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Solo in Sicily, December 2022

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.

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I took the train to Noto the next day and I was thrilled to go to the famous Cafe Sicilia, which I had studied in culinary classes. I visited the cathedral and walked through town and then headed to my airbnb in Catania- a trip made unnecessarily stressful with my e-sim on the fritz.

My airbnb in Catania was just amazing. I would never have found it reasonable in the states, but in the off season in Catania, it was 1/4 of what it would be here and the host was lovely. I had a view of Mt. Etna from bed and could see nearly every dome in the city. I pinched myself more than once.

I ate cheaply but still had wonderful food in Catania (and yes, I found more granita, haha!) I found the city itself very interesting and bursting with character. I am rarely bothered by cities people consider dirty, especially considering that I have a love affair with the so called dirtiest city in the world, but away from the beautifully kept piazzas and luxury shopping, it felt really (really) dirty... mainly animal excrement, some vomit and food-not as much an overflow of trash.

I wandered into a number of cathedrals and toured the Monastero dei Benedettini, which was completely fascinating despite only having Italian tours available that day. They kindly supplied me with a printout covering the info, but I understood enough Italian to tell the guide was saying a lot more than what was on my paper. He answered a couple questions for me while we walked between rooms and I was able to pick up just a little here and there.

Taking a guruwalk was invaluable in understanding the city a little and the guide took us through most of the central neighborhoods. Afterwards, I had the best culinary experience of my trip. I walked 35 minutes South to A Putia Do Calabrisi. It was a madhouse, with people lined out the door-people dressed in business suits and people that were wearing filthy work clothes, old people, children.... You are seated not by table, but by open chairs. You get pointed to, you put your butt in the chair. You can choose meat or fish and beans or pasta and after that, they put bread and a plastic cup of house wine in front of you and bring you what they made that day. Antipasti (amazing), lasagna (amazing) and homemade sausage in red sauce (also great). I never sit down and eat three courses, but it was worth it. The whole place had one guy manning the till and dispensing wine from ancient casks, two ladies in the kitchen and two ladies running plates. They still took time to tell everyone their names and to call us pet names. It was a blast.

I took a day trip to Ortigia and it was a jarring contrast from Catania. It was absolutely gorgeous and the restaurants and sites were all open. I completely understand why so many suggested I stay there. It was very, very touristy to the point of a cattle call at times, but I probably still would have enjoyed it as much as anywhere else I stayed. I sat on the tiny pebble beach for an hour and sifted sea glass through my fingers and was eventually joined by very brave, very naked swimmers who went into the (cold!) water without hesitation.

I ventured out for a final granita back in Catania, but the festival crowds were starting in earnest and it was truly difficult to walk. I enjoyed Etna and the terrace for the later part of the evening and went out just to put my laundry in and switch it at the laundromat, whose owner had a tiny chihuahua in a tutu.

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You all were right and I ended up not using local public transport at all in Sicily. I walked 15+ miles some days and enjoyed almost all of it.

Catania saved the best for last when our plane circled the billowing Mt Etna after takeoff on a perfectly clear day.

Sicily was like life... wonderful and terrible and beautiful and crazy. The island has been through so, so much and everything there seems to have a rebellious resilience to it.

I very much appreciate everyone who helped me figure things out in advance. Thank you!

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4423 posts

Thanks for sharing your "wonderful and terrible and beautiful and crazy" trip with us. It makes me eager to go back for more!!

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6198 posts

Wow, Sleight, this is great. I especially appreciate how you were able to traverse Sicily using bus and train. We'd love to go back to Sicily (we've been there twice on tours) but don't want to drive.

And thanks for the great eatery recommendations.

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2414 posts

Thanks for sharing. We are going in May to Sicily. I made note of your restaurant choice in Ragusa as we are staying there as well.

Your experience with being harassed in Palermo I must say are a bit disconcerting. I have read other trip reports of yours (always enjoyable) and know you are not easily intimidated.

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5180 posts

Sleight,

Thanks for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly about your trip.

You definitely covered much ground during your travels, and I’m glad to hear that you made it to Ortigia and Noto.

I hadn’t heard about Caffè Sicilia when I visited Noto, so definitely want to return and try some of their tasty treats!
I’m curious, what treats did you eat there?

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3015 posts

Thanks for sharing your trip with us.
I'm thinking of a solo trip to Sicily this spring.
How were you hassled in Palermo, if you don't mind giving a detail or two?
Was it physical or just annoying?
(I'll understand if you don't want to relive it here.)

I've been solo to Rome and Naples, and I too like the "grittiness" of big ancient cities.
Are you able to give links for your accommodations?
Thanks!

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@CWsocial
Well, when you do, I'll look for your trip report! :)

@Jane
It was not as intimidating as I thought it would be. There were a few interesting moments, but I think I would have been frustrated with a car almost everywhere I went (except Ragusa).

@BethFL
I hope you have a wonderful time. Ragusa is lovely.

