My first visit to Sicilia.....

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
1
7
19
Trip End Oct 02, 2012


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Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Saturday, September 8, 2012

12 September 8 - Saturday

I decided not to set the alarm clock today, so as not to wake any of the others in the room. It occurred to me that I'd better get into the bathroom first, so got up at about 07:20 and got organized.

I decided to try the Hostel breakfast for €3, as the price is reasonable for a full buffet.  I found that they portioned the Ham & Cheese carefully, with three slices of each for each guest.  However, the cereals, juices, cold & hot milk, toast, coffee and tea were all "unlimited". Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to have any ceramic mugs for coffee so the only choice was the plastic drink glasses.  The coffee tasted dreadful!

After breakfast I went back to the room to finish packing my gear and wait for departure time.  The guy from Taiwan has already left, but the others from Quebec and France are still not up (although they are awake).

I left at 10:20 for the short walk to Termini and went right to Track 25, as that’s where the Leonardo Express departed from when I was here last year.  The walk seemed to take forever!  I could see the “light at the end of the tunnel” but for a long time it didn’t seem to be getting any closer.  When I got to the end, something didn’t seem right as there were only a few people there.  I checked the “Departures” board which showed the train now departing from Track 24, which I confirmed with a couple of Conductors that were walking by.  I hustled back to the end of the station, worried that I was going to miss the train. It was a difficult "jog" with a large Backpack and the other bags!

I made it to the train with about five minutes to spare and sat down on one of the “jump seats” just inside the door.  A young couple came in shortly after and stood in the doorway, and as they were speaking English so I asked them where they were from.  They indicated that they were from Kansas City and had been in Italy for a week, celebrating their honeymoon!  I asked if they had validated their tickets, and the answer was “No”.  There was a machine just outside the door on a pillar, so I suggested it would be a really good idea to do that immediately, or they would likely be fined.  There was a large and prominent red sign mounted in the car which detailed the fines, so I pointed that out to them.  He validated the tickets, and  a minute or so later, the Conductor boarded.  The fines could have been as much as €100 per person, or €50 per person if paid on the spot.

The train left shortly after that, and the Conductor checked tickets right away.  Everything was in good order, as I had validated also.  The trip to the airport was the same as always, and after arriving I went to the end of the platform and then turned right for Terminal 2.  Unfortunately all the “moving sidewalks” were out of service so it was a long and tiring hike to my departure gate!

I knew where the EasyJet desks were and headed there right away to see if they were doing check-in for the Palermo flight yet.  They were so I stowed the straps on my Backpack and checked it.  I was glad that I had paid for extra weight, as I was well within the limit.  The trip through security went quickly, especially as I had most of my metallic items already placed in my Tilley Vest.  No one even bothered to check inside the Camera bag.  Once inside I headed for Gate C-08 which is the same gate I had used on a previous occasion for a flight to Athens.

The wait went quickly and before long it was time to board.  There was only one girl checking passengers through boarding, and she seemed a bit “overwhelmed and stressed-out”.  As on the previous occasion, the gate led to street level, where passengers boarded a Bus for the trip out to the aircraft.  They were boarding via stairs at both the front and back doors, so that went quickly.  When I got inside, I found that my seat 26C was in the very last row (didn’t recline) and the seats were VERY narrow so I could barely fit.  Maybe next time I'll consider paying for seat selection.

The flight took off pretty much on time.  So far the experience has been “easy” which has been the same in the past when flying with EasyJet.  When they came around with the Cart, I decided it was time for a sandwich and a coffee, but of course on most budget airline flights, food items are extra cost.  The cost was €8 for a Panino and Starbucks Coffee, but they threw in a free Snickers bar.

The one-hour flight passed quickly and getting off the plane was fast, even though I was at the very back.  Palermo is a small airport so it was relatively easy to find the baggage carousels, and I was pleased to see my Pack finally emerge onto the carousel.  I then made my way outside and to find the Bus into the city.  Rather than buying a ticket from the Driver, I found that there was a small ticket office set up so I had to buy the €6.10 ticket there.

