stone walls and craggy hills. (Tip: I emailed the bus company to confirm my route was running and they responded with the precise location-even the stall number- for departure!)
My formerly trusted airalo e-sim pooped out on me upon arrival in Ragusa and I was left to try to find the airbnb with no guidance. It was the warmest day of my trip and I had my pack on, so I was soaked in sweat and hadn't eaten a bite and was still wandering around at 2pm. Someone lent me their hotspot, I screen shotted directions, downloaded the photo of the place and went back to it. When I finally got in, I only had a couple hours of daylight (leaving the next am). I still didn't have service so I considered staying in, but after I cleaned up, my curiosity and my stomach got the better of me and I trekked down to Ragusa Ibla. Once again, google was sure there was plenty of gelato and panini at hand, but it was a ghost town. I was able to zig zag nearly all of Ibla in a couple of hours and I found one tourist restaurant about to shut down til evening and nabbed an arancino (so good!) and then found a tiny family owned cafe that I can't recommend enough. Everything they serve is from within 50km, down to the grains in their homemade bread and they treated me like family. (Osteria del Pane Cunzato)
Cathedrals were all buttoned up as well, so I didn't see the insides of any, but it was stunning and I had a fantastic view from my place.