travel

Sicily: Palermo & the Aeolian Islands

Walk outside of the terminal to the right, following the signs for Prestia e Commande; buy your ticket from the kiosk (€6.10); know what stop you’re getting off at  (http://www.prestiaecomande.it/?idPlugin=20000&idx=317), or plan on getting off at Piazza Politeama (main stop) or Stazione Centrale (last stop)

Returning to the airport, the bus picks up across the street from the Piazza, right outside the Prada store, marked by a sign. You can pay on the bus and change will be given

The party strip in Palermo (off Via Maqueda, across from Teatro Massimo) is underwhelming.Beer prices are still reasonable, but you can pay half the price, around the corner in the kebab district.

The street markets carry all fresh food items (produce, meat, cheese). Great if you’re renting an apartment but not particularly useful otherwise.

From Via Della Liberta, turn onto Via Quintino Sella (on the right, heading away from Piazza Politeama). If you keep walking down this street (at the intersection of Via Empedocle and Via Bonta), you’ll find a bustling little intersection, centered around a man cooking an array of meats with a cigar in his mouth, nbd. He will make you a sandwich for €3. Across the street there is a man selling fish that you can bring over and have cooked. You can buy a huge, cold beer from the shop for €1.50 and drink it outside from plastic cups. It’s a beautiful experience that could make anyone feel authentic

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We used Palermo as a jumping off point for the Aeolians and would bypass it if possible in the future. Because the flight that we took to Palermo arrived at night and also departed at night, it would have been impossible to not spend the first night there. We could have left the Aeolians on the same day as our flight from Palermo however.

Ustica Lines runs Hydrofoils from Palermo to the Aeolians. I knew that Lipari was the biggest island, so I assumed that it went their first, and then seeded of to the others. That is not the case. If you really look at the timetable, it makes a circuit, and those hydrofoils that left Palermo at the same time and arrive at their destinations earlier… it’s actually the same one. I know I know.

You can purchase your tickets on Ustica Lines in their office down at the port (Molo Vittorio Veneto al Porto). You have to go all the way down the pier as if you were actually going to board the hydrofoil, and it’s in a little temporary looking office to the right. Around the building is where you would actually board.

We took a cab from our hotel to the port because we had luggage. It would have been very easy to walk otherwise. We were charged €20 which was preposterous for that distance, so it might be best to have your hotel negotiate the rate beforehand.

I used to get motion sickness, so I took some Dramamine and ate crackers on the journey. I don’t think it was really necessary though. It is a long long trip (about 4 hours) so you definitely want some form of entertainment.

We called our hotel in Lipari and gave them the details of our arrival, and they were there to pick us up. We stayed all the way in Acquacalda, which was an oversight really, but is a nice place. There is a bus that will take you in to the town, but it doesn’t run very late and taxis are expensive.

The office for Ustica Lines and Siremar is right at the dock, and you can purchase your tickets and check the timetables there. Their offices are near the dock on the other islands as well.

We thought that we would rent a moped, but after seeing the terrain, we decided against it. The roads are quite winding and narrow, and those that are familiar with them tend to speed around. The buses that service the island just about fit on the roads.

Go to Vulcano for a day. The sulfur mud baths smell absolutely repulsive, maybe even worse than I could have anticipated, but you get used to it. The smell gets stronger the closer you are to them, but coming into the port the smell isn’t noticeable, so I wouldn’t necessarily rule out Vulcano as a place to stay. The mud gets very very hot in places so tread carefully. Swimwear can be purchased either at the entry to the “spa” or across the street. Men’s and women’s for €5 each. You can also purchase a token for a shower there, and rent towels.

Stepping off the hydrofoil, we were approached by someone trying to sell us a tour. It actually turned out to be a great deal: €15 each for a boat tour around Vulcano, stopping several times to swim, and taking us back to Lipari.

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The waters all around the islands are beautiful and crystal clear.

Some of the beaches are stone so swimming shoes would be useful, although we didn’t have them. There are two ports in Lipari–Marina Lunga and Marina Corta. You come into Marina Lunga from the hydrofoil, and this is where buses depart and arrive as well. Marina Corta is on the more scenic side.

We enjoyed all of the  Italian beers and I would recommend drinking them while you’re there…  Messina, Moretti, and Peroni/Nastro Azzuro. Beer, and everything else on the islands, is more expensive than on the mainland, but prices are still reasonable.

Not all Granita is created equal. The best place on Lipari is Cafe la Precchia. It’s thick and flavorful, comes in an array of flavors, and amazing “con panna” which is with whipped cream. Like a posh Sonic Creamslush. It sounds strange, but the nut based ones are delicious.

Be aware that there are no direct hydrofoils even between islands. Unless you’re going to the nearest island you may have to make several stops.

Our next stop was Panarea, which has a reputation for being a haunt of the… “yacht-set” elite. We were there in early September, and didn’t see much of this, but the islands charm was pervasive. The prices on Panarea are higher again, but not exorbitantly so.

Moda Mare, a custom sandal maker, is a must. Sandals range in price from €30 to upwards of €100. They’re made to your feet, which is just so cool, and they come in a huge variety or styles for such a small shop

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Golf carts and mopeds are the sole transport on the island. Even the carbinieri drive golf carts.

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Dogs and cats roam free in the islands, and they seem to be everywhere

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There are several nice walks around Panarea, a very popular one heading to Prehistoric Village. It’s quite a long walk just to see something that isn’t even history, but there are a couple of nice beaches in that area as well.

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One of the best things about Panarea is that everything is so stylish. All of the decor in the restaurants and hotels is lovely minimalist island chic. That being said, it’s worth packing clothing worthy of the surroundings, because the stores on the island are quite expensive.

There are a couple of small grocery stores. You can buy beer and drink it while sitting on the wall with the ocean to your back. Try and find happy hours on the bars as well–you’ll get great bar snacks with your drink that will hold you over until dinner.

When to go: we went in late August/early September. The season ends on October, but July/August is really the high season. The weather is still just as nice in September, but the crowds have diminished.

Malvasia wine is very sweet. It is purported to be some wonderful gift of God, but it’s really only good if you like sweet wine.

Most Sicilians we encountered spoke some English. We don’t speak any Italian, but many words are similar to other romance languages, and you will see many of the same menu items from place to place.

The cannoli in Sicily is so good. In America almost everywhere just serves the same defrosted product, so I’ve never bothered with it, but it’s something completely different in Sicily. Definitely a must eat, every day.

Arancini, delish and filling, and great if you can find a place doing different varieties. Al Burro, which is cheese and ham and butter I guess… so good.

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