| Part 1:
I had some concerns before this trip, mainly regarding the security
(see below) and also because of the weather (I was afraid it might be
too rainy or cold). Both concerns turned to be unfounded, as we didn't
run into security issues and found good weather.
The big problem with this trip turned out to be the food. We were
surprised at the high cost of eating out and the lack of cheaper
alternatives. After the trip Shirley told she doesn't want to return to
Italy because of the food issues.
There were also challenges in driving in a car on Sicily's roads,
especially in the cities. The road network and the driving style of
Sicilians do not make it easy to drive around in a car.
Overall however the trip was not bad, because the weather was fine most
of the time and there is a lot to see in Sicily. Sicily has a rich
cultural and historical heritage, with plenty of sites to visit. Also
the natural environment is interesting, with Mt Etna being an absolute
highlight. It's cool being at 2600m of altitude, having the tip of the
volcano on the left and the Mediterranean sea on the right side. I
would imagine that in spring Sicily is even more attractive, as the
days are longer and the islands are accessible again.
The Sicilians themselves most of the time are friendly and helpful.
Except for the restaurants the cost level in Sicily is in line with
other European countries (i.e. not too expensive). Restaurants instead
are expensive (see below). It probably is so that in Sicily eating out
is considered a luxury, something to do on special occasions.
The biggest problem of this trip was the food, because most restaurants
in Sicily are just too expensive and there is a dearth of inexpensive
places where to eat. With a family of four to feed, the bill for a
decent restaurant meal would have totaled 80-100 Euro, i.e. 160-200
Euro for two daily meals. We were not willing to spend that much.
problem is that in a typical Sicilian restaurant a simple noodle dish
starts at 7-10 Euro. A dish with meat costs between 10 and 20 Euro, to
which you have to add 3 Euro for potatoes or rice because this meat
dish comes with nothing (just plain meat).
Suppose then that you add a
soup, or a salad or a dessert for 5-7 Euro. Then there is a fixed cost
of 2-3 Euro per person for the "coperto", i.e. the right to sit down at
a table. So, if you eat normally in a Sicilian restaurant without
worrying too much about the cost, you end up in this 80-100 Euro range
for a meal for a family with two kids.
On the other hand you can't eat pizza or sandwiches every day, and
especially the kids will need some hot meal, e.g. noodles or something
and some meat at least once or twice a week.
In all countries in which we have previously travelled it was normal to
go to a restaurant for lunch and/or dinner, to have hot meals and we
were having meat every day.
In Sicily instead it seems that eating in a restaurant is considered a
luxury (compare that to SE Asia where eating out is cheaper than
cooking on your own).
So we had to limit our restaurant visits as much
as possible and when we went to restaurants we had to be very careful
about what we were ordering.
Thanks to the high prices of meat (really
strange because meat costs nothing these days) we have almost had a
vegetarian diet for these two weeks.
We only found two affordable restaurants towards the end of the trip:
the U Saracinu restaurant in Ragusa and the Conte di Cavour one in
Despite being told that the food in Sicily is fantastic, we didn't find
great food, not even when we went to better restaurants, spending for
instance 12 Euro for a dish of noodles. After a while I started asking
myself if Sicilians knew how to cook.
We had read about Silician street
food in the Lonely Planet guide and
were eager to give it a try, but struggled to find it in Palermo. I
wonder if the winter season played a role.
We were imagining that there would be stalls
on streets selling this take-away street food, as is the case with
street food everywhere else on the planet. We didn't find any such
But I gave a try to a cannolo
in a cafe. Very sweet and greasy thing (a "caloric bomb"),
very heavy to digest.
We found panelle in a
Monreale. I immediately skipped it, seeing how greasy this thing was,
but Shirley ate one with bread.
Later in a rosticceria in Cefalů Shirley gave a try to an arancino
(fried rice-ball) and complained that it was very salty. Essentially an
arancino is a rice ball, filled with for instance mozzarella and meat
and fried in oil. It's supposed to be delicious from what I have been
told. Personally however I wouldn't be able to eat a ball of rice
cheese and meat and fried in oil.
Pane cunzatu was
recommended to us as a speciality to try by the warden of the
Zingaro NP, who suggested that we visit a bakery in Scopello. We
of these sandwiches, but it was quite disgusting. A rough bread with a
thick burnt crust, full of olive oil, cheese and tomatoes, prepared by
staff with dirty hands not wearing gloves.
We stayed in a number of mid-range places paying on average around 80
Euro/night. All accomodation was prebooked via the Internet.
/ Exchange rate (December 2012)
1 Euro = 1.30 USD
ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a
Cirrus/Maestro ATM card.
phones and prepaid cards
We bought SIM cards from Vodafone (15
Euro with 7.50 Euro of airtime, 23 cents/minute for calls and a 250MB
Internet package valid for one week, 3G network) in a mall. These
worked fine and gave us voice and mobile Internet. The only problem was
that these SIM cards charged you additionally if you used the mobile
phone as a PC modem (WLAN tethering mode).
I used the Internet access of the hotels (WLAN) and the 3G one of the
smartphone (using a local SIM card).
I'm not sure if we have been particularly lucky with the weather or if
this is the typical weather at the end of the year in Sicily, because
supposedly winter is the rainy season in Sicily. In any case we found
mostly good weather, with often sunny days and little rain. It was warm
enough (during the day above 10°C) to spend the whole day outdoors.
None needed for Sicily.
No passport controls if you arrive from the a Schengen area country.
was actually a bit nervous before this trip because Sicily is the
homeland of the mafia and because of my brother, who frequently travels
to southern Italy,
tells me he wouldn't bring there his expensive DSLR camera equipment
it will get stolen.
In the end, in these two weeks nothing happened. We followed simple
safety procedures, such as leaving no valuables visible in the car (we
took great car of putting everything in the boots, leaving the car
seats empty). We also didn't walk in cities late at night, and always
together as a group.
- Mt Etna was the absolute highlight of the trip. Cool
view at 2600m of altitude, with the tip of the volcano on one side and
the Mediterranean sea on the other.
- The historic core of Palermo
- The mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale
- The temples in Agrigento and Selinunte
- The historic city of Ragusa Ibla
- Unless budget is not an issue, the Sicilian
restaurants are to be avoided, because food there is way overpriced.
We rented a car, and the car we got was a bit bigger than originally
planned. It was a Peugot 5008 minivan with plenty of space inside for
us and the baggage. The drawback was that the streets in Sicily often
are very narrow, so a big car is more difficult to drive.
Driving across Sicily with a car is tough. The problems come from the
road network which frequently is in a bad shape, narrow streets in
cities, inadequate and confusing street signs. In addition, lots of
people in Sicily drive like shit. People stop their cars in the middle
of the street for a chat with somebody, not caring about the traffic
jam they cause, form additional lanes where there are none, and drive
into streets without caring about the traffic. When a street is narrow
at one point, cars from opposite directions will try to get into the
narrow section at the same time, blocking each other. Drivers have a
habit of crossing red traffic lights. A large number of cars in Sicily
have scratches and dents on their bodies, only few cars are immaculate.