Sicily- An Island of Contrasts

Trip Start Nov 27, 2012
Trip End May 18, 2013

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Where I stayed
catania Best Western

Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Sunday, January 13, 2013

After leaving the city of Palermo, we left in our hire car for our own circumnavigation of the island.

This was Steve's first overseas driving attempt on this trip but he really did extremely well and quickly got into the swing of the Sicilian way of car transportation. One has to drive here in a very assertive way – you will get nowhere if you sit back and wait for anyone to let you into a lane of traffic. Rather, you have to slowly but surely move in and you will find that the other drivers let you into their traffic stream. On the freeways, the fast lane truly is for the very fast, but again, the slower drivers stay in their lane and quickly get out of your way.

We are indebted to 'Bella’ our Iovely Italian passenger (aka the GPS lady). We bought her in Palermo and she has become a very valuable member of our team when driving. She will escort us on our other drives during this trip, but her name may be changed as we move into other countries. As we expect our next driving experience to take in Switzerland, can anyone suggest a Swiss name in advance?

Our first stop was Agrigento. The area was founded around 581 BC by Greek settlers and nearby is a Unesco listed archaeological site which consists of the ruins of temples and walls from the ancient city of Akragas. It really is quite spectacular to visit.

We stayed at a B&B in the nearby beach town of San Leone. During winter this town is VERY quiet – it had basically closed down - so we were fortunate to find such a beautiful place for our overnight stay. It was a small establishment run by a very friendly Sicilian man who could speak very little English. However, his hospitality was overwhelming and the lack of a common language was not a barrier as he provided us with a clean, spacious room and a hearty breakfast before we set off to our next stop of Siracusa.

The historic centre of Siracusa on the island of Ortygia is a must see. This island is connected to the town by a bridge. It is like a maze of tiny, winding streets on top of cliffs set against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.

From our base at Siracusa we next drove to Mount Etna. At 3330 metres this volcano looms large from most parts of this section of Sicily. We drove to 2500 metres and then caught a cable car to take us even further up. During summer, weather permitting, one can then catch a four wheel drive to the official crater zone (2920 metres). Being winter, this was not available to us. However, we attempted to walk for some distance before turning back. Honestly, we experienced the strongest winds we have ever felt whilst up there. Del turned back before Steve, but even he struggled against the blustery conditions. Even the cable car was closed due to the high winds, so we had to wait for a small bus to take us back down to the car. That was a journey in itself!

Next (and final stop) was Catania. From here we visited the most beautiful old city of Taormina. Plenty of hill top streets and browsing through quaint shops and of course, eating at restaurants serving delicious Sicilian food. Catania itself, while a useful base for us, is really a very big town which often serves as a departure point for ferries back to mainland Italy or to other places of interest in the region.

All in all, Sicily has been a fascinating experience. It is a bit of a puzzle really. On the one hand it has the most stunning natural scenery which rivals the Amalfi coast (in the writer’s opinion.) For example the train ride from Catania to Messina takes you along one of the most scenic coastal routes you will find anywhere. Etna and the volcanic topography is amazing. The people we have encountered have been so friendly and hospitable and the food is yummy. However, some of the larger towns are quite dirty (litter in the street) and much of the coastal towns completely close down in winter. It is almost as if it welcomes those who come to its shores but it is not prepared to go out of its way to attract them there in the first place. Perhaps – given how some irresponsible tourism has spoilt so much in our world – this is a good thing! In summing up I would say that Sicily has certainly been worth seeing. It welcomes travellers -as distinct from tourists- certainly during its winter season.
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