The ride into Palermo was interesting.  On the right side, the décor reminded my somewhat of the southwest U.S., with the Spanish-style buildings and tile roofs.  Many of the buildings seemed to be a bit “worn and dated”, and many of the yards seemed to have lush vegetation or trees (perhaps lemon trees?).  Behind the houses were some low but rocky mountain peaks. On the left, the deep bluish-green ocean was visible and it was nice to see the water after being inland since my trip started.

Sicily is a unique part of Italy with an interesting history.  It's 650 mile coastline is surrounded by three seas, the Mediterranean, Ionian and Tyrrhenian.  It's home to Europe's largest active Volcano, 10,900 foot Mt. Etna, which erupts from time-to-time.  The island has been ruled by a wide variety of rulers during its history, including Greeks, Romans, barbarian Vandals and Ostrogoths, Islamic, Norman, Catalan and Spaniards.  The population reflects the diversity of the history which has shaped the island for 33 centuries.  The Sicilian dialect was also influenced by the different cultures.

Although Sicily is part of Italy, it became an autonomous region under the Italian constitution in 1946, with it's own Parliament and elected President.  The Sicilian Parliament is comprised of 80 MP's which are elected under a system of proportional representation.  In early 2012, the Sicilian President resigned due to "financial and judiciary" irregularities, and a vote will be held on 13 October 2012 to elect a new President.

Especially after release of the Godfather movies, many people tended to equate Sicily with the Mafia.  This is actually somewhat of a "blanket" term used to describe organized crime, but in actuality various regions of Italy have their own versions - in Sicily the Cosa Nostra, in Naples the Camorra, in Calabria the La 'ndrangheta and in Apulia the Sacra Corona Unita.  An attempt by the Italian government to eradicate the Mafia in Sicily resulted in the assassination of two judges in 1992.  A major Police crackdown followed these events, and the perpetrators were brought to justice.  The Palermo airport has been renamed the Falcone-Borsellino Airport in honour of the two judges, and a large monument along the highway to the airport is a reminder of this period of history.

The economy of Sicily is mostly centred around agriculture which includes oranges, lemons, citrons, olives, olive oil, Sicilian pistachios, grapes and of course Wine including Marsala and Nero d'Avola.  Cattle, Mules, Donkeys and Sheep are also raised.  Sicily also has a manufacturing sector, producing processed food, chemicals, petroleum, fertilizers, textiles, ships, leather goods, and forest products.  Tourism is also a significant component of the economy and Sicily offers a wide variety of significant historic sites, including some which have been designated as World Heritage sites.

I had asked the driver when I boarded the Bus if he stopped at Teatro Politeama, and he indicated that he would let me know when we arrived there.  As it turned out, he announced all the stops on the P.A. system.  When I reached my stop, I knew the Hotel was relatively close but wasn’t sure in which direction.  I was going to use the iPhone maps to find the Hotel, but eventually decided to use the GPS instead.  It took a few minutes to “get it’s bearings” but led me right to the Hotel. which turned out to be only a few blocks away.

Upon arrival at Hotel Tonic, the girl at the front desk asked only for my Passport, and then handed me a room key.  I didn’t feel overly tired at this point, but I was HOT so the first thing will be to have a refreshing shower and switch on the air conditioning.  I’ll explore the neighborhood around the Hotel later, after dinner.

Hotel Tonic seems to be an older Hotel (perhaps built in the '60s), but very well maintained.  The room is simple and comfortable, with hardwood floors in the bedroom area and ceramic tiles in the bathroom and thankfully really good air conditioning and in-room Wi-Fi.  The shower head is fixed rather than having the type on a hose, which has been standard in most other Hotels I’ve stayed at in Europe (and the type I tend to prefer when travelling).

I went for dinner at about 19:00.  I asked the young lady at the desk if she had any suggestions, and she recommended Al Cancellatto Verde, which wasn’t far.  When I arrived, an older guy was just setting up the tables, and he indicated they would be open in five minutes.  There was a large woman sitting out front who seemed to be "directing" things, so perhaps she was the owner?  The restaurant is a family-run operation that’s been in business since 1954.

I decided to try Pasta alla Norma,  a local specialty of Sicily which originated in Catania.  It consists of Pasta, fried Eggplant, grated Ricotta Cheese and Basil.  The meal was very good, but a bit more expensive than I had anticipated.  When it was time to pay the bill, I had to go inside since the waiter hadn’t been able to get to my table because of all the people and proximity of the chairs.  The older guy was taking charge of payments and it all seemed to be handled in a very “traditional” way.  He was sitting at a desk and used a calculator to total my bill and then handed me a copy.  I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd been wearing a Croupier's hat.

12 September 9 - Sunday

The Rick Steves “Sicily” tour officially starts today!  The breakfast wasn’t as elaborate as in Cortona, but still quite adequate with cold meats and cheese, juices, cereals, yogurt, fresh fruit and of course coffee.  The girl made each cup of coffee fresh and brought it to the table.  I had a chat with a young couple from Paris, and said “Buon Giorno” to a few others whom I correctly surmised would be on the tour.

After breakfast I stopped at the front desk to enquire about laundry facilities, but was told since it was Sunday, there would probably be nothing open.  The girl checked the laundry website, and they were closed today.  Therefore I had to resort to “Plan B” and do the laundry in the sink.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon doing some computer work.  I had to watch the time, as the “get acquainted” tour meeting would be starting at 15:00, which is earlier than on past tours.  I finally finished uploading pictures and videos to my Blog at about 14:00 and went out to try and find something to eat, as I was getting quite hungry.  The desk clerk said there was a Pizza restaurant a few blocks from the Hotel, but everything appeared to be closed (it was after all Sunday afternoon).  On the way back to the Hotel, I noticed a small restaurant in a side street, and fortunately they were open.  They didn’t have many food items, but I ordered a coffee and spotted a type of Hot Dog in one of the display cases so got one of those.  I’m not sure what it was called, but it was basically a Weiner baked into a Bun.

At the tour meeting, snacks and drinks were provided and the meeting lasted about an hour.  Some in the group had taken eight RS tours, so that beats my record.  Some are retired and some still working. After the meeting, the group met in front of the Hotel for a brief familiarization tour of the neighborhood, covering some of the significant sites around the Hotel.  We then attended a Puppet show, which I thought was an interesting glimpse into the type of entertainment people enjoyed in the past, in a much simpler time.  The performance was at times loud and sometimes grisly, with puppets cleaved in two by a sword and heads rolling across the stage.  The show was presented in a  rather "dramatic" fashion!

After the Puppet show, we proceeded to a nearby restaurant for our first group dinner, which was a selection of classic Sicilian foods including Cous Cous which came from the Arab influence in this area.  It was all delicious, but VERY filling and I couldn't finish it all.  After dinner, our Guide led some of the group to one of the nearby Cafes, where I got a Coffee and a couple of the ladies had Wine.

The weather has been very hot and humid since I arrived, and I was anxious to get back to the air conditioned comfort of the Hotel room.  That’s probably not the best way to see Palermo, but I'm really appreciating the air conditioning.

Tomorrow will likely be a strenuous day, and hopefully my back doesn’t give me any problems.

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Comments

Grier on

Ken, who is your guide?

eagle10
eagle10 on

Grier,

The Guide on this tour is Heidi, who works in the Tour department in Edmonds. She's a wonderful Guide!

Teresa on

Is that Heidi van Sewell? If so, she was my very first RS guide (Best of Rome in 2004) and she's a large part of the reason I took another RS tour ... and another ... and another ... :)

eagle10
eagle10 on

Teresa,

Yes, I was referring to Heidi van Sewell. It's the first time I've travelled with her, and she's an awesome Guide. Hopefully I'll be on another one of her tours in future.

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