As for the other... I knew that traveling solo would be different, but I am not young and beautiful. I have super short hair and I dressed practically masculine-plain pullovers and khakis and such. I think I thought that would make me invisible, but I forgot that men harassing women want money as often as anything else and could care less how I look.

Nonetheless, at least 4 guys in Sicily trailed me making kissy noises or shouting "Hey baby!" One was just being a jerk, one wanted money, and two, I think, were trying to sell me something. None of this was particularly unnerving, so much as mildly annoying. Some of it was downright funny. (A Senegalese bookseller in Bologna asked me if I'd ever been to Senegal and when I said "Nope!" he hollered after me "We should go together! Hakuna Matata, baby!!" I can't imagine that routine sells him many books, but who knows?!)

The person who cornered me simply played me. He asked directions to the grocery store and sat down with me while I had coffee. There were plenty of people around and he chatted nicely doing what felt like an impression of my new gay bestie. Then he got handsy and I was seated in a way that prevented me from pushing my chair out. I'm generally not easily intimidated and I assumed that I would be the type to defend myself firmly from a pushy guy, but I froze. My life was not at all in danger, but my body did not seem to know that. A good reminder for me that control is a bit of an illusion.

@Priscilla
Thank you again! :)

I knew that Cafe Sicila was over 100 years old and the proprietor is the 4th generation in his family to be making artisan sweets there, and that kind of stuff is appealing to me. I got granita (of course, lol)- It was called "Cappuccino Ghiacciato" which is espresso granita with almond milk granita in a coffee cup. It was great. I had the traditional brioche with it and it was good and more citrusy than some others I tried. I didn't eat anything else while walking so I stopped on my way back to the train for gelato. I got one made of sheep's ricotta, pistachio and rum. It was not overly sweet, but not sharp and it had a very natural taste and consistency. I wouldn't say any of it was the best I ever had, but it was different and delicious and the experience was fun too.

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5180 posts

Sleight,
I’m so sorry you experienced such upsetting/ unnerving situations while in Palermo…

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10857 posts

Thanks for sharing your trip. We were excited to visit Caffe Sicilia in Noto but it was closed the day we visited. A return trip will happen someday.

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3961 posts

Sleight, thanks for sharing your journey (including the challenges you encountered). So sorry you experienced them. We were going to return to Sicily in 2020, but that was canceled. We were going to duplicate Priscilla’s itinerary using public transportation. Hope to make it back sometime. In the meantime I appreciated reading your report!

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3015 posts

Thanks for sharing your scary encounter.
I’m horrified that the man put his hands on you!
Do you think he was Italian?
Not that it really matters, as how dare any man intimidate any woman anywhere.
I hope his mother is proud of him. :(
I’m glad you’re alright.

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295 posts

@Suki
It had only just reopened after a holiday closure when I was there and I see they are temporarily closed once again. Wonder what that's all about.

@Janis
That's fantastic. I love so much that itineraries and experiences and advice can be shared. Priscilla, I feel like we owe you a bouquet of Arancini or something as a thank you?!

@ SJ
He was Italian. Said he was newly back in Sicily after many years, thus the request for directions. I assume that was a ruse and I think he knew his way around just fine. That's just the thing, he never came across as one would expect "intimidation" to look and when he did make a move, it was a bit more invasive than a hand on a shoulder or a squeeze of the knee and he seemed to think I should be appreciative for the attention. Despite not being able to get up and run and not having the presence of mind to just shove him, I turned away from him quickly and he "apologized" by saying he was a "medical professional" (physical therapist) and that I should allow him to continue. He was at least 40. I don't blame his mama one bit.

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2414 posts

Sleight,
I am certainly glad everything worked out okay but he is a real skum bag preying on woman by themselves and then trying to act as though it was a misunderstanding. Not in same category at all as cat calls and unwanted flirting which is more common in Italy and can be thought of as an (annoying) cultural difference. This was a calculated power move.

Beth

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3015 posts

I think I’m going to make up some nonsense words to use on my next solo trip if someone ever bothers me.

Hello lady…Do you speak English /Italian/Gaelic/Klingon?
“Herscynutaomncy betdseawqomn” ? in a loud voice.

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1249 posts

Sleight, thank you for this fabulous trip report of your time in Sicily. I certainly would be unnerved by the attentions of the “therapist.” It’s not always easy traveling solo in places that are unfamiliar, as I have experienced too. Kudos to you for not letting this incident mar your trip.

On a different note, I am registered for the Zoom “RS Festival of Europe: Sicily” tomorrow evening. Looking forward to seeing some of the places you visited while in Sicily during this presentation as I might sign up for a RS Sicily tour in the next couple of years - simply because it is one of those places I may not feel comfortable traveling solo in and would want company.

Thanks again for this report.

Happy travelin, Linda

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3015 posts

Linda:
How would I find out how to sign up for this Zoom meeting about Sicily?
Thank you.

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3015 posts

Thanks Janis!
I’ll probably watch it on video in a few days as I can’t join in tomorrow.
Looks like I have a few to catch up on!