DRIVING IN ITALY.
If you are going to rent a car in Europe make sure it is a compact one to easily fit through the narrow streets that were never meant for automobiles. At the very tip of the Italian boot in Reggio Calabria is the town of Villa San Giovanni. Here is where you take the car ferry to Messina in Sicily. The car ferry takes 30 minutes and costs about €35. The crossing itself is smooth sailing. Actually getting the car onto the ferry is another story. You have to drive the car through these narrow and steep up-hill ramps and sharp corners; like an obstacle course. It takes longer to stow the car than it does to sail to Sicily.
SICILY: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I knew I would love Sicily. One of the things that make Sicily so unique and special is the mixture of cultures that have contributed to its development. Throughout Sicily’s history it has been invaded and colonized by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and others. The effects of this colonization can be seen throughout the city particularly in its architecture. Many impressive structures are a mixture of Byzantine, Arabesque, Norman and gothic influences. I don’t remember seeing these architectural combinations anywhere else. Add to this the recent immigrants from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Romania, Ghana, Philippines and Morocco and you’ve got a cultural melting pot that would be the envy of any city except New York.
The other big Sicilian draw is the food, but more on that later.
Taormina’s claims to fame are nearby Mt. Etna, Sicily’s live volcano; Corso Umberto, the main pedestrian drag with medieval buildings on either side of the street and the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater). Built in the 3rd century BCE the circular amphitheater is still in use today! We met a couple at the Greek Theater who told us the theater at Siracusa was even more impressive. Hard to believe but we certainly wanted to verify that at our next stop.
Taormina was also my first experience with real Sicilian food, a unique category of cuisine with strong flavors and a focus on seafood. Time and time again the typical Sicilian specialties would blow me away.
THE SIRACUSAN CURSE
In Siracusa we headed straight to the theater but were told it was closed due to the rainy weather. Bummer! Still this is the kind of thing that happens on trips, can’t be helped. We figured we’d drown our disappointment at the renowned archeological museum only to discover it was closed for the next two days. Major bummer! It seemed we couldn’t cut a break anywhere in Siracusa. Finally, in the pouring rain we found a little church that contained catacombs but were told it was being repaired. It appeared we were doomed to pass Siracusa like a ship in the night. OK, that was it! Defeated, we headed to our hotel, The Maniace, in nearby Ortygia.
It took us a while to find our hotel. We diligently followed the traffic signs but continued to go around in a circle. After the fourth try we found a policeman and asked for directions. Just as in Lecce, he directed us to go against the traffic. A “piccola infrazione” (small infraction) he called it. “Otherwise you’ll just go around in circles”, he said. I wanted to ask if it wouldn’t be easier to just change the sign but decided against it.
Would you feel comfortable driving in Italy? What car would you rent?
To read part one of this series, Seven Delicious Adventures in Southern Italy: Naples: Pizza and Erotica, click here.
To read part two of this series, Seven Delicious Adventures in Southern Italy: Matera, Sicily here.
To read part four of this series, Seven Delicious Adventures in Southern Italy: Magical Ortygia, click here.
To read part five of this series, Seven Delicious Adventures in Southern Italy: Agrigento, Greek Ruins here.
To read part six of this series, Seven Delicious Adventures in Southern Italy: Monreale’s architecture here.
To read part seven of this series, Seven Delicious Adventures in Southern Italy: Palermo Streets here.