Wednesday, September 18, 2013

SICILY (May 2013)

SICILY (+ Rome & Naples), May 2013

Rome, Naples, Palermo, Monreale, Trapani, Marsala, Erice, Segasta,  Calascibetta, Piazza Armerina, Caltagirone, Vizzini, Ragusa, Modica, Siracusa, Catania


Rome: We found a good, inexpensive B&B just next to the train station.

We invested a few euros in a Rome bus map and were glad we did.

If you want to see the incredible Villa Borghese, you MUST get a ticket on-line, preferably months ahead—we missed out! But we went to the Villa Barberini at opening time (9am) and had the place to ourselves.

Restaurants: La Campana (near Piazza Navona)—try the animele (sweetbreads).
Trattoria Trilussa, a bit pricey, but excellent, in Trastevere. Also Pizzeria Renella for great pizza by the slice (they cut what you want from a rectangular pizza and charge by weight).
Giolitti has some of the best gelato in town (and everyone knows it!).

We spent one night in Rome, then took the train to Naples for 3 nights. What a dump! The centro hist├│rico has some lovely plazas, but it’s all pretty grubby and grafitti covered. Other than the opera house, not much of it impressed me.
Buy a bus/train pass—we made much use of it (same goes for Rome).
Take the cable car to Vomero to see the fancy neighborhood. Don’t miss the Museo Nazionale to see all the loot from Pompeii.

We took the overnight sleeper train to Palermo. Beware of scammers in the station that will tell you the train is cancelled.

Palermo: I found Palermo surprisingly quiet, clean and orderly—not what I’d expected (Naples actually looks like my idea of Sicily). We loved our airbnb rental, great location overlooking the very pretty plaza San Domenico. Have drinks on the terrace of the Rinascente department store, just across from our apartment.

We visited all the open fruit and veg. markets in Palermo—by far the best is Ballaro.

The Chiesa di Santa Caterina is one of the few churches with an entry fee (2 euros)—well worth it!

We rented a car in Palermo for 8 days. Don’t miss the stunning cathedral at Monreale, about an hour outside Palermo. From there we drove to Trapani, a lovely, upscale place (the old part anyway)—we stayed two nights.

Nearby Erice, an ancient rock-built hill town, was the real highlight here. A day in each town is enough, but Erice seems like a place one might stay for a while just to absorb the atmosphere.

We also went to Marsala from Trappani. It’s clean and lovely, but only if you have extra time.

We travelled all the way from Trapani to Caltagironi in one day—the roads are good.  We arrived before dark, but with more time I would have preferred to stay in Cefal├║.

Segesta: Not far from Trapani are some of the best preserved Greek ruins anywhere—small site, but lovely. The wildflowers in May there were beyond anything I’ve seen anywhere in the world. The views of the surrounding hillsides are superb.

En route we stopped at Calascibetta, right next to bigger and better known Enna.
It’s an easier stop if you’re just driving through, but with more time I would have stayed a night at Enna.

We stayed 2 nights in Caltagirone and visited the imposing Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina as a day trip.  I would skip Caltagirone and stay in the old part of Piazza Armerina, which is charming—we wish we had. Be prepared for tourist hordes at the Roman ruins—annoying, but worth it.

Vizzini made a lovely coffee stop en route to Ragusa where we stayed 2 nights. Ragusa Ibla is the old, lovely part, but a bit precious and touristy for me. Our splurge meal at El Duomo (75 euros each) was memorable and worth the price.
Tel. 0932-651-265

We stopped at Modica en route to Siracusa. It was one of the livelier small towns we saw, if not the most picturesque (read: a bit more real).

The old part of Siracusa is super clean, lovely but quite touristy. For some it would be a highlight-- I was ready to leave after two hours. Don’t miss the outdoor morning market—one of the best in Sicily.

Catania: We stayed 4 nights here and loved it—my favorite place in Sicily. We weren’t crazy about our airbnb rental here, but saw a few other places that looked good. It’s a walking town, so it helps to have a central location:

The Bellini house museum was disappointing, but don’t miss the Palazzo Bizcari, where the prince himself gives the tour of this faded but fabulous palace.  It’s free, but you must reserve—go to the tourist office near the main plaza. Read Lampedusa’s ‘The Leopard’ about the decline of Sicilian nobility after the unification of Italy—the palace will provide a wonderful visual setting for this must-read book.

Catania has an international airport.