Italians love a good drama. So I have often witnessed what, to a Brit might be a mild inconvenience (rain, snow, broken air conditioning), become a state of national emergency in Italy (transport closure, empty supermarket shelves) and, on our bus trip from Trapani to Agrigento, a lengthy detour to change coaches so that we wouldn’t have to go the rest of our trip on a mild, rainy day, without aircon. I have to say the elderly men on board positively revelled in the action. Within two minutes the whole coach was conversing and one senior gentlemen had taken lead, spoken to the driver and initiated a plan of action.
He turned to us cardi-clad foreigners, panting “caldo, caldo, caldo!” (“hot, hot, hot!”)
Before grinning and motioning with hand rotations, “cambio, cambio, cambio!” (“change, change, change!”) Tbh, I rather enjoyed the whole thing too.
Sicily’s been hard-hit by the global economic crisis, and suffers surprisingly from lack of tourism. Poverty was evident in many of the towns we visited, which tended to be made up of post-war residential structures and grey outskirts with small town centres plotted around one riviera-style baroque street with designer-clothes shops for the annual August influx of cash-handy holiday-makers. We were there in late June, so pre-tourist season. And there really weren’t many young Italians in evidence.
Though when we got over to the east coast, to the picturesque tourist town of Taormina and the city of Catania, the atmosphere was more lively. Here our misadventures began with a pool party and an encounter with a Dolce & Gabanna model (I’ll say no more).
A highlight was the wonderful island atmosphere. Locals were really very obliging when we were in need of directions. One man working at the ancient temple site of Agrigento even gave us a lift in his car back to the city centre when he overheard that the bus wasn’t to arrive for another half hour. Hostels are few and far between on the island, but there are tons of great BnBs which only cost about €20 pp per night, and often include a private bathroom, access to a kitchen and a free breakfast (see hostelworld, or better, tripadvisor).
Our last night in Catania was a bit perilous. We arrived at the station after dark and ended up wandering around, trying to find our hostel, but neither of us was clear on directions. After being chased by a man, we took a taxi to the hostel – a security-free dormroom above an all-night bar and a railway! We had fun though – catching a world cup football match at a bar and soaking up the chaotic atmosphere.
We flew out of Catania, though if I went again I’d take the train, which can cost as little as €20 each way and takes 8 hours – but when the train boards the ferry you can go up onto the boat and get a panoramic view of your arrival on the mainland!