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Sicily - Another Point of View

Susan from England. Written in response to our Travel Notes on Sicily by Phyllis.

In 2000 my husband, daughter and I stayed in Sicily for two weeks - one of those weeks was on the island of Lipari, and the other in the resort of Cefalu, on the northern coast, not far from Palermo. We stayed there in the second half of October and the first couple of days in November. We loved the place so much we all returned with another daughter and her son and some of us stayed for a week, while my husband and I stayed for six weeks, from the end of October to the end of the first week in December, 2001. I mention the dates because that may have something to do with the entirely different experience we had in Sicily.

My normal practice would be to diplomatically mention all the points on which I agreed with Phyllis, and then mention the points on which I disagreed. But out of a sense of service to other would be travellers in Sicily and to Sicily itself, I feel I must point out more of the positive things about travelling in Sicily, and suggest that Phyllis' experience gives only half the picture.

Sicily is poor. Never mind the reasons why; the fact remains that they are. That means that there isn't a lot of surplus cash to spend on non-essentials, and looking after its people might rate higher than looking after its very many antiquities and beautiful buildings. In Palermo, for instance, I have read that there are 10,000 important and beautiful buildings that need money spent on them in restoration and maintenance and the city cannot afford it, though it is doing its best. I realize that the figure may not be accurate -- just because I read it doesn't mean that it is true. But even the casual visitor will see the large number of beautiful buildings clustered around the area of the central railway station alone. The fact is that although it is a tourist destination that is increasingly popular, the contribution of tourists to the economy is not enough to maintain the numbers of sites and buildings of historical and cultural and architectural interest. So a criticism of the lack of care in that area is not entirely fair.

Where Sicily really excels is in the scenery. Did you notice, those magnificent roads going across valleys on what seems to be endless bridges? (An engineer would be able to tell what the correct name for what the construction was. Alas I am not an engineer.) Any road going across Sicily has to be built on supports to cross deep valleys and through tunnels to get through mountains. No road is a simple construction and I was forced to marvel at them often. We only travelled across Sicily once in a car to go from Cefalu to Mt. Etna. We experienced no problems at all.

We find in most places we have visited in Europe, Sicily and Palermo and Cefalu included, that in prominent places -- squares, railway station, public monuments, etc., there are large boards at eye level in convenient places for tourists to see and use. On the boards are maps giving local points of interest -- railway stations, bus stations, local monuments, churches and places to visit. There is an indication of where on the map that particular board is located and the names of the relevant streets, etc., and some landmarks. Often these are in two languages, that of the home country and, usually, English. That is very good for us, but the majority of visitors to Sicily are the Germans and Dutch, not the English, so it really is surprising to find that English is found on any sign at all. We have not visited many tourist information centres in Sicily, but we did visit the tourist information centre in Cefalu on several occasions, and found two English speaking members of staff, even in this small resort, who gave us local maps and whatever information we asked for. We did not find many people who spoke English in Sicily, as you would expect, but those who did were very helpful and kind. They greatly appreciated our attempts to speak Italian.

There is one thing I totally agree on. The traffic in Palermo is mad! There were articles in the local newspaper while we were there in November 2001 indicating that the local government was introducing measures to try to regulate it a little more. I hope they succeed but I wouldn't drive in Palermo. It seemed to be more of a speedway circuit than a road. I wouldn't drive in Naples either for it seemed just as mad as Palermo when we visited it on our way home in December 2001. You have to laugh. Perhaps we could laugh because we weren't driving ourselves. A police car nearly rammed our taxi on the way to the airport. It made even the Neapolitan driver worried when he noticed that it was a policeman driving.

The first time we stayed in Cefalu, we stayed at the Hotel Mediterraneo and had a very pleasant stay. The room was large and comfortable, with a TV, air conditioning and heating. The breakfast was a superb buffet. The price was a very moderate 150,000 lire. The next occasion we rented a holiday apartment on the esplanade, a hundred yards or so from the Norman town in the center of Cefalu. The apartment was on the third floor, its only drawback. We had a fully equipped kitchen, three double bedrooms, a living/dining room complete with fireplace and terraces that looked out over the beach and sea. We could see the old town and 'the rock' from the back terrace where there was a washing machine for our use. It only cost us 330,000 lire a week because it was off season. Even though it was off season, we were still swimming in the sea in the middle of November, though it turned colder soon after and though you might sunbathe on sunnier days, no one was swimming.

Restaurants were inexpensive and served very good food. Most often we restricted ourselves to the pasta course as this was usually all we needed. We shopped in the local supermarket and the Saturday market on the esplanade and found the food very fresh, and thus very full of flavour, and reasonably priced. We could buy our olives fresh!

We are going back again this year if we can. It is hard to beat the place. A bonus to us is the opportunity to try our hand, or tongues, at speaking another language as there are so very few English or American tourists there.

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