Blanca & Ian's Travels


Trip Report - 2009


Doin' the Ruins
(With a slice of Roma thrown in)

Roma, Taormina, Siracusa, Modica, Menfi, Palermo

The Planning

This trip actually started out as a trip to Africa. We thought it might be nice to completely change venues & my wife suggested a "no cobblestones" vacation. Since Asia only has mind interest for us & we have been to China for our 'son's wedding trip', the wilds of Africa was appealing. I researched Kenya, Tanzania & Botswana for safaris but the expense & the seeming necessity to 'do a tour' was holding me back.

Rant on. FWIW, I hate, hate, hate tours & tour groups in general. Spending a week or two with the same group of people makes my skin crawl. There would be the loud-mouth. The whiner(s). And the general complainers. The one that jokes ad nauseum. The little stick-together groups would form. The hotels would be typical tourist-type, in all of the typical tourist areas. The restaurants would all be tourist traps. The shopping stops would all be tourist traps. Follow the flag, just follow the flag. No, Thank You. That's what we will do when we are decrepit & can't travel independently. Rant off.

Anyway . . . I discovered the self-drive option in Kruger Park in South Africa & that seemed like the way to go for independent animal wanderlust. I thought that we could fly into Johannesburg via Cairo (to spice it up Pharaoh-style with pyramids & museums in that crazed city). Then rent a car & drive to Kruger for some wild animal encounters & round it out with a deluxe camp resort stay. After a lot of research & debate, we started to get the heebie-jeebies due to the political unrest in that part of the world & the real or perceived threat of bodily harm. I know, I know, that this is probably a gross over-reaction, but it's supposed to be a vacation after all, not a potentially life threatening exercise. So Africa was nixed for now.

So where to go?

Ah yes . . . Sicily. Sun, food, wine, mountains, the Med, some of the world's best Greek & Roman ruins with cool Baroque towns thrown in for good measure. Now, there was the answer.

So I dove into the internet. I read trip reports until I had them memorized. I looked at everybody's pictures. I researched towns, cities & probably a thousand hotels. It was funny, as we walked around on our actual trip because all of the hotels we passed were somehow familiar from all my research . . . I prepared list of chosen restaurants for every stop to try to avoid the 'misses'. Fodors, Frommers, Trip Advisor, Chow Hounds, TravelersToGo were all sources used.

We had certain unmovable criteria for hotels. No box hotels. Wherever possible avoid the tourist 'center'. While it is nice to be close to the sites & restaurants, we don't like stepping out of the door into the madness. It must allow smoking (forget any sanctimonious comments please) or have a balcony for us to feed our bad habit. And we like to sit out at night talking & consuming our duty free beverages anyway, so balconies are a biggie for us. I am also a Diamond Hilton Honors member, which makes Hilton hotels free, so we used their properties for two stays to ease the budget.

We had visited Roma 9 years ago. And left very underwhelmed. It was too busy, too noisy, too many motorcycles & our hotel was less than inspired. But, since the Air Canada gateway to Italy is Roma, we decided to give the city another chance & spend 3 days there to overcome jetlag & to hit some sites we missed on the 1st go.

The Final Itinerary


May 22 Depart Toronto via Air Canada direct to FCO.
May 23 Arrive at FCO in Roma.
Hotel:  Hilton Cavalieri.
May 24, 25, 26 Sites in Roma.
May 27 Air One flight to Catania.
Auto Europe car rental.
Drive to Taormina.
Hotel:  Hotel Villa Ducale.
May 28 Sites in Taormina.
May 29 Drive to Ortygia in Siracusa.
Hotel:  Residence Alla Guidecca.
May 30 Sites in Ortygia & Siracusa.
May 31 Drive to Modica.
Hotel:  Le Magnolie Hotel.
June 1, 2, 3 Sites in Modica with sidetrips to Ragusa , Caltagirone &  Piazza Armerina.
June 4 Drive to Menfi with midday stop in Agrigento.
Hotel:  Baglio San Vincenzo.
June 5 Sites in & around Menfi.
June 6 Drive to Palermo with midday stop in Segesta.
Hotel:  Hilton Villa Igiea.
June 7, 8 Sites in Palermo & relax.
June 9 Air One flight to FCO.Air Canada flight direct to Toronto .

Whew.  Looking at that itinerary, it looks really busy, but it was a surprisingly laid back & relaxed trip.  Sicily is really not that big & pretty easy to get around, although the driving might be challenging to some . . .


Fodor's Forum - particularly Trip Reports
Frommer's Rome day by day
Michelin Green Guide
Rough Guide - Map of Sicily
and for all things Roman:
Bill Thayer's Excellent Website

Roma & Sicily Trip Pages


It's loud noisy & Italian - it must be Roma . . .


Ancient Beauty


The Historical Island


Baroque on Steroids


Stayin' on the Farm


Deluxe with mummies


Blue line was our drive


We disliked Roma. Again. 'Nuf said except that I am glad we gave it a 2nd chance & that we had the opportunity to see the Borghese & the Scavi tour & some misc things that we missed on the 1st go.

We really enjoyed Sicily. The island is stunningly beautiful. It was easy to get around. The food was great. The people we met along the way were friendly & helpful. I would say they are a notch above continental Italy & Spain on the International Friendliness Scale. My wife would pipe in at this point with a caveat about the roads & driving which was not an issue for me but for some travelers it might prove daunting. She is a nervous driver/passenger to begin with so that colors her opinion imho but there it is.

Hat's off to rkkwan, Bob the Navigator, Franco, ekscrunchy & many, many others on Fodors for their trip reports of Sicily and/or Roma. I read them all & stole ideas, restaurants suggestions, tips etc etc. And thanks to Zerlina for some 'after the fact' details.  I hope that this amazingly long diatribe will be of use to others too.

Ian & Blanca