15 years! That's how long it's been since my very first visit to Italy. I can't believe so much time has passed since then. Traveling in your 20s vs. 30s is a huge difference. I definitely know more about myself, what I like/dislike, how to manage my time and resources, how to approach people, and not gonna lie, having more spending power is great!! Gone are the days when I was frugal to every cent. I mean, I still appreciate the value of a dollar but I also appreciate time management and comfort as well!
This Trip is all about Southern Italy. Well, parts of Southern Italy. At the moment I am on the isle of Sicily. I was a bit hesitant to come but due to work, this is the only time of the year I can come here. But it coincides with the G7 Summit being hosted in Sicily as well so I rearranged my plans to avoid it.
Getting to Sicily
I did a lot of research on visiting Western Sicily vs. Eastern Sicily. Given that I was just in Greece a few months ago and Sicily has a lot of Greek influence/artifcacts, I decided to focus on Eastern Sicily which seemed to have more of its own character and I liked the proximity to Mt. Etna.
If visiting Palermo, you fly into Palermo airport. If visiting Taormina, Catania, Syracuse, or Ragusa, the Catania airport is the best.
I flew via Alitalia and had a connecting flight via Rome to Sicily. The connection was easy to make within an hour. I would say 30-45 minutes is cutting it close. Once you arrive in FCO (Rome's international airport) at Terminal 3, it's about a 10-15 min walk to the domestic terminal, terminal 1. You do have to go thru customs here at FCO (and not again in Catania) and it might be a good idea to grab euros at an ATM as you see one! I didn't see any in Catania airport but possible I missed thm.
The flight between Rome and Catania is short and smooth--only one hour! After we arrived in Catania, we tried to find Avis for our car rental but apparently, unlike other rentals, the Avis station is not in the airport! It's outside to the right of the terminal (just look for all the car rental signs), about a 3-5 min. walk.
I was a bit nervous about our car rental because I booked it through Autoeurope UK and not Autoeurope US. For some reason U.K. has better deals and prices than the US (by a significant amount of at least $100 USD) which is why I used it. I thought Avis would say something but they didn't say anything so it doesn't matter what resident you are. I think Autoeurope U.K. can negotiate better deals and rates with car suppliers than the US. We did get the excess insurance with Autoeurope but since we wanted to be really cautious and have roadside assistance we got the total coverage insurance. This was about 24 euros a day in addition to our already paid AutoEurope voucher ($259 USD, it was $360 when I booked months ago but a few weeks earlier I checked and the rate dropped and was able to get it at a cheaper rate!).
After we got our car we headed to Giardini de Naxos, about 45 min. away. There is a toll. booth along the way so just grab a ticket and proceed. When you exit the autostrada is when you pay. Our ticket was 1.50 euro and the booth is manned so you will get change.
Where to Stay in Giardini de Naxos
We are staying at Hotel Villa Daphne and though it's only been a few hours, I'm glad we came across it. The staff is super friendly and they have a small parking lot beneath the hotel for 10 euros a day. There is free parking a few minutes walk away though on one of the side streets. But it's also great for its proximity to the Recantini Bus Terminal Station. It's literally two minutes away by walking and here you can grab a ride to Taormina.
Accss to Taormina
Maybe we got lucky but despite the preparations for the G7 summit, we had no problem getting into Taormina today. The bus ride to and fro was no more than 30 minutes. Sure there's a lot of military and police presence but it makes me feel safer. Plus I guess I'm used to that from NYC. Will see how tomorrow goes with access! I expected security checkpoints or closed off roads but we didn't encounter any...yet!
- Granita is the bomb!!!! I read about it online and didn't know what to expect but it is sugar and fresh fruit goodness rolled into one. BamBar in Taormina is famous for it and did not disappoint. Fave flavors were hazelnut and melon.
- Had dinner in Giardini de Naxos at a pizza place called Valentino and tried the vegetarian pizza and pizza with pistachio sauce and prosciutto. So good! And affordable prices as well. I wouldn't say it's the best pizza I had in my life but was freshly made and good quality.