On transportation in Sicily

By Fred Steinberg
This item appears on page 48 of the January 2017 issue.

Before my wife, Ging, and I visited Sicily in July 2015, friends of ours who had visited told us the following regarding transportation there: 

• Local, internal airlines often operate on “Italian time,” meaning late, very late and domani (tomorrow).

• The main rail route seems to generally follow the coast, though there are many side spurs heading inland.

• As for how fast people drive on the highways, you could swear (and you often do) that you have entered the Monaco Grand Prix track.

• Palermo, Taormina and Messina are known for their world-class traffic jams.

On our trip, these statements generally proved to be right on, starting with our flight from Rome to Palermo. We had booked it through Iberia Airlines, but it turned out to be a code-share with Vueling Air (www.vueling.com), a low-cost, inter-European Italian carrier. 

Deciding to be cautious, and given the usual crowds at Rome’s huge Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, we arrived more than two hours before departure and were glad we did when it took two hours to check in, go through security and find our way to the gate.

Mechanical difficulties delayed our takeoff, however, and we arrived in Palermo over three hours late, at around 10:30 p.m. By the time we retrieved our luggage, it was 11:00. 

We decided not to wait for the 11:30 downtown shuttle bus, though it would have cost us each only 14 (near $15) to ride to the downtown bus terminal, where we could have picked up a taxi for the short ride to our hotel. Instead, we went to the taxi kiosk, where we were told it would cost about 60 for the 45-minute ride to our hotel. 

Our driver, Marco, was no doubt practicing for Le Mans. On the relatively empty downtown expressway, he drove at speeds often reaching 150 kilometers per hour (93 mph). We reached our hotel in 25 minutes!

If the ride with Marco hadn’t encouraged us to change our original plan of renting a car and driving the 130 miles to Catania on superhighway A19 after our stay in Palermo, news from the hotel desk staff convinced us to make the change. A landslide from an adjacent mountain had closed sections of the A19, and the 2½-hour car trip (or 3½-hour direct-bus trip) now would take more than five hours. 

Instead, we opted for the 5-hour scheduled train ride, which hugged the Sicilian coast on the northeast and north.

With many stops (some planned, some not), our train was 30 minutes late getting into Catania (Oct. ’16, pg. 12), and, while it was not exactly a bullet train or an example of modern rolling stock, we had a most pleasant ride viewing sections of the lovely Sicilian coast. 

Riverside, CT