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Saved Money, But Not Time

I don’t know what it is about Sicily that makes me want to go back there again and again, but that basically sums up my relationship with the island west of the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.” Tobias and I accidentally booked flights into Catania Airport when our destination was the northwestern corner of the island. For those of you who know Sicily’s geography, it’s OK for you to chuckle. We deserve it. If you’re curious about how something like that can happen to seasoned travelers, well, we were late in planning our vacation—I had had a manic summer planning trade shows—and quickly snatched the best-priced tickets without paying attention to which airport…. Luckily for us, the island is not that big. But the roads are, well, misleading! We’ll get to that later. Key words: Attenzione! Interruzione! If we hadn’t made this “mistake” we wouldn’t have seen the mosaic above. Maybe we were supposed to save money and take our time.

A Background Book

Sicily has been a melting pot for the European and African cultures and nations surrounding it for millennia (dating back to 12,000 BC). You can see (taste) it in the dishes (middle eastern spices, candies), the people, and the architecture and ancient ruins. Quite serendipitously, my mother gave me a book, The Falcon of Palermo shortly before our trip, and I delved into the magical account of a young Prince Frederick of Sicily who was to become the Holy Roman Emperor and is credited for having “laid the seeds for the Reformation [of the Catholic Church] and the foundation of modern Europe.” Frederick II lead a very busy life with travels from Italy to Germany and Jerusalem, and numerous wives and mistresses to boot. I recommend this book for an easy read and introduction to 12th and 13th Century medieval Sicily.

The Careful Car Check

We rented the car at one of the airport car rentals. This was slightly chaotic, but it worked out in the end. The airport—and almost everything in Sicily—is a bit more relaxed than other parts of Europe, and even compared to other (more northern) parts of Italy. Staff uniforms are not fresh and new, and that goes for buildings, roads, etc.; not sure if you catch my drift? But that’s part of the southern flare and lifestyle and energy, and I enjoy it.

We made sure to check the car for any scratches and dents or missing parts (antenna, hubcaps), as Italians—especially Sicilians—aren’t terribly concerned about getting too close to cars, buildings, or other structures, as the roads are often (mostly) in such disrepair and very narrow (especially in towns/cities and on country roads).

Like in most countries, you will be charged (heftily!) for damage in Sicily as well. We ended up getting a free upgrade of our economy small car to a new diesel Fiat Qubo which was nice for the power and space, but a little nerve-wracking as it was pretty much dent and scratch free…. :/ A fun little van to drive with very good visibility. And free upgrades are always good! Be sure to ask, if one isn’t offered. You never know unless you ask.

Villa Romana del Casale

Olympian women mosaic Villa Romana del Casale Sicily, Italy
Villa Romana del Casale is a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 4th century AD. You walk through (or above) rooms upon rooms (bedrooms, kitchen, servants’ quarters, and many more) of the multi-building site, and can soak in the craftsmanship and artistic skill of a people that lived 1,600 years ago. This is an absolute must-visit. You need to be fit enough to walk for a few hours, as there really aren’t seats.

The Road Not Taken

After we discovered we would have to drive clear across the island (from the East coast to the West), we took out a map and took a look at possible routes. We very quickly discovered the mistakenly purchased Catania tickets were probably a blessing. Not only is the countryside between Mount Etna and the Bay of Palermo as diverse as it is beautiful, there were so many places of historical interest to cover that we couldn’t hit a third of the few destinations we had picked. We decided to not take the highways (Autostrada) to our first destination (Villa Romana del Casale) because we figured we had time, but after a few “oddly empty” but wide highways narrowed into the Sicilian jungle, we had to reroute. This cost us a few hours at least. We never encountered much traffic outside of towns, but the going was rough. Gorgeous, but rough. Especially gorgeous when we made it to the foothills of the Madonie and Sicanians mountain ranges.

To get to our dinner destination, Enna, our GPS took us through Piazza Armerina. We wish we had had more time to enjoy the picturesque town on the hilltop.

The two hours and twenty-two minutes it was supposed to take on a direct route to Palermo is far from reality…despite the only two stops we managed to make on the way to Palermo, we needed thirteen hours to get to our Agriturismo near Piana Degli Albanesi.
Agriturismo in Erice Sicily, Italy

We learned that some mistakes are blessings and wonders can be hidden anywhere. And there is never enough time. Now I must go back (AGAIN) with a plan to see the places we noted that we didn’t have time for on this trip.

TIP: Carefully check your vehicle and note any issues before you leave the agency.
TRICK: Check Google Maps before your trip.
WARNING: It can be tough to find an authentic restaurant.
Bottom Line: Self-drive vacations can show you the hidden wonders.


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