If you’re not sure about travelling abroad on your own, my first piece of advice is to find an independent travel agent. It’s not as expensive as you might think. Travel agents know where to find the best deals and cheap flights.
I was keen to go back to Sardinia this year before visiting Sicily for the first time. I’d never been to Sicily before and wanted to join an organised tour for the first week and then have some time on my own to relax. Travel with Jules organised the whole trip, flights, including internal ones, a 7-day Sicilian tour, and the wonderful hotel I stayed in for the final week.
You can read more about my time in Sardinia with Annalisa here.
As I walked through customs into Sicily from Sardinia I was surprised that they didn’t check my passport and then I realised these 2 islands are all part of Italy. Obvious when you think about it.
I collected my luggage and had my first opportunity to speak Italian. My taxi driver, Sarne, whisked me off to the Hotel Liberty in Catania explaining that he only spoke a little English. Probably better than my Italian I thought.
Every night for 4 weeks prior to my trip I'd practised Italian on my phone app Memrise. This language app is excellent. You get to repeat Italian phrases into your phone and can only move on when you hear “Perfecto”. I like the part when you learn with the locals and have to recognise crazy sentences like “Sei ammalato, you’re sick!” I never once had the opportunity to use that phrase when I was in Sicily.
By the time I was packing up ready to start my Italian adventure, I’d learnt 350 words on Memrise, not bad at all. If you’re curious to know what clothes I took to Italy, you can watch my What To Pack video on YouTube.
That first night in Catania, Sicily’s ancient port city was a challenge. The hotel receptionist told me to go right for restaurants or left for the main street, Via Etnea. I chose right, the wrong move! As I walked down Via Plebiscito, 7 pm at night, too early for the locals to eat, I was aware of groups of men hanging around on street corners, some lighting braziers for the trattorias specialising in grilled foods.
I felt really uncomfortable walking on my own in this area, I couldn’t see any other tourists so I turned around and had to walk past the men again. That was a scary time for me but the fear was in my head. I approached the hotel and this time I turned left, just a few streets later, I was in the thick of a bustling restaurant scene with hordes of people.
I found a restaurant close to an open-air stage in front of the University where a concert was being held for refugees. I ordered spaghetti con vongole with white wine. The alcohol smoothed away the stresses of the evening and I was glad that my earlier experience didn’t spoil my night.
My taxi driver had told me to watch out for pickpockets in Catania so I think that’s why I was nervous. Before I left the hotel, I’d taken precautions. I'd put my money in a body belt and I’d made sure I wasn’t carrying my phone or a map. It’s important to walk tall and not to look like a victim. That first night was the only time I felt anxious during my entire stay in Sicily.
After a good night’s sleep in the art deco Hotel Liberty, my next destination was Taormina to pick up my tour. I was expecting a coach full of tourists but instead, a 6 seater black Mercedes was waiting for me. Sergio the driver, Angelo the guide and Anna from Nuremberg was the only guest. For 7 days we were treated like VIPs, visiting places that coaches can’t reach.
One of my favourite trips was to Marsala where Antonio and his wife Adora who are winemakers, prepared tasty snacks and served 3 different kinds of wines to sample. The winery has been in the family for the last 100 years, the high ceiling cantina was like a museum full of family antiquities. It was a boozy afternoon with a free-flowing conversation about love and passion. I’ve noticed that the Italians are not afraid to talk about sex and amore. I really like their openness and warm-heartedness.
Agrigento was also spectacular with its Valley of the Temples, where you can walk amongst wonderfully preserved Greek temples looking out over the Mediterranean. I liked the bustling capital, Palermo with its shrine to Santa Rosalia where people to this day, pray for healing for their loved ones. The vast cave is full of messages written on scraps of paper, stuffed into the cave wall crevice. The island off Syracuse, called Ortigia, has amazing fountains with fresh water Palmyra plants growing right next to the sea.
Sicily is packed full of history and culture. The climate is wonderful, the food outstanding. I love it and want to go back soon.
Give it a Try
Where in the world have you always wanted to visit? Make some enquiries today about how you could get there, who you would go with. Immerse yourself in the research and who knows, one day you might visit your dream destination.
Where would you like to visit? Perhaps you’ve already been there. I’d love to know in the comments